Small Copper

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What is the Small copper?

The Small Copper is a butterfly and indicative of well managed pasture. It is quite common and very distinctive, with males in particular being spotted resting on a patch of bare ground absorbing the sun’s warmth.

There are usually 2 or 3 generations each year but as with all butterflies, the weather has a major influence of their breeding success.  In a good year there might be four generations. The first adults can appear from mid-April with the last being seen in October or even early November in favoured locations.

Why is the Small copper important to the Surrey Hills?

The condition of Small copper habitat and successful breeding is threatened by:

  • Herbicides being used on established grassland that remove the larval plant foods, in particular.
  • Frequent grass cutting/topping regimes on established grassland, field margins, verges and banks.

What habitat does the Small copper like?


Permanent pasture and rough grazing (hills, heath and moorland) accounts for about 58% of the total utilised agricultural area in England of 17.36 million hectares. This rises to nearly 65% if temporary grassland (under 5 years old) is included. This figure will include specific grassland types such as chalk grassland, dry acid grassland and floodplain grazing marsh but the majority will be agriculturally improved pastures that support the livestock sector.

They can be found in a range of more open habitats such as unimproved grassland including grassy field margins, road verges and embankments, heathland, woodland clearings, waste ground and moorland. They’re also quite territorial and the male will spring into action to intercept insects that have strayed into his territory or more importantly, passing females.

What can be done to benefit the Small copper?

Good management and habitat creation opportunities for the small copper would include:
  • Maintaining undisturbed grassy areas with an open, sunny aspect that allow the small copper larvae to survive over winter and provide food for the adults and egg laying sites during the summer.


Creating and managing areas for the Small copper will help deliver the following benefits to communities:
  • Clean water
  • Clean air
  • Protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards
  • Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
  • Beauty, heritage and engagement

These illustrations are by an artist taking part in a programme delivered by Watts Gallery Trust and funded by the Michael Varah Memorial Fund. This series of 30 Surrey Hills Indicator Species were commissioned by Surrey Hills Society and funded by Surrey Hills Trust Fund as part of the Making Space for Nature Exhibition.