Day out: Llanymynech Rocks, Powys/Shropshire

The wild herbs and flowers of this old overgrown quarry attract spring butterfly species in their dozens

Rocky cliff overlooking countryside

Red admirals, commas, peacocks and small tortoiseshells. Speckled woods, small whites and brimstones – even in March there are butterflies at Llanymynech Rocks, and this is just the beginning. 

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In April, pearl-bordered fritillaries, holly blues, grizzled skippers, large whites, green-veined whites and orange tips will emerge. In fact, come summer’s end (climate allowing), 33 species of butterfly will have fluttered about Llanymynech’s old limestone quarries and woods. 

Patterned butterfly
Llanymynech Rocks Nature Reserve is home to 92 species of fungi and lichens, 416 vascular plants, 46 birds and 33 butterflies, including the well-camouflaged dingy skipper/Credit: Alamy

Llanymynech Rocks wildlife

Butterflies are specialists. The caterpillars of the pearl-bordered fritillary, for example, feed exclusively on violets and overwinter in bracken litter, while brimstone caterpillars require alder buckthorn. The varied habitats here, from flowery meadows to damp glades and sun-warmed crags, sustain a range of butterfly species. Meanwhile, the lime-rich soil underpinning the site nurtures a proliferation of plants, including fairy flax and 12 types of orchid. 

Llanymynech Rocks history

The site – which straddles the border between England and Wales, managed by both the Wildlife Trusts of Sir Drefaldwyn (Montgomeryshire) and Shropshire – makes for wonderful roaming.

The limestone escarpment, once quarried for building stone and fertiliser, towers above a gentler wooded landscape rising from the Severn Plain. Labyrinthine paths weave past tramways, tunnels, spoil heaps and winding houses. Sometimes you’ll be peering into caverns at the foot of the crags. At other times, you’ll pop out on their tops, with spectacular views.

Rocks and grassland
Llanymynech Rocks lies on the border between Powys and Shropshire/Credit: Geograph

Exploring Llanymynech Rocks

You might find yourself in dark woods, garlanded with bryony and ivy, in scrubby heath enmeshed in traveller’s joy, or happen upon the free-ranging Dexter cattle browsing the vegetation, thus allowing light to reach the more sensitive flowering plants.

I particularly like the old quarries. They are regenerating now with ash and whitebeam, redolent with corvid-croak and robin-song. Here the limestone strata are revealed, 12 types of limestone with names such as gingerbread and croen diawl (devil skin). Now the quarries are honeyed arenas, lively with finch charms and pigeons, surveyed by a stately peregrine. Sun-warmed scree releases the scents of spring, of aromatic herbs such as marjoram, thyme and basil.

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The bygone quarries will soon be resplendent with delicate spring cinquefoil and yellow rock-rose again. Early purple orchids will appear. And soon now, too, the butterflies will come.