Archives for posts with tag: butterfly

Some of you may remember last year we reintroduced the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly onto Black Down. Since the start of the flight season for the butterfly a week or two ago we have been waiting with baited breath to see if the reintroduction worked. The butterfly has a short flight season, the species spends the rest of the year in other phases of its life cycle, as an egg, larva and pupa. Much of this time is spent with ants hidden away in the litter layer of the heath. Consequently the first chance to see whether the reintroduction had worked was this summer.

Yesterday whilst out checking the cattle on Black Down Jono, one of our Long Term Volunteers spotted something very exciting… A single Male Silver Studded Blue…

ssb on bl

The species has made it through the winter and out the other side, it is such great news. Reintroducing species doesn’t happen very often, and it is a fantastic thing to be part of.

Obviously there is still a very long way to go, one swallow doesn’t make a summer as the saying goes, and one male certainly doesn’t make a viable population! But hopefully over the next week or two more butterflies will start to emerge. In the meantime we will also be carrying out further releases of butterflies from donor sites to boost the population and hopefully get the new colony properly established.

So glad it looks like it is starting to work though, these are the moments that make all the hard word worthwhile.

Testing times weather wise at the moment certainly, the constant storms have brought down countless trees for us to have to deal with, but our cattle had to endure some tests this week too. TB tests that is. We are fortunate in this part of the country that TB in cattle is uncommon, we still have to test for it at regular intervals though. The vet comes and injects the cattle, the return visit a couple of days later to check the injection site provides the results, always a bit nerve wracking even if it is unlikely to be bad news.

cows in pen

First job is too round up all the cattle and get them in the pen. Black Down is a big place, hunting for a dozen cattle up there can take a while. Our tactic is to keep them voice trained. Every day when we check on them we call them, and give them a few handfuls of cattle feed when they arrive. After a while they get the idea and come trotting over when called (most days anyway!) Calling for the cattle creates a bit of extra amusement for our visitors, especially when they think you are looking for a lost dog and a herd of cows comes over the horizon!

On a good day the cows all come trotting neatly into the pen behind you, on a bad day they take one look and refuse point blank. Fortunately when the vet was waiting they were reasonably well behaved and did what was asked of them.

Next they have to be persuaded one at a time through the race and into the crush. This holds them still while the vet does what is required.

cow in crush

Our luck was in and they were given the all clear. Our cattle do such a fantastic job for us, without them we just couldn’t keep the scrub at bay, we do our best for them in return and try to keep them healthy, it is always a relief when the results from the vet are favourable.

Visitors to the hill this week might also have noticed a mini digger creating some strange looking bare areas amongst the heather.

finnished scrape

This is part of our Silver Studded Blue Butterfly reintroduction project.

Creating scrapes diversifies the age structure amongst the heather, young heather grows on the bare areas and provides the habitat conditions required by this beautifull and rare butterfly. It used to be found frequently on heaths around the South East, but as its habitat dissapeared and ceased to be managed it started to dissapeer. It is now pretty rare, we have been managing the heath for the past couple of years hoping to get it into the right condition for the butterfly to be reintroduced.


As well as creating scrapes we have also been scrub clearing, mowing and creating small burnt patches. The heath has been responding really well and we are hoping to be able to release butterflies this summer. It is going to be really exciting, just one more reason to look forward to the summer! More updates to follow later in the year.

It wasn’t brilliant for photography at the weekend, pretty cloudy, so you might have to excuse the pictures, but I was thinking about what seemed like the early flowering of the elder this year and it prompted me to take a walk in Valewood. Its on the north western flank of Black Down, you may remember its where the ridge pole and wall plates for our building came from, a walk through the northern fields should lead you towards Winding Meadow if you are interested.

Winding Meadow is always a treat when it comes to orchid flowering time, ordinarily I wouldn’t bother going to look for another couple of weeks, but when I got there I was in for a surprise.

Thousands of orchids greeted me. They do seem to me to be flowering a couple of weeks early, I suppose it could just be because of the warm start to the year, or it could be as some think a sign of the changes in climate we might be starting to experience. I don’t know what the answer is, but wonder if there may be some interplay between the two things. It certainly makes you think about the way we are living our lives at the moment.

But, leaving that aside, you have to think there is nothing quite so pretty as this many orchids all in one spot.

Orchids are clever things, some of them attract polintors by having flowers which resemble female insects, others still give no reward in terms of nectar and have a mechanical mechanism which deposits pollen on the insects back where it cannot reach it but from where it will polinate the next flower visited. They are living evolutionary masterclasses.

Most of those at Valewood are either Heath or Common Spotted Orchids, allthough I am told the two can hybridise. Sadly even the so called Common Spotted Orchid is not seen as much as it once was, a reflection on the intensification of agricultural production. Its not all bad news though. Valewood recently went through a long period of conversion to become registered as an Organic holding. In cooperation with our tennants from Rother Valley Organics it is managed without artificial pesticides or fertilizers in a way that both produces some pretty fine beef, and allows the wildlife to flourish.

In amongst the orchids there were all sorts of other little gems to be spotted.

I remember being told by a certain well respected conservationist that whenever you spot this little plant you know you are somewhere pretty interesting.

Its a Lousewort, a funny looking plant in some respects, its semi parasitic, taking nutrients from the roots of other plants. I reckon she was right though, wherever you see this there are usually some other interesting species to be found.

I was also pleased to see the ladies smock still flowering.

Its one of the main larval food plants of the orange tip butterfly, which I am told is having a good year. Here is a picture of one I took a couple of years ago.

The orchids were great, but I am just as easily pleased by some of our more common species of wild flower, lesser stichwort is one of my favourites, its so tiny, each flower is only about 5-10mm across. The petals look really delicate in amongst the grasses.

Quite a comparison with a big brassy oxeye daisy.

Turned out it was well worth going for that walk, even if it was a cloudy day. If you are local I would recomend having a look around Valewood in the next few weeks, it really is quite spectacular at the moment.

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