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Eight hardy souls donned boots and waterproofs, braved the dodgy weather, and explored Ansty Down on Sunday 15th May. Hoping to see the many spring butterflies that usually frequent this location, on a generally overcast and occasionally rainy morning, we were pleased to see five species. Crucially, this included the tiny Duke of Burgundy, the key butterfly we were hoping to spot. This species is on Butterfly Conservation’s list of Threatened species, so we are fortunate to have it in the vicinity.
We were joined by Dr Susan Clarke, ecologist, and expert on these (and many other) butterflies. Sue explained in detail what is known about the insect’s life cycle, what habitat it favours, how ideal site management is so difficult to determine and achieve, and how it is now more frequently seen on damp chalk hillsides than in coppice woodlands as in the past. Sue showed us how the north face of the Shaston Ridge between Burcombe and Donhead St Andrew represents the most significant location for the Duke of Burgundy in the country. This long string of interconnected unimproved grasslands provides the right habitat for a chain of colonies which, currently at least, appear to be vigorous enough to ride out good and bad breeding years.
We were very fortunate that the clouds cleared, and the sun came out briefly when we were in a patch of ideal habitat. Peter immediately spotted one and soon a few others were seen nearby. These were males, perching in prominent position to sun themselves and keep an eye out for females. They allowed us to approach and get good close views of the striking brown and orange chequered markings and even to see that the male only has four legs.
As well as adult butterflies we also spotted numerous Twayblade Orchids, a large Drinker Moth caterpillar and a large number of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars feasting on a bank of nettles.
Despite disappointing weather, we enjoyed a very informative walk and came away appreciative of having such an important insect colony nearby.
By Andrew Graham
Photos: Julia Willcock
On this walk led by Andrew Graham, along with other spring downland butterflies, we will be seeking out the Duke of Burgundy, an easily overlooked species for whom Wiltshire is a southern stronghold, living in small colonies on grassland or woodland clearings, laying its eggs in small batches underneath the leaves of Primroses and Cowslips.
We will be joined by Dr Sue Clarke, an ecologist who has been advising landowners for a number or years on how to help Duke of Burgundy (on the left below) and the also rare Marsh Fritillary butterflies (on the right) to flourish.
We will rendezvous at the Old Shaftesbury Drove, a Byway open to traffic, where it crosses the Ansty to Alvediston road at Grid Reference ST 965250; WhatThreeWords: ulterior.enormous.drilled.
There is room for cars to park along the track on both sides of the road.
For anyone wanting a lift, or to share cars, meet at the Nadder Centre car park to set out at 10:30 and rendezvous at the start point to set out at 11:00. [Please note these times are later than published in our programme, to give the best chance of sighting butterflies.]
The walk will be taken at a gentle pace, but will involve some steep slopes and roughly grazed ground so supportive footwear is advised, as perhaps is a walking pole.
The route planned will take 2 to 3 hours, with the aim of returning home for a late lunch. You may want to bring some refreshment, though, especially if the weather is warm. No need to book.
by Dick Budden
Peter Shallcross will be leading a river walk from Wylye to Fisherton de la Mere this coming Thursday, starting at 7pm. The distance along the footpath beside the river is around a mile each way, pretty flat and sound along its length, so not particularly onerous.
Members don't need to register but if you'd like to come as a guest please let us know via the contact form.
To share car spaces and conserve fuel, meet at the Nadder Centre car park at 6:30PM or alternatively make your own way to Wylye for 7:00PM.
The rendezvous point is a layby immediately after the river bridge on the main road north of Wylye, after passing the Bell pub on your right: see https://goo.gl/maps/9jAP7xYZqvhWn3Qp6
And you may care to bring with you a picnic to enjoy in the churchyard before heading home again.
Last Saturday, a select group of our members had a fantastic, guided visit to Underhill Wood Nature Reserve (UWNR).
UWNR is a private reserve in East Knoyle, owned by very enthusiastic nature lovers, Jonathan and Keggie. Jonathan takes part in a fantastic programme of nature education, the John Muir Conservation Award, but also has a group of home education students coming to learn about nature at his reserve. The reserve is worth a visit for its lake, barn owl boxes, woodlands, bird of prey feeding stations, beehives and a lovely education building full of animal tracks and signs.
We are hoping to organise another visit on another occasion for those who could not make it.
You can have a look at some of the pictures on our Instagram and UWNR Twitter. The highlight was Arthur (age 10) finding this finch head in a Barn Owl pellet. Birds make up less than 1% of BO diet, so what a find!
The attendants got a copy of Jonathan's book, "How to rewild", with lots of useful tips. If you missed this, you can get the book on the website. You can also find additional reading in this recently published piece that includes references to UWNR: Creating a New Eden — The Beautiful Truth. You may also want to watch this webinar Rewilding Network Webinar - Smaller Scale Rewilding at Underhill Wood NR (vimeo.com). And if you want to keep up to date with the news from UWNR, get in touch with Jonathan to follow his blog.
Many thanks to Jonathan and Keggie for their guided visit!
by Inés López-Dóriga
Here are the photos of our trip to the Harnham water meadows on Saturday. It was a very successful morning. The weather was perfect. We brought a group of 26 + people including several children and Hadrian Cook, gave us an excellent guided tour of the meadows explaining and demonstrating the drowning process which probably started in Harnham in about 1660.
The natural water meadows were made from the 13th C when mill ponds, drainage channels and hatches were constructed to create a controlled system to irrigate the meadows.
A regular flow of nutrient rich warm water from the stream or river nearby was diverted onto the meadows. This water was flowing gently, so not stagnant. This was controlled by hatches in channels which were lifted to allow the water to flow from one area to another and the hatches lowered to stop the flow after about a week.
This resulted in this early ‘bite’ for sheep. The grass was much earlier and richer than that found on the downs at that time of year. This process would be done during January and maybe throughout the summer. When the numbers of sheep decreased in the first half of the 20th C as a result of mechanisation and wartime the practice of water meadow irrigation ceased.
However, a Trust was formed in 1990 to restore and preserve this internationally important heritage site in Harnham. It is managed mainly by a team of volunteers and Rose Cottage by the Town Path was purchased in 2006 by the Trust. It is a meeting place for all activities connected with the meadows including public walks, educational visits and lectures. It has an exhibition inside showing historical and scientific details about the meadows and photos of work done and recent events.
The Trust welcomes visitors and school groups and also volunteers.
More information is available by email: email@example.com or there is a website www.salisburywatermeadows.org.uk
Organiser: Richard Budden
We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to visit Brownsea Island. A brilliant blue sky and calm sea set the scene for our crossing from Poole Harbour and we were met by staff from the National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust on the quay. After splitting into two groups – one led by Nicki Tutton, Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Wild Brownsea Project Officer and our group led by Anthony, a volunteer– we were given a tour of the northern part of the island.
It took some persuasion to pull us away from the drama of nine peachicks which were responding to the throaty call of their mother. We had half of the brood on our side of the wall in the quay gardens and one by one the remaining peachicks would suddenly appear on the top of the wall and plummet down. Exotic in their own right, with a tufty brown head plume and fluffy cream and brown body feathers, they were enchanting.
Although many of the volunteer projects had been delayed over the pandemic, the new oak boardwalk was now finished across a marshland patch where dense vegetation gave cover for water voles. Red squirrels were frequently seen, seemingly not too disturbed by visitors walking along nearby paths. We visited two bird hides which looked out onto the lagoon and were delighted to witness a flock of about 20 spoonbills feeding in the shallows, with avocets, black-tailed godwits and dunlin nearby.
The island has a varied landscape and there’s much to explore. Meandering paths take you up small, wooded hills to pop out at stunning viewpoints over Poole Harbour to the north and the neighbouring coastlines of Arne and the Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve to the south.
Near an old redwood we saw a pale tussock moth caterpillar perilously navigating the path, identified by Nicki who said it was close to pupation. In another hide overlooking a large lake on the southern side we found a striking bug sunning itself on the window frame which we found out later was actually a Western conifer seed bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis, an American native that’s spread its reach along the south coast of Britain since 2008 and feeds on pines. It likes to come inside houses to keep warm during the winter, so watch out for these invaders later on!
Organiser: Peter Shallcross
Re-scheduled from 2020
When we regretfully had to cancel this visit last year, Martin Green told Peter Shallcross:-
“We have just had an unprecedented number of raptors on the farm & adjacent this weekend. My neighbours cut an adjacent field for silage last week and since it has been a focal point for feeding - a few hundred corvids at least 7 red kites & 10 buzzards and a marsh harrier - not bad! My friend James Phillips visited and recorded these species around the pond and woodland planting: The highlights were Emperor dragonfly, Azure and Large Red damselfly, Small blue, Common blue, Green hairstreak, Large skipper butterflies, Burnet companion moth plus singing Lesser Whitethroat in the woodland scrub and a pair of Corn bunting and a pair of Yellowhammer on territory around the pond.
Other highlights on neighbouring fields were grey partridge on territory calling, 3 pairs of Yellowhammer, a flock of 16 Corn bunting plus 4 pairs on territory, 1 pair of Linnets, 6 singing Skylark and 2 Brown hair with at least 3-4 Red kite over the nearby woodlands towards Wimborne St Giles.”
So maybe it was much like that again this year. Susie Blundell sent this wonderfully atmospheric photo, adding, 'We had a lovely field trip hosted by Martin Green. I took this picture by Martin’s latest pond which he is hoping will be an attraction for Turtle Doves. Lots of wild flowers, a glorious sunset, a museum visit and a starry night - it was perfect.'
Martin is a great wildlife enthusiast and he’s also a keen archaeologist, with a great deal to share. The landscape here is rich in prehistoric features – the Dorset cursus (a huge linear earthwork that runs for 10 km/6¼ miles and dates from roughly 4,000 years ago) crosses the farm. A cross-section has been excavated so you can see just what it used to look like.
There’s a long barrow and several round barrows visible on the slopes, while the Roman road known as the Ackling Dyke also passes through it on its way from Badbury Rings to Old Sarum. Again, where it crosses the road nearby a cross-section has been exposed showing its construction.
On top of that, excavations have found shafts that were filled-in as far back as 10,000 years ago, and the remains of ditches and enclosures dating from 4,500 to 2,800 years ago. This was the ideal opportunity to hear all about the excavations and discoveries and to visit Martin and Karen’s private museum.
By way of a sharp contrast with Hambledon Hill, our next Field Trip was to water meadows that occupy 84 acres of beautiful and historic – but flat - land south west of Salisbury.
Debbie Carter, the organiser, reported, 'We had a great trip to Harnham Water Meadows yesterday in brilliant sunshine. We had an excellent and informed guide in Hadrian Cook and there were, I think, 17 TNHS members including two young boys.'
The Harnham Water Meadows Trust, formed in 1990, has worked to restore and preserve this internationally important heritage site, probably the best known meadow irrigation system in England. Hadrian Cook, a member of the Trust’s team of volunteers guided us and talked us through the history of the meadows and their influence on the flora and fauna of the surrounding area. He also explained the role of the Drowner, whose responsibility is to maintain an even flow with irrigation events typically lasting for time periods between three days and one week.
Thanks to Andrew Carter for these photos of the Cathedral, Harnham Mill and the Drowner's daughter's poem.
You can read about the history of the Harnham Water Meadows here.
The Trust has announced that the meadows are now open to pre-arranged guided tours. If you would like to arrange a visit, please get in touch via e-mail, or our Social Media pages or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organiser: Andrew Graham
Hambledon Hill is the spectacular 192 metre (630 feet) high Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) owned and managed by the National Trust, southwest of Iwerne Minster. The chalk grassland here is really good for wildflowers and insects, especially butterflies. The view from the summit provides a real sense of this site’s prehistoric strategic importance and why it’s considered one of the finest Iron Age hillforts in Dorset.
For more on Hambledon Hill itself, go to the National Trust's pages.
This is Andrew's report on the day:
Twelve members spent a pleasant few hours scaling the heights of Hambledon Hill's iron age earthworks to look for butterflies and enjoy the flora.
We saw a total of 17 butterfly species. A small, sheltered quarry on the side of the hill held plenty of butterflies which, because it was not very warm, were not flying much but basking on flowerheads so making them relatively easy to look at and photograph. Several Chalkhill Blues were a highlight as this species is, unfortunately, becoming less common and isn't seen in the Tisbury area.
A welcome surprise sighting was a Clouded Yellow, a migrant species one or two of which are seen on Hambledon each year, but it is a matter of luck whether you bump into them. We were however disappointed not to see the Adonis Blue, but the second brood of this species doesn't seem to have emerged yet.
We also enjoyed looking at the very diverse chalkland flora. In places on the steep west-facing slopes, the herbs are so prolific that hardly any grass could be seen. The Carline Thistle, with its bronzy yellow blooms which look like dried flowers, was a particular hit. The full list of flora is here, with thanks to Debbie Carter and Jill Preston.
We gradually climbed the slopes of the hill, entered the fort through the banks and ditches of the entrance at the south-western end, then climbed to the neolithic long barrow on the summit. From here we could see across Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset, and could pick out various landmarks, towns and villages. The descent back to the base of the hill was perhaps the toughest part of the walk, the steep path being particularly challenging. Mercifully, although the breeze on the top was stiff, it stayed dry and the temperature made for a very pleasant walk.
Kingston Lacy Estate, The National Trust
Organiser: Peter Shallcross
Our Chairman led an evening walk on Holt Heath Nature Reserve (roughly 5 miles north-east of Wimborne Minster) for an hour or so as dusk came down, in search of glow-worms and nightjars.
In a welcome innovation, we joined Peter for supper at the Cross Keys Inn, Holt Rd, Wimborne BH21 7JZ before setting out.
If you'd like to go yourself, plan to get there at sunset. Holt Heath is unhelpfully on two different OS maps - OS 118 (Shaftesbury & Cranborne Chase) and OL22 (New Forest) but you can also find it on Dorset Explorer - search for Holt Heath.
Head for the pub and then continue westward along the road onto the Heath and look out for a parking area on the road on the left - on the map, its the more westerly of the bridle tracks that cross the road, at SU 051 045. There's an information board (sadly illegible) by the track that you can follow down to a 'cross roads'. Don't forget to take a torch as the ground is quite rough and it will, of course, be dark.
Photo: Barn owl
The headers display photos taken by our members. Do get in touch via the Contact Form if you'd like to submit a photo for selection.