Sunday, 11 January 2015

Holtspur Bottom Butterfly Reserve

Bug Mad Girl and I visited Holtspur Bottom Butterfly Reserve this morning, which is a site managed by the Upper Thames Branch of Butterfly Conservation. We've never been to a butterfly reserve before so it was very interesting to visit somewhere that's managed specifically for butterflies and moths. All of the other wildlife benefits as well, but for once the birds aren't the main focus!

We joined in with one of their regular work parties and came home with some seeds for Dark Mullein. We're hoping to grow them at home then take some of the plants back to the reserve to plant (as well as put a few in our garden!)

Dark Mullein

Dark Mullein is the food plant of the nationally scarce Striped Lychnis Moth, which is found in small numbers in the local area. The idea is we all grow lots of food plant for it and hopefully the local population will take off.

It's flowers are also a great source of nectar for insects and the seeds are loved by finches.

Striped Lychnis Moth
Striped Lychnis Moth caterpillar

We took a walk around the edge of the reserve. It's about 10 acres and made up of two large south facing hay meadows that used to be arable land (and even part of the site was a rubbish tip). A lot of work has gone into putting it back to the chalk grassland that it once would have been. The meadows were reseeded with traditional wild flowers, animals graze the land over the winter and the volunteers work hard to improve the habitat for butterflies and moths. Part of that work involves creating scrapes, where the underlying chalk is exposed, creating ideal growing conditions for a variety of different food plants, including Horseshoe Vetch and Kidney Vetch, the food plant of caterpillars of Small Blue and Chalkhill Blue butterflies. 

A newly created scrape
The site is a lovely, peaceful place, full of birds singing in the trees around the edges of the meadows. Can't wait to go back during the summer, when 27 species of butterflies and over 300 species of moths are regularly found there. 
A Great Tit in the lichen

Notice boards are placed around the site to help with identification
We joined in with the work party and helped to create a scallop, which is basically a large area (in the shape of a scallop) cut into the hedge, that will provide a warm, sheltered location for spring butterflies. Bug Mad Girl was let lose with the loppers and she attacked the brambles with gusto. We only did a bit, but it was lovely to think that we'd helped and we're both looking forward to going back later in the year to see how our hard work paid off.

They had a bonfire going so the kids enjoyed toasting marshmallows!  The choccie biscuits during the coffee break also went down very well.

Somebody found a birds nest that was made out of horse hair. They were going to take it home and see if anything hatched out of it (apparently carpet moths live in birds nests in the wild). Now that's dedication for you!!

We even made it onto their facebook page ...

Bug Mad Girl said how much fun she'd had and how glad she was that she'd gone with me. May be down to the marshmallows and chocolate biscuits of course!

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