New Surveying Methodology In The Making

30+ people from all over the country attended the Brown Hairstreak Survey Methods Workshop in Ruishton, near Taunton on Saturday. The meeting kicked off at 10:30am with an informative and entertaining talk by Matthew Oates on Brown Hairstreak ecology. Mike Williams (West Midlands) followed on with an equally fascinating presentation on the Brown Hairstreak in Worcestershire. West Midlands branch were the first to begin wider-scale research on assembly ash trees so these findings went down very well, as did the impressive 44 years worth of egg data from Grafton Wood. Richard Smith (South Wales) did an excellent talk about the overall distribution of Brown Hairstreak in Carmarthenshire/Pembrokeshire and their surveying methodology. Further talks from Clive Wood (Hampshire/IOW), Roger Bristow (Devon), Roger Smith (Dorset) and Ian Middlebrook (for Pete Smith, Lincolnshire) were equally fascinating and it was very interesting to hear about how similar/different our current surveying methods are.

Above: Richard Smith, Matthew Oates, Mike Williams,
Mike Slater, Simon Primrose, John Tilt, Geoff Thompson et al.

A discussion about the current approaches to monitoring Brown Hairstreak abundance through egg counts and possibilities for a future, standardised methodology soon followed, with some rather amusing suggestions of using a cherry picker and even a helicopter to search the blackthorn for eggs above head height. Then came a rather depressing slide on the 2011 transect figures from around the UK. Some sites had no record of the Brown Hairstreak on the yearly transects at all, whereas many only had single sightings, with Noar Hill and Alners Gorse coming out on top with 13 and 7 sightings, respectively. It is hoped that this new approach will enable egg counts to be used to report on the species national population status through the UKBMS instead of relying solely on adult counts from transects which tend to be very low.

After lunch, everyone got ready to brave the freezing cold (and light snow) and go out for a spot of egging. With over 30 people, this must've been the most well attended egg search EVER! Not 2 minutes after arriving on site, the word got around that the first eggs had been found. Matthew Oates later decided that he was feeling rather optimistic and actually tried to jump into the middle of the hedge to give it a good search (below).

The session ended at around 3pm with the finding of additional eggs and another brief discussion on the suggested future species monitoring approach. I think many of us have high hopes that this new system will make a big difference to the way we currently monitor Brown Hairstreak abundance and distribution.

Brown Hairstreak Conservation Day

Our annual Brown Hairstreak Conservation Day was held on Sunday 17th February at Ryton Pools Country Park, Warwickshire. Surveying at the park only began last year so you can imagine how surprised (and delighted) we were to find 70 eggs, including many more in our adjoining Butterfly Conservation reserve, Ryton Wood Meadows. This year, the count has increased to 118 eggs, leading to immediate talks for future long-term blackthorn management. For 2013 though, our main priority is the habitat in closest proximity to our newly discovered assembly ash tree which is actually located just over the fence in Ryton Wood Meadows. Thanks to regular monitoring, multiple adults were seen in this tree during the 2012 flight period making it one of the best years ever for adult sightings in Warwickshire. Thanks to Katie Brown (a student working with us) who managed to draw up a detailed blackthorn distribution map of the park, it became clear that we had some blackthorn connectivity issues and so 250 whips were ordered for planting.

How lucky we were to have such a beautiful day for planting. It was almost sunbathing weather! 7 of us, including 3 of the Ryton Pools rangers (Ben, Craig and Steve) all had a fantastic afternoon digging holes, smashing bramble and sliding down the muddy slopes of the bank we were planting on. The whips were 2 year old growth and already looked more than suitable for egg-laying females. Hopefully, these will become even more substantial with another 5 months worth of growth (providing the rabbits and deer keep away!).

Late afternoon, we retreated back to the Visitors Centre for drinks, hot soup and biscuits. As always, we were entertained by the incredible sight of at least 70 birds in the feeding garden right outside the window. Being able to observe the Redpoll's and Siskin's at just 0.5 metres away is really an experience. A couple of Blue Tits even landed on the windowsill and knocked on the glass to say hello :) Total species seen that day: Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Brambling, Lesser Redpoll, Common Redpoll, Siskin, Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Dunnock, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Blackbird and Robin.

Blackthorn management and planting will continue throughout March with the aim of finishing by the beginning of April. Heres hoping for a 2013 bumper Brownie summer!

Egging in a Blizzard - Not Advisable!

After arranging an egg search on private land near our main Brown Hairstreak colony at Ryton Pools Country Park, Warwickshire on 13th February, it seemed a shame to cancel the visit due to the snow and freezing cold conditions. The snow had finally started to disappear underfoot and more wasn't forecast until 3pm that afternoon so we thought we'd get away with it. Not likely! A light dusting had already started to come down before we'd even arrived but by the time we pulled up, it had stopped altogether. RESULT! To get to the blackthorn, the three of us (Simon Primrose, Geoff Thompson and myself) had to trudge through the horses stables and squelch through the water-logged fields. Thank heavens for wellies! The nearby horses seemed to enjoy distracting us from our important work (the electric fence line was right next to us) and they kept sticking their heads over to see what we were doing. One decided he needed to get a closer look and actually ducked completely under the (turned off) electric fence and tried to eat my £190 weatherproof coat. It was rather endearing really, except when he almost pushed me head first into the ditch when he turned around, butted me with his behind and trotted off to see what Simon was doing. Obviously, he found me rather boring. It was at this point that it started snowing again. JOY!

More horsing around later, we still hadn't found any eggs and were starting to get depressed. None of us could feel our feet, faces or hands thanks to the biting cold wind. It must've been about -10 degrees. Eyes watering from the wind, i could actually feel my tears trying to freeze up. Conversation didn't last very long either as all of our jaws had frozen. After a quick look in the adjoining woodland, we decided to call it a day and retreated back to the warmth of our cars for lunch. 45 minutes later and toes still numb, we stupidly decided to check out some other adjoining habitat at Bubbenhall Meadows. We'd looked at this the year previous and hadn't found anything but there is a nice south facing hedgerow with some good blackthorn so we figured we'd give it a go. The snow had eased but the wind was still a killer. We started searching the east facing side first but had no luck so we trekked over to the southern side which unfortunately didn't offer any more shelter from the wind. Almost at our limits, Simon soon shouted that he'd found one. AT LAST! Not 2 minutes later, i found 2 more and then another was spotted, all in the same area. As you can imagine, the minute i got my recording form out, the blizzard started. Geoff (my Dad) completely whimped out and retreated back to the car whilst Simon and I braved the arctic conditions and battled on, giving the rest of the south facing hedge a brief check without luck. It took me 90 minutes to warm up properly when i got home but it was well worth it. Brownie eggs have never been recorded at Bubbenhall Meadows before so this is a real result.

On 20th February, Simon and I returned to do a real thorough search of the south facing hedgerow again incase we missed any eggs. I found an additional 4, bringing the total to 8, with 5 more on the adjoining lane. There are now plans in the making to plant more blackthorn and cut some of the mature hedgerow to encourage suckering and increase habitat suitability.

Brown Hairstreak Survey Methods Workshop

For anyone interested in the Brown Hairstreak, there is a national survey methods workshop at Ruishton Village Hall near Taunton, Somerset on Saturday 23rd February 10:00-15:00. The aim of the workshop is to devlop and test a new method for surveying Brown Hairstreak abundance through egg counts. It is hoped that this will become the standard method so that egg counts can increasingly be used to report on the species national population status through the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS). Currently, only adult counts from transects (usually of very low numbers) are used in the UKBMS.

The workshop is open to anyone who wants to learn more about Brown Hairstreak egg count methods or wishes to help shape method development. The day will comprise of a series of presentations on methods used in existing surveys, proposals for a new standardised approach with associated discussion, picnic lunch, followed by searching for the eggs and testing the method out in the field (Brown Hairstreak occurs nearby). The workshop is free and tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided.

If you intend to come along, please drop Tom Brereton an email at or call 01929 406019 (mobile: 07816 786173).

10:00 - Coffee and arrival

10:30 - Welcome and aims of the day - Tom Brereton
10:35 - Brown Hairstreak ecology - Matthew Oates
10:45 - Current monitoring data used in the UKBMS - Marc Botham, CEH

Regional surveys for Brown Hairstreak:
10:55 - West Midlands - Mike Williams
11:10 - South Wales - Richard Smith
11:25 - Hampshire - Clive Wood
11:40 - Sussex and Lincolnshire - Ian Middlebrook

Method Development:
11:50 - Towards a common survey approach - Tom Brereton
12:05 - Discussion

12:30-13:15 - Picnic lunch (tea and coffee provided)

Field Session:
13:30-15:00 - Testing Brown Hairstreak survey methods

Blackthorn Planting Day at Bourne Close, Flyford Flavell

Last winter, the “Thursday Streakers” had been asked by Wychavon District Council to come and survey for Brown Hairstreak eggs on various pieces of open-space land, left over after recent housing developments. These areas of land are owned and managed by the council, and are protected from future development. As a number of them fall within the distribution area of the Brown Hairstreak, and contain blackthorn, then we were very interested to get involved.

One such area was at Bourne Close, which is not too far away from Grafton Wood itself. When we had visited last winter, we’d found the site had great potential, although the blackthorn that was already growing there was in need of management as it was too old and overgrown to be of much interest to Brown Hairstreaks. Wychavon Council therefore kindly agreed to facilitate a ‘Community Planting Day’ that would allow us to plant some new blackthorn on the site. 

Part of the idea behind the day was also to raise awareness at a local level of the Brown Hairstreak and the importance of hedgerow management. The advantage of places like Bourne Close are that hedgerows there, on which any eggs have been laid, are less likely to be flailed than those in the wider countryside, so we are providing something of a safe haven for the butterfly as well as raising awareness.

And so it was, last Saturday, that four of our regular Thursday group: myself, Mike Williams (arriving ‘hotfoot’ after doing a live radio interview for BBC Hereford & Worcester to publicise both the event and ‘all things Brown Hairstreak’), Jenny Tonry and Pauline Jennings arrived at Bourne Close to plant out 140 blackthorn whips that had been provided by Wychavon District Council. The group of four quickly became seven as three local residents turned out to help as well and, despite the appallingly wet conditions, that made it incredibly difficult to even get a spade in and out of the cloying soil (mud!!), we’d finished all the planting by lunchtime. We then waited around for a short while for a photographer from the Evesham Observer to arrive and record our hard work!!

In the afternoon we decided to have a quick egg search at some adjoining and promising looking hedgerows to the east of the site and found four Brown Hairstreak eggs.

So all in all, a very successful and rewarding day, that gave us plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the continued success of the Brown Hairstreak in this particular little corner of Worcestershire.

Press releases:

Mike Williams, Brown Hairstreak Species Champion for West Midlands Butterfly Conservation said “The work follows a survey of all of Wychavon’s green space undertaken by Butterfly Conservation volunteers last year and the site at Bourne Close was identified as having the most potential for the butterfly. It is close to Grafton Wood, a nature reserve managed by Butterfly Conservation and the Wildlife Trust which supports a healthy breeding population”

Alex Morris, Parks Monitoring Assistant at Wychavon District Council said “We are delighted to be able to support this community project and hope that local residents will get involved. Most of Worcestershire’s Brown Hairstreaks are found in the Wychavon district and it is one of our most important and attractive butterflies. We want to do our bit to help protect it.”

Hard work in Hertfordshire

Spent a soggy Sunday morning with Paul Why at Cole Green searching the Blackthorn for Brown Hairstreak eggs.  There is good quality Blackthorn at this site and it is next to Blackthorn Wood, Welwyn Garden City where several suspected sightings of adult BHs were reported last summer. No great surprise there as its15 years since the last confirmed sighting of BH at any stage of its lifecycle in Herts or Middx. But the reports from east Welwyn GC seem plausible and our search continues. Next hunt is on Panshanger Aerodrome, meet at 10 am in the car park on Monday 25 Feb, contact malcolmhull@ for more information

Egging at Ryton Pools Country Park

Its taken quite a while but finally the egg searching at Ryton Pools Country Park (RPCP) has been completed. Im pleased to report we have 111 eggs, with 5 just outside the park and another 2 on the very busy A445 (its always fun risking life and limb to search there!). Last year, we had about 70 in the park so its a good sign that we've beaten this, especially as 2012 wasn't a great year for our favourite Brownies. More searches are planned for the surrounding areas over the next couple of weeks, starting on Wednesday. Its now a bit of a race against time as the blossom buds are already threatening to burst! We held a blackthorn management meeting last Monday and now that the blackthorn distribution map has been completed (courtesy of Katie Brown), we have been able to work out some immediate management for this year with more discussions to take place regarding long-term management in the future.

We have a Brown Hairstreak Conservation Day on 17th February at RPCP where we will be undertaking some of the aformentioned management work involving bramble clearance, blackthorn planting and cutting of over mature blackthorn. Any volunteers are very welcome to come along and help out. I will be there all day to offer help, advice and information about the Brown Hairstreak and will be able to show anyone interested the tiny eggs. The event will run from 12:30 - 4pm and we will be meeting at the Visitors Centre. It will be £2.50 per person to cover soup and hot drinks at the end of the session. Booking is essential so please telephone 024 7630 5592.