Early Season Promise

My first Brown Hairstreaks of the season were seen at Knepp Wildlands in W Sussex early in the morning of Wed July 23rd - 9 fresh males in a 2 hour tour of outgrown sloe hedges in a 4x4 vehicle.  A trio were seen tussling with Purple and White-letter hairstreaks along a line of hybrid elms.  By 10.30 it had got too hot for them.  Previously, I had looked unsuccessfully for BH here on July 15th.  It probably started circa the 21st.

Knepp is worth visiting - see www.knepp.co.uk.  The enlightened landowner, Charlie Burrell, has taken 3000 acres of heavy clay land out of mainstream agriculture and is extensively grazing them with long-horn cattle, deer and a few ponies and pigs.  All internal fencing has been removed.  Sloe hedges have grown to 8m in width and support over 30 pairs of Nightingale and at least 9 pairs of Turtle Dove.  Many former arable fields quickly turned into sallow jungles, and the wildlands now hold the second strongest Purple Emperor population in the country.  I wouldn't be surprised if it holds the strongest Brown Hairstreak population, or certainly the most extensive (though much of the low sloe regrowth is now quite browsed - but there is much out of reach of browsing animals along the outgrown hedges ).

A Polish student called Pioter Szota, from one of the Sussex unis, is just starting to survey BH at Knepp.  He'll need help. 
If anyone wants to visit Knepp then please contact the estate's ecologist Amy Nightingale on 07872 691075. 

A single BH was seen at Selborne Common early in the morning on Thurs 24th, by NT warden Chris Webb.  That means it's out next door on Noar Hill. 

Yesterday, Sat 26th, I found BH nicely out in N Wilts.  I saw at least 12 males and a female in an hour early in the morning near Minety.  A reasonable population exists along blackthorn hedges here, centred on a large area of unimproved and semi-improved hay meadows managed by the Wilts Wildlife Trust.  As at Knepp, several males were active around a line of elms, rather than the usual ash trees.  They were fully active when I arrived just before 8am.  By 10.30 they had quietened right down. 

Today, I saw 25 males (no females) during a two hour visit to Shipton Bellinger Roughs, MOD-owned scrub land on the edge of Salisbury Plain just south of Tidworth on the Hants / Wilts border.  I arrived in dull but warm weather at 8.30, to find butterflies just getting up.  It soon started to clear.  Throughout, BH males were dashing about over sloe hedges - 'sloe searching' to coin a phrase (as in the Purple Emperor's sallow searching); BH males do a lot of this early in the morning, dashing about looking for girls.  They were just starting to set up territories, on ash, field maple and even a tall buckthorn when I left at 10.30.  The day's last was seen chasing off a chaffinch...

All this suggests that BH is emerging in excellent numbers this year, and very early too.  Just hope the weather holds...

(Apols for lack of photos but I haven't got time to load them)



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