Year of strong grass growth was bad for bees and butterflies

Bee and butterfly numbers have slumped after a tenth year of unsettled weather, National Trust experts have said.

Mild winter and spring weather led to extremely high grass growth, leading to a good year for farmers with livestock and for making silage or hay. But the grass growth meant a difficult year for warmth-loving insects, including common meadowland butterflies.

The assessment comes as the National Trust marks ten years of its annual weather and wildlife review, which is aimed at understanding how changing weather patterns is affecting wildlife at its places.

Common blue butterfly

Common blue butterfly. Credit Matthew Oates/National Trust Images

The conservation charity is working with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, with 56 per cent of species seeing their numbers fall in the last 50 years. Continue reading

Wildlife on the Great Orme

Matthew Oates, National Specialist on Nature and Wildlife for the National Trust, shares his love for the Great Orme in North Wales and the wildlife that calls it home.

The Great Orme is a place of pilgrimage for British naturalists.  Try finding a botanist or a butterfly enthusiast who hasn’t been there, or at least one who doesn’t desperately want to visit.  It is also on the birders’ radar, for its increasing Chough population and because it is a place where rare migrants turn up.  Bat, beetle, lichen, moss, moth and marine wildlife enthusiasts also know and love the Great Orme, as do geologists, geographers and archaeologists. In effect, it is a wildlife paradise.

The Great Orme, 12/05/15. Photograph Richard Williams richardwilliamsimages@hotmail.com 07901518159

The Great Orme, Credit National Trust, Richard Williams

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Dorset hillfort is the ideal home for nature

National Trust wildlife adviser Simon Ford tells us more about the rich wildlife that can be found at the newly acquired Hambledon Hill in Dorset:

“Hambledon Hill sits high above the River Stour in south-east Dorset. It has been cut from a steep chalk escarpment and the deep ramparts have provided the ideal environment for many species of plants and animals to thrive. They have also protected the wildlife from being lost to the plough. With 360 degrees of deeply incised banks, this has meant that whatever the weather, there is always some shelter from the elements.

A beautiful bee orchid caught in the summer light at Hambledon Hill. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

A beautiful bee orchid caught in the summer light at Hambledon Hill. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

The mix of species is very diverse, but includes characteristic chalk downland plants such as horseshoe vetch, harebell, common rockrose, squinancywort, salad burnet, common milkwort, small scabious, wild thyme and stemless thistle. Early purple, bee, pyramidal, common spotted and autumn lady’s tresses orchids have been recorded as well as notable species such as felwort, dwarf sedge, early gentian, bastard toadflax and meadow saxifrage.

Twenty-eight species of butterfly have been recorded including Adonis Blue, Chalk-Hill Blue, Brown Argus, Dark Green Fritillary, Grizzled and Dingy skipper, and Green Hairstreak. Glow worms are frequently recorded and there are records of white legged damselfly.

Brown hares are commonly seen and the grassland has a good population of skylarks, buzzards, kestrels and meadow pipits, while the scrub attracts blackcaps, white-throats, chiff chaffs and willow warblers.

The site is so important that it has not only been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest but also a National Nature Reserve.

To ensure the site continues to be of top nature conservation value, the priority will be to maintain the correct grazing and to stop scrub from dominating the steep hillside.”

Dorset jewel adds to the National Trust’s hillfort crown

The spectacular Hambledon Hill, one of the finest Iron Age hillforts in Dorset, has been acquired by the National Trust.

Hambledon Hill in West Dorset is a site rich in human and natural history. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

Hambledon Hill in West Dorset is a site rich in human and natural history. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

Built over 2,000 years ago, the massive earthwork defences overlie one of the most significant early Neolithic landscapes in Western Europe, dating back almost 6,000 years, and is a place that half of British butterfly species call home.

Standing at almost twice the height of the White Cliffs of Dover and taller than the Gherkin in London Hambledon Hill occupies an area of land the size of 50 football pitches. From the summit of the hillfort you can see across three counties – Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire – and get a real sense of its prehistoric strategic importance.

Jerry Broadway, a National Trust volunteer working on Hambledon Hill, said: “When I come here I feel like someone would when they go into St Paul’s Cathedral.

“When there is no-one else around and I sit on the top of the hill looking at the view I feel very privileged. And to play a small part in looking after the hill is a good feeling.”

This is the first hillfort acquired by the National Trust in Dorset for 30 years. The Trust now cares for seven hillfort sites in a county which is internationally renowned for these special historical places.

Simon Ford, National Trust wildlife adviser, said: “The beauty of a magical place like Hambledon Hill is the combination of a rich natural and archaeological story that goes back thousands of years.

“Wandering around a site whose human history predates Stonehenge and takes you back to the early days of farming makes the heart skip a beat.

“The sound of a skylark ascending above the rich grassland and sight of a cloud of Adonis Blue butterfly in flight touches the soul. This is a place where you feel totally connected to the world around you.”

For the last three decades Hambledon Hill has been owned by the Hawthorn Trust and carefully managed by Natural England as a National Nature Reserve. The purchase by the National Trust is being funded by a Land Purchase Grant from Natural England and with money from a legacy left to the Trust for the countryside in Dorset.

The National Trust portfolio of hillforts in Dorset includes Badbury Rings, Lamberts Castle and Pilsdon Pen. The Trust also owns Hambledon Hill’s nationally important neighbour Hod Hill. Together they tell the story of the beginnings of farming, the need for defence and the arrival of the Romans’ in Britain.

Hambledon Hill has escaped the advances of agriculture over the centuries meaning that its archaeological features remain well preserved and clearly visible on the ground. Causeway enclosures on the hill date back to the dawn of farming 5,500 years ago and the story of this remarkable place is continued through the Bronze Age and Iron Age.

Mat Carter, Natural England’s Area Manager for Dorset, said: “Natural England is delighted that the National Trust is the new custodian of Hambledon Hill National Nature Reserve.

“The Hill is a much-loved feature in the Dorset landscape with outstanding archaeology and wildlife.

“We know that the Trust will be an excellent steward of this important site, and will welcome people coming to enjoy the area’s natural beauty and its abundant wildlife.”

Designated a National Natural Reserve in 1992, twenty-eight species of butterfly, including the Adonis Blue, Dark Green Fritillary and Green Hairstreak, have been recorded here. This nationally important chalk grassland site is also home to at least five species of orchids, such as the Autumn Lady’s Tresses, glow worms, brown hare and a good population of kestrels and meadow pipits.

Rare Silver-studded Blue butterfly reintroduced at Black Down

David Elliott, Head Ranger on Black Down, West Sussex, tells us about the ranger team’s latest project:

This year on Black Down a very important project has been taking place – we’ve reintroduced a species.

The species in question is the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly. This kind of thing doesn’t come along every day, in fact it’s only the second time I have seen it in my career. In fact it is only the second time the National Trust has ever reintroduced a butterfly to a site where it has disappeared, and I am a little bit excited about it!

Silver-studded Blue - Credit National Trust

The Silver Studded Blue is a proper little marvel. It makes its home on heathland, but it needs heathland in really good condition in order to be able to survive. Heaths have been disappearing at an alarming rate for more than a hundred years. The type of varied age structure within the heather that this butterfly needs is even rarer.

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Stormy weather and a blooming spring: a review of the year so far

Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s National Specialist on Nature, looks back at the year’s weather so far and asks what’s in store for us this summer:

“This winter was one of the stormiest on record, with a succession of powerful storms hitting our shores from 23 December right through until 24 February. So much so, in fact, that in England and Wales it was the wettest winter since 1766.

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Never underestimate a butterfly

Matthew Oates is the National Trust’s Nature and Wildlife Expert. He reflects on the results of the latest Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey.

Great to have it scientifically confirmed that, as suggested in the Trust’s review of 2013’s weather and wildlife, our farmland and garden butterflies fared well last year.  The Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey, run by Butterfly Conservation in association with BTO and CEH, shows that most of our so-called ‘common’ butterflies bounced back spectacularly, after the annus horribilis of 2012.

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