Butterfly Conservation - saving butterflies, moths and their habitats
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saving butterflies, moths and their habitats
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The Grayling in Sussex

Sussex Grayling Festival

Once a widespread butterfly on heaths and chalk downland across the county the Grayling is now restricted to a few sites in Sussex. Fieldwork in 2007 and 2008 has helped us to re-confirm the presence of some long-lost Grayling colonies.


The Grayling by Grayling Species Champion Michael Blencowe

Well it seems I was at the back of the queue when it came to handing out butterflies to the Species Champions, by the time I got to pick mine all the pretty orange and purple ones were gone and I ended up with the Grayling.


But the Grayling isn't about being all colourful and flash. Our most camouflaged butterfly is all about not being seen. But the lengths it goes to to not be seen are what help us identify it.


On the wing from mid-July until September, the Grayling is mostly found high on the downs where it favours dry, exposed earth and chalk. It also occurs on a few heathland localities - some in the East and some in the extreme West of the Sussex.


The Grayling can be identified by the cryptic mottled pattern on the underside of the hindwings which helps it blend in well with the bare, chalky ground. There's no point describing the orange/brown upperwings as they are only visible during its distinctive bobbing and gliding flight. Grayling always settles with their wings closed. Then, to complete the vanishing act, the forewings with their eyespots are usually tucked behind the hindwings. And to ensure its shadow doesn't give it away and to aid with heat absorption the grayling will then orientate itself to face the sun. Very clever!


Despite their elusiveness Grayling are often very curious and will circle you at close quarters and often land on you - there's no neck-aching scanning high in the treetops for these butterflies.


Grayling - cryptic, elusive, curious and a bit odd - and what other butterfly can claim that it apparently smells like chocolate! - I'd hate to think what Purple Emperors smell like!


So if you see a butterfly acting suspiciously we'd like to hear from you!


Send date, locality (ideally name and grid reference), abundance and any other observations to sussexgrayling@aol.com Any photos would be great too! Thanks.

Location: Lullington Heath
Date: 24/07/06
Photo: Mike Snelling
Location: Lullington Heath
Date: 24/07/06
Photo: Mike Snelling
Location: Windover Hill
Date: 15/07/07
Photo: Adrian Thomas
Location: Windover Hill
Date: 27/07/07
Photo: Ian Barnard
Location: Chapel Common
Date: 30/07/07
Photo: Alexander Henderson
Location: Wilmington
Date: 29/07/07
Photo: Michael Blencowe

Possible confusion species below:
Note the much more mottled 'stone'-like effect on the Grayling's under hind wing, flecked with grey. The Grayling in the right hand photo above is missing part of its hind wing, revealing more of the under forewing than is usually seen.

Meadow Brown

The Sussex Grayling Festival 2008 - A Review...

...and expect more of the same, or something different, in 2009!

In 2008 we went some of the best sites in Sussex searching for the elusive Grayling - learn more about this rare species and and help us increase our knowledge of this butterfly in Sussex - as well as recording any other creatures that flutter, wriggle, crawl or fly past.


We went:

Way out West: Sunday 3 August to Weaver's Common and Black Down

It takes more than low level cloud and two angry bovines to deter Grayling Festival attendees. As Adrian mentioned I was joined by 17 others for this years Grayling hunt in the Wild West of Sussex. After an introductory lesson in Graylingology we headed out under threatening skies to Weavers Down & Black Down. There were no Grayling to be seen today but plenty of other interesting species such as Beautiful Yellow Underwing, Dartford Warbler and Bog Bush Cricket put in an appearance. But who needs Grayling when you have such a variety of cake! (Thanks to Clare, Helen, Hilary, Christine, Anna & Lesley). Also thanks need to go out to Alan, Pete and John who saved the rest of the team from the two most aggressive bullocks in West Sussex (while Neil and myself cowered behind a fence). The day ended up on the top of Sussex - at it's highest point; Black Down - an impressive area of heathland where, the warden reports, Grayling are taking advantage of recent habitat management - and where we took advantage of a plentiful crop of wild bilberries. Thanks to everyone who attended and made a grey Sunday such an enjoyable day out.

Sussex Grayling Festival


Long Men & White Horses Saturday 9 August up Windover Hill

For a species that flies mainly in August you'd think the Grayling would have the pick of the best of the years weather - but today the 'unsettled' weather conditions continued after a week which has seen lightning storms, flash flooding, golfball-sized hailstorms and a tornado warning issued to the Newhaven area. Despite the weather 23 members attended the East Sussex Grayling Festival event at Windover Hill today. After the customary illustrated Grayling lecture we headed up the chalk track to the hill - once there the team were carefully positioned around the valley for a meticulously choreographed survey of the area. Unfortunately anything flying today was being snatched up by the wind as soon as it poked it's antennae above the grass making identification rather tricky. Despite this an impressive 27 Grayling were seen - many allowing good views by doing what Grayling do best - sitting there in the belief they are invisible. Everyone had a good chance to become acquainted with this wonderful butterfly - and Susan Suleski was eventually able to find and identify her very own Grayling. Also seen today Wall, Silver-spotted Skipper, Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Small Blue and many Ochreous Pearl Mecyna flavalis moths. But at the end of the walk the rain started - and from our viewpoint on the summit of the hill we could see that it wasn't going to end any time soon - so we scurried back to the car park and all headed of to the Plough & Harrow in Litlington for drinks and conversation until 3. Thanks to everyone who came for their help and for making this another enjoyable outing despite the weather.

Sussex Grayling Festival


Down in the Dean Windover Hill Sunday 17 August 2008 

Had a rare sighting at today's Windover Hill event - some sunshine in August! I lead a walk up to the top of the downs joining up with members from the Kent Branch of Butterfly Conservation. Silver-spotted Skippers were abundant along the route - even being seen in the car park. The target species, Grayling, put on a great show and posed for the cameras. In Kent this species is found in low numbers and confined to coastal areas in the east of the county. At the end of the walk we were treated to a fly-past by the Red Arrows flying low over the valley on their way to the Airbourne event.