News and Features
Saving the Butterflies of Sussex - return of the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
Thursday 14 Jun
We've been so pleased to see the successful reintroduction of the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly at our Park Corner Heath and Rowland Wood reserves as part of the Fritillaries for the Future project. The numbers seen a year on from the reintroduction are very promising and we've already seen lots of egg-laying females this year. To mark this moment, we've put together a behind-the-scenes video telling the story of the conservation work behind this success.
It's thanks to a huge number of dedicated volunteers, that we are all now able to enjoy the sight of Small Pearls back in the south east of England. Of course, we now need to make sure that all this hard work pays off in the long term, and the key to this will be the continuing woodland management and fundraising efforts of our volunteers for years to come.
Black Hairstreak discovered in Sussex
Monday 11 June
A large, introduced, but naturalised population of Black Hairstreak has been discovered in Sussex
David Cook has discovered a large population of Black Hairstreak in Sussex, at the Ditchling Common Country Park. This species has never occurred naturally in Sussex, being restricted to the clays running between Oxford and Peterborough, but a very large group of colonies developed in Surrey during the second half of the 20th century, following a 1952 introduction (much of the habitat was ultimately destroyed).
Following the sighting of three elderly, late season specimens last summer, a survey has been underway this June to determine the significance of these sightings and the status of the species locally. The presence of a large population (maximum day counts up to 98) has now been confirmed, extending over at least 1.3km of suitable habitat at Ditchling. The species may have spread to other areas within this landscape.
The history of the Surrey introduction indicates that the spread of even large, healthy populations may be a very slow process, moving at only c.1km per decade (Thomas & Lewington 2014). The size and spread of the Ditchling population suggest that it was established long ago.
It is entirely feasible that this species has remained undetected for this long while, due to its very small size and unobtrusive appearance, elusive habits, short flight season and the typical pattern of boom-and-bust which renders it almost invisible in some years, even on the best sites. This year the species has appeared in unprecedented numbers across its natural homeland, probably reflecting the advantageous conditions for larval and pupal development through May.
The male butterflies are using English Oak as 'Master Trees' and both sexes descend to sit on Bracken, both to sunbathe and feed on honeydew. Although the condition of the males deteriorates rapidly, many females (slightly larger and more orange-brown on the underside) are still hatching and a patient search should reveal these.
The best area to observe the species is the corridor of Blackthorn centred on TQ33441813, but the butterfly can be found on almost every suitable stand of the plant within the country park.
Congratulations to David on making such a momentous discovery. We are pleased to announce that Sussex has a new resident species; the Black Hairstreak is here to stay.
The Black Hairstreak is protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (for sale only).
Ditchling Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), notified as such in 1986; it is illegal to introduce species to a SSSI (once designated as such) and illegal to collect on a SSSI without consent from Natural England.
It is highly recommended that releases of all-but-common species (back to the site from which early life cycle stages may have been collected for educational purposes or scientific study) conform to the 'BC Code on Introductions and Re-introductions 2010'.
Fritillaries for the Future Update: RSPB visit & Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary reintroduction to the BC Park Corner Heath & Rowland Wood reserves
Monday 4 June
Yesterday (3 June) I spent the entire day on the BC Park Corner Heath & Rowland Wood reserves, observing Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (SPBF) behaviour. It pays to make an early start in hot weather, as particularly the males become far more elusive once conditions become too warm for them, and they go into hiding.
I had already surveyed part of Rowland Wood and most of Park Corner Heath before Nigel Symington and I welcomed a visiting group of 20 RSPB staff and volunteers at 11.00am. We had a fantastic few hours touring the reserves, seeing plenty of SPBF (including many females nectaring on Bramble blossom), along with numerous other species, many of which are doing well. We were also fortunate enough to find a very showy Cream-spot Tiger moth.
This season I have seen evidence to suggest that predation rates of both Pearls and Small Pearls by large dragonflies are probably higher than I envisaged; the Emperor dragonfly is unsurprisingly the most effective killer. During our walk one of the participants found the corpse of a male SPBF which bears all the hallmarks of an Emperor strike. Small Pearls and dragonflies share the same damp woodland habitats, so any SPBF population must be able to absorb these losses as part of its day-to-day existence. We also know that the Crab Spider takes a significant number.
The RSPB contingent was very supportive in helping accumulate a total count of SPBF which will fleece their Director of England, Chris Corrigan, of a £10 bet (donation to either RSPB or BC Sussex), dependent upon the success of the SPBF reintroduction (threshold 30). By the time I left at 7.30pm I had logged the positions (see map and stats) of 44 individuals (28m, 15f, 1 undiff.). Chris was unavailable for comment and an anonymous source close to Chris denied that the long-extinct Lewes Wave moth had been seen exiting his wallet (I know that Chris will be delighted to have been mugged in this manner).
It is quite clear that SPBF is distributed across almost the entirety of the reserves, apart from those areas where it will take another year before recent heavy forestry work heals over. There will be additional SPBF breeding habitat in abundance in the future. I was particularly encouraged to find four newly hatched females and a male nectaring in little more than a metre square of Bramble blossom at 10.00am, within the rarely searched area I refer to as the 'Birch Meadow' (Area 3).
Many observers have already noted that all the fritillaries look fresh, each time they return for another visit. I'm getting the impression that individual lifespan is quite short and that the turnover rate is high, due to both the generally warm weather and high predation. It is early days still, but things could not look better here.
Fig.1 Aerial view of Rowland Wood and Park Corner Heath
Situations vacant: Sussex Branch Chair
Wednesday 31 May
Nigel Symington has been elected to take on the role of Hon Treasurer of Butterfly Conservation nationally when David Hanson steps down in July. Unfortunately the time demands of this role are such that he will reluctantly have to stand down as Branch Chair. We are therefore seeking a successor who can take over no later than the AGM in November.
The role is one of coordinating and leading the branch, which is in the fortunate position of having a strong committee, a supportive Regional Officer and a sound financial position. Detailed knowledge of butterflies, or even of Butterfly Conservation, is not necessary, so long as you have a passion for wildlife and an ability to get on with people. There will be the opportunity of a handover from the outgoing Chair to learn about the Branch, and a Chair's induction meeting in Lulworth to learn about the Charity.
The Branch holds three committee meetings during the year, and the AGM.
This will be a rewarding role for anyone who wishes to learn more about butterflies and moths, and about conservation work in general across the county.
If you're interested to learn more, please contact Nigel Symington firstname.lastname@example.org
BC Sussex reserves get a make over
Monday 29 May
On Saturday, BC's Senior Reserves Officer Jayne Chapman was joined by our contractor Ian Hampshire and Rowland Wood reserve manager Bob Foreman to put up a new gate onto the A22 and new signs by the public footpath. The A22 gate is not intended to be a normal entrance to the reserve, but is for any contractor machinery that we need to bring on: please don't use it for regular visits because the access on to the main road is blind and dangerous.
The signs by the public footpath now indicate that this is a Butterfly Conservation reserve – we have been very anonymous over the past years. Permanent boards indicate the main species to be found, while a wooden board contains a number of 'snap frames' which will allow us to post seasonal notices, pointing out any features of the reserve which may be relevant at the time. Together with the restoration of the hut, which has been undertaken by volunteers Andrea Gibbs and family, Gary Norman, Jonathan Crawford, Mike Mullis, Bekkie Thomson, Michael and Clare Blencowe and Nigel Symington after Neil Hulme had cleared the area round about, this now gives a much more positive impression of the care and attention with which the reserve is managed.
Fritillaries for the Future Update
Saturday 12 May
I would like, once again, to thank our fritillaries captive-breeding team of Theresa Turner, Gary Norman and Mike Mullis, whose efforts over the last few years are now really paying off. Although the funded period of the project finished on 31 March 2018, the work is being continued by BC Sussex Branch and I've taken the summer off to ensure that I can give it my full attention. Several reintroductions of the Pearl-bordered Fritillary (PBF) are currently underway, conducted in accordance with the 'BC Code on Introductions and Reintroductions 2010' and with all the necessary permissions.
I won't be too specific while the programme is underway, so as to give the butterflies the best chance of getting on with the job unhindered. However, the news is good, and many PBF have been released into high quality habitat in the recent good weather. It's been very encouraging to see so many females being immediately paired by free-flying males from earlier releases; on one day last week I watched this happen twelve times! There is still much more to do, but I'm filled with optimism. My thanks go to all who have supported the project in any manner.
The Adur Valley Transect Group is Recruiting
Thursday 15 February
The Adur Valley Transect Group currently consists of four volunteers who have agreed to share two transects at Mill Hill and Anchor Bottom in the Adur valley. Each member of the group has agreed to walk at least two transects a month between April and September. Because the sites are so close together it is possible to walk two transects on the same day.
We would like to recruit two new members to the group so that we can open up a new transect at Lancing Ring LNR.
The transect data collected will be used to monitor the habitat of these sites and assist in their management
You do not need to be an expert to take part as training will be provided. This is a great opportunity to get involved in conservation work.
For more information about the sites and what is involved send us an email.
Obituary: Major Reginald Allan Chenevix Trench - 1/9/1920 to 25/1/2018
Friday 2 February
Although greatly saddened by the news that Major Reg Trench passed away peacefully on 25 January, this is surpassed by the gratitude and honour
I feel at having known him for many years. Reg was, quite simply, a remarkable man.
Despite reaching the age of 97, Reg never seemed to grow old, at least not while out watching his beloved butterflies. Even after deciding that
he should no longer attend our guided walks, for fear of slowing the party down (although he could still hop over stiles and gates as he
approached 90), we spent plenty more happy days together watching some of his favourite species, including Duke of Burgundy,
Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Purple Emperor. While pursuing these he became as enthusiastic and animated as an excited schoolboy.
In recent years, despite occasional periods of poorer health, he was back out on the Downs whenever possible, sometimes disobeying orders and heading
off on long route marches. I'll never forget the afternoon spent watching Adonis Blues on the steep slopes of Steyning Rifle Range;
as he called my name I turned to see Reg, immaculately dressed as always, in the valley below; "what have you got up there?" He was beside me in a shot,
over rabbit holes and through thick scrub, but this would have been no problem for a man who led his platoon of Royal Engineers across Sword Beach on D-Day in 1944.
Reg's joie de vivre was infectious and he lived his life the way life should be led. I've lost count of the times I've told people
that "I want to be like Reg when I reach his age". He will always be an inspiration to me, as I'm certain he will be to a great many others.
Reg was a member of Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch from the start and he kindly gave me his early issues, dating back to February 1984.
From his hand-written notes it is clear that he enjoyed watching the Duke of Burgundy at Kithurst Hill, near his Amberley home,
for at least 35 years; he was delighted when the species reappeared there in 1994, after a period of absence. I would receive a phone call in the spring of
most years; "how is the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary doing?”, but our chats would always last much longer than a discussion of this species alone.
I would like to extend my deepest sympathies, and those of all at Butterfly Conservation, to his wife, Sophie, who accompanied
him on many butterfly outings, his children, Ivo, Angus, Kate and Jessica, and to all of his extended family.
The funeral will take place at St Michael's, Amberley, at midday on Thursday 8 February. Donations will be made to Butterfly
Conservation. Enquiries: H D Tribe, Storrington 01903 742585
Dan Hoare to run 2018 London marathon for Butterfly Conservation
Wednesday 24 Janauary
Butterfly Conservation's Head of England Regions, Dan Hoare, is braving the challenge of the London Marathon in April to
raise funds to protect butterflies and moths. Not only will he be taking on the gruelling 26.2 mile course but to add more of
a challenge he will also be doing it in costume. The more money he raises the more extreme the costume will be!
If he reaches £1,000 he will run the marathon with antenna, help him get to £3,000 and he will run with butterfly wings and if you help him reach his final target of £6,000 he will run as the full lifecycle, complete with costume changes on route!
To find out more and sponsor him visit https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DanHoare