By Andrea Gibbs, with Helen Proctor and Michael Blencowe
Many wildlife treasures can be found on a sunny day at Rowland Wood/Park Corner Heath butterfly reserves but you never know'. you might just be lucky enough to catch the big game, something rather special even. So, do you fancy your chances?
Having been surveying this reserve for a couple of summers now, I've started to second guess where to glimpse a White Admiral or hope for a Green Hairstreak. Each time a member of the team surveys this peaceful haven, we collect the data (using a scientific method, and called a transect survey). Over time, we can build a better picture of which butterflies are doing well in the reserve, and which species might be struggling. The good news is that we can share this data with our members, so that YOU can plan your visit with greater chance of success.
Firstly, the team have volunteered by signing up to a rota organised by the Sussex Branch, so that we share this task and no single person takes the load for the whole season.
In 2019, you may have spotted either Theresa, Richard, Colin or Andrea, as each week, between April 1 and end of September, one of them tramped along the carefully designed route (sections 1-10, please see map) noting carefully what they saw. The route was drawn up by Neil Hulme with the aim of monitoring the results of our conservation projects and work parties across the reserve. Consequently, we can look back at last year's data to find when there was a second brood, or whether a certain species is expanding their range.
But, don't forget that this isn't just counting numbers of butterflies. There are rules governing how we collect the data e. g. don't count the same butterfly twice! Keep walking steadily and don't wait at favoured hotspots! (The point being that it might bias the results. ) If we obtain consistent data, it can be useful in helping to assess the impact of climate change or could even help to support conservation policy.
Why do I like walking and recording a transect? Firstly, I'm contributing something that costs nothing more than my time, but can make a big difference. Secondly, if it rains, I don't go, so it's a rather pleasant place to spend an hour or two on a lovely day! Personally, on a couple of occasions, I've even seen something incredibly rare or elusive which has deigned to join me on my route. However, I won't get bored looking, as we are all keeping our fingers crossed for a Purple Emperor ' currently no known sighting exists at Park Corner Heath or Rowland Wood for this enormous butterfly, so hopes are high in 2020 for a flash of purple!
Sections 1-7 are criss-crossed over Rowland Wood, whilst sections 8-10 are at Park Corner Heath. It's important to note that the reserve is divided in this way, as I have met visitors during the summer who don't realise just how big it is. Nor that the original reserve was added to in 2010 when we managed to acquire the additional Rowland Wood.
Section 1 stretches downhill gently away from the gate (where you can park): here the woodland thins out to the heathland area, so we often see a mixture of butterflies that like both habitats. It's a great place to see dragonflies by the way, but obviously not if they are looking for their butterfly lunches. Look for: White Admiral, Peacock, Comma, Green-veined White.
Section 2 takes a zig-zag across an open marshy area and up a warm slope, where all sorts of wildlife are competing for your attention, including slowworms, voles and dragonflies. Look for: Small and Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, Marbled White, Common Blue, Grizzled & Dingy Skippers.
Section 3 reaches across an area where we improved habitat early on during a work party, and now is also a sanctuary for toads, lizards and slowworms. Look for: Ringlet, Small Heath, Pearl & Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries.
Section 4 has both shade and sun along a couple of wide straight rides, with a mixture of low scrub, mature trees and wildflowers. Look for: Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Skippers, Gatekeeper.
Section 5 is a big ride at the edge of the reserve, most recently cleared using heavy machinery as it was covered in dense conifer. The butterflies have already been bombing up and down this new area with great abandon, enjoying the connection from one part of the reserve to another. Look for: Silver-washed Fritillary, Meadow Browns, Red Admiral.
Section 6 starts to climb a slight hill where the ground cover keeps plenty of wildlife happy and safe, then turns left into a boggy section where the deer sometimes like to nap and scarlet elf cap fungi can emerge. ' Look for: Ringlet, White Admiral, Dark Green Fritillary.
Section 7 starts at the edge of the big pond (where toadlets cross the path in front of you, and deer hoofprints leave pointillist tributes in the muddy bank) and scoops across a plateau. This was opened up by conservation volunteers to help connect the lower and upper sections of the reserve by clearing scrub and letting the violets grow (so important for caterpillars). Look for: Wall Brown, Silver-washed Fritillary, Painted Lady, Speckled Wood.
Crossing over the dip of the ancient road at the end of Section 7, and then over the bank into Section 8, you are now in the area known as Park Corner Heath. This area gets a good amount of attention during conservation work parties to maintain the habitat and control the bracken. There is also an ephemeral pond here, so you may or may not spot wildlife enjoying water. Look for: Green Hairstreak, Dark Green, Small & Pearl-bordered Fritillary.
Following the path past Peter's Seat to Section 9, you will wander downhill into an area where the scrub has been held at bay so that the woodland species can stretch their wings. In the springtime, this area is carpeted with anemones and bluebells. Look for: Orange-tip, Comma Purple Hairstreak and Brimstone.
Section 10 is on the main plateau area where you can find grass snakes, adders and slowworms fairly regularly. Lots of bracken to control here but leaving some clumps does allow perches for the Pearls. Look for: Pearl and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Small Copper, Brimstone.
In 2019, 34 species of Butterfly were recorded on the reserves.
April: Brimstone, Peacock, Speckled Wood, Dingy Skipper started, Small Heath started.
May: Brimstone, Small Heath first emergence peaked, Common Blue started, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (season started & finished), Dingy Skipper peaked, Meadow Brown started.
June: Large Skipper first emergence started & finished, Painted Lady (peak numbers recorded this month), Ringlet started, Marbled White started.
July: Small/Essex Skipper started, Large White started, Purple Hairstreak, Common Blue second brood started, White Admiral season, Silver-washed Fritillary peaked, Marbled White peaked, Gatekeeper peaked, Meadow Brown peaked, Small Heath second brood, Ringlet peaked.
August: Small White, Common Blue second brood, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary second brood.
September: last orders at the bar for Comma, Red Admiral, Peacock, Speckled Wood & Small Heath.
Unexpected highlights in 2019 were a Chalk Hill Blue the Long-tailed Blue and a Large Tortoiseshell, so you should keep your eyes peeled at all times!
The reserve is developing in beauty and diversity with each season, so if you wander around, you may also be rewarded with wildlife of the non-butterfly variety.
Evidence of Foxes and Badgers can be seen around the reserves and if you're very lucky you may catch a glimpse of a Weasel or a Stoat. The most obvious mammals however are the Fallow Deer. This introduced species has a negative effect on the regrowth of the wooded areas.
Throughout the winter flocks of Redwing, Fieldfare, Siskin, Redpoll and Crossbill can be heard as they fly overhead. As you walk around the wood you may flush a wintering Woodcock. In the summer our migrants return and woodpeckers, Treecreepers and Nuthatch all nest in the larger trees. Look up and you may see our local Buzzards and Sparrowhawks. Red Kite are becoming a commoner sight too. Recently a Goshawk was sighted on a Conservation Work Party on Park Corner Heath.
(please explore more at http://sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk)
Rowland Wood and Park Corner Heath lie on acid Weald Clay. Dry and wet grass-heath with sunny glades between woodland has created the habitats which support a plethora of our nectar-rich native wildflowers. Varying heights of the vegetation also provide shelter throughout the year for many butterflies, moths, bees and flies. '
Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) thrives here, as do Brimstone butterflies emerging in early Spring, their caterpillars having previously munched their way through these trees' leaves!' Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) flourish in the drier open areas and Bugle (Ajuga reptans) favours damp but sunny woodland margins. ' Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) likes sunny, but drier woodland edges and is also an early source of nectar for bees. ' Other woodland plants include Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), Wood Pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorosa) and Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdon ssp. montanum). ' Common Dog Violet (Viola riviniana) is an important plant too. ' Look for the scalloped edges of the leaves where the caterpillars of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries have been feeding.
In wet grass- heath you may find the Delicate pink flowers of Ragged Robin (Silene flos-cuculi) and the sturdy plants of Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus) with whorls of purple-dotted white flowers. ' Look more closely for the diminutive Water Purslane (Lythrum portula) and Bog Stitchwort (Stellaria alsine) with tiny star-like white flowers.
Bird's-foot Trefoils (Lotus corniculatus and Lotus pedunculatus) turn sunny glades to gold to benefit Common Blue butterflies.
Later in the summer months, mauve Heather (Calluna vulgaris), crimson Betony (Betonica officinalis) and Golden Rod (Soildago virgaurea) flower in the drier areas of heathland on Park Corner Heath.
The nearest town is Uckfield, and the grid reference for the entrance to the Rowland Wood is TQ516 147. To reach it, travel through Halland and turn south off the A22 at the Landrover Man (BN8 6RD) into Park Lane. Turn right immediately into small private road. The entrance is on the right.
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