Noar Hill

Site feature providing more detailed description, photos and other information for the butterfly observer 

Photo 1 - Sheltered Hollow - Typical Duke Of Burgundy Habitat

Highlights

Hants & IoW Wildlife Trust reserve

Central area based on ancient chalk workings providing sheltered habitat for butterflies

Mosaic of other habitats ensures high species count including chalk downland and woodland species.

Good populations of Duke of Burgundy and Dingy Skipper. Brown Hairstreak present but becoming increasingly difficult to find

Site also well known for wild flowers including variety of orchids

Description

Noar Hill is a Hampshire & IoW Wildlife Trust near Selborne. It is a remarkable reserve, being on the site of medieval chalk workings which have long been reclaimed by nature. These former chalk workings now form a patchwork of sheltered hollows, creating a rich chalk scrub habitat in the central area of the reserve. Around this central area there are also areas of woodland, woodland margin, blackthorn scrub and rough ground. It is therefore no surprise that this diverse mosaic of habitats results in Noar Hill having a very high butterfly species count, totalling about 35 in all, with representatives of chalk downland, including Duke Of Burgundy and Dingy Skipper as well as some woodland species. Noar Hill also has a population of Brown Hairstreak, however sightings of this species are becoming increasingly scarce, suggesting their numbers are declining.

There are two access points to the Noar Hill reserve, from the minor road running south west from Selborne, the one nearest Selborne being arrowed on this map. The track heading south from there leads, in about ¼ km, to a gate into the reserve. There is limited parking on the minor road along the verge. On entering the reserve through the gate, continue up the incline to the visitor display board, where the site opens out and the first of the chalk scrub hollows will be seen. Throughout the season from late April until early September there should be good numbers of butterflies on the reserve in fine weather. The most conspicuous larger species (depending on flight period) tend to be Orange Tip, Brimstone, Peacock, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Comma, Silver-washed Fritillary, Marbled White and other true Whites. There are good populations of smaller butterflies such as Common Blue, Large, Small and Essex Skippers, Small Heath and Brown Argus, in addition to the 'Duke' and Dingy Skipper already mentioned. Green Hairstreak can also sometimes be seen. In summer notable butterfly visitors which make an appearance include Clouded Yellow, White Admiral and, very occasionally, Purple Emperor.

The 'Dukes' (typically late April through to late May) seem to have a preference for the more sheltered hollows such as the one behind the visitor display board (photo 1 above) and others through to the far end chalk pit (photo 3 below). These have rough margins with longer vegetation where the males like to perch. By Duke of Burgundy standards there is a good population here but don't expect to see more than a few on a visit. If undisturbed they may remain in the same few yards for several hours. Dingy Skippers (May and early June) on the other hand will tend to move around over the central area of the site rather than frequenting a few favoured spots.

Brown Hairstreak (end of July and through August) can in principle be seen anywhere on the reserve where there is blackthorn close to trees. However, they are an elusive species and, as indicated, seem to be declining at this site, so any sightings should be regarded as a significant success. Brown Hairstreak spend much of their time high in the trees, usually Ash, where they will rest or feed on aphid honeydew, making occasional short 'jerky' flights. Male Brown Hairstreak occasionally come down to feed on the pink flowers of Hemp Agrimony or Bramble, whereas the low level forays of the more brightly coloured females tend to be in search of egg-laying opportunities on blackthorn or to perch/bask on low vegetation. An area to the left of the main track called the 'The Triangle' (Photo 2), about 5 minutes' walk from the visitor display board, is one of several places to look for both sexes, having all the right ingredients, including hemp agrimony, blackthorn for egg-laying and Ash trees around the perimeter.

Photo 2 - ' The Triangle' Viewed Across The Main Path (Blackthorn In Flower)

To continue to the end of the reserve, take the middle path of the three pronged fork just after the triangle, leading to a large chalk pit whose flower rich banks are always worth close inspection. Then the path enters a more a more shady area leading to the last and possibly best chalk pit (photo 3). Along the track approaching this last pit and in the sheltered hollow itself,  I have seen most of the butterfly species at Noar Hill on one occasion or another, including Green Hairstreak, Brown Hairstreak,  Duke of Burgundy, Dingy Skipper, Brown Argus and Clouded Yellow. On a bright warm early August day, the sheltered hollow of the chalk pit can become 'alive' with butterflies attracted by the abundant nectar sources. As an alternative to retracing your steps, you can return to the triangle on the 'high level' route. Use the rudimentary steps cut in the bank leading out of the pit. At the top of the bank there is a seat and the path passing behind the seat takes you back to the triangle. 

Photo 3 - Chalk Pit At The Far End Of The Reserve. One of Its Most Productive Butterfly Locations

Finally, the area of the reserve to the south of the central chalk pits (can be accessed by taking the path in front of the afforementioned seat), is also worthy of exploration if time permits. As well as common species, look out for Dingy Skipper and Brown Argus in suitable areas and be aware that even the odd Grayling has been reported from the south side of the reserve.