Magdalen Hill Down
Site feature providing more detailed description, photos and other information for the butterfly observer
Photo 1 - View looking West Along Original Unimproved Chalk Downland Part Of Reserve
Nature reserve managed by Butterfly Conservation
The original western section of the reserve consists of a rare fragment of unimproved chalk downland
The eastern section is gradually being re-colonised by butterflies as it is restored to flower rich chalk downland
34 species of butterfly recorded on the reserve, which has important breeding colonies of Green Hairstreak, Chalkhill Blue and Brown Argus as well as a small colony of Grizzled Skipper
Magdalen Hill Down is located just 2 miles from the historic city of
The reserve has several access points for the visitor. The original reserve can be accessed from the north via a footpath opposite St Swithin's School (parking on verge) or from the south, which allows direct access to the bottom of the steep slope (park in lay-by on A31 opposite the Chilcomb turn). The extension can be accessed via the track leading up past the cemetary (map) and then west to the original reserve. There is a small car park opposite the cemetery in this case. This is the route I normally take, so will describe areas of the reserve in the order they are reached from this entrance.
As you reach the top of this track at the entrance to the reserve, you will see the flower rich grassland of the extension spreading out in front (photo 2 below). The tree belt running north-south separating the extension from the original reserve can be seen to your right and represents the initial destination. The grassland of the extension and the path running west along its top edge are worthy of exploration. The path is often productive in spring for Green Hairstreak, patrolling Nymphalids (Peacock, Red Admiral) as well as Brimstones and Orange Tips. On the grassland itself, species such Meadow Brown and Marbled White are to be found in summer, when the extension is covered by a carpet of a downland flowers and long grass. In spring, whilst the grass is short, cowslips are predominant and there are fewer butterflies, however Dingy Skipper have occasionally been recorded here. Along the tree belt at the western edge of the extension, look out again for Green Hairstreak (particularly towards the lower end). There are several places along the tree belt where one can cross through to the original part of the reserve. As you emerge onto the western side, the steep south facing down stretches out in front of you, as shown in the top photo. Whilst not obvious from this vista, the down contains a mosaic of habitats managed for the various butterfly species.
Photo 2 - Eastern Section Of Reserve Now Being Returned to Flower Rich Downland
The sheltered lower slopes in particular contain important breeding areas for Brown Argus, Chalkhill Blue and Green Hairstreak. Not surprisingly, the local areas in the mosaic where their larval foodplants flourish (e.g. common rockrose for Green Hairstreak and Brown Argus, horseshoe vetch for Chalkhill Blue) are also good locations to see these species. Green Hairstreak can often be disturbed by walking close to the bushes along the bottom of the slope where they perch on foliage or in the scrub. They may also be encountered close to other bushy areas of the down including isolated hawthorn bushes or along the tree belt separating the original reserve from the extension. Chalkhill Blue also tend to favour the more sheltered lower slopes, where horseshoe vetch is plentiful. A small colony of Grizzled Skipper is also present, this early spring butterfly favouring the rougher areas. These more specialist species can of course also be found in company with commoner species such as Common Blue, Small Copper, Small Heath, Meadow Brown and Marbled White, as well Brimstone and the Nymphalids (Peacock and Red Admiral in particular).
Whilst the lower slopes probably represent the best single area on the reserve, the higher slopes are by no means devoid of their share of butterflies, particularly Chalkhill Blue, more mobile species such as Brimstone and Nymphalids and common grassland species. The bronze age round barrows along the crest of the original reserve provide a reminder of Magdalen Hill Down's very long history.