Alice Holt Forest & Bentley Station Meadow
Site feature providing more detailed description, photos and other information for the butterfly observer
Photo 1 - View East Along Main Track In Straits Inclosure With First Observation Tower Visible
is a large and varied woodland complex managed by Forest Enterprise Alice Holt Forest
Good visitor facilities including visitor centre and marked trails for walkers and cyclists
Stronghold for Purple Emperor in NE Hants, but also good populations of other woodland species including White Admiral, Silver-washed Fritillary and Purple Hairstreak.
The adjoining Butterfly Conservation reserve of Bentley Station Meadow provides complementary meadow habitat and species
As indicated in the title, this site feature actually covers two adjoining areas in NE Hampshire, namely
The Straits Inclosure at the extreme southern end of the forest is one of its best butterfly locations, despite being compact with just one main gravel track (Photo 1). It also provides one of the best chances of encountering Purple Emperor at low level. There is limited parking at the entrance (map) and occasionally forest operations restrict access. For the woodland species mentioned above, late June through to mid-July is the best time to visit (although late June may be too early for Purple Hairstreak). Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral have done well there in recent years and should be conspicuous along the main track and in the secondary rides. Areas where rides join or where there are abundant bramble flowers are especially good, for instance close to the first observation tower. Purple Emperor can also sometimes be seen in the canopy but usually require much more patience. Locations to be especially vigilant for them include the section close to the entrance, around both observation towers and areas where the track is usually damp, such as near the Forestry Commission trailer just before the first observation tower. Other good Purple Emperor locations within Alice Holt Forest include Goose Green Inclosure (Emperor assembly point close to the old car park at SU805416) and Abbots Wood Inclosure (assembly point close to car park at SU810410).
Back in Straits Inclosure, the oak trees along the track are also home to Purple Hairstreak, best seen in the morning or late afternoon flitting high in these oaks. The wood also boasts very good populations of commoner woodland dwelling species providing interest at other times of the year. These include Speckled Wood, Peacock, Comma, Brimstone and Red Admiral. A good walk is to follow the main gravel track to its end at the second observation tower. Instead of returning to the entrance via the same route, a detour along more grassy rides can be made by returning only as far as the first observation tower. Then take the grassy ride running NE by bearing left at this tower. After about 400 yards turn right at the cross tracks. This second grassy ride returns you, in a further 400 yards, to the main gravel track, close to the entrance gate.
Bentley Station Meadow (map) is a small Butterfly Conservation reserve which adjoins the northern end of
Photo 2 - Bentley Station Meadow
Species you should reasonably expect to see from a good exploration of the different areas of the reserve, and depending on time of visit of course, include nettle feeding Nymphalids (Peacock, Red Admiral and Comma), Blues/Coppers (Common Blue, Holly Blue, Small Copper), Browns (Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Small Heath, Marbled White, Speckled Wood), Skippers (Large, Small/Essex) and Whites, including Orange Tip and Brimstone. In July you should also see Silver-washed Fritillary which breed in the reserve. White Admiral are not unusual visitors and Purple Emperor are also occasionally seen, bearing in mind the proximity of the forest and the availability of sallow, the emperor's larval foodplant, within the reserve itself. You may even encounter Dark Green Fritillary in the meadow areas although it's not clear if the species is breeding here.