Martin Down

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

Photo 1 - View Looking South With Central Section Of The Bokerley Ditch On The Right

Highlights

Large National Nature Reserve in extreme west of county

Expansive area of chalk downland bounded on one side by a prehistoric earthwork, providing excellent butterfly habitats

Probably the best site in Hampshire for Adonis Blue and a very good site for Dark Green Fritillary

Most other chalk downland dwelling species represented including Grizzled Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Chalkhill Blue, Small Blue, Green Hairstreak and Marsh Fritillary, as well as common species

Reserve also encompasses an area of woodland to the north, with Silver-washed and Dark Green Fritillary present

Description

Martin Down National Nature Reserve is certainly one of Hampshire's crown jewels when it comes to butterfly sites (and indeed for flora and fauna too). The reserve is located in the extreme west of the county, close to the Dorset border (click for location). Whilst the reserve consists largely of undulating chalk downland, its large area includes flower rich grassland, scrub and even an area of woodland. Along the western boundary there is a linear prehistoric earthwork called the Bokerley Ditch (Photo 1) - butterflies thrive in the sheltered habitat it provides.

Being a large reserve, there are several access points, with the main car parks being situated at the northern end, accessed from the Salisbury - Blandford road and also on the eastern side of the reserve near the village of Martin. This eastern access provides a quicker route to one of the best areas for butterflies on the reserve, close to a central section of the Bokerley Ditch. The car park (
map) in this case is located at the end of a minor road leading west from Martin village called Sillen Lane. From this car park, take the main track west, which has a hedgerow on the right marking the boundary of the reserve and a large expanse of flower rich meadow to the left. Depending on time of visit, common butterfly species are most likely to be encountered in this first section (e.g. Brimstone, Orange Tip, Common Blue, Common Vanessids, Large and Small Skippers). After about 1/2km, a fork is reached. Take the left fork here along a grassy track (Photo 2)
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Photo 2 - Grassy Track Through Flower Rich Meadow Favoured By Dark Green Fritillary

In May look out for Dingy Skipper along here. Small Blue may also be encountered and in the bushier areas further on, Green Hairstreak. In late June/July Dark Green Fritillary should be seen flying powerfully over the meadow or feeding on the many flowers. After a few minutes' walk, a visitor information notice is reached in a sheltered hollow close to the Bokerley Ditch, and facing a stand of conifers. This area (i.e. the hollow, the Bokerley Ditch itself, especially the section running north-west from here, and the flower rich grassland to the east of the ditch) is excellent for butterflies and deserves a thorough exploration. It is also shown in the top photo. Most of Martin Down's wealth of butterfly species should be found in this area according to their respective flight periods. Species include Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Small Blue, Brown Argus, Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Green Hairstreak, and Dark Green Fritillary. The area is one of the best in Hampshire for Dark Green Fritillary (on the grassland) and Adonis Blue (in the hollow and along the eastern slope of the ditch). Marsh Fritillary may also be encountered sporadically along the ditch, but there are much stronger colonies over the border in Dorset (e.g. Hod Hill near Blandford, Giants Hill at Cerne Abbas). An excellent but compact circular route is to follow the ditch in a north-westerly direction as far as the next visitor information notice (after ~2/3km), then take a track heading east back to the Sillen Lane car park.

Photo 3 - The Bokerley Ditch Provides An Excellent Sheltered Habitat For Butterflies

This area can of course also be accessed from the car park at the northern end of the reserve, following a track south east close to the Bokerley Ditch (Photo 3) and passing on the way reminders of the reserve's use as a wartime firing range. The northern car park is also most convenient to explore the only wooded area of the reserve on the north side of the Salisbury to Blandford Forum road, known as Kitts Grave. I only recently acquainted myself with this area and it is a real delight. Take the path heading north (here) towards the woodland edge, having crossed the Salisbury - Blandford road. The best area in Kitt's Grave for butterflies is the south-western section here where there are a couple of flower-rich clearings (Photo 4). From late June, Dark Green Fritillary can be found in these clearings and, in the adjoining wide rides Silver-washed Fritillary, as well as many common species. It is certainly an area I will be revisiting for further exploration.

Photo 4 - Clearing In Kitt's Grave Frequented By Dark Green Fritillary