Site feature providing more detailed description, photos and other information for the butterfly observer
Photo 1 - Blackthorn Scrub Favoured By Brown Hairstreak
Strongest site for Brown Hairstreak in the county.
Many common species as well as occasional sightings of Chalkhill Blue, Dingy Skipper, Adonis Blue and Dark Green Fritillary due to proximity of chalk downland.
Unusual site on Crown (MoD) land comprising a network of tracks with thick hedgerows, scrub and woodland edge, making for easy walking and pleasant vistas.
Site seems to do well for butterflies despite lacking protected status (e.g. as nature reserve) or visible environmental management programme.
The village of Shipton Bellinger is tucked into the far north-west corner of Hampshire, close to the Wiltshire border. It is also situated close to the rolling chalk downland expanses of Salisbury Plain and its large military training area. Indeed the site described in this feature is on Crown (MoD) land just to the west of the village and consists of a network of tracks with thick hedgerows, scrub and woodland edge bordering arable farmland. The site does not have any special conservation designation (e.g. such as a nature reserve) nor a specific boundary, nor obvious environmental management programme, which, in a way, enhances its appeal.
Shipton Bellinger is one of two main locations in Hampshire where the elusive Brown Hairstreak can be found, and is presently the strongest site in the county for this species. The best time to visit for this butterfly is during August, starting with the first males early in the month, followed a few days later by the first females. Egg-laying activity commences during the second or third week and runs on until at least the beginning of September. The flight period tails off during mid/late September when faded individuals can still be seen. Brown Hairstreak are actually distributed in very low density over several square miles encompassing the Tidworth, Shipton Bellinger and Cholderton areas and thus could be encountered where the habitat includes abundant blackthorn in hedgerows or scrub, some tall trees (especially ash) and nectar sources such as brambles. At Shipton Bellinger, which is approximately in the middle of this area, there are several particular places to look for the species, all within a few minutes' walk from the village. There is parking in a small car park here (opposite the village hall) where there are some recycling bins.
From the car park take the track running due west. I use the word 'track' here rather loosely since there are actually two parallel tracks, the main one and a subsidiary one, with a wide, thick hedgerow between them. Along the main track there are occasional trees or groups of trees, including a few ash trees which are especially favoured by Brown Hairstreaks. They spend most of their time here, just perched on a leaf, feeding on aphid honeydew or on sap around the buds, occasionally flitting around the boughs, usually well above eye level. The ash trees are also usually where mating occurs. Waiting patiently below one of these ash trees will often produce a few sightings of Brown Hairstreak activity, although they do occasionally use other trees as perches. On the other hand, the subsidiary parallel track, which branches left from the main track after ~ 300m, provides a better chance of seeing individual hairstreaks low down (well the odd one if you are lucky!) especially towards its far end, close to where it re-joins the main track.
At this point a minor detour can be made into a field with tall Ash trees along the eastern boundary (here). Brown Hairstreaks are present in these trees too (binoculars needed) and they do occasionally descend to the fields on both east and west sides to bask on low vegetation or take moisture, with the period up to mid-morning being the most likely time.
Returning to the main track, continue along it until you reach a T junction, notably with a tall ash tree at the junction, overlooking an area of scrub. This scrub area (shown in the top photo and location arrowed here) is a good place to search for nectaring Brown Hairstreaks or egg laying females. In addition to common species, Dingy Skipper (in spring), Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue and Dark Green Fritillary are sometimes recorded here, but in low numbers and not every year, suggesting their breeding sites are in closeby areas of Salisbury Plain. Brown Argus on the other hand do appear to breed here in small numbers.
Photo 2 - Hedgerow Along The County Boundary Has Been Very Productive For Brown Hairstreak
Finally, the hedgerow in front of tall trees (photo 2 above and arrowed here) running along the western boundary of the scrub area has been one of the most productive locations for Brown Hairstreak in recent years. It has abundant brambles along its southern section, attracting males in particular, plenty of blackthorn along the northern section for egg-laying and all sheltered by trees, including ash at the northern extremity. This wooded margin marks the county boundary which thankfully is not respected by Brown Hairstreaks - the hedgerow and scrub just on the Wiltshire side of the border can also prove successful. A visit to Shipton Bellinger should also result in a good variety of other butterflies, including Brimstone, Red Admiral, Comma and Peacock which all enjoy the abundant nectar sources.