In the Royal Navy part of my job was intelligence gathering, a camera was never very far away, and macro photography was to become my passion. Never more so than for the recording butterflies and moths.
Travelling the world I saw so much flora and fauna which gave me the passion for wildlife.
From Humble Beginnings: 36 years of
Butterflying in Hampshire
I joined Hampshire Butterfly Conservation in 1984, when the Society was still really in its infancy and a lot has happened to the branch in all those years. When I joined the branch I was serving in the Royal Navy, so I was away a lot of the time, but when I was in the UK, I spent time in Berkshire as I lived in Reading, coming across into Hampshire on the odd occasion in the summer time to see the elusive Purple Emperor at Butterwood close to Basingstoke.
The ships I served on were always based in Portsmouth, so I familiarised myself with several well known sites, these being Portsdown Hill at Cosham and Botley Wood near Fareham. When I visited these sites in the 1980’s, butterflies now considered rare were quite common then, species like the Wall Brown and Dingy Skipper at Portsdown Hill. The Wall Brown was certainly the species to look out for as it danced in front of you as you were doing your transect, keeping its distance but keeping you company nevertheless. It was always a delight to see, and when it was gone, it was very sad. A couple of years ago two were reported on Portsdown Hill one by myself and its hoped that they will find a niche again at the site.
Grizzled Skipper and Marsh Fritillary and Brown Hairstreak were also noted on some transects in Botley Wood and some of these species could be found without any difficulty in the well wooded areas in and around Fareham, as the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary and Pearl Bordered Fritillary also frequented the meadows and rides.
This was before Whiteley village was built, which has grown into a large housing estate and retail park.
Portsdown Hill was a sanctuary for me, with such gems as the Dingy Skipper, Small Heath and the Wall Brown all have sadly become extinct since the 1980's.
Walking along the footpaths which criss-cross Portsdown Hill in the 1980's and early 1990's you couldn't fail to see at least one Wall Brown on top of the downland.
The Newsletter in the 1980's was quite basic but with lots of eye-brow raising information
The Dingy Skipper was never common on Portsdown Hill but when I did see it I normally saw more than one, most sightings came the embankment close to the M275. Like the Wall Brown did it disappear due to pollution levels intensifying ?
Botley Wood still had small colonies of the Pearl-Bordered and Small-Pearl Bordered Fritillaries in the meadows and rides. But like so many colonies in the country they became extinct in the early 1990's.
Despite colonies being at Farlington Marshes, within one mile radius of Portsdown Hill, the Small Heath disappeared in the 1980's quite why is somewhat of a mystery.
Magdelan Hill Down
Botley Wood/ Whiteley Pastures
Magdalen Hill Down is a butterfly haven, which is the product of superb management over the years, and has such gems as Silver-Spotted Skipper and Adonis Blue to add to its impressive list over the last decade. (Below) is the Brown Argus one of most common butterflies on the site.
Despite being surrounded on three sides by urbanisation, Whiteley Pastures and Botley wood have some superb flora and fauna. The Forestry Commission has some big plans for the future in Whiteley Pastures, including re-introductions of Fritillary species and Hairstreaks and possibly the Duke of Burgundy. Watch this space. (Below) The White Admiral butterfly is quite common in the rides, where it feeds on bramble in the summer.
Natural chalk downland, untouched by modern agriculture, is now rare. Renowned for its rich flora and butterflies, chalk downland survives only in small, isolated pockets. It once encircled Winchester, but most of it has been lost to housing, roads, golf courses, afforestation and agriculture. These losses make what is left very special. Magdalen Hill Down on the eastern edge of Winchester is a fine example, now restored to its former beautiful state by the Hampshire Branch of Butterfly Conservation.
Years ago, the hillside that now forms the Original reserve was a paradise of wild flowers and butterflies. However by 1989 there was a heavy growth of wild privet, dogwood, bramble and hawthorn, which threatened the delicate flowers and the butterflies that depend on them. The scrub has now been cleared and is kept under control: only selected thickets are retained to give shelter and provide a habitat for birds and other creatures. Many shrubs and trees are the larval food plants for moths.
Botley Wood is a 108 hectare woodland in the heart of South Hampshire. Formally a wetland and coppiced woodland, Botley boasts a rich variety of scarce plants and animals.
The woodland is now comprised of plantation stands of conifer. It is the areas between these that harbour most of the species of interest. The network of tracks, ditches and trails are home to many scarce species of plant. An array of insects including rare butterfly and moth species such as the Purple Emperor can be spotted. Over the past decade or so the Whiteley village has been built around the outside of the wood with large areas of meadows now occupied by housing, this puts enormous pressure on the woodlands eco-system.
Whiteley Wood and Gull coppice cover 40 acres and consists of two distinct habitats,
an area that had been planted with conifers by the Forestry Commission but was felled in 1996, and oak woodland. The ground flora is limited but improving, and includes foxgloves, common spotted orchids, primrose, bugle and violets. Wildlife is diverse including deer, common lizards, nightingales and purple hairstreak butterflies. There are circular trails with some surfaced paths, oak benches and a snake sculpture. Ideal for dog walking or cycling, and often used to get between the housing estate and school.
Bentley Woods has now become very popular with visitors, unlike when I first visited the site I could find myself in the Eastern Clearing on my own for most of the morning, looking for Fritillaries. In the above photograph it shows an area which was cleared of conifer, and the Small-Pearl Bordered didn't hesitate to move in along with the Marsh Fritillary as well. Sadly these two species are no longer found in this location.
I have a seperate page for the Small pearl-bordered Fritillary on this website suffice to say that the species is desperately trying to hang on in Bentley Wood. In the 1980's it was quite common and it was seen in every ride, and in the meadows, which tended to be much wetter then. I used to have to walk around Eastern clearing with wellington boots on, but as a rule its dried out a lot now, not to this butterflies liking. Another reason its disappearing fast is probably in breeding, being so isolated, from other sites, its days are numbered, I fear.
One of the highlights of a trip to this wood is to see the Argent and Sable moth which is a speciality at this site. The food plant of the moth is Birch and there are many birch trees starting to re-generate in some of the clear felled areas, close to the border with Hampshire. This is a female which was laying her eggs on the trees during a field trip in 2017. They certainly give you the runaround once they start to warm up in the morning.
The field trip programme usually includes a visit to Bentley Wood. The Argent and Sable is a triumph when seen, and dare I say it the Small pearl-bordered Fritillary, and Marsh Fritillary.
When I used to visit this site in the early 1980's I travelled initially by train, getting off at Dean Station and hiking across the fields which lead into the wood. I used to see several species which sadly have now become rare and extinct. The Marsh Fritillary was very common in the Eastern Clearing, as it was very wet underfoot, and the Devil's Bit Scabious was a common plant there. Also the High Brown Fritillary could be seen in small numbers. Once I saw two roosting in a Hazel Bush just off one of the main rides, I had to check these out, as the Dark Green Fritillary was also present at this site as well. Sadly the High Brown Fritillary have now disappeared, along with the Marsh Fritillary, although the site does still have a Marsh Fritillary presence in a different location. Photo (top left) is that of a (Melanoleuca Cabeau) Marsh Fritillary variant which was flying in the Eastern Clearing, (top right) is the High Brown Fritillary, sadly no longer a butterfly which flies in Hampshire any more.
Bentley Wood (grid reference SU250295), together with the adjacent Blackmoor Copse, form one of the largest contiguous areas of woodland in Wiltshire, England. The wood is about 6 miles (10 km) east of Salisbury, north of the village of West Dean, and is largely within West Dean parish.
World War 11
In the build up to D-Day in the spring of 1944, Bentley Wood was used as accommodation for United States troops. The headquarters were in Norman Court mansion, West Tytherley, to the east of the wood. NCOs and other ranks were encamped in Nissen huts erected within the wood. The facilities included a hospital in an extended Nissen hut.
Most of the wood north of Livery Track was used. Some areas of the wood were laid to gravel to facilitate heavy vehicles, and Livery Track was widened and laid with macadam. A modest number of trees were felled to provide space.
Following the end of the war, the wood was used temporarily to store vehicles and other equipment returning from Europe.
In 1950 Bentley Wood was acquired by the Forestry Commission, which undertook a large replanting programme to fill in the spaces that had been cleared to accommodate military facilities in the WWII period. In 1983 the UK Government decided to sell much of the woodland owned by the Forestry Commission, including Bentley Wood. A local resident, Lady Ann Colman, widow of Sir Nigel Colman, formed a trust with the purpose of purchasing Bentley Wood for the public, which was achieved shortly before her death in 1984.
The Bentley Wood Charitable Trust that she had formed was guided initially by Ralph Whitlock, (no relation) a local farmer, conservationist and broadcaster. Among his achievements associated with the development of the wood was the formation of The Friends of Bentley Wood, a group of local people whose purpose is to protect the wood as a nature reserve and develop it for the access and enjoyment of the public.
The Purple Emperor is obviously the main attraction in the wood in the summer months, however lately it seems to have been somewhat scarcer than usual. It is still one of the best sites to see it however, and there is always an audience in the main car-park. Although I find the species is just as willing to show itself at the first switch back and on the many undulating rides which lead off of this part of the wood. This Male Purple Emperor is imbibing on a car hub which was covered in rotting manure, which obviously attracted the butterfly for many minutes letting everybody get a few pictures, even if it did get into some awkward positions!There is also a good area for the White-letter Hairstreak as well, close to some well known Wych Elms, near Ralph Whitlock's memorial.
Park Cattle at Noar Hill, the cattle, keep the scrub in check and their movement over the chalk regenerates the Cowslip plants for the Duke of Burgundy
Keeping the sward to a cropped height ideal for the Chalkhill Blue butterfly at Portsdown Hill
The National trust own and manage most of the coastal sites on the Isle of Wight. On Bonchurch Down a favourite site for the Adonis Blue the sward is kept in check by Goats
Without volunteers using their own precious time to go scrub bashing, and generally keeping sites in good condition a lot of sites would become too overgrown and a lot of species would disappear.
Sir David Attenborough officially opens the Magdalen Hill Extension, with TV and News teams in attendance this opening was huge news throughout Butterfly Conservation and throughout Conservation in general.
Since the extension opened the Small Blue has moved in on the Kidney Vetch, along with the Adonis Blue and Silver-Spotted Skipper. Even the Marsh Fritillary has been seen on the site.
Magdalen Hill Down extension
A large reserve on a steep, south-facing chalk hillside and hill-top, once the site of Winchester's ancient fair, and a large army camp during WW1. The reserve has been extended twice to take in the arable land for conversion back to chalk downland.
Migrant moth sightings include European Corn Borer, Small Mottled Willow and Marbled Clover.
The scarce Striped Lychnis moth breeds on the reserve and nearby.
Scarce arable plants including Cornflower, Venus’s Looking Glass, Night-flowering Catchfly, Corn Chamomile and Sharp-leaved Fluellen were found when the arable area on North Down was cultivated for the sowing of chalk downland plant species.
Fifty years ago Magdalen Hill Down was open, grazed downland famous for Adonis Blue butterflies. Much of it was then ploughed-up for arable cultivation and the steeper slopes left to invading scrub.
By 1989 the butterflies were greatly reduced, but our scrub clearance and grazing management has carefully restored the site into a haven for wildflowers and butterflies once again.
The original reserve has been extended twice (mid-1995 and 2004) by taking on large neighbouring areas of arable land. On these chalk grassland is being very successfully re-created through sowing with native grass and flower seed from other Hampshire sites.
This work, supported by a Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme and Hampshire County Council, is restoring the former glory of this important downland and allowing butterflies and moths to establish healthy populations again.
The extension was opened by our new president of Butterfly Conservation Sir David Attenborough on the 10th July 1999, hundreds of people attended this historic event.
Since this date the site has become an integral part of the whole downland, and the site has a carpet of wildflowers from early April right through to the end of Autumn.
There is now a large area of cowslips on the down and here there is hope that the Duke of Burgundy can be introduced, as there is a site almost opposite called Deacon Hill which has now been purchased by Butterfly conservation and Hampshire Wildlife, and has a small colony of Duke of Burgundy.
At the top of the reserve are several Bronze Age Round Barrows, listed as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
Area: 46 hectares (114 acres)
Map reference: SU 506 293 OS Map: Land Ranger 185
The reserve lies between the A31 and B3404 just outside the eastern edge of Winchester, over the bridge that crosses the M3.
Arriving by car, the main North entrance is the track adjacent to Magdalen Hill Cemetery at SU 5012 295. A small gravel car park across the B3404 from the track should be used.
For the south entrance park in the small lay-by on the Petersfield Road (A31 - Petersfield direction) opposite the minor road to Chilcomb.
The original reserve is designated Open Access land and the extensions all have permissive open or linear access in addition to the various Public Footpaths that cross the hillside. Most paths are firm and easy to follow, but some have moderate to steep slopes in places and can be slippery when wet. Some kissing gates and stiles may be encountered. A bridleway runs along part of the northern boundary.
A disabled access track runs through Pathfield on the upper part of the reserve between a small car-park down the track (disabled access with RADAR key) adjoining the cemetery at the western end and the St Swithin’s school entrance at the eastern end.
Grazing stock are now present on the reserve all year round: - cattle, sheep and Exmoor ponies may be present (sometimes in small numbers) in any of the grazing compartments at any time. All dogs must therefore always be on leads at all times on the reserve and in every grazing compartment.
Bus services from Winchester to Winnall, Guildford and Petersfield pass along the B3404, where there are several reserve entrances.
Most ticks are little more than an irritation, but a few can transmit Lyme disease, a rare and potentially serious illness which is treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early. It is therefore important to be informed and take some simple precautions.
Recruitment and open days
A recruitment day at Magdalen Hill Down
Hampshire Butterfly conservation is by far the largest group in the UK with a membership of 2433 individual members ( in 2020 )
However we cannot rest on our laurels, as the branch needs to expand and keep recruiting for as everyone knows, money doesn’t grow on trees, and after such a hectic year….producing very little revenue I suspect due to the pandemic it will be all hands on deck when things get back to ‘the new normal’. Money comes from many different sources, obviously the Hampshire and Isle of Wight membership fees being one of the biggest earners. We also partake in many galas and festivals and shows throughout the year. These put the group on the map with people coming to see the display’s which advertises the group and what it does, and it’s a good meet and greet scheme.
A few years ago we had a new members day where we and one or two others of the group met potential and new group members and showed them around Magdalen Hill down telling them what you can see and the history of the site and what the future holds for conservation of the site. We also had a display and a meet and greet in the New Forest show which I must say was my favourite recruitment day, not only did you see what the group was all about there was a moth trap showing what moths could be seen in Hampshire, picture boards showing the Hampshire butterflies in all their glory, and generally everyone having a good time.
Of course the overall aim of the Branch is to Save endangered species from extinction help restore natural habitats and create safe-havens for butterflies and moths.
Be part of an active and friendly organisation that makes a difference at local and national levels.
Enjoy access to our butterfly nature reserves across the UK, Share your voice to campaign and support wider environmental issues affecting wildlife and people.
Get involved in the world’s largest Butterfly & Moth recording and monitoring programmes. Help create a world rich in butterflies for future generations to enjoy.
Recruitment day at the New Forest Show
Marsh Fritillary reintroduction
The last marsh fritillary butterfly disappeared from north Hampshire's meadows in 1996, but an exciting new partnership is working to return the species to its former haunts.
The marsh fritillary is one of our most bright and beautiful butterflies, and was once widespread across Britain. However like many pollinators, the species suffered from years of habitat loss and degradation, and locally went extinct two decades ago.
However with the generous support of HIWWT and Butterfly Conservation members, the Farnborough Airport Community Environmental Fund, the Ministry of Defence and the John Spedan Lewis Foundation, and by working with local experts from the Hampshire Marsh Fritillary Action Group (HMFAG), a project is underway to use healthy populations elsewhere in the UK to reintroduce the marsh fritillary to suitable Trust-managed sites in north Hampshire.
A radical reintroduction plan
A two year captive breeding and release programme formally began in September 2016, with the careful collection of 300 marsh fritillary caterpillars from several strong colonies in Dartmoor, Devon.
They have since been transferred to experienced captive breeders in Hampshire and Buckinghamshire. These breeders are supporting the caterpillars as they grow and the first generation was released successfully in the spring of 2018. We hope to release several generations of larvae onto a Trust-managed meadow complex in north Hampshire over the period to spring 2019.
This ambitious plan is not without its risks. Marsh fritillary populations are notoriously volatile and subject to local colony extinctions. However the combined expertise of The Wildlife Trusts, Butterfly Conservation, and HMFAG mean that through creating networks of suitable habitats, we’ll give them the best possible chance of establishing a resilient new marsh fritillary population in north Hampshire.
Support marsh fritillary butterflies
Together we can continue to protect wild havens for this beautiful species.
Support our work to protect marsh fritillary butterflies and other species across our counties by donating to our conservation work.
Male Marsh Fritillary at rest on a buttercup.
Marsh Fritillary male and female during their mating ritual , which takes the form of boxing , the males tap the head of the female to see if she is receptive. This behaviour is worth looking out for when encountering Marsh Fritillaries. The photograph shows the size of the male and female (Male on the left and female on the right)
Marsh Fritillary caterpillars in early spring sunshine where they have just emerged from winter hibernation.
Old Winchester Hill
Old Winchester Hill has some varied topography and sward heights, ideal for good flora and fauna.
The Adonis Blue is just about hanging on, at Old Winchester Hill, but with the grazing regime and warmer summers hopefully numbers will increase.
Herdwick sheep are on the downland 24-7 365 days a year, and have created a varied mosaic of chalk grassland suited to most species found there.
The Adonis Blue has been part of the landscape in Hampshire for many decades, and was very abundant at many sites in the 1950's and 1960's although Myxomatosis was prevalent at some sites and eventually killed off the butterfly due to the rabbit population succumbing to this. Old Winchester Hill has been a major player in the re-introduction of this species, and in the month of June 1981 Jeremy Thomas introduced 65 adults from Purbeck in Dorset. The butterfly bred successfully during the hot summers of 1982-1984, reaching a peak of some 5,000 adults, during the second brood in 1n 1984. However in 1985 brought a very wet summer and there was a major population crash.
The species lingered on in small numbers during the ensuing poor summers, but the hot summers of 1989 and 1990 arrived too late to save it. The last adult was seen in early 1989, but the species was re-introduced again in the early 2000's again from Swanage Dorset, it did not do well as the summers were cool and damp in the intervening years, and the species has had to be topped' up so to speak. Now with a sheep grazing regime in the form of Herdwick sheep, these animals keep the sward just at the right height not only for the Adonis Blue but for another specialised species seen on Old Winchester Hill the Silver-Spotted Skipper.
In my experience the Adonis blue is just hanging on with moderate counts of between 30-50 individuals seen on the large south facing slope and again smaller numbers on the car-park slope in most spring's and again the butterfly does better in the late summer , but it hasn't really taken up the baton in large numbers...yet. But with global warming and possible the advent of warmer summer weather it could again take hold and the numbers could be found in five figures. Who knows only time will tell.
When the book the 'Butterflies of Hampshire' was written in 2000 the Adonis blue was accredited with just one site, and that was Martin Down. Now 21 years later, it can be found, at Old Winchester Hill, Beacon Hill, odd ones on Butser Hill, St Catherines Hill Down, Magdalen Hill Down, Stockbridge Down, Broughton Down, Porton Down, and last year I saw one at Shipton Bellinger. so it is certainly spreading its wings.
One of the largest sites in the UK and probably as important the Silver-Spotted Skipper is enjoying a lot of success at Old Winchester Hill with the grazing regime. Across the Meon Valley it has now re-appeared at Beacon Hill after many years of almost becoming extinct due to management. But reintroduction of grazing with sheep and cattle has reversed this trend and now the Adonis Blue can be found there.
The Chalkhill Blue is the most common butterflies on the downland in the height of the summer, the car-park slope is literally 'shimmering' with this butterfly , and here there are eight males feeding on some Herdwick sheep dung.
The Clouded Yellow breeds on Old Winchester Hill as its food plant Clover is particularly common on the down. Here is a male and female mating, which is not such a common sight.