Straits Inclosure the main ride
Alice Holt Forest Bentley Station Meadow and Straits Inclosure
Silver-Washed Fritillaries are quite common in the rides feeding on Bramble and Thistles
The Purple Emperor is often seen on the ground imbibing on mineral salts in Straits Inclosure. but it's mainly seen flying around the Oak canopy
White Admiral can be quite common in some years flying up and down the rides and alighting on Bramble to feed
Purple Hairstreak live in the Oak canopy and rarely visit flowers or come down to the ride floor.
The mating ritual of the Silver-Washed Fritillary is something to look out for when walking in the rides. Here the male and female are mating on a fern leaf.
Alice Holt Forest is a large and varied woodland complex managed by Forest Enterprise.
Good visitor facilities including a 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 complimentary meadow habitat and species.
As indicated in the title, this site feature actually covers two adjoining areas in NE Hampshire, namely Alice Holt Forest and Bentley Station Meadow. In combination, they provide a varied spectrum of butterfly habitats and species, but can, of course, be visited separately. Note that Bentley Station Meadow is not to be confused with Bentley Wood, which is ~40 miles to the west and the subject of a different site feature!
Alice Holt Forest, despite its address being Farnham, Surrey, is actually mainly in Hampshire. It is a remnant of the ancient forest which colonised large areas of Southern England after the last ice age. Today the forest is managed by Forest Enterprise, whose sympathetic management ensures timber production, wildlife and visitors can co-exist in harmony. Whilst some areas of the forest remain as coniferous plantations, other areas of mixed and deciduous woodland provide the perfect complement - indeed our native oak predominates in some areas and perhaps is one reason why Alice Holt remains a stronghold for Purple Emperor.
Alice Holt Woodland Park (map) is the area that many visitors to the forest head for, not least because of its informative visitor centre (including cafe), waymarked trails, picnic areas and pleasant woodland walks. If it's butterflies on your mind however, areas of the forest away from this visitor hub are likely to be more productive. Key woodland species such as White Admiral, Purple Emperor, Silver-washed Fritillary and Purple Hairstreak are found in several of the inclosures. 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 the Purple Emperor at a 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 maybe just too early for Purple Hairstreak). Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral have usually done well here 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 the 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 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 partially circular walk can be made by following 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 Alice Holt Forest and forms part of a larger site of special scientific interest (SSSI). The reserve is easily reached from Bentley village by crossing the railway immediately east of the station (using the pedestrian crossing point). Once across the railway, follow the track east into the Lodge Inclosure of Alice Holt, which soon reaches the main entrance to the Bentley Station Meadow reserve on the right. The reserve consists primarily of a strip of the ancient meadow, running due south from the railway with small areas of open woodland and an eastern boundary of the woodland edge. A path runs through the middle of the reserve from north to south. Despite its modest size, this combination of habitats results in a good variety of butterfly species, with around 30 species recorded over a period of a few years.
Text by Alan Thornbury
The main ride in Abbots Wood Inclosure where the Purple Emperor can be seen
Silver-Washed Fritillary female variant commonly known as a Valesina
It is very hilly around Alice Holt Forest which it lends itself to good Assembly Point areas for the Purple Emperor (see seperate page) explaining the Assembly Point of the Purple Emperor.
Purple Emperors use all sorts of trees as a Master Tree, (I've written about Assembly Points in the Purple Emperor section) Here is a male in one of the car-parks utilising Hemlock.
An early morning walk around Alice Holt can be a wonderful experience this was taken about 06:30 in the morning, with just birdsong and the odd Deer barking in the distance.
Purple Hairstreaks can be quite illusive in the treetops however, if you are looking up at the canopy for HIM then you tend to notice these delightful insects more. Sometimes you may be lucky and see one almost at eye level.
Some years you may find aberrations of certain species, and White Admirals are typically represented in this. This is the 'obliterate' where the white panels on top of the wings are almost non-existent. The underneath patterning is totally different to a normal White Admiral as it is a tawny orange colouration with no yellow panelling.
The Deer towers in Straits Inclosure have always been a source of nutrients to the Purple Emperor as the tar from the timbers still oozes through the wood on hot days attracting the butterfly
Purple Emperors will always be attracted to something smelly or slightly sticky, look for them in a wood at 'feeder trees' where the sap is oozing out of the bark these will last for a season and then dry up. Normally look for where the Red Admirals are going if there is a lot of them flying around .
Timber is always a good source of minerals, and cut down trees are no exception. In 2021 the Forestry Commission were doing more forestry in the wood and leaving the logs in the ride, and you could smell the timbers as you walked past.
Bentley Station Meadow
In the 1980's and early 1990's the Pearl Bordered Fritillary had a precarious existence at Bentley Station Meadow. It hasn't been seen for many years but you never know with this species it could turn up, as there is good areas of Violets in the meadow at the site.
A sheltered herb-rich meadow with a tree-lined stream. The reserve adjoins Alice Holt Forest, famous for its oak trees which once supplied timber for navy ships.
The site is an interesting wet meadow on a sheltered west facing woodland edge.
The meadow is probably medieval in origin and lies mainly on Gault clay, though with an area of dry slightly acidic soil provides variation in the vegetation.
It is managed by grazing with cattle and careful scrub control - ensuring enough remains to sustain the species relying on it. In addition to the main meadow, the reserve includes a stand of oak trees.
The reserve borders Alice Holt Forest - a large Ancient Semi-natural Woodland managed by Forest Enterprise. This important forest means that many woodland species can be seen on the reserve, which has been owned by Butterfly Conservation since 1992. The reserve is within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) notified for the grassland and woodland habitats.
The reserve lies 100m south-east of Bentley Station car park:
Turn off the A31 Guildford-Alton road at Bentley village for Bentley Railway Station
The reserve entrance is a short distance along the footpath leading east from the station
The station has two platforms linked by a footbridge and there is also a pedestrian level crossing
Car parking (charged) is available at the station
Parking in Station Road is very limited, with double yellow lines near the station and a yellow-line parking restriction on small stretches until 10 am
Trains from London Waterloo to Alton call at Bentley Station. A Sunday service is available.
The closest access is from the station, but the reserve is also within walking distance from the Forestry Commission carparks in Alice Holt to the east (Gravel Hill). A public footpath crosses the reserve north to south and this also provides an entrance at the southern end on Blacknest Road. However, there is no suitable parking on that road, nor on the private drive that the public footpath uses in part. The entrances have kissing gates.
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.
Steve Wheatley, Regional Conservation Manager
The Brimstone is a common butterfly on the site, along with the Orange Tip and in the summer the Marbled White does well here