Important Information Concerning Browndown
This site feature covers both Browndown South (sometimes referred to as Browndown Ranges) and Browndown North which occupy MoD Land. Browndown South is subject to closures (usually on some days every week) for military training. Closure times are published for the current month on the Lee Residents website. Note that published times are subject to change.
Browndown Ranges are mainly comprised of Heathland and beach, and some oak woodland with such a diverse habitat there is a varied list of flora and fauna to see.
Browndown and the Alver Valley
The Grayling butterfly used to be very common on Browndown Ranges, however with the constant threat of global warming, vandalism causing heath fires, which take years to recover the species is struggling in the past few seasons.
A good way to see a Oak canopy dweller is to see the Purple Hairstreak at Browndown where the butterfly frequents the stumpy scrubby Oaks, and you can get a good look at these lovely butterflies in late June and July.
Small Heaths fly in two broods on the site in April /May into June and again August and September.
The Grayling is a very hard butterfly to see in its environment, especially in areas where it has been scorched and burnt, their wing patterning underneath their wings is excellent camouflage. Here are two mating which is a easy to see as they have quite an elaborate ritual which is worth looking for.
Browndown south provides unique coastal heath habitat close to the Solent with views to the Isle of Wight. It is also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest noted particularly for its unusual coastal flora.
Browndown South has a flourishing colony of Grayling in addition to Purple Hairstreak at an unusually low level (in scrub oak) and common species.
Browndown North has a greater variety of species. In addition to Grayling, it has oak woodland where White Admiral and Purple Hairstreak are present. A White-letter Hairstreak colony is closeby.
Browndown occupies MoD land on either side of the B3333 between Lee-on-the-Solent and Gosport. Browndown South, on the coastal side of the road, is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) particularly noted for its unusual variety of coastal flora. It consists of a loose shingle beach backed by a mosaic of heathland, stable shingle (with scrub oak) and rough grassland, bounded to the north by an embankment of shrubs and trees. The area was used many years ago as a proving ground for military hovercraft and is still used today for military training and closed to the public at these times.
Browndown North, on the inland side of the road, is a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). It also contains an area of dry heathland and a large area of gorse. Further inland there is a small area of oak woodland. Browndown North is also within a 200-hectare area known as the Alver Valley through which the River Alver flows. The Alver Valley is managed by Gosport Borough Council and various conservation groups for nature to flourish and for visitors to enjoy.
Browndown South can be approached from either the east or the west, although I recommend access via its western end for a butterfly walk. Park at the pay and display car park on Marine Parade East and make your way on foot towards the seashore. The entrance is located close to the end of the MoD fence. Assuming the gate is open and public access permitted, follow the path along the rear of the site, below the embankment. As you make the descent down the first section of this path, look ahead eastwards and you will see in the distance the red-brick structure of a shooting range, which is your destination for the Grayling colony.
Follow the path east looking for other butterflies amongst the shrubs on the embankment and in the rough grass/scrub on the right. Depending on the time of visit, species to look for include Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Small/Essex Skipper, Marbled White, Small Copper, Holly Blue, as well as Nymphalids such as Red Admiral, Comma and Painted Lady. As one goes further east towards the shooting range wall, areas of heather amongst the shingle and scrub become more evident on the coastal side of the path. The Grayling colony is directly in front of the high wall - above shows the area which is arrowed on this. Grayling are typically on the wing here from the second week in July and through August.
The return is recommended taking a route closer to the seashore. You will notice many stunted oak trees typically little more than head height and also patches of scrub oak growing amongst the shingle or heath. Purple Hairstreaks can be found in many of these stunted trees and even in the scrub oak close to the ground, making them much easier to find and photograph than usual. They are typically on the wing a little earlier than the Grayling, from late June, for about a month.
Alongside the main woodland areas are some old Wych Elms which have suckered from the main trees which are normally dead through Dutch Elm Disease. The suckers normally flower and leaf for about 5-6 years then they die. However if your lucky enough then the White-Letter Hairstreak butterfly may have survived and can be seen feeding on any bramble or thistle nearby in June or July.
Stunted Oak Trees Growing Amongst The Shingle Provide Habitat For Purple Hairstreak
A visit to Browndown North can be combined with Browndown South, but is worthy of a visit in its own right, having some different species (such as White Admiral). There is parking in various side streets of Marine Parade East and then a short walk to the entry gate, Grayling on Browndown North can be found close to the area of heathery heathland. This colony of Grayling emerges a few days later than 'over the road' on the sister site. The species tends to avoid the dense heather, but favours the paths and firebreaks around the heath and areas (such as just to the north-east) where the heather is more patchy, in between grass and bare, stony ground.
In this southern part of the site, many common species are also found according to their flight periods (Nymphalids, Small Heath, Gatekeeper etc). Green Hairstreak is also present around the edges of the gorse scrub. Towards the rear of the site, there is a small area of predominantly oak woodland Purple Hairstreak is found in some of the oaks during July and a few White Admirals can usually be seen in late June/early July. Continue further north and exit Browndown itself via to the quaintly named 'apple dumpling bridge' to reach a layby beside Grange Farm. Also in late June/early July, White-letter Hairstreaks may be seen flitting high in the elms which border this layby and occasionally come down to feed on brambles within Grange Farm. Car parking is also available close to Grange Farm (which is the location of the Countryside section of Gosport council), providing more convenient access to this area.
White-Letter Hairstreaks are not easy to see as they spend most of their time in the Elm Canopy. When they come down to feed normally in the early morning is a good time to see them.
Adders are a red data species and are normally quite shy and retiring, but they can be seen basking on bare ground in the early spring , so this is something well worth looking for...keeping your distance of course.
Gosport is one of the most heavily populated areas in the south of England, Browndown is such a precious piece of rare heathland. But it is susceptible to fires, normally done deliberately, which can kill hundreds of species. These take years to recover, and this picture was taken after a fire and the smell of burning embers was quite unforgettable.
I hate those words ‘country park’ it just conjours up a bland grassy area full of dog poo and little plastic bags hanging from trees. I know this is an exaggeration and today I was pleasantly surprised although not Ideal the area very close to Gosport and heavily populated area of Portsmouth. The River Alver runs through area and this has good areas for birds especially waders, and there are grassy areas full of wild flowers, but these are heavily managed with areas of cut grass so people can run their dogs.
In the area there good areas of woodland of small Oak trees, and good stands of sallow and weeping willows close to the river. This area is very close to Browndown ranges where the terrain is suitable more to heathland specialists. In this area there are a lot of specialist butterflies and moths an example is the White-Letter Hairstreak which breeds on the large areas of Elms, and the birdlife has good counts of raptors, and Barn Owls and Tawny Owls have been seen, and in the river the Kingfisher can sometimes be seen.
The trouble being so close to heavily populated areas these are susceptible to being vandalised, especially the Heathland areas which get burnt quite readily in warm and dry conditions.
The Wildgrounds is an area of 67 acres in the heart of Gosport and adjacent to the Alver Valley Country Park. It is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in recognition of its incredible natural importance. This is mainly due to the ancient oak woodland; some of these veteran trees are thought to be approximately 500 years old. For this reason the area is protected by British law.
Oaks support a great diversity of fauna such as oak gall wasps, purple emperor butterfly, it does not fly in the Gosport area I can assure you! and the green tortrix moth. Woodpeckers use the oaks to nest in and abandoned woodpecker holes are quickly inhabited by bats and other bird species.
Acorns are a readily available food source in the autumn for birds and squirrels. Deadwood provides further habitat for a number of insects including stag beetles.
During the summer months a carpet of bluebells makes for an idyllic walk through this ancient oak woodland. The British Isles contain approximately 50% of the global population of English bluebells. This endangered species, which is slightly toxic to humans, provides cancer fighting chemicals. Forklore has it, that if you hear a bell ringing near bluebells fairies are near.
A number of butterflies can be seen flying around the reserve, speckled woods are frequently spotted along the woodland paths. Peacocks, orange tips, meadow browns and gate keepers can be seen flying around the meadow areas. Most recently grayling, a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species have been spotted in Burdens Heath.
Owls, buzzards, kestrels as well as a number of duck species, grey heron and kingfisher can all be found here. Bats can be found hunting during the evening especially over the Woodland Pond.
A healthy population of roe deer inhabits this ancient woodland, they share the area with badgers and foxes.
West of the River is one of a number of conservation areas within the Borough of Gosport. It lies within the Alver Valley, the largest Greenspace in Gosport of 583 acres.
West of the River itself is 30.7 acres and is situated West of the River Alver. Although it has been open access land for many years, few people are aware of this area. It's main use has been by bird watchers and dog walkers.
There are a variety of interesting habitats, the most important being the reedbed. Access to the area is gained by crossing Apple Dumpling Bridge (north of Carter's Copse car park), and following the surfaced road. Bear right through open woodland to pick up the waymarked trail, crossing a stile. The route follows a wooded path, over a boardwalk and out onto a field. In wet weather wellies are essential.
The reedbed is one of the largest remaining reedbeds in England. The reed supports a large number of insect species which in turn support birds such as reed and sedge warblers. Cettis warbler, once rare, is now locally on the increase. The reedbed is managed by annual cutting of a section which encourages new growth. The balance of water is also important.
Please do not enter the reedbeds as they are a wildlife sanctuary.
There are three ponds West of the River. The first is Kingfisher Pond, a narrow linear pond with reedmace and water plantain. Following the waymarkers you find Willow Trees Pond. Cuckoo flower and Ragged Robin grow well here. There are also many dragon and damselflies.
The third pond is Birch Trees Pond with it's windblown birches. This pond is very shallow and suffers from grass invasion.
West of the River has a large area of open grassland. Some is kept very short by rabbit grazing, and is rich in plantlife. Other areas have longer grass with fleabane, teasels and thistles present. These plants are good for butterflies and 17 species have been recorded. These include Common Blues and Painted Ladys. Green Woodpeckers are common, often seen feeding on the grass, looking for insects, especially ants. Other birds include, Swifts, Swallows and Goldfinches. Larger mammals can be seen occasionally, especially fox and roe deer.
To reach west of the River you first pass through a narrow strip of ancient woodland where oaks of approximately 150-200 years old are present. These oaks can support up to 350 different types of insect from aphids to stag beetles. Crossing the boardwalk you will notice to your left a marsh area, rich in yellow iris and hemlock water-dropwort. A ditch connects the marsh to Kingfisher Pond. Areas of scrub are also present namely, Willow, Gorse and Bramble. These provide good homes for insects which in turn attract small mammals and birds.
Areas of scrub are coppiced (cut down to the ground) periodically to rejuvenate them.