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 MOD Ranges
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.
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.
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.
Text Alan Thornbury
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.