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The slopes of Butser Hill NNR can be very slippery so it's imperative to wear good walking boots, and be reasonably fit!

Butser Hill NNR

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The Duke of Burgundy can quite common once you get to the main arena of the nature reserve as shown above, where there are good clumps of Cowslips.

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Another common butterfly in the spring months is the Dingy Skipper and they can be found all over the downland. Here is a pair mating and she will lay her eggs on Bird's foot trefoil, and Horseshoe Vetch.

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Grizzled Skippers mating on Butser Hill, these can be quite common as well laying their eggs on Wild Strawberry which can be found on the downland

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Wood Tiger Moth caterpillars can easily be found on the slopes of Butser feeding on Plantain's. The adults are very distinctive as well and can be seen on the lower slopes in the early summer.

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The Green Hairstreak butterfly is a delightful little beauty but very much camouflaged against the Hawthorn thickets in the valley floor. Once seen keep your eye on it because as soon as you look away then it will be gone, even though it will still be there!

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Highlights

  • Butser Hill  is a fine example of chalk downland within the South Downs and are part of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

  • The hills and valleys within the Butser complex provide an excellent area for walks, with stunning views from the highest point on the South Downs.

  • Butser Hill has good populations of Duke of Burgundy, Green Hairstreak, Grizzled and Dingy Skippers. 

 The Country Park lies within the South Downs National Park and straddles the A3 London-Portsmouth Road in SE Hants. Butser Hill itself is a very prominent landmark, being the highest point on the South Downs and also the location of a TV transmitter.

 

Parts of Butser Hill have special designations, including a National Nature Reserve, Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Scheduled Ancient Monument, reflecting the historical significance, particularly in respect of the iron and bronze ages. Butser Hill summit can be approached part of the way by car, taking a minor road signposted from the main A3. There is refreshment kiosk close to the summit which is open in season, but more extensive visitor facilities are provided at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park Visitor Centre on the other side of the A3. The summit is worth a visit in its own right and provides magnificent views over Portsmouth and the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Walks can be made in various directions from it, providing a spectrum from gentle downland slopes, steep valleys to semi-ancient woodland - and an iron age hill fort.

 

 

Butser Hill

Butser Hill and the various valleys which cut into its flanks contain a number of notable areas for butterflies. However, recognising that the terrain comprises some steep slopes and changes in elevation of several hundred feet from the valley floor to summit, I choose just two areas to cover in this site feature, providing excellent examples of the valley floor and chalk downland habitat.

 

The first is the steep-sided valley called 'Rake Bottom'  also known as 'Grandfather's Bottom'. The Rake is the slope running north-west from Butser summit, and Rake Bottom is the valley cutting into the hill from the west. The valley is home to numerous butterfly species, including 4 of our less common ones, namely Duke of Burgundy, Green Hairstreak, Grizzled Skipper and Dingy Skipper. The flight periods of these species all overlap, so in theory at least, they can all be seen during the same visit with mid-May being the best time.

 

Whilst one can approach Rake Bottom from Butser Hill summit by descending the Rake (or from West Butser as mentioned later), an alternative is to approach along a track from the north (limited parking at entrance). After ~1km walk south along the track, a wooden gate provides access to the valley.

 

Any of the 4 species just mentioned may be first encountered in small numbers along the path or close to it, in the grassy margins with cowslips or around the bushes of the lower slope. It is only after the track turns due east, towards Butser that one reaches the most productive part of the valley floor. Look for Dingy and Grizzled Skippers again on the lower levels of the open chalk downland slope on the left, whilst the bushes and scrub close to the valley floor are a good place to look for Green Hairstreak. Duke of Burgundy also favour this area and can sometimes be found at the edge of the path along the valley floor and on the lower slopes to the left, where the bare chalk meets the vegetation. According to flight period, look out too for Brown Argus, Common Blue, Small Heath and Nymphalids such as Peacock.

 Text by Alan Thornbury

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To get to this point called Grandfathers Bottom you have done well. The rewards are fantastic views and a good number of invertebrates and Red Kites and Buzzards flying overhead.

Oxenbourne Down is now featured as part of the Duke of Burgundy pages on this website.

One of the most common moths to see on Butser is the Six and Five spotted Burnet moths as they fly on to the thistles and other wild flowers on the slopes and valley floor.