Martin Down is probably one of the top sites for all flora and fauna and straddles the counties of Wiltshire and Dorset

Martin Down and Kitts Grave

The Marsh Fritillary can be seen all along Bockerley Ditch and out into the main part of the downland where its foodplant Devil's Bit Scabious grows in abundance.

The Adonis Blue can be quite abundant throughout its flying season, in the late spring in and around the various rifle butts where its foodplant grows there can be up to three figures recorded

Martin Down is such a large area it almost generates its own weather, and i've been there many times when you can have all four seasons in one day...and there is nowhere to hide. It's wise to take some heavy weather clothing with you just in case!

People go to Martin Down for many reasons, birding, for rare invertebrates but there is some spectacular flora. This is the extremely rare Burnt Tip Orchid.

Grizzled Skipper fly In late April , and into the early part of June, and can be seen on the flat grassy areas close to Bockerley Ditch.

Martin Down has 6 Blue species flying throughout the year, Common Blue, Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Small Blue Holly Blue and the Brown Argus. All of them can be seen in very good number on the down. This is a pair of mating Adonis Blue. The male is on the right and the female on the left.

 

Highlights

  • Large National Nature Reserve in the extreme west of the county.

  • The expansive area of chalk downland bounded on one side by a prehistoric earthwork, providing excellent butterfly habitats.

  • Probably the best site in Hampshire for Adonis Blue and a very good site for Dark Green Fritillary.

  • Most other chalk downland dwelling species represented including Grizzled Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Chalkhill Blue, Small Blue, Green Hairstreak and Marsh Fritillary, as well as common species. 

  • Reserve also encompasses an area of woodland to the north, with Silver-washed Fritillary, White Admiral and Dark Green Fritillary present.

Description

Martin Down National Nature Reserve is certainly one of Hampshire's crown jewels when it comes to butterfly sites (and indeed for flora and fauna too). The reserve is located in the extreme west of the county, close to the Dorset border (map). Whilst the reserve consists largely of undulating chalk downland, its large area includes flower-rich grassland, scrub and even an area of woodland. Along the western boundary, there is a linear prehistoric earthwork called the Bokerley Ditch (Photo 1) - butterflies thrive in the sheltered habitat it provides.

Being a large reserve, there are several access points, with the main car parks being situated at the northern end, accessed from the Salisbury - Blandford road and also on the eastern side of the reserve near the village of Martin. This eastern access provides a quicker route to one of the best areas for butterflies on the reserve, close to a central section of the Bokerley Ditch. The car park (
map) in this case is located at the end of a minor road leading west from Martin village called Sillen Lane. From this car park, take the main track west, which has a hedgerow on the right marking the boundary of the reserve and a large expanse of the flower-rich meadow to the left. Depending on the time of visit, common butterfly species are most likely to be encountered in this first section (e.g. Brimstone, Orange Tip, Common Blue, Common Vanessids, Large and Small Skippers). After about 500m, a fork is reached. Take the left fork here along a grassy track.

 

In May look out for Dingy Skipper along here. Small Blue may also be encountered and in the bushier areas further on, Green Hairstreak. In late June/July Dark Green Fritillary should be seen flying powerfully over the meadow or feeding on the many flowers. After a few minutes' walk, a visitor information notice is reached in a sheltered hollow close to the Bokerley Ditch and facing a stand of conifers. This area (i.e. the hollow, the Bokerley Ditch itself, especially the section running north-west from here, and the flower-rich grassland to the east of the ditch) is excellent for butterflies and deserves thorough exploration. Most of Martin Down's wealth of butterfly species should be found in this area according to their respective flight periods. Species include Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Small Blue, Brown Argus, Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Green Hairstreak, and Dark Green Fritillary. The area is one of the best in Hampshire for Dark Green Fritillary (on the grassland) and Adonis Blue (in the hollow and along the eastern slope of the ditch - Marsh Fritillary can also be encountered sporadically along and close to the ditch. I have also seen them occasionally around the earth mounds of the old firing range.  An excellent, but compact circular route is to follow the ditch in a north-westerly direction as far as the next visitor information notice (after ~700m), then take a track heading east back to the Sillen Lane car park. This area can of course also be accessed from the car park at the northern end of the reserve, following track south-east close to the Bokerley Ditch.

 Text by Alan Thornbury

One of my rarest encounters was this Narrow-bordered bee Hawk Moth, which was buzzing just like a bee and was encountered on Martin Down in 2020, one of my highlights of the year.

The northern car park is also most convenient to explore the only wooded area of the reserve on the north side of the Salisbury to Blandford Forum road, known as Kitt's Grave. Take the path heading north (here) towards the woodland edge, having crossed the Salisbury - Blandford road. The best area in Kitt's Grave for butterflies is the south-western section here where there are a couple of flower-rich clearings (Photo 4). From late June, Dark Green Fritillary can be found in these clearings and, in the adjoining wide rides, Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral, as well as many common species. White Admiral is also present in the woodland rides of Verditch Chase just to the north.

The Wood Tiger Moth isn't rare but is rarely seen, but can be encountered in the thick shrubbery parts of Bockerley Ditch.

In the summer the Dark Green Fritillary can be seen flying powerfully over the downland flying between the thistles and Knapweed growing in the grassy tussocks.

Kitts Grave is just across the road from the main car-park and is well worth a visit, with Marsh Fritillary, Adonis Blue and also Duke of Burgundy have been seen there in the past.