The River Meon at West Meon
The Meon Valley
Female Brown Hairstreak
Brown Hairstreak Eggs on Blackthorn
Male Broad Bodied Chaser
The Meon is a rare and precious habitat – it is a chalk stream, fed almost entirely by springs rather than by rain, and it supports a unique ecology. Less famous and smaller than the Rivers Test and Itchen, it is a more ‘natural’ river, with fewer modification made by man, and has more energy due to its steeper gradient.
The river rises near East Meon, Hampshire and flows south-westwards for 34km through the Meon valley before emptying into the Solent estuary at Titchfield Haven.
For over half its length the river flows over the permeable chalk of the South Downs, with a visible change of character at
Holy Well near Wickham where the underlying geology changes to impermeable Reading Beds and London Clays.
The river drains a small, rural catchment that is dominated by mixed farming, with a southward increase in ‘horsiculture’ and urban area. The waters of the river and the chalk aquifer have been important to people for thousands of years and are an integral part of the culture of the valley and contemporary life. In 1086, there were already 33 mills on the river and remains of water meadow systems dating back to the 1600s can still be seen today. The Izaak Walton pub in East Meon is testament to the trout fishing interest on this river that is still evident, but not to the extent of the Rivers Test or Itchen nearby.
As well as cultural heritage the river and its valley are rich in biological heritage. Species found on the river include Otter, Bullhead, Brook Lamprey, Water Crowfoot and Kingfisher as well as more recent additions such as Egrets
Otters were thought to be locally extinct in Hampshire until recent years when reductions in river pollution, less intensive farming methods and river restoration through the Meon Valley Partnership have seen populations bounce back. Rangers at the South Downs National Park now believe there are three breeding females on the River Meon, which flows from the South Downs near East Meon and into the Solent.
Chalk streams like the River Meon are identified as priority habitats under the European Habitat Directive and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The whole river is designated as a county Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) and the upper third is protected by the South Downs National Park. Butterflies of importance in the park include the Duke of Burgundy, Grizzled and Dingy Skipper in the spring and the Dark-Green Fritillary, and Purple Emperor in the summer.
Along the river and many of the minor roads connecting the picturesque chocolate box villages are tree lined hedges of Wych Elm , many of these have died off due to Dutch Elm disease. However some healthier looking suckers have been noted to support the rare and illusive White-Letter Hairstreak Butterfly, and many of the Oaks in the picturesque copses may hold colonies of Purple Hairstreak butterfly. The Brown Hairstreak butterfly has also been noted along some of the Blackthorn strewn hedgerows which intersect many of the country lanes in the early Autumn.
Meon Valley looking east over towards Sussex from Park Hill
One of the first signs of spring is the Orange Tip butterfly this is the male at rest. There are lots of hedge rows to explore in and around the many country lanes and this is where you will find this butterly