Hawkhill Inclosure is a good place to start looking at Heathland flora and fauna. Inside the inclosure parts of the coppiced areas are now being taken over by Bell Heather and Gorse.
New Forest: Hawkhill Inclosure and Beaulieu Heath
Grayling butterflies fly in mid July through to mid September and are quite common amongst the Bell Heather, having a very distinct flight and very camouflaged against any tree or bare ground.
The Silver-Studded Blue is easily seen flying over the tops of the Bell Heather in the height of the summer. Here are a male and female mating. The male is purplish blue on its wings and the female is brown in colour.
The Clouded Buff Moth is very distinctive as it flies very rapidly over the Bell and Ling Heather. Not a common Moth but one well worth looking out for in the early summer months.
The Marsh Gentian is a beautiful plant when found, with an azure blue colour, it can be found on boggy ground hence the name in the late summer months.
One thing to be aware of is the speed limit through the New Forest. Many ponies are killed by speeding cars every year, and there are plenty of New Forest ponies in this area.
Emperor Moths are Britain's biggest moth and are a classic heathland species. They can be found in early April and fly into early summer. I used a moth ferrimoe to bait these during a field trip a few years ago. In about ten minutes there were about 5-6 males getting very frisky with my camera bag!
In Hawkhill Inclosure the Dark-Green Fritillary is quite common motoring up and down the rides searching for thistles to nectar on. They tend to spill out over the heathland and can be very distinctive flying around the Bell Heather, certainly an eye catching moment.
A typical example of New Forest heathland habitat comprising large expanse of open heath with areas of shrub and woodland edge.
Decent populations of key heathland dwelling species, notably Silver-studded Blue, Grayling and Dark Green Fritillary.
White Admiral occasionally saw in the woodland edge.
Picturesque stream, a large pond and model flying area add to the general interest of the area.
It may be a surprise to many that extensive areas of the New Forest comprise open heathland, rather than woodland. Indeed the heathland areas provide important habitat not only for butterflies in the New Forest but also for reptiles and ground-nesting birds. Whilst large areas of open heath are not necessarily the most naturally attractive places to visit, I have chosen Beaulieu Heath, located between Brockenhurst and Beaulieu for this site feature, as a fine example of the heathland habitat which the New Forest offers. Its variety is enhanced by the woodland edge as well as a picturesque stream, and it provides an opportunity to see 3 of our key heath-dwelling butterfly species.
Beaulieu Heath occupies several square miles centred on an old airfield which is now used for flying model aircraft. There are several car parks located around the western and northern peripheries of the heath, notably at Hatchet Pond, Crockford, Beaulieu Heath and Hawkhill. Two particular areas of the heath to visit for butterflies, and to gain an appreciation of the different habitats and scenery, are around the old airfield and at Crockford Bridge. I describe these in turn below.
The old airfield on Beaulieu Heath not only offers a chance to see all the heathland butterfly species, but provides an easy circular (or rather pentagonal) walk which can be completed comfortably in approximately 1½ hours. The best car park in this case in Beaulieu Heath (map), which is also the one used by most of the model aircraft enthusiasts. Basically one just follows the pentagonal track around the airfield, in either direction. In saying 'follow the track', I really mean use the track as a route guide to exploring areas of the heath along its margins on either side (you won't see much if you stay on the track!). The first of the key heathland species to emerge are Silver-studded Blue, typically in mid-June, followed by Dark Green Fritillary in early July, closely followed by Grayling. A good time to visit for all three species is therefore mid-July. Note that heathland Dark Greens tend to emerge a little later than their chalk downland counter-parts, owing to the cooler, damper habitat here.
All three species may be encountered sporadically almost anywhere during the circumnavigation of the airfield, however Silver-studded Blue and Grayling populations, in particular, are not evenly distributed, with the blues favouring areas of lush heather with shelter provided by gorse bushes or shrubs, whereas Grayling favour areas where the heather is less dense with generous patches of bare ground (e.g. one such area just south of the Beaulieu Heath car park). Dark Green Fritillary, being a very mobile species are more likely to be seen in low density flying rapidly across the heath, stopping occasionally to bask or feed. The area just outside at the western apex of the pentagon (Photo 2 above) is sheltered by taller bushes and some trees, thus providing a good mix of habitat for all three key species. Other common species can also be found on the heath with a wider spectrum of flight periods, including Small Heath.
You have to be quite eagle-eyed to see a Nightjar settled down for the day as it rests , waiting for dusk when it start to fly and starts its distinct churring sound hunting flies and moths on the wing.
Hawkhill Inclosure Is located about midway between Brockenhurst and Beaulieu. Unlike Pondhead and Pignal, Hawkhill is predominantly coniferous, but just as attractive nevertheless. Indeed because of its evergreen nature, Hawkhill provides a pleasant walk even early or late season, complete with its little stream which goes by the curious name of 'Worts Gutter'. However for butterflies, the best time to visit is midsummer and especially the month of July. There is ample parking in the Hawkhill car park (map) just off the Brockenhurst-Beaulieu road. North of the car park there is a network of tracks, but the important point is to head essentially in a north or north-easterly direction in order to intersect the stream.
Close to Worts Gutter, and particularly in the more open areas (Photo 4), Dark Green Fritillary can also be found. Even on the wing, their slightly smaller size and very powerful flight is usually enough to distinguish them from the Silver-washed, but both types of fritillary can sometimes be found in this area, feeding on thistles close to the stream or along the nearby forest tracks. In Photo 4 below (map), the Worts Gutter flows west-east under the track branching to the left.
Finally on the subject of Hawkhill, a mention of the heathland area immediately in front of the Inclosure, by the car park, is deserved, which is really an extension of Beaulieu Heath across the road. In late June and July, Silver-studded Blue will be seen flitting amongst the heather here and occasionally a fast flying Dark Green Fritillary - one could hardly choose two more contrasting species to find in the same place!
Text Alan Thornbury
Typical Bell Heather and Heathland of the New Forest. It is very susceptible to fires, so care has to be taken when walking about.