New Forest - East Inclosures
Site feature providing a more detailed description, photos and other information for the butterfly observer.
Photo 1 - Typical East Inclosures Scenery
The New Forest in SW Hampshire is now a National Park, having acquired this status in 2005. Whilst its name in modern-day English implies a large wooded area (and almost half of its 150 square miles consists of native deciduous and coniferous woodland), there are also large areas of heathland, as well as a coastal area and a river estuary within the national park boundary.
One of the largest woodland complexes in the New Forest stretches east and south-east from the Lyndhurst-Brockenhurst road towards Beaulieu and is a special place for butterflies. Occupying an area of more than 10 square miles, it consists of a patchwork of 'inclosures', each with their own individual character which reflects in their butterfly populations. For this site feature, I have therefore elected to describe 4 specific areas within this complex, which I refer to loosely as the 'East Inclosures'. This approach affords the visitor the flexibility to explore one or more or these specific locations in-depth or to use any one of them as a gateway to adjoining inclosures within the complex.
This part of the New Forest presently has the largest population of Pearl-bordered Fritillary in Hampshire, assisted by sympathetic woodland management by the Forestry Commission. They are present in several of the East Inclosures including Pignal, Parkhill and New Copse.
Pondhead inclosure is a true inclosure (i.e. fully fenced) with clear evidence of the beneficial effect of reduced grazing on its butterfly populations, including decent populations of Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral.
Hawkhill inclosure contains one of the few woodland-based colonies of Dark Green Fritillary in Hampshire. The area in front of the inclosure also provides a glimpse of heathland habitat with Silver-studded Blue present.
Look out for other woodland dwelling species in any of the East Inclosures such as Speckled Wood, Holly Blue, Brimstone, Peacock and the Skippers (Large/Small/Essex) depending on the time of year.
Pignal and Parkhill are adjoining inclosures located on the western side of the woodland complex, close to Brockenhurst. Both are what I would call archetypal New Forest inclosures, consisting of mixed deciduous and coniferous woodland with wide rides and a good network of gravel tracks and paths. This area does get busy in summer and is popular with cyclists and groups - so perhaps it is not necessarily the best choice for a summer weekend visit, depending on your perspective. The Standing Hat car park is a convenient place to park, giving direct access to Pignal. By taking the left-hand gravel track, heading in an NNE direction, you will reach the boundary with Parkhill after about ½ mile.
There are two resident fritillary species in these inclosures - in May, Pearl-bordered Fritillaries can occasionally be seen flying low and intricately along the margins of the main rides, including along the track heading NNE from the car park, stopping to feed on flowers such as bugle or sunbathe on the track. The main Pearl-bordered Fritillary breeding areas are in clearings, where violets and bugle have become established, and also the scalloped margins of some of the rides. One clearing in Parkhill, shown in Photo 2 and located here is currently used as a breeding area. Whilst this area was felled several years ago and the conifer regrowth has been rapid, sufficient open areas remain to provide suitable Pearl-bordered breeding habitat.
In late June and July, a few Silver-washed Fritillaries, whilst not normally common here, should be encountered flying swiftly along with the rides or stopping to feed on flowers of bramble. In July also look for Purple Hairstreak flitting high in the oaks in the mornings or late afternoon. Common woodland species are also present in these inclosures.
Photo 2 - Clearings Provide Breeding Areas For Pearl-bordered Fritillary
Pondhead Inclosure is at the northern end of the complex, close to Lyndhurst and is a true inclosure, with the individual woodland areas fenced with access via gates. Whilst this perhaps slightly detracts from its aesthetic appeal, the benefits to its butterflies are all too evident and result from the much-reduced levels of grazing, particularly by deer. Access is via a gate at its western end (map). Limited parking is available close to the gate supplemented by street parking, if necessary.
The best time to visit Pondhead is midsummer, and especially during late June through to mid-July when the summer woodland species such as Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral are at their peak. Whilst in the past, the main track was good for both species due to the large number of brambles, the cycle of forest management and margin clearance means that an exploration of the other tracks within this small inclosure is needed to fully appreciate what it has to offer.
A quite short, but the excellent triangular walk is recommended by turning left off the main track after ½km (here), through a gate into a grassy ride (Photo 3) and then left on to a gravel track which eventually returns you to the entrance. Alternatively, explore some of the rides branching north or south from the main track as it heads towards Parkhill and Denny Lodge. There are a number of oak trees along this track which are home to Purple Hairstreaks. Mornings or late afternoons in early/mid-July are the best time to look for them flitting around these oaks - occasionally coming to lower levels in search of nutrients or moisture. A particularly lovely ride branching from the main track, shown in Photo 1 above, is the first one on the left after marker post 36. It is also a good location for Silver-washed Fritillary as well as Large and Small Skippers.
Photo 3 - Grassy Ride In Pondhead
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!
Photo 4 - Open Areas in Hawkhill Looking West Along 'Worts Gutter'
New Copse Inclosure is the latest addition to this site feature and is becoming established as another location for Pearl-bordered Fritillary. This is due, in part at least, to the work of the Forestry Commission in thinning out the understorey vegetation, enhancing the biodiversity of the ground flora and in turn providing improved breeding habitat for these spring fritillaries.
New Copse is mainly deciduous with impressive stands of mature oak and beech, but also some conifers. It is located just east of Brockenhurst, sandwiched between the B3055 road to Beaulieu and the mainline railway. By road it is convenient to turn off this road and park close to the entrance gate for the main track here. Once inside the inclosure, head west along the main track, which has wide margins and rough, shallow ditches in places.
In May you should see Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, making their way along the ride margins and ditches, or stopping to bask in the spring sunshine, sometimes on the track itself. The section of track and the clearing on the left just 150m from the entrance gate is normally good for this species. In summer, particularly late June and July, the intricate low flight of the Pearl-bordered Fritillaries is replaced by the powerful flight of Silver-washed Fritillaries, which are often tempted to stop and feed on the plentiful bramble flowers.
Whilst this main track is ideal for observing New Copse's butterflies, there are also open rides running north and south from it at regular intervals. There are also three bridge crossings over the railway close to the northern edge of New Copse for a longer exploration of other parts the East Inclosures, with Pignal for instance, being easily accessible.
Photo 5 - New Copse Has Wide Rides With Rough Margins Favoured by Pearl-bordered Fritillary