Regional Action plan for
the Duke of Burgundy
This map gives a good impression of the problems facing the Duke of Burgundy into the next few decades as more and more of its habitat gets fragmented by, roads, housing, lack of management, and trying to re-introduce it into areas it was once extant in. The Elephant in the room is the New Forest and the Isle of Wight, which was once part of its former range. The light orange areas on the map are corridors created to join up present colonies so if one colony is struggling it could survive by other sites close by. The large pink areas are the major areas like the south downs where there is good connections with established colonies and there is progression towards trying to create flight corridors in the landscape.
Rabbit populations should be kept low on Duke of Burgundy sites as heavy rabbit grazing eliminates larger cowslip plants used for egg-laying. Rabbit proof fencing has been used successfully to reduce grazing pressure on some sites.
Grandfathers Bottom and the base of Ramsdean Down has some of the highest counts of Duke of Burgundy's at peak times, in the South Downs National Park. A count here a few years ago was within the realms of 300 plus, with a male Duke of Burgundy on territory every 20 - 30 feet along the main part of the down, and all the way up the slope on to the top area, they were still very much in evidence.
A typical old site for the Duke of Burgundy is Hyden Wood a Beech Woodland which had the species in the 1960's and 1970's, but died out due to lack of suitable management. This is typical of many woodland sites, especially isolated sites. Fortunately it has one of the largest colonies of Dukes within one mile Butser Hill.
Another isolated site is Stephens Castle Down which has the Duke of Burgundy in small numbers despite there being excellent Cowslip on site. It's been recently part of the Duke of Burgundies domain, where it came from was probably a wandering female from Beacon Hill close-by. The site is obviously an area just left over many years to scrub over and the cowslips grew to profusion, which was the attraction to any passing female Duke.
Conservation requirements for the Duke of Burgundy
The aim is to ensure suitable areas of regenerating woodland and or wide grassy rides and glades with abundant Primulas in open, sunny conditions. Ideal conditions are provided in woodland regrowth a few years after clearance, either in clear felled or coppiced broad-leaved woodland. A regular cutting sequence in close proximity is essential to ensure rapid colonisation. A network of open, sunny rides and glades is beneficial and may be essential to link clearings in high forest woodland. East/west rides are thought to be most suitable for breeding, especially where soil is damp and vegetation lush. Coppicing ride edge vegetation on a short rotation may also be helpful where no substantial area can be managed as coppice. General guidelines in coppice and ride management are given by Fuller & Warren (1994) and Warren & Fuller (1994).
2) Chalk and limestone grassland and Scrub
The aim is to maintain, open, sunny grassland with abundant P. veris. (Cowslip) in medium height swards (e.g. 5-20cm). North and west slopes are preferred in southern England as these have lusher swards with cowslips that retain leaves throughout the summer, thus allowing full larval development. Scrub edges or patches of scrub are also necessary to provide ideal sheltered conditions for males to establish territories, and on south facing slopes may be essential to create the moister conditions required for breeding.
Ideal management regimes are not well known, but habitats are probably best maintained by cattle grazing. This should be quite light in summer months but can probably be heavier in autumn or winter provided some tussocks of vegetation is maintained and the average turf height is not reduced below 5cm.
Prolonged grazing by sheep rarely produces suitable breeding habitat as these animals tend to create a tight, uniform sward. In general only light grazing pressure by sheep is acceptable, and must be avoided during summer months. Where sheep grazing is the only option to maintain downland, suitable patches of vegetation can be created by erecting fences to exclude sheep. Such exclosures can be moved periodically to ensure a herb-rich sward and abundant P. veris.
Rabbit populations should be kept low on Duke of Burgundy sites as heavy rabbit grazing eliminates larger cowslip plants used for egg-laying. Rabbit proofed fencing has been used successfully to reduce grazing pressure on some sites.
Patches of scrub should be retained, up to about 20% of grassland area, and ideally managed so that a proportion is cut each year on a long rotation (e.g. 20 years). This can add diversity to sites as well as providing good conditions for the Duke of Burgundy. It is better to concentrate on cutting young scrub over relic grassland, or bays in scrub edges rather than dense mature scrub as better breeding conditions result.
Part of the patchwork of colonies in and around Stockbridge Down , being private, it has excellent Primrose content and a medium sized (50+) colony of Duke of Burgundies. Unfortunately a few years ago this site was ploughed up but the Duke of Burgundy managed to survive on the fringes of the site, so just about survives here along with other sites close by.
The same site as above, but in a more open aspect, where the Primrose grows in abundance. This site abuts the southern flank of Stockbridge Down.
The female Duke of Burgundy laying eggs on the underneath of a Cowslip leaf. This photograph shows clearly that the female uses her six legs with great effect for balancing on the leaf whilst performing this task.
This is what happens when coppicing in a wood stops and the Hazel overgrows the Primrose plants and shades them out. This is a wood close to Harewood Forest in north Hampshire. A lot of these satellite woods are privately owned and sympathetic management is lost when the ownership of the estates changes hands, or coppicing becomes uneconomical.
Sympathetic management can create ideal habitat for the Duke of Burgundy, and one of the woods close to Stockbridge Down does just this. The Hazel is cut on a two to three year rotation allowing the Primroses to develop and flourish. Also here the Pearl Bordered Fritillary has benefitted as well with this management programme.
Good large clumps of Primroses under a shade of Hazel stands allowing good light on to the forest floor is what you are looking for. Too shady and the Primroses become stunted and eventually die off and the Duke of Burgundy dies out.
The same wood close to Harewood Forest with a grassy meadow which should have good areas of Cowslip/Primrose. However I did not have the time when visiting these sites for a good look, so another visit should prove the Duke is present here one way or another.
Noar Hill is the prime site where most recorders go to see the Duke of Burgundy. It is owned by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife trust and they keep cattle grazing on the site most of the year. There is good Cowslips on site, but these have tended to become less dominant over the years, but the count of Duke of Burgundy remains stable.
Butser Hill and other smaller sites in and around the Meon Valley are the core Duke of Burgundy sites in Hampshire . This is known as Little Butser Hill at the base of the downland this meadow is a good place to find the Duke of Burgundy
The New Forest is a barren empty site for this once flourishing species, where it was seen was around Fordingbridge, three well known glades in and around Brockenhurst in the 1960's, also Lyndhurst, but this male was taken close to Exbury gardens, the last known site in the New Forest sadly now extinct. Is this the last one ever in the New Forest?
A wood close to Harewood Forest which looked ideal for a small colony of Duke of Burgundies, although it was private it certainly looked as if it should have this specialised species. This site and other woods close by need close investigation.
Harewood Forest is a large patchwork of woodland close to Andover, and is owned by several private Estates. Some are sympathetic to butterfly species such as the Duke of Burgundy and others are not. The Duke of Burgundy is recorded here in small numbers nearly every year, but for the most part Harewood Forest is becoming unsuitable in most areas where the butterfly used to frequent.
Little Butser Hill going up towards the downland, and this site is quite large and a count here can produce good numbers even three figures in a good year, again this site faces north like most of the sites in Hampshire.
The last site in the New Forest close to Exbury Gardens, now sadly extinct, there was a good Primrose content here but the area was so far away from any other site, so the writing was probably on the wall.