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The main path on Stockbridge Down shows the visitor many different species at different times of the year. This goes up to the area known as Woolbury Hill an old ancient hill fort.

Stockbridge Down 

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Two of the most common butterflies on the down are the Small Copper,(left) and the Grizzled Skipper (right) which can reach double figures quite easily in some of the scrubbier areas. Small Coppers can be seen in the spring and a second brood in the late summer and the Grizzled Skipper in the late spring in May.

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Some of the woodland on the down has been severely coppiced aiding the butterfly population to take up residence, one of these is the Duke of Burgundy where there are pockets of Primroses. These butterflies can also be seen on Woolbury hill utilising the Cowslips which grow there.

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The prize of seeing any butterflies in the spring would be the Pearl-Bordered Fritillary which has moved into the recent coppiced area next to the main Stockbridge-Winchester road close to the eastern car-park. 

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Brown Argus is a lovely little butterfly which can be seen in the late spring and again in the late summer, mainly seen around the car-park areas of scrub.

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The scrubby areas around the eastern end of the main car-park are good opportunities to see the Green Hairstreak. They have been quite common in some years, and you can see them battling for territories over the Hawthorn if you have the patience.

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The National Trust have introduced cattle to keep the scrub at bay, here the cattle take a breather and are probably wondering what I'm doing!

Highlights

  • National Trust managed area of chalk downland, with some scrub/woodland and crowned by an iron age hill fort.

  • Good diversity of butterfly species, although some populations have declined in recent years.

  • Most downland species represented including Chalkhill Blue, Brown Argus, Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Dark Green Fritillary, Marbled White and Green Hairstreak. 

  • Some woodland species also present including Silver-washed Fritillary, Ringlet and a small colony of White-letter Hairstreak.

  • Duke of Burgundy and Pearl-bordered Fritillary usually show up in low numbers each season, possibly as a result of dispersal from nearby private sites.

Description​

Stockbridge Down (location map) is a large area of essentially chalk downland just to the east of Stockbridge and close to the Test Valley. It is a good site in terms of variety of species, although it has declined in recent years in terms of butterfly numbers. In compensation, however, Duke of Burgundy and Pearl-bordered Fritillary now seem to show up during most seasons, probably as a result of dispersal from nearby colonies on private land. The main areas of butterfly interest are probably considered to be the area along the bottom of the down, the fort area (especially the ramparts), the eastern section of the down which has more scrub and small areas of woodland and last but not least a small woodland clearing on the opposite side of the road from the eastern entrance to the down. The down is served by a car park at each end and either can be used for a thorough exploration. I will briefly describe the site and the species to look for with reference to the car park locations, beginning with the western car park, closest to Stockbridge.  

 

As one enters the down through the gate opposite the western car park, the main downland area stretches up the hill to the north and east (Photo 1 above). The flower-rich area at the bottom of the down (Photo 2 below) running east from this entry point and parallel to the road, is a good area to start one's search. Depending on the time of visit, look for Chalkhill Blue, Marbled White, Common Blue, Brown Argus, Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Small Copper, Meadow Brown and Small Heath in this area. Whilst some species can be common, others are more likely to be found in low numbers and in pockets where the habitat is most suited. In summer, keep a look-out also for the occasional Clouded Yellow, and fast-flying Dark Green Fritillaries. 

 

Now, heading north-east, up the down, the sward is shorter as a result of grazing by rabbits, however, Small Heath, Dingy Skipper and Chalkhill Blue should be encountered depending on the time of year. There are also pockets of longer grass, shrubs and taller flowers which provide shelter and a greater variety of nectar sources, to the benefit of butterflies. As one nears the summit, the earthworks around the Woolbury Fort provide a sheltered scrub habitat with rich vegetation. This is another location in summer to look for Dark Green Fritillary and in spring for Grizzled and Dingy Skippers.  These earthworks and the rough areas around them are also one of the locations to look for the odd Duke of Burgundy on Stockbridge Down, but by no means guaranteed.

Recently coppiced woodland on Stockbridg

Part of the heavily coppiced woodland next to the main road , where the Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Duke of Burgundy, Grizzled Skipper, and Brown Argus can be found, along with the odd Green Hairstreak .

 

For those making a separate visit to the eastern section of the site, park in the eastern car park and enter the down through the smaller of the two gates (the right hand one). Once through the thicket, you reach an area of scrub which is sheltered by bushes and woodland around its edge. In spring look for Dingy and Grizzled Skippers amongst the scrub and Green Hairstreak as the scrub transitions into grassland. Pearl-bordered Fritillary is occasionally recorded here but your best chance of seeing them on Stockbridge Down is actually in a small woodland clearing (which is also managed by the National Trust) on the opposite side of the road from the eastern car-park. There is also a chance of finding Duke of Burgundy in this clearing, as well as common species. The presence of both Dukes and Pearls here is possibly the result of dispersal from nearby colonies on private land.

 

if visiting in late June or early/mid-July, don't miss the opportunity of a minor detour to the colony of White-letter Hairstreak. From the aforementioned gate by the eastern car park, follow the track for about 400m and take the first minor track to the right. This leads in a few yards to another gate, and on passing through it, you will soon reach some modest-sized elms on both sides of the track (some sadly succumbing to disease), where the White-letter colony is located (map). They can often be observed during sunshine flitting around the tops of these trees and engaging in short chases. Whilst nectar sources (like brambles and thistles) are not in good supply along this track, a few observers have been lucky enough to find a White-letter feeding low down - good luck! 

Finally, it needs to be mentioned that Stockbridge Down used to be home to both Silver-spotted Skipper and Adonis Blue. The former are still recorded occasionally and Adonis Blue seem to show a sudden influx in some years. It is not clear if these are the result of natural attempts at resurgence or recolonisation.

 Text Alan Thornbury

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In and around Stockbridge down are many Estates which are strictly private but have good areas for flora and fauna, which helps areas like Stockbridge Down maintain the species that they have.