Stockbridge Down

Site feature providing a more detailed description, photos and other information for the butterfly observer.

Photo 1 - Stockbridge Down From The South West

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 was one of the first areas of chalk downland I visited in Hampshire and the location where I first saw Dark Green Fritillary in the county. 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. 

Photo 2 - Looking East Along The Bottom Of The Down

 

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 (such as in Photo 3 below) 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.

Photo 3 - Sheltered Ditch  On Southern Boundary Of The Fort 

 

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 (Photo 4) 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.

Photo - 4 Sheltered Scrub/Woodland Area At The East End Of The Down

 

Finally, 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, 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! 

© Copyright Alan Thornbury's Hampshire Butterflies 2020