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Bumper summer for rare butterflies on the Englefield Estate

Rare butterflies have enjoyed a bumper summer on the Hampshire, West Berkshire border following habitat improvement work by the Englefield Estate’s forestry team.

Graylings have been designated the highest conservation status by government advisory body the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, with numbers declining by 58 per cent between 1976 and 2014.

But, according to West Berkshire conservationists a colony has been thriving at conifer plantations and former gravel pits within the Estate near Mortimer.

The Estate’s forestry team has been working hard to improve the habitat for the species over the last two years. Work has included widening woodland access routes which promote biodiversity, known as ‘rides’, within the Estate’s conifer woodlands.

As a result of increased sunlight on the forest floor, more diverse ground flora can establish, in turn providing a food and nectar source for a wide range of invertebrates, including graylings.

So under threat is the species that a count of one to 10 on any given summer day would have been considered a positive result, however on one July day alone, Jan Haseler, a member of the Upper Thames branch of Butterfly Conservation, recorded 154 graylings at the Estate’s Hundred Acre Piece.

The areas of woodland and restored quarry workings either side of the Hampshire, West Berkshire boundary near Mortimer provide the ideal habitat for the butterflies which favour sheltered, sunny, dry sites such as heathlands, coastal sand dunes and disused quarries.

For the last four years, the Upper Thames branch has hosted a walk at Hundred Acre Piece during the grayling flight season. This year’s walk in August fell four weeks after the lofty count mid-July, with jubilant walkers spotting around 100 graylings.

Jan said:

By the end of the walk, almost everyone had been perched on by a grayling at some point. Hundred Acre Piece has a variety of good butterfly habitats, in particular the areas of bare ground and the sheltered rides with wide flowery margins.

 

In total, 28 species have been recorded there, including less common species such as green hairstreak, white admiral, marbled white, silver-washed fritillary and small heath.

Englefield Estate’s Forestry Manager Richard Edwards, who is leading the work on the Estate, added:

Hundred Acre Piece is an ideal habitat for graylings. Doubling up as wildlife corridors, the wider rides we’ve created link previously isolated areas of open space within the woodlands, increasing the area of suitable habitats for many vulnerable species for which woodland edge habitat is so important.

 

The high number of grayling sightings this year is very pleasing and goes to show the profound impact habitat improvement work can have.

Butterflies like warmth and feed on nectar so leaving areas where they can soak up the sun’s rays and planting nectar-rich flowers like bluebells, lavender and primroses, as well as herbs, nettles and trees and shrubs such as holly, will encourage them into your garden.

Image by Sue Taylor.