09.05.22/1. Bevendean Down Nature Reserve. Blue Adonis, other butterflies and House Martins.
Updated: May 11
Butterflies are in severe decline in the UK. ... [Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation UK]: "Three-quarters of our 56 resident butterfly species have declined over recent decades and many are threatened with extinction. Perfect time for a flutter: Get to grips with Britain's butterflies | The Independent | The Independent
Since I have been visiting nature sites on a regular basis, from 2019, typically twice a week, I have made one-day 'nature journeys' to most of the key sites for birding in East and West Sussex, eastern Hampshire and western Kent, and the home counties, by public transport. I am particularly interested in watching birds, particularly waders, seabirds and ducks and geese, but I am also fascinated by wild flowers and insects, particularly butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies and wild bees (bumblebees and solitary bees).
Insect watching is of its nature a spring, summer and early autumn occupation, as that is when these animals are around to be viewed. Insects are cold-blooded, so need the warmth of the sun; in winter they have evolved strategies to survive
Most species [of butterflies] enter a dormant phase [in the winter]. This can be as an egg, larva, pupa or adult insect, dependent upon species. The majority of butterflies and moths overwinter in the larval stage, with pupae being the next most common choice, followed by eggs and adults. A few are capable of overwintering in more than one stage. The Speckled Wood butterfly for example can overwinter as a caterpillar (larva) or a pupa. Where do butterflies and moths go in winter? | Butterfly Conservation (butterfly-conservation.org)
After mating, the impressively large queen bumblebees gorge up on nectar and pollen in the nest, where they are safe from predators. The queen then finds a suitable place to overwinter (often underground), ready to wake up in the spring and start the cycle again. The queen bee is the only bumblebee that survives through the year to do this – all the male bees and worker bees die off. What do bees do in the winter? | The Wildlife Trusts
Dragonflies and damselflies use different strategies to survive winter. Many dragonflies overwinter as eggs. These eggs are laid usually at the end of summer after the adults have mated. These eggs either enter diapause, which is a type of hibernation, or hatch out into larvae. ... Many Dragonflies that overwinter as larvae Larvae are juvenile dragonflies, and can also be called nymphs. They live within the water and spend their time hunting smaller invertebrates. Many dragonflies species overwinter in the water as larvae. ... In many insects, the main aim of their adult form is to produce offspring. Most dragonflies will spend the largest proportion of their lives as larvae, only becoming an adult for a few weeks or months. ... Once mating is complete, and the eggs are safely laid, their life’s work is completed. They aren’t designed to have a second go the following year, meaning that the adults tend to die by the end of the summer, not needing to enter hibernation. Do Dragonflies Migrate or Hibernate? (Surviving Winter) (meadowia.com)
I do a monthly Bee Walk (where I survey a transact for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT)) and, twice a month, I volunteer surveying for the Short-Haired Bumblebee Reintroduction Project, a BBCT project based in Dungeness and Rye Harbour) see: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/short-haired-bumblebee-reintroduction-project/#, so on my self-directed insect nature journeys I tend to focus on butterflies and/or dragonflies/damselflies, although I note the bumblebees and solitary bees that I see.
The places I visited on Monday 09.05.21, Bevendean Down Nature Reserve, Malling Down Nature Reserve and Lewes Railway Land Nature Reserve were chosen because they offer typically superb opportunities for observing butterflies (at Bevendean and Malling) and Dragonflies (at Lewes Railway, as it is a riverside and marsh habitat). See https://www.simelliott.net/post/09-05-22-2-malling-down-nature-reserve-dingy-skipper-other-butterflies-and-meadow-pipits for my post on the Butterflies of Malling Down,
I am very lucky to live within minutes of the South Downs. The South Downs National Park is internationally-renowned for its butterfly and moth biodiversity, but like all wildlife, these animals need our help in order to flourish. As well as being incredibly beautiful, these butterflies are important pollinators and are a lynchpin of so many ecosystems here in the south east of England. Charles Winchester, ranger for the Wealden Heath team of the National Park, Big conservation effort at school will help butterflies thrive in Petworth | SussexWorld (sussexexpress.co.uk)
I am trying to make more of my nature journeys as local as possible, as travelling less distance (even by public transport) reduces carbon consumption; and living on a limited income during a cost of living crisis means I need to reduce expenditure; closer places are less expensive to visit.
I love looking for butterflies. Dry, warm, and preferably calm, days are best. Afternoons, when it is typically the warmest time of day, is probably the best time to look for them. Monday it was a warm sunny day, so I took the opportunity to go butterfly scoping. I planned to go to Malling Down Nature Reserve, one of Sussex's top sites for Butterflies, in the afternoon. Malling Down is just outside of Lewes, and Bevendean is in-between my house, in Bakers Bottom, Brighton (the other side of Whitehawk Hill) and Lewes. I took the bus to Bevendean (the 48), and got off at Heath Hill Avenue
Bevendean Down: Unimproved species rich chalk grassland on the edge of north east Brighton. Part of the South Downs National Park. ... Opposite .... Bevendean Primary School, [is] Heath Hill Avenue. Follow the track which is between 115A and 117 Heath Hill Avenue. After going through metal barrier across the track take the small right hand path which goes up through some trees to the open chalk grassland of Hogtrough. Butterfly Conservation - Sussex Branch (sussex-butterflies.org.uk)
Map from: Detailed maps & routes to explore across the UK | OS Maps Bevendean Down NR is the larger green crescent on this map, just north of Heath Hill Avenue.
Key species: Adonis, grizzled skipper, dingy skipper, small blue, green hairstreak, chalkhill blue, dark green fritillary. Other species Common blue, marbled white, wall, skippers.
Site description: A steepish south facing valley of chalk grassland with typical flora of round headed rampion, small scabious, autumn gentian, carline thistle, marjoram, bastard toadflax. The lower south end of the valley has slightly taller growth and species include marbled white. The higher north end of the valley has a large area of horseshoe vetch and this is the best area for chalkhill blues and adonis. This is a great bit of chalk grassland easily accessed right on the edge of the city. Butterfly Conservation - Sussex Branch (sussex-butterflies.org.uk)
Bevendean Down is a cluster of species-rich chalk grassland, scrub and woodland sites which have earned Local Nature Reserve (LNR) status and is in the South Downs National Park.
The sloping hills are home to many species of butterfly including the nationally scarce Adonis Blue, the rare Silver Spotted Skipper and a large population of Round-headed Rampion (otherwise known as the Pride of Sussex). ... . Bevendean Down (brighton-hove.gov.uk)
The eastern bank is called Hogtrough Bottom and has a mixture of taller grasses, short sheep’s fescue turf and scrub. Some years on the shorter ground are large swarms of autumn ladies tresses. There are lots of scarce species such as bastard toadflax, waxcap and webcap fungi, four-spot orb-weaver and purseweb spiders, but David Bangs, Sussex field naturalists says, "the main delight is the tapestry of summer colours - purple knapweed and felwort, blue scabious, yellow hawkbit and rockrose" Bevendean Down - Wikipedia
The Butterflies I saw: Common Blue, Adonis Blue, Large White, Gren-Veined White, Peacock, Speckled Wood, Wall Brown, and Small Copper
The suburban context of Bevendean Down: the Bevendean Estate
The Bevendean estate (north-east of central Brighton), was largely developed after World War II. It has a mixture of council housing and private development. Some of my relatives lived Bevendean, and some still do. They love the location. Because the scarp slopes (the steep sides, the escarpments of downs) around Brighton were too steep to build on, and too steep to farm, the scarp slopes of Bevendean Down and Whitehawk Hill (south of Bevendean and to the west of the Whitehawk Bottom, where the Whitehawk Estate was built), are oases of unimproved chalk grassland and are very biologically rich. My Grandmother lived in Whitehawk, in Fletching Road, after World War II but before the 1970s remodelling. Coincidentally the recent social housing built by the Guinness Trust on Manor Hill, west side of Whitehawk Bottom, was built with open eaves (no soffit boards) and now these houses one of the largest Swift colonies in the South East. The suburban fringes of Brighton offer an opportunity for humans and nature to have regular contact; and the opportunity to conserve some very valuable biodiverse habitats.
The path into the reserve.
A Speckled Wood on Bramble.
A female Green-Veined White on Bramble
Speckled Wood on Hawthorne
Another Speckled Wood on Bramble
Adonis Blue - the archetypical Butterfly of unimproved southern chalk downland.
From Butterfly Conservation UK: This beautiful species of butterfly is one of the most characteristic of unimproved southern chalk downland, where it can be seen flying low over shortly grazed turf (typically steep, south-facing slopes).
The males have brilliant sky-blue wings, while the females are chocolate brown and far less conspicuous. Both sexes have distinctive black lines that enter or cross the white fringes of the wings.
The white, textured disc-shaped eggs are laid singly under young, unshaded Horseshoe Vetch leaves in May-June and August-September. They can be found most easily in September where unshaded Horseshoe Vetch is growing on short turf.
The Adonis Blue overwinters as a caterpillar; it is is green with short, yellow stripes, which camouflage it while it feeds on Horseshoe Vetch during the day. It is most commonly seen during April and late July as it searches for ants to 'milk' its sugary secretions.
In April-May and July-August the caterpillar forms into a chrysalis in small crevices or hollows and is then buried by ants in earth chambers connected to the ant nest. The ants constantly attend to it for around three weeks, protecting it from predators.
This species has undergone a major decline through its entire range but, despite its restricted distribution, on good sites it can be seen in many hundreds, as it has recently re-expanded in some regions. Colonies vary in size considerably from year to year, depending on the weather. Many thousands can be seen emerging towards the end of a hot summer, contrasting with under a hundred from a spring emergence. Adonis Blue | Butterfly Conservation (butterfly-conservation.org)
Another Speckled Wood
and this one flew off its perch on a bramble leaf to sit on the bear soil of the earth path; they often do that in warm weather,
A species of Borage; originally a Mediterranean plant, but has become naturalised in the UK
A Wall Brown
House Sparrows with nesting material in their beaks (fence at the top of the escarpment, marking the boundary of the reserve).
In the strip of wood at the bottom of the reserve.
Honesty, and non-native self-seeded from someone's garden
A red Damselfly
Looking through gaps in the trees to the Bevendean Estate
Herb Robert (much magnified)
Wood Forget-Me-Not (much magnified)
The Bevendean Community Grade abutting the Nature Reserve (to the east, bottom of the escarpment)
The garden is a beautiful green space for the community in Bevendean. The site includes a clay oven, community compost scheme, fruit and vegetable growing and a wildlife area. https://bhfood.org.uk/directory/bevendean-community-garden/
This is a bee-mimic Hoverfly; probably Volucella bombylans, on the path through the wooded area
Yet another Speckled Wood
On the escarpment (steep slope) of Bevendean Down:
Common Blue on Wild Mignonette
The Common Blue is the most widespread blue butterfly in Britain and Ireland and is found in a variety of grassy habitats.
The brightly coloured males are conspicuous but females are more secretive. The colour of the upperwings of females varies from almost completely brown in southern England to predominantly blue in western Ireland and Scotland, but the colour is variable within local populations with some striking examples. Unlike Adonis and Chalkhill Blues, the dark veins do not extend into white fringes of wing margins.
It remains widespread but there have been local declines within its range. Common Blue | Butterfly Conservation (butterfly-conservation.org)
Where it grows
On well-drained soils in open habitats, occurring on waste ground and roadside verges, in marginal grassland, disused railway land, quarries and arable land, in disturbed chalk and limestone grassland and on fixed sand dunes. ...
How's it doing?
Continues to be common throughout England and the north and south of Wales, but in Scotland is largely restricted to lowland areas in the south.
3 things you might not know
In the Language of Flowers mignonette means ‘Your qualities surpass your charms’.
The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of various butterflies, including the Cabbage White, Bath White and Orange Tip.
The name ‘mignonette’ comes from the French ‘mignon’, meaning ‘dainty’. Wild mignonette (Reseda lutea) (plantlife.org.uk)
The Small Copper is usually seen in ones and twos, but in some years large numbers may be found at good sites. Males are territorial, often choosing a piece of bare ground or a stone on which to bask and await passing females. They behave aggressively towards any passing insects, returning to the same spot when the chase is over.
Though it remains a common and widespread species, the Small Copper declined throughout its range during the twentieth century. Widespread through Britain and Ireland, and occasionally visits gardens. Small Copper | Butterfly Conservation (butterfly-conservation.org)
A Large White
The escarpment (with Wild Mignonette)
Overlooking the Bevendean Estate from the top of Bevendean Down.
The dew pond at the top of the down
Common Water Strider
A Yellow Iris around the pond
Tadpoles in the pond
I sat down in the bench by the Dew Pond and ate my packed lunch; I was joined by three House Martins eating insects and possibly gathering mud for their nest building on the houses of Bevendean
The house martin is a small bird with glossy blue-black upper parts and pure white under parts. It has a distinctive white rump with a forked tail and, on close inspection, white feathers covering its legs and toes. It spends much of its time on the wing collecting insect prey. The bird's mud nest is usually sited below the eaves of buildings. They are summer migrants and spend their winters in Africa. Although still numerous and widespread, recent moderate declines earn them a place on the Red List. House Martin Bird Facts | Delichon Urbica - The RSPB
A female Blackbird
Walking up the down, through Hogtrough Bottom, over Falmer Hill and down to Moulsecoomb, to catch the bus to Lewes
Rook and Daises
Hogtrough Bottom and its plantation of trees.
A Peacock Butterfly, on the path through Hogtrough Bottom planation
Wild Strawberry, with two small insects nectaring and pollinating
Another speckled wood in the planation; Speckled Woods really are a common butterfly in downland woods.
A view of the centre of Brighton from Falmer Hill
Abandoned farm machinery on Falmer Hill
From PantLife: A wildflower to "speed you well": the speedwell is as common on roadsides verges as it is garden lawns.
Travellers in years gone by appreciated its bright blue petals and in Ireland it was sewn into clothes as a charm to protect against accidents.
Many speedwells you might see - such as the pale blue Slender Speedwell and Common Field Speedwell - were brought over from Asia by the Victorians. Our most common native variety is the Germander Speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys,(pictured) also known as "Bird's Eye". Germander derives from the Greek word chamandrua - meaning 'oak on the ground'. It may have been our ancestors saw this petite plant as a tiny oak tree, in a similar vein to Ground Elder.
Found throughout the UK.
A wildflower family with varied tastes: for example, Heath Speedwell (long stalked, with hairy stems) unsurprisingly prefers heathland whilst the Common Field Speedwell (bright blue with a pale lower lip) thrives on cultivated land. Germander Speedwell likes roadsides, woodland and grassland.
Did you know?
Vernacular names for Germander speedwell include Cat's eye, Eye of the child Jesus, Farewell, Goodbye. In the 18th Century they also became known for curing gout and dried leaves were used for tea.
Other types of speedwell include Thyme-leaved speedwell, Wood speedwell, Pink and Blue water-speedwell. Three low-growing annual species - breckland, spring and fingered speedwells - grow in waste places and on field-edges on the sandy soils of the East Anglian Breckland. Wall speedwell is a widespread annual on walls, pavements and cultivated and waste ground. Other similar common, sprawling annual weeds with solitary flowers are Green field-speedwell, grey field-speedwell, common field-speedwell and ivy-leaved speedwell. Spiked speedwell is an attractive and rare perennial of calcareous rocks and short grassland with two distinct populations in Britain. This species occasionally hybridises with garden speedwell from continental Europe. Plantlife :: Speedwell
Sarcophaga carnaria (no common name), a fly on the path
The problem with litter. This bee has been attracted by the purple in a sea of green.
...bees really, really like purple and now we know why. Experiments show that their inborn colour preference gives them a good start in life.
"The world's a bit of a tough place for a naive bee," says Dr Adrian Dyer, a research in how animals perceive colour from La Trobe University in Australia. "They have to go out and find the goodies."
Any bee that innately prefers the colour of flowers with the highest amounts of nectar will probably have a better chance of surviving its first few days in the world and then pass on that trait to its own offspring. Bees go wild over purple flowers › News in Science (ABC Science)
Lambs on Falmer Hill
A sheep family
A Speckled Wood on a tree next to the path, where it comes out in Moulsecoomb