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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

09.05.22/2. Malling Down Nature Reserve. Dingy Skipper, other butterflies and Meadow Pipits.

After visiting Bevendean Down Nature Reserve first thing on 09.05.22, I walked over the top of Bevendean Down to Moulsecoomb, where I took a bus (28 but you can also take the 29), to Lewes, where it is a short(ish) walk to Malling Down Nature Reserve, managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, and also a top site for Butterflies in Sussex.

I had never visited Malling Down Nature Reserve, despite it being just a few miles away from my house, and despite me having lived in Brighton all my life (despite a few years at University in Sheffield and Reading, and working in London for six years). Perhaps it is only when you have retired that you have the time to explore what your local area has to offer!

Malling Down has a reputation for being one of the best places to see butterflies in Sussex. From Butterfly Conservation Sussex - Sites - Malling Down Butterfly Conservation - Sussex Branch - PAGE TITLE (

Species: The following summary of the transect report for 2005 by Crispin Holloway gives a wonderful insight into what species to expect on the reserve .... (In brackets, long-term Average 1984 – 2004 & 5 year Average 2000 – 2004):

Small/Essex Skipper 72; Silver-spotted Skipper 129 ; Large Skipper 1; Dingy Skipper 29; Grizzled Skipper 10 (26,16); Clouded Yellow 3 (9,9); Brimstone 32 (35,31); Large White 49 (152,76); Small White 69 (97,44); Green-veined White 4 (17,5); Orange Tip 1 (4,2); Green Hairstreak 13 (16,31); Small Copper 43 (110,116); Brown Argus 77 (79,54); Common Blue 387 (480,601); Chalkhill Blue 93 (235,112); Adonis Blue 281 (620,263); Holly Blue 7 (7,4); Red Admiral 28 (22,35); Painted Lady 0 (29,23); Small Tortoiseshell 8 (115,56) ; Peacock 9 (33,26); Comma 8 (11,16); Speckled Wood 6 (26,22); Wall Brown 7 (29,31); Marbled White 184 (176,187); Gatekeeper 558 (463,482); Meadow Brown 3002 (2595,2216); Small Heath 232 (344,222)

Site description: The site comprises of large areas of unimproved species rich chalk grassland as well as areas of scrub, secondary woodland and arable reversion. Malling Down has a good variety of indicator species associated unimproved chalk grassland including Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue and Horseshoe Vetch (sic). The coombe valley is characterised by steep sided north and south facing slopes that open westwards towards the town of Lewes. At the eastern end, the valley divides in two, between which is a large convex slope known as the Snout. Butterfly Conservation - Sussex Branch - PAGE TITLE (

The entrance described in the Sussex Wildlife Trust directions, via Mill Road, is a fair walk from the station and bus stops of Lewes; there is a less-far walk to enter the reserve, via Chapel Hill (the road to Lewes Golf Course, and the path that leaves the road a few hundred meters up the road on the left. Warning: this path, and the others in Malling Down, are very steep. There are some very steep ascents on this reserve and steep cliff faces that should be treated with great respect. (Butterfly Conservation - Sussex Branch)

Map from: Google Maps

As I walked up Mill Road to the reserve, the last house I passed, had this bas relief on the fence; I think it may be a representation of a Green Women / Mother Earth / Spring holding a rabbit.

At the entrance

Common Milkwort

Milkwort again.

This beetle flew passed me and landed next to me, I think it is Cantharis fusca (no common name)

Cantharis fusca is a species of soldier beetle. C. fusca reaches a length of 10–15 millimetres (0.39–0.59 in). Except for parts of the head and thorax, which are red or orange, this species is completely black. The body is flat and long, with a weak exoskeleton. These beetles have long feathery antennae, and comparatively long legs. This species is common in large parts of Europe, and lives in bushes, edges of forests, and meadows. They hunt for small insects. The larvae have black hairs, and also eat small insects. They are very cold-resistant, and can be seen crawling on the snow in winter.

I saw this Meadow Pipit, one of a pair, engaging in pair-bonding beahviour; flying from tree to shrub together and calling to each other

There was much Speedwell around

Here is a Milk Thistle in bloom

Looking down the Coombe

coombe (noun)

  1. BRITISH a short valley or hollow on a hillside or coastline, especially in southern England. geology a dry valley in a limestone or chalk escarpment.

coombe eefinith - Search ( definition form Oxford Languages

I walked down the north-facing side of The Coombe; it had many butterflies; I did not walk the south-facing side as I didn't have time; this may, as south-facing have greater butterfly diversity and abundance

Common Blue

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.

A Dingy Skipper

Found in Britain and Ireland but becoming increasingly rare. Grey-brown wings with mottled brown markings and two rows of small white spots. A small butterfly with a low, darting flight. Grizzled Skipper is similar in size but has brighter black and white markings.

In the sunshine, the Dingy Skipper often basks on bare ground with wings spread wide. In dull weather, and at night, it perches on the tops of dead flowerheads in a moth-like fashion with wings curved in a position not seen in any other British butterfly. This small brown and grey butterfly is extremely well camouflaged. It may be confused with the Grizzled Skipper, the Mother Shipton moth and Burnet Companion moth, which sometimes occur on the same sites at the same time.

The Dingy Skipper is locally distributed throughout Britain and Ireland but has declined seriously in recent years. Dingy Skipper | Butterfly Conservation (

A Carder (probably Common, but didn't have my net and insect pot to examine it to see if it if it Brown-Banded or a Moss Carder)

The only one of three all-ginger bumblebees to be a member of the ‘Big 7’ widespread and abundant species, it is found in a wide range of habitats across the UK, including gardens. The earliest of the carders to emerge in spring, and usually the latest-flying of the bumblebees from summer nests (Buff-tailed bumblebees, Bombus terrestris, increasingly show winter-nesting behaviour). Males, workers and queens are similar in appearance, ginger-brown all over with no clearly-delineated tail. Females usually have creamy-white sides to the thorax while males are often yellower, with more obvious facial hair tufts. Common carder bee - Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Another Dingy Skipper

Two poor photographs (record shots) of yellow butterflies, probably Brimstones in flight; there were many in flight in The Coombe; I saw none stationary.

In Blencowe and Hulme's magisterial, and now sadly out of print, 2017 The Butterflies of Sussex: A Twentieth-First Century Atlas only two yellow butterflies are listed as seen in Sussex, the resident Brimstones and the migratory Clouded Yellows; the only stationary yellow butterfly I have seen this year was a Brimstone, at Horseshoe Plantation near Birling Gap, two weeks ago. The survey figures for these two at Malling Down are: Clouded Yellow 3 (9,9); Brimstone 32 (35,31). First numbers are transect sighting taken in 2005 (In brackets, long-term Average 1984 – 2004 & 5 year Average 2000 – 2004). Thus these yellow are probably Brimstones; when I have seen Clouded Yellows it has tended to be later in the year.

The Brimstone has spread in recent years, mainly in northern England. When this butterfly roosts among foliage, the angular shape and the strong veining of their wings closely resembles leaves.

There is a view that the word 'butterfly' originates from the yellow colour of male Brimstones. The wings of the female are very pale green, almost white, males have yellow-green underwings and yellow upperwings. Brimstone | Butterfly Conservation (

If I get a good photo I am happy, if I don't I am still happy; as I aiming to record not take great wildlife photography. It is seeing fauna in the field that counts to me; the photos are just records of that experience; to support my memory and for future savouring of past positive experience if I am unable to get out to trickier sites for mobility reasons.

Savoring is the ability to be mindful of positive experiences and to be aware of and regulate positive feelings about these experiences. Previous research has found that savoring interventions can be effective at improving well-being ... Smith JL, Hanni AA. Effects of a Savoring Intervention on Resilience and Well-Being of Older Adults. Journal of Applied Gerontology. 2019 Jan;38(1):137-152.

Ribwort Plantain

The brown, oval flower heads of ribwort plantain balance on top of thin, wiry stems; the resulting seed heads provide food for birds in winter. Look for this 'weed' in lawns, fields and grasslands.

Ribwort plantain is a plant of grasslands, field edges and cultivated ground and tracks, and regularly pops up in lawns as a weed. It flowers between April and October; in contrast to the long flower spikes of greater plantain, the short, oval flower heads of ribwort plantain appear as if balanced on the top of their thin, wiry stems. Its seed heads remain for most of the winter providing food for goldfinches and other seed-eating birds. Ribwort plantain | The Wildlife Trusts

The steep escarpments of the Coombe

A beautiful Peacock Butterfly on the path through The Coombe

The Peacock's spectacular pattern of eyespots evolved to startle or confuse predators, make it one of the most easily recognized and best-known species. It is from these wing markings that the butterfly gained its common name. Undersides of the wings are very dark and look like dead leaves. A fairly large butterfly and a strong flyer.

Although a familiar visitor to garden buddleias in late summer, the Peacock's strong flight and nomadic instincts lead it to range widely through the countryside, often finding its preferred habitats in the shelter of woodland clearings, rides, and edges.

The species is widespread and has continued to expand its range in northern parts of Britain and Ireland. Peacock | Butterfly Conservation (

Looking up (north) into the head of The Coombe

A Cowslip; a very characteristic plant of Sussex in April and May

Another record shot! A Large White (I think) in flight; I saw many Large Whites, none stationary.

A large, strong flying butterfly. The brilliant white wings have black tips to the forewings, extending down the wing edge. Females have two spots on the forewings, which is not present in males. The undersides are a creamy white with two spots.

The larvae feed on wild or cultivated species of the Cruciferae family, with a strong preference for cultivated varieties of Brassica oleracea, such as Cabbage and Brussel-sprouts and varieties of B. napus such as Oil-seed Rape. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea) are also used, as is Sea-Kale (Crambe maritima) along the coast. Large White | Butterfly Conservation (

As a child I remember Cabbage Whites (as the Large Whites were called then) being incredibly common in my grandfathers garden and allotment; but he grew a lot of cabbage!

Looking up The Coombe

A fly of some sort on Herb Robert; whilst wild bees (bumble and solitary), butterflies and moths are important pollinators, so are flies, especially hoverflies; this may be a Pipiza genus hoverfly species

"When people talk about pollinators, they often think of the domesticated honeybee that has been part of our lives for thousands of years," said Karl Wotton, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter's College of Life and Environmental Sciences.

"Hoverflies, in contrast, don't have this history, and bees often get undue credit from the casual observer as many hoverfly species are easily mistaken for bees," he told AFP. .. "Neither bees nor hoverflies on their own can provide the pollination capacity to sustain agriculture," Wotton said. "Hoverflies and bees play different and equally vital roles in the natural world. We sorely need them both!

Locking north from further down The Coombe

At the bottom of the Coombe the south path goes through a wooded area before end ding at Lewes Golf Course

The memorial to "The Protestant Martyrs" on Cliff Hill, see: Sussex Martyrs Commemoration Council - History of the Memorials

The path then descends through a wood to Chapel Hill and South Street; there were many Speckled Woods in the woods

The path down.

Chapel Hill, into which the path goes

Looking down on St Thomas A Becket St Thomas’ is steeped in history. Built as a chapel for Cliffe in South Malling parish, the dedication to St Thomas à Becket reveals the link to Canterbury through Malling Deanery, and suggests the chapel was founded in the late 12th Century. History – St Thomas à Becket Church (



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