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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Butterflies on Newtimber Hill and The Devil's Dyke. 23.08.22

On Tuesday 23.08.22 I met with another member of the Gay Birders Club for a local GBC meet-up. We went to Newtimber Hill and the Devil's Dyke, part of the National Trusts's adjoining estates of Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill | National Trust and Devil's Dyke | National Trust. Theses South Down chalk hills are famous for their butterfly diversity and abundance.

The photographs in this post are in are in chronological order. All sections of the text in italics are quotes, sources are cited at the end of the quotations.

The Devils Dyke and Newtimber Hill are cited as good sites for butterflies in Blencowe and Hulme's (2017) The Butterflies of Sussex: A Twenty-First Century Atlas:

20 Devil's Dyke

CENTRAL GRID REFERENCE: TQ264112 TARGET SPECIES: All Sussex skippers, Wall, Green Hairstreak, Small Blue, Adonis Blue, Chalk Hill Blue

DIRECTIONS: 8 km north of Brighton the main Devil's Dyke car park (with restaurant and toilets) at TQ258110 can get busy in the summer. Alternative car parking may be found at Summer Down (TQ269111) or Saddlescombe (TQ271114) - both of which are more convenient for the best butterfly areas. You may be better off taking the bus and a regular service runs here from Brighton

Devil's Dyke has always been a popular beauty spot and the slopes of the steep sided valley are home to a range of chalk grassland species. Today the butterflies still remain but so do the crowds and it seems the same hot, calm sunny days that are ideal for butterfly watching are also ideal for sitting next to your car with an ice cream. But move away from the car parks and crowds and you'll find some peace and butterflies on the south-facing slopes of the valley. The valley floor (TQ264110 to TQ266113) is also worth searching. Green Hairstreak can be numerous with 55 reported here on one day in 2011.

21 Newtimber Hill

CENTRAL GRID REFERENCE: TQ268120 TARGET SPECIES: Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Silver-spotted Skipper, Wall, Dark Green Fritillary, Adonis Blue, Chalk Hill Blue

DIRECTIONS: Where the Brighton to Poynings road descends from the Downs at Saddlescombe there is a parking area on the west side of the road (TQ271114). Cross the road into Saddlescombe Farm: paths on the left will lead you to the open access land on Newtimber Hill

Silver-spotted Skippers have successfully colonised many new sites on the Downs in the past few decades and they've certainly made themselves at home on Newtimber Hill, where over 100 can be seen on a good day. A walk around the hill from TQ268118 to TQ269126 will take you through the best areas where you will also find other chalk grassland species. Blencowe and Hulme's (2017) The Butterflies of Sussex: A Twenty-First Century Atlas:

The National Trust have self-directed butterfly walks for Newtimber Hill and the Devils Dyke,

I got to the Dyke by the 77 bus; which runs from the centre of Brighton every 45 minutes and takes 35 minutes. From the Devils' Dyke bus stop it take 30 minutes to walk down through the Dyke to Saddlescombe Farm 77 - Devil's Dyke-Brighton Pier | Brighton & Hove Buses

After having a coffee and cake at the excellent Saddlescombe Farm café caravan (6 on the map) we walked round the coombe (Ewe Bottom) slope to map point 5. When it started raining we walked back to the café caravan and had lunch

A flock of House Sparrows in the farm yard

The 300-year old Donkey Wheel; this huge wooden wheel, powered by a donkey or small horse, drew water from the 50-metre deep well. This was the only reliable source of water for the residents for centuries. Potted History of Saddlescombe Farm | National Trust

Waling through the slopes of the coombe (Ewe Bottom) between Newtimber, West and North Hills we saw plenty of butterflies; many warming up their bodies in the little bit of sun that came out.

Worm female Common Blue

A Pyrausta purpuralis moth. A moth with a strong preference for chalk downland.

A somewhat battered male Common Blue of Devil's-Bit Scabious

A female Meadow Brown on Devil's-Bit Scabious

Another male Common Blue on Knapweed

Another female Meadow Brown

"The Pride of Sussex"; the Round-headed Rampion - in the UK the South Downs of Sussex is the most common place it is found

Brown Argus - underwings on daisy head

Same Brown Adonis - wings open; a characteristic species of southern chalk and limestone grassland

Large White on Devil's-Bit Scabious

Another Brown Argus on Devil's-Bit Scabious

Silver-Spotted Skipper on Hawkbit. This small butterfly with a low darting flight is restricted to chalk downland in southern England. Its numbers have declined in recent year, although it is quite abundant at Newtimber Hill

A Rush Vaneer moth, a migratory moth, with its wings in an unusual position; this moth normally sits in a very thin posture with its wings closed,

Common Blue on Devil's-Bit Scabious

Small Heath

Another Rampion

A Silver-Spotted Blue on Field Scabious

We returned to the café caravan for lunch; and after lunch walked round the Devil's Dyke.

Devil's Dyke got its name from a legend. The legend says the devil was furious at the conversion of the people of the Weald to Christianity and decided to dig a dyke through the South Downs, so the sea could flow in and drown their villages. To make sure his efforts were not discovered until it was too late, he decided to dig it over a single night. However his work woke an old woman, who lit a candle. This then woke her cockerel, who began to crow. Seeing the light and hearing the cockerel, the devil was fooled into thinking it was dawn, rushed off with his work uncompleted and the Weald was saved. Devils Dyke (

We walked from map point 4, to 2, missed out 2-3, walking along the green path linking 2 to 4. The weather was much wetter, and we saw very few butterflies; but it was a very picturesque walk.

We saw and heard a juvenile Buzzard

and saw many juvenile Stonechats

and we saw a Painted Lady

and a few Common Blues roosting

and some Meadow Browns

When I walked back to the bus stop to catch the 77 back home, a sea fret was filling the Dyke with mist.

The remains of the concrete pillar of the nineteenth century aerial cable car

The Cable Car

Game hunter and traveller Mr HJ Hubbard bought the Dyke Estate in1892 and set about turning Dyke Park into a pioneering amusement resort. The marvels of modern engineering were intermingled with the multitude of games and funfair rides.

As the steep scarp slope down to the valley and Saddlescombe proved arduous for some visitors, a funicular railway was built in 1889 and ran for 20 years.

But perhaps the greatest mechanical feat achieved during Mr Hubbard’s tenure was the opening of Britain’s first aerial cable car in 1894.

Tourists conveyed across the valley were afforded a heady perspective of the ground-breaking Victorian theme park built on an area of outstanding natural beauty. Devil's Dyke Victorian Funfair | National Trust

The mist rolling in!



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