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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Castle Hill NNR Brighton. Birds, Wildflowers, Butterflies, Moths & Crickets. 03 & 04.06.23

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

I visited Natural England's Castle Hill National Nature Reserve, Brighton, on consecutive days; on 04.06.23 I led a Gay Birders' Club trip; the day before I did a recce to see what was about. This is the closest nature reserve to my house. To get there I take a 15 minute bus trip on Brighton and Hove Busses bus 2; get off at the Downs Hotel, and then walk to up the Falmer Road to the car park on the brow of the hill. From there there are footpaths that take you into the nature reserve. As a reserve that consists of the scarp slopes of downs, all the paths involve some steep parts; so it is not an easy walk.

The photographs are organised into categories.

All sections of text in italics are quotations, sources sited.

I am only an amateur naturalist; thus all identifications are provisional; if you note a mistake in identification please feel free to tell me.

If you want to contact me about any aspect of this blog, email me at simeon[underscore]elliott[at]gmail[dot]com.

Sadly, on both days ,I saw dogs off leads running through meadows potentially squashing Skylark eggs, insects, wild flowers. I also saw dog poop, on the ground and hanging in trees in plastic bags. The council website says of Castle Hill: Please follow the Countryside Code when walking through the area, particularly keeping dogs under close control at all times and on a fixed lead (2 metres) between 1 March & 31; Castle Hill - National Nature Reserve ( but this is certainly not happening. Dog faeces and urine are being deposited in nature reserves in such quantities that it is likely to be damaging wildlife, according to a new study. The analysis found that the resulting overfertilisation of the ground with nitrogen and phosphorus by footpaths could reach levels that would be illegal on farmland. Deluge of dog pee and poo harming nature reserves, study suggests | Biodiversity | The Guardian

Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, are never alone or weary of life. Rachel Carson

Castle Hill NNR Welcome to the National Nature Reserve

Many of the plants and animals that live on the steeper slopes are now very rare. They only survive on remaining fragments of ancient downland like Castle Hill, where they are ideally suited to the short downland turf.

From a distance, the most obvious feature at Castle Hill is the close-cropped downland turf on the hill slopes. This is mainly dense, wiry sheep’s fescue, but other grasses include upright brome, quaking grass, meadow oat-grass and tor-grass. Traditional grazing over hundreds of years has helped to establish plant communities that are well adapted to the chalky soil, creating a rich habitat with up to 30 plant species in a single square metre.

Looking more closely, you’ll find a wide range of colourful flowering plants. Dropwort, salad burnet and several vetches are common in May and June, followed by centaury, yellow-wort and small scabious in late summer. Several unusual plants also grow here, sometimes in considerable numbers. These include spring gentian and Nottingham catchfly, as well as round-headed rampion, known locally as the Pride of Sussex. Castle Hill supports a rich variety of insects, including rare butterflies like the chalkhill blue, Adonis and small blue that depend on the different chalk herbs for their food. Here you’ll also find the country’s largest colony of wart biter crickets, which is the focus of a project to re-introduce this rare creature to places where it has become extinct. The work was originally funded by English Nature's Species Recovery Programme.

In June, the purple flowers of fragrant and common spotted orchids push their heads above the turf (pictured below). This is also the national stronghold for the much rarer early spider orchid, with as many as 50,000 plants being recorded in a single year. Other examples of the orchid family include autumn lady's tresses and pyramidal orchids. [ARCHIVED CONTENT] (

Here is what I saw


Corn Bunting

Female/juvenile Stonechat



Small Blue


Common Blue

Small Heath


Brown Argus

Dingy Skipper

Green Hairstreak


Small Yellow Underwing

Silver Y

Green Forester

Yellow Shell

Common Carpet

Other Insects

Great Green Bush Cricket

Red and Black Froghopper

Swollen Thighed Beetle

Green Flower Beetle

Wild Flowers

Quaking Grass


Ribwort Plantain

Dropwort buds

Horseshoe Vetch

Common Sorrel

Common Vetch

Fragrant Orchis

White version of the Chalk Fragrant Orchid

Small Scabious

Salad Burnet


Dropwort flowering

Yellow Rattle


Salad Burnett

Ground Ivy

Common Spotted Orchid

Scenes of the South Downs grasslands in the reserve



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