Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Stockbridge Wonders

'Here comes the sun, little Darlin’...'

Its here!  Everywhere you look pasty legs are slowly turning shades of red and brown and there are ice cream covered children running all over the lawns of Mottisfont.

The last few weeks have seen the blossoming of Stockbridge Down, which has exploded into a miasma of colours.  Salad Burnet, Birds Foot Trefoil, Germander Speedwell and hundreds of other flowers now litter the grassy slopes of the Down and have turned it into the grassland equivalent of the Technicolor Dreamcoat. 

With the floral explosion and the recent sunny weather, the butterflies are finally out in force and making their presence known.  Males are speedily bouncing off each other with aggression, each trying to gain height on their rival, whilst male and female pairs can be seen in a gentler dance, flying around each other in tight circles.

I went up Stockbridge at the weekend for a spot of butterfly hunting in the good weather and finally saw the wonder that people had been telling me about throughout the cold, dark days of winter – butterflies everywhere!  More species than I’ve ever seen in a single place!  Green Hairstreaks, Dingy Skippers, Grizzled Skippers, Brown Argus, Small Blue, Common Blue, Small Heath, Brimstone, Orange Tip, Green Veined Whites, Speckled Wood….and, in a small coppiced clearing of ours across the road, the fabled Duke of Burgundy. 

Brown Argus on the Down
The Duke of Burgundy is a rare little butterfly that is found on scrubby chalk grassland or in coppiced areas and woodland glades which it used to frequent.  Hampshire Conservation Volunteers worked with us to coppice some of the hazel we have across the road from the Down as DofB’s were known to inhabit the field behind this.  By coppicing we were hoping to encourage them into that area and then across to the Down and, judging by the conversation I had with an enthusiastic couple on the Down yesterday who said they had seen one up there, I think we may have succeeded!  Watch this space…

The Duke Of Burgundy in our coppiced area.

Alongside this the Down has, after two years of absence, got cattle grazing again.  Grazing is essential for managing the grass and scrub of downland as they prevent weedy, dominant grasses from taking over and allow a more diverse grass and floral structure to compete evenly.  Grazing also helps prevent encroaching scrub as the cattle will eat saplings of trees such as Birch which would otherwise regenerate and spread quickly.  Cattle also provide bare, poached areas of soil where invertebrates and reptiles can bask in the sun.

The cows we now have on the Down belong to a local farmer and Commoner who agreed to take up his Common rights of grazing on Stockbridge.  This has the double whammy of being beneficial to us in getting our site grazed and being beneficial to Stockbridge as it keeps the Common rights alive and contributes to the community.
They are Aberdeen Angus cattle, a good, hardy breed that is particularly good at keeping newly growing scrub in check.  They are a very placid breed and don’t mind people or dogs (although dogs should be kept under close control when around the cattle) and I am so chuffed to have them on the Down at last.  Eat up ladies!

Some of the herd heading off to explore their new territory.

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