When we first acquired the reserve, our main aim was to conserve the wild life that we already knew was there, with a particular emphasis on butterflies. But managing for butterflies also benefits so much other wildlife, so recording birds, plants, trees, dragonflies and any other aspects of wildlife; I try to do on a more relaxed basis.
Recording of butterflies I do on a weekly basis from the beginning of April to the end of September each year and I now have records going back to 1998. (This I can only do when the temperature is above 13C and between 11am and 4pm) a universal recording template to which all recorders adhere.
Over this period there has been a management plan in place which we have tried to maintain, sometimes with difficulty because of lack of manpower. That management plan included grazing, which initially was provided by cattle and in the last three years, by sheep. But much cutting has been done by the use of a huge cutter driven by hand and involving removal of cut material. That is very hard work indeed!
The reserve provides excellent habitat for grassland butterflies, including meadow browns, marbled whites, large, small and Essex skippers and a large population of the beautiful ringlet. These seem to do well whatever the weather in the winter, but the impact of long periods of heavy rain in the spring and summer can be felt with the success, or lack of, butterflies like the common blue and the Vanessa’s (e.g. the peacock, the red admiral and the tortoiseshell)
2010 showed a huge increase in the common blue where hitherto numbers had been relatively low. The winter of 2010/2011 was particularly severe and may well have had an impact on the common blue in 2011, although a rather poor summer could also have played a part in a lower count for that year.
We also see certain migrants, like the painted lady, which visits us from the continent when warm and strong winds bring thousands to England. In all I have recorded 21 species of butterflies in both 2010 and 2011.
There are many moths to be recorded, which sadly we have had no opportunity to record in the last 6 years or so, but the day time flying moths such as the carpets, the cinnabar and the 5/6/spot burnets are commonly recorded. Dragon flies, such as the white legged damsel and the hawkers are common.
Black caps, sparrow hawks and many other birds nest on Millhoppers and many plant species, such as the marsh marigold and some orchids add to the diversity on our reserve. And we must not forget that we have 16 Black Poplars, which need careful management.
I am sure that I miss a great deal but would be delighted for any sightings that anybody has to be added to the ever growing list.
Article by Margaret Noakes. January 2012.