Amongst the economic and environmental gloom and doom, here’s a good news story. It’s a story of how a dedicated band of volunteers, all members of the Sussex Branch of the Butterfly Conservation Trust, have managed to not only save several very rare species in Sussex but have recently seen an upsurge in species numbers. From a tiny 9-acre pocket of Trust-owned woodland in East Sussex, the Trust recently opened their new acquisition of 80 acres in Rowlands Wood. It promises to really give a boost to butterfly and moth numbers throughout the wider 300 acres of woodland nearby.
Since Victorian times Vert Wood, which lies in a quiet part of East Sussex, 7 miles from Lewes, has been famous amongst lepidopterists as a haven for a wide variety of butterflies and moths. This was helped by the variety of habitats available, including woodland glades, open spaces due to coppicing, grazed bracken and heathland. After the Second World War however, that all changed as the entire wood was sold off in plots. Most was clear-felled and replanted with conifers – the Forestry Commission’s big idea to make us more self-sufficient in wood. The decline in rich insect fauna started almost immediately andmany populations began to crash. The private reserve at Park Corner Heath which is on the edge of Vert Wood, was acquired by the Trust in 1989. It became a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its flora and fauna, including the Lewes Wave moth which is sadly now extinct.
The Reserve became a refuge for declining butterfly species, and in particular it became a rich breeding ground for the Pearl-Bordered Fritillary (PB) and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (SPB). Despite a surge in numbers of many species after the big 1987 storm knocked out many trees and let light in, numbers started steadily declining again across the wider Vert Wood area. A dedicated band of volunteers worked hard at maintaining coppicing patterns and the removal of bracken that allows the violet flowers to grow that the Pearl-Bordered Fritillary need to feed on. While the Pearl-Bordered disappeared from Vert Wood several years ago (it’s been successfully re-introduced into nearby Abbotts Wood), the SPB stabilised and began to thrive. In the adjoining Vert Wood, owners like myself have been opening up areas for breeding and feeding under the guidance of the Trust, with some help via small grants from the Forestry Commission. This year we recorded the highest level of SPB that we have seen in five years – a combination of helpful weather and more open areas.
I’ve visited the new Rowlands Wood Reserve several times recently to advise on options for using the wood felled to open up spaces and glades for local wood fuelled boilers. It’s a delightful wood, with a large beautiful lake and varying landscapes. With dark rides being opened up to let light pour in and allow flowers to grow, the impact of the Reserve has been significant already. Small Pearl-bordered populations made their way into the reserve last year and have thrived since. Seventeen other species have been sighted. We were lucky at the open day, despite the showery weather, to see a newly emerged Silver-washed Fritillary emerge and dry itself on some bracken.
The opening of the new reserve has been a real success for the Trust’s Honorary President Graham Parris, who has championed the work to save the PB and SPB for two decades now. He rightly took some heartfelt applause from the 50 odd people who attended the launch. The new sign for the Reserve was opened by ‘Jack’, a horse trained to carry out logging duties to move the cut timber. Outgoing Reserve Warden Michael Blencowe had the vision and foresight to spot that the land was coming up for sale and worked with Trust Officers to make the purchase against stiff competition. I spoke with Bob Foreman who has now taken over duties as Reserve Warden. “This is a really exciting development and allows us to really expand what we have achieved at our tiny Park Corner Heath Reserve” said Bob. “The combined 89 acres of land we can now manage appropriately, plus the cooperation from owners nearby in Vert Wood, means that we are beginning to see butterfly and moth populations move from one site to another and expand. We are keen to see the further development of open corridors that facilitates that”. Did he expect to see the return of the Pearl-bordered Fritillary? “Oh yes”, said Bob, “that’s our real hope and when it comes we will know that our efforts can turn the clock back and allow nature to recover”.
As the Reserve enters a new arena, a lot of work is required to really bring the benefits of the larger reserve through. Volunteers are always welcome – see contacts below.
Reserve Warden Bob Foreman – email@example.comRead More...