Monday, 24 April 2017

Dukes Off To Strong Start

An afternoon visit (23 April) to Murray Downland Trust's fabulous Heyshott Escarpment reserve was conducted under almost complete cloud cover, with only a couple of five minute bursts of sunshine being just sufficient to encourage a couple of Duke of Burgundy to open their wings.

No other species of butterfly were seen, but I still managed to locate 18 Dukes at rest on low scrub, including two mating pairs. I suspect that they've been out for a while here, as St Mark's Fly was everywhere, and the emergence of this species is closely coordinated with the appearance of the first Dukes.

To find so many, so easily, does suggest that the Duke of Burgundy is going to have another good season.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Murray Downland Trust garden event on Saturday 13 May

All are invited to the Murray Downland Trust garden event on Saturday 13 May, 11 am to 3.30pm, in Philip Jackson's garden at Casters Brook, Mill Lane, Cocking, Midhurst GU29 0HJ.

Besides the sale of plants, demonstrations of bee-keeping and a performance by the Midhurst Band, world renowned sculptor Philip Jackson will be conducting two tours of sculptures in his garden. Refreshments, cake and produce stalls and a raffle will also be on offer.

Proceeds go to the Murray Downland Trust to further the trust's conservation work.

Some photos from last year's event (halfway down among the insect pics):

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Second work party of 2017

Today we had our second work party of the year. Many have been cancelled due to either ice or wet conditions making work too hazardous. It was good to get stuck in again on the east slope. A shrew popped out of the undergrowth. We gathered around to see it, but it had disappeared into a hole at the base of a tree trunk. It reappeared briefly to tell us what it thought of our gardening efforts. A small birds nest was also found on the ground.

Monday, 21 November 2016

The work continues

October 26th
The past month has gone well - we only lost one Wednesday - on November 9th the slopes were too slippery after the previous night's rain. So far this year we have concentrated on clearing vegetation to create suitable habitat for the primroses and cowslips to appear as food plants for the Duke of Burgundy next Spring.
  We have volunteers performing various functions: starting and tending the fire, tree cutting using chainsaws and handsaws, cutting tall plant growth using brush cutters, dragging cut wood to the fire, raking and carrying cut brush to the fire using forks. The use of brush cutters and chainsaws requires specialist courses, certification and personal protection equipment so we have a limited number of volunteers who can use these tools. Some more volunteers will attend training courses soon to increase our specialist work force.
October 26:

November 2:

a hame, part of a horse harness, turned up in the undergrowth

November 16:

Thursday, 20 October 2016

First work party of the winter season

Heyshott escarpment at its best
Yesterday 13 volunteers climbed Heyshott escarpment to begin the new season's weekly clearance programme. Last year we had an excellent showing of the butterfly that this work is designed to benefit - the Duke of Burgundy.
  We welcome newcomers to our weekly work parties which are mostly held on Wednesday mornings. More information can be found here:

Heyshott is one of the great success stories of butterfly conservation in the UK and further information about the Duke of Burgundy and all the Sussex butterflies will be found in the new Butterfly Conservation Atlas of Sussex butterflies which will be published in 2017:-

Andy K, John, Peter, Colin, Katrina, Nick, Mike H, Nigel, Garry
missing from photo: Mike E, Greg, Paul, Andy S 

Mike E inspects his brush cutter and Greg tends the fire
2 supervisors...
Paul, showing his raking skills

Monday, 17 October 2016

Murray Downland Trust AGM and Annual Talk

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Graeme Lyons, Sussex Wildlife Trust's ecologist, will be presenting the results of his invetebrate survey, undertaken with Mike Edwards, on the MDT's South Downs nature reserves on Wednesday, 19 October 2016 in the Cobden Hall, Heyshott, West Sussex GU29 0DJ. The AGM starts at 6.45pm, refreshments at 7.00pm, before the talk at 7.30pm.

His talk is open to all. We understand that Graeme and Mike have discovered species which were previously unrecorded in Sussex so a fascinating evening is envisaged.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Legacy Of Betty Murray

After delivering a butterfly identification and recording workshop for the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service (VRS), held at the National Park Authority's offices in Midhurst (20.5.16), a large group of us headed to Heyshott Escarpment, to put theory into practice. I was assisted by Jayne Chapman (BC Hants Reserves Officer) and BC/VRS stalwart Arthur Greenwood. 

As always, Heyshott risked giving an entirely false impression of the plight facing some of our rarer and more localised species. If one were to live entirely within the confines of the Murray Downland Trust's flagship reserve, it would be easy to think that all was well with the natural world. At one point I became genuinely concerned that people might tread on some of the Duke of Burgundies scattered liberally over the ground. It came as a relief to occasionally find a more common species on which the group could hone its identification skills, but for much of the time it was “Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Burgundy”.

Having recently made an accurate count of 135 Dukes here (almost exclusively males - 129), and knowing the numbers usually encountered within each pit, it soon became obvious to me that I was looking at a larger population than I've ever experienced before. After our group had departed I returned to make a more accurate assessment, but time only allowed a rapid one-hour count over about one-third of the productive area. 
Females were out in abundance today and I saw a total of five pairings without having to search very thoroughly. I also came across only my second ever example of the pale aberrant form leucodes (it looks rather like a very faded specimen but isn't!). It's been a very good season for aberrant Sussex Dukes, as I've had the pleasure of sharing two specimens of the rare ab. albomaculata (one including traits of the less remarkable ab. gracilens) with a few friends on another site.

Over some parts of the reserve which seldom support more than one or two Dukes, today there were many. At times the air was full of butterflies, with males chasing males, males chasing females, and males chasing Dingy Skippers and Green Hairstreaks. In several places I counted the number of individuals sitting within an imaginary one metre square, which reached eight in the most favoured hollow (5m, 3f), during a cool, dull spell. The last species I saw in comparable densities was the African Grass Blue in Furteventura. Even at 4.30 pm, males were descending on recently unfurled wings from the steep back-wall at the top of the reserve. 

So how many Dukes were flying over Heyshott Escarpment today? I generally prefer not to estimate or extrapolate, but it is important to record, even imprecisely, the unprecedented recovery of the Duke of Burgundy, on a site where it had come so perilously close to extinction. Today there were at least 200 Dukes on these remarkable slopes. 

Everyone who has played a part in the conservation work at this Murray Downland Trust reserve should feel very proud of what has been achieved here. I would like to think that the late Betty Murray ( is looking down on proceedings with an approving eye.

by Neil Hulme » Sun May 22, 2016 1:34 am (
article copied with author's permission. photos © Neil Hulme