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1 | The Adonis Kent & South East London Branch The Adonis ISSUE 94 | SPRING 2021

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1 | T h e A d o n i s
Kent & South East London Branch
The Adonis ISSUE 94 | SPRING 2021
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Committee Members
Secretary - Peter Riley - [email protected] Butterfly Recorder - Mike Easterbrook - [email protected]
Micro Moth Recorder - David Shenton - [email protected] Macro Moth Recorder - Ian Hunter - [email protected]
Conservation & H&S Officer - Peter Kirby - [email protected] Website & IT Officer - Ben Kirby - [email protected]
Membership Secretary - Jackie Kirby - [email protected] Transect Officer - Paul Tinsley-Marshall - [email protected]
Conservation Officer - Simon Ginnaw - [email protected] Project Officer - John Bangay - [email protected] WCBS Officer - Paolo Farina - [email protected]
Follow us and keep in touch:
Websites: /
@BCKentBranch / @mothsinkent Butterfly Conservation Kent & SE London Branch / Kent Moth Group Kent Butterflies
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Wareham, Dorset, BH20 5QP. Charity registered in England and Wales (254937) and in Scotland (SCO39268). VAT No GB 991 2771 89
Cover photo: Heath Fritillaries, Gary Faulkner
Silver-spotted Skipper, Bob Eade Green Hairstreak, Joe Beale Heath Fritillary, Lesley Brown
Committee Members 2 Chair’s Welcome 4 Regional Conservation Manager’s Report 6 Highlights of the 2020 Butterfly Season 8 Remembering Tony Orsborne 10 Kent Butterfly Book 11 Our August Hog 12 Butterflies of Blackheath & Greenwich Park 18 Kent’s Heath Fritillaries 23 Gardening for a Wilder Kent 29 Brilliant Butterfly Banks 30 Kent’s Magnificent Moths 33 Big City Butterflies 34 Dates for Your Diary 36
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Chair’s Welcome Hello everyone! I hope that as you read this spring is well and truly on the way and we can begin to put a tumultuous 2020 behind us. My apologies that our newsletters took a pause last year and that sadly, under the restrictions, we were unable to hold an AGM & Branch Member’s Day, field trips or work parties.
t feels like a long time since our AGM at Lenham which rounded off the 2019 season, and strange to think
how we used to be allowed to gather inside in crowds! We had a great turnout - thank you to everyone who came along, and special thanks to our guest speakers Dan Tuson, May Webber and Dick Vane-Wright for their insightful presentations. After many years, Dr Jim Flegg’s retirement as Branch President was announced. We offer him our heartfelt thanks for all his support. 2020 wasn’t without good news though and we were very fortunate to welcome a new Branch President, with Dick Vane- Wright kindly accepting our invitation to take on the role. An eminent entomologist and taxonomist who has been associated with the Natural History Museum for nearly 60 years, Dick is also a prolific author and a Trustee of Friends of Westgate Parks in Canterbury. I hope you enjoy his contribution to this edition of The Adonis! 2020 was also a fantastic year for two of Kent’s highest priority species. The Heath Fritillary enjoyed its best year in a decade in the Blean woodland complex and our regional conservation manager Steve Wheatley takes a detailed look
into this butterfly’s fortunes in his article. Going one better, the diminutive Duke of Burgundy saw its best year on record for 25 years! This is in no small part down to the work of Natural England’s Dan Tuson, who has been advising farmers and landowners on nature recovery in East Kent for many years. Claire Ward’s ongoing work leading volunteer efforts for the Duke in the Denge Woods was also recognised with a thoroughly deserved award at the 2019 Butterfly Conservation National AGM. The start of our National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project Kent’s Magnificent Moths was postponed due to the pandemic but we’re very excited that this has now been given permission to start in April. The largest and most ambitious moth conservation project in history, we look forward to getting as many people as possible involved over the next three years. The inter-branch project planned for London, Big City Butterflies, was also well received by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and has been given permission to start this year too! A first of its kind for BC, Big City Butterflies will inspire and engage urban communities with the nature on their doorsteps. On the theme of urban wildlife, Joe Beale’s article on the
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butterflies of Blackheath and Greenwich demonstrates just how impressive biodiversity in cities can be, given the chance. Our County Recorder Mike Easterbrook has been working for several years now on a book of the butterflies of Kent & SE London. To help with the publication costs we’re offering the chance to sponsor your favourite butterfly, so see the details in his article and get in quick! A huge amount of work has gone into this book, and it wouldn’t have been possible without all the records you have submitted. Thank you and please keep sending us your data. Looking ahead to the summer, we’re very hopeful that at least some of our
field trips will be able to go ahead, but this of course will be subject to the changing restriction levels. Ever optimistic, we’ve published proposed dates at the end of this newsletter, but please do check our website and social media for updates closer the time and you must confirm with the walk leaders before attending. As ever, if you have any suggestions for improving our branch or would like to help in some way, please do get in touch. We’re always in need of volunteers and there really are opportunities for everyone, whatever your interest, ability, or availability! Nathan Jones, Branch Chair
Duke of Burgundy on Lady Orchid: Iain Leach
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Regional Conservation Manager’s Report We are now half-way through the delivery of Butterfly Conservation’s ten-year Regional Action Plan for South East England (2016 to 2025). Delivering action is of course the most important element of making a plan, and I’m pleased to report that in the last five years we have made plenty of progress to protect and conserve the species we agreed and highlighted as those most in need of conservation action.
e are a relatively small organisation (compared with organisations like the
RSPB and the Woodland Trust), but our enthusiastic volunteers, and recorders continue to make a big and significant contribution to delivering wildlife conservation. In addition, we are working closer than ever with other organisations in Kent, such as the Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Forestry England, the Woodland Trust and National Trust, and the Kent Nature Partnership. By sharing our priorities with them, we are greatly increasing the potential and scale of positive action – delivering positive change for some of our most special species.
Working with others we have ensured the Heath Fritillary has just enjoyed its third season of very high numbers. The Kent population is now undoubtably the best and strongest colony in the UK. The Duke of Burgundy colony remains strong and well distributed thanks in no small part to our dedicated Denge
Woods volunteers and the long-term efforts of Natural England and the Woodland Trust. The delicate Straw Belle moth is also being well looked after, thanks to volunteers and the support of the White Cliffs Countryside Partnership, Kent Wildlife Trust, National Trust and others.
Straw Belle: Bill Dykes
The Brilliant Butterflies project (in Partnership with London Wildlife Trust) is extending into South East London, delivering high-quality habitat creation work. Our Kent’s Magnificent Moths project will launch in the spring – boosting the conservation of some of Kent’s highest priority moths, and increasing further the interest and
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action for the county’s wildlife. In addition, we are now developing a new downland project for West Kent that will help the Small Blue butterfly, Adonis Blue, and moths such as the Chalk Carpet and the Lace Border. If all goes well, this project could potentially extend all the way along the Downs to the white cliffs.
I’m sure that in five years’ time we’ll be able to report back on lots of activity, positive results, and great examples of conservation. Volunteers are key to this success and I thank everyone who is helping us to deliver action, whether it
is at a county scale or even in their own street or garden. Important too, will be the recording and surveying of these species, so that we continue to have the best evidence to highlight and celebrate our positive impact. For this I thank all volunteers, members. and supporters of the Kent & South East London Branch of Butterfly Conservation, and I encourage others to get involved over these next exciting five years!
Steve Wheatley, Regional Conservation Manager for South East England
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Highlights of the 2020 Butterfly Season The glorious weather in Spring 2020 brought some colour to our gardens and countryside in the form of good numbers of Brimstones, Orange-tips, Peacocks and Holly Blues.
ome of these emerged quite early, such as the Orange-tip seen on 23 March at Erith Marshes by
Mike Robinson. Dingy Skippers were in high numbers at some sites, including White Hill, Shoreham and Monica Percival discovered a new site for Grizzled Skipper on a road verge near Farningham, though annoyingly the site fell victim to the mad strimmers of Kent County Council Highways.
There were some early sightings of migrants, with a Swallowtail seen in April at Hever by Jo Cockerill, who also found a larva later in the year. Swallowtails were also spotted in late May/ early June at Capel-le-Ferne and Dungeness. There were several Large Tortoiseshells around, with 3 seen in the Lydden area by Paul Holt, 1 at Erith by Lawrence Rogers, 1 at Denge by Derek Smith and 1 at South Foreland by Carol Wade and Roger Newton.
By June the numbers of Small and Large Whites had increased and there were nests of Peacock larvae on nettles. It was great to see a recovery in the numbers of Small Tortoiseshell, with large numbers in some places, e.g.
David Harper saw around 50 at Wye in mid-June.
Some of the summer butterflies emerged very early, including an Essex Skipper seen on 30 May at Eltham by Mike Robinson and a Silver-spotted Skipper seen by John and Liz Pell at Queendown Warren on the remarkably early date of 29 June. Other interesting sightings included the valesina form of Silver-washed Fritillary seen at RSPB Northward Hill by Rob Budgen and a Purple Emperor in the garden of Peter and Pauline Heathcote at New Barn, Longfield. Marbled Whites continued to disperse to new sites, and in August a Brown Hairstreak was found by Cliff Robson in his garden at West Wickham, 11/2 miles from the nearest known locality. There was also a probable sighting of this species by Elaine Cocks at Shortlands.
There was some recovery in the numbers of Common Blue, e.g. on John Bangay’s transect at Kemsing Downs the numbers were double those of 2019, though still a lot lower than in 2018. Populations of Brown Argus also remained much lower than in 2018. Two
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species that did do well in several places in 2020 were Wall and Small Copper.
The southerly winds that brought hot weather in August also helped more migrant butterflies to reach our shores. Nigel Stapley had a Swallowtail on a buddleia in his garden at Kemsing on 10 August and Alan Pavey found a Camberwell Beauty at Marden on 13 August. In September Long-tailed Blues were found at Pegwell Bay (Chris Randall), Kingsdown and Castle Hill, Folkestone (Alfie Gay) and a Queen of Spain Fritillary was discovered by John and Emily Neighbour at South Foreland,
in the same area where one spent several weeks in summer 2019. There was also a late influx of Clouded Yellows.
Exciting as the news of these rare migrants was, probably the most positive sighting of the year was that of the Grayling seen by Paul Holt at Samphire Hoe on 17 August. This is the first time it has been recorded at that location and is the first record in Kent for over 6 years, since the small colony at Folkestone Warren disappeared.
Mike Easterbrook, County Butterfly Recorder
Grayling at Samphire Hoe: Paul Holt
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Remembering Tony Orsborne As some members will be aware, in spring last year a very long-standing and dedicated supporter of the Kent Branch (and Butterfly Conservation in general), Tony Orsborne, died after a long illness. The committee have passed on their condolences to Tony's widow, Vera, but we now have a chance to pay tribute to someone who did so much, alongside Vera, to promote, and raise money for, the Kent Branch.
lder members will no doubt remember visiting Tony and Vera's garden, at Silver Spray in
Sellindge, when they opened it to raise money for the Branch. In addition to the beautiful garden (the planting of which was largely Vera's province, and which was also opened for the National Garden Scheme for many years) there was the attraction of Tony's butterfly house, a poly-tunnel tucked away in a corner of the garden in which every year Tony raised a colourful array of exotic butterflies. These garden openings, which regularly featured in the local press and on local radio, not only helped publicise Butterfly Conservation, but raised literally thousands of pounds for the Kent Branch.
In addition to this, Tony served on the Branch committee for many years, was an avid recorder, and gave talks alongside Vera on butterflies, and how to encourage them into the garden, to local horticultural societies, Women’s Institute groups, and others. He was also an official Environment Dept weather recorder and provided weather records for the Kent Branch Butterfly Reports. On top of all this, he was also an avid collector of transport memorabilia; anyone fortunate enough
to have been given a tour of his collection will have been amazed at the size and range of it, including a complete (though never re-assembled) glass-fronted counter of a ticket booking office!
Tony's interest in transport stretched back to his schooldays in Sussex. His grandfather owned a bus company and after school Tony used to help in the garage. He went straight from school to do National Service in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and then became an AA patrol man, first on a motorbike, in the days when members had to be saluted, then in a van, ending up as a supervisor, and retiring due to ill health after some 40 years. In retirement he served for several years on the local parish council, taking a keen interest in the changes imposed on Sellindge by the coming of the high-speed rail line. His role in the garden at the Silver Spray was to complement Vera's profound knowledge of plants, continuing to mow the lawns and edge the flower beds until his illness made this impossible. He was also a willing helper in the plant nursery which Vera ran for many years, accompanying her to plant fairs all over Kent.
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Butterfly Book Appeal County Recorder Mike Easterbrook’s eagerly awaited book on the butterflies of Kent & South East London is nearing completion. Presenting data gathered over the period 2005-2020, this project is the culmination of several years of work and many thousands of records. Mike is being supported with his venture by fellow Branch Committee members Peter Kirby, Peter Riley and John Bangay. To help with publication costs we’re offering you the opportunity to sponsor a species. For a suggested donation of £100, you will receive your name or a dedication alongside your chosen butterfly, as well as a free copy of the book. (Remember, you could club together with a friend for a joint dedication - or a group of friends, or make a dedication as a present for someone, or ask your company to sponsor a species… get creative!).
Chalkhill Blue
To pledge your sponsorship, please get in touch with Branch Treasurer, Trevor Manship [email protected] For the many talented photographers out there, we’re also inviting submissions of photos of each species, taken in Kent, to feature in the book. We are looking for each stage of the life cycle, from egg to imago. If you have a great photo that you would be happy for us to use, please email it to Mike at [email protected] for consideration as soon as possible. Photos must be in high resolution digital format.
White Admiral
Our August Hog
Dick Vane-Wright, OHSCA,
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In August 2020 a planned visit to Lydden Down by Butterfly Conservation Kent & SE London Branch in conjunction with Oaten Hill & South Canterbury Association had to be cancelled. The main objective was to see the Silver-spotted Skipper. With much help from conservationists, this species has made a significant comeback since the 1970s1 – but it remains a local and even rare butterfly in Britain. In this article our President briefly explores the place of skippers within the classification of butterflies, offers a few thoughts on the scientific and common names of the species, and summarises its known biology and distribution in the UK.
t one time in the history of classification of the butterflies, the skippers (‘Grypocera’ – with
hooked antennae) were considered to be distinct from the rest of the butterflies (‘Rhopalocera’ – with clubbed antennae), even to the extent that some considered skippers not to be butterflies at all, but a separate group in their own right2(pl.6). Fast forward to the present, in the current era of our classifications being increasingly influenced by molecular data, the skippers are now confirmed as belonging to the Papilionoidea, the single superfamily that includes all of the familiar butterflies (plus a small and relatively obscure Latin American family of rather moth-like lepidopterans, the Hedylidae)3. Worldwide over 4000 species of skippers (family Hesperiidae) are now known, divided among some 500 genera and more than a dozen subfamilies – of which three are represented in the British fauna.
Previous page photo: Nigel Kiteley
What’s in a name?
The silver-spotted skipper was given its first ‘scientific’ name by Linnaeus in 1758, as Papilio comma. Linnaeus’s account of the butterflies in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae is of course the baseline for the scientific names of all Lepidoptera. Linnaeus divided the butterflies and moths (Order Lepidoptera) into just three ‘genera’: Papilio, Sphinx and Phalaena (this last no longer in use). At the time they were equivalent to Suborders – and according to the contemporary English entomologist Thomas Yeats4, Linnaeus’s six subdivisions of Papilio were families [sic]. Linnaeus did not utilise the term ‘family’ – which today refers to a rank higher than genus, not lower as Yeats suggested (in many ways correctly in my view – but history has decided against his interpretation).
Indeed, the whole history of the application of Linnaeus’s names for the butterflies and moths is in my opinion an illogical mess (for which he cannot be blamed!). Suffice to say that the first
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widely accepted division of Linnaeus’s Papilio was that introduced by his great entomological student Fabricius, who in 17935 divided the butterflies (including a few day-flying moths that had crept in) into two genera: Papilio and Hesperia. The latter more or less corresponded to two of Linnaeus’s subdivisions of Papilio (families in Yeats’s sense): the Plebeji rurales and the Plebeji urbicolae (literally, ‘the common people of the countryside’, and ‘the common people of the towns’). Today these can be more or less equated with the Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae, respectively – in part thanks to Swedish naturalist Johan Wilhelm Dalman, who in 1816 selected Papilio comma to be the type species of Hesperia. So, in this nomenclatural sense, our Silver-spotted is the quintessential skipper.
What are the sources of the names? Hesperia is derived from the Hesperides, in Greek mythology nymphs of the evening or the golden light of sunset. Whether Fabricius was aware that some skippers typically fly at dusk seems to me doubtful. The name comma is, according to Peter Marren6, more directly descriptive – he notes that in ancient Latin and Greek the comma mark can be V-shaped as well as curled, and for the Silver-spotted he equates the source of ‘comma’ as the white V- shaped mark on the hindwing
underside. Well, there is certainly a clear V-shaped white mark at the base of cell R1 – but there is also a very large curled white mark at the end of the discal cell!
Garden Hesperides by Edward Burne-Jones (
What of the common name? Moses Harris noted that the species we now call the Small Skipper flies with “a kind of skipping motion” 6, which is perhaps the origin of Skipper. The adjectival Silver-spotted applies well to the underside, with a dozen or more whitish marks prominently on display (including the two ‘commas’). Unknown to James Petiver (who called skippers ‘hogs’), this species was first reliably recorded in the UK during the latter part of the 18thC as the Pearl Skipper, and then the August Skipper – but, for some reason, Haworth’s 1803 name, Silver-spotted, has stuck7. Had he known this species, I
like to imagine Petiver would have called it the ‘August Hog’.
Where to find?
Globally, the Silver-spotted Skipper is distributed widely across the temperate regions of North America, Europe, North Africa and the eastern Palaearctic, with as many as 30 subspecies recognised. Within the UK Hesperia comma comma has only ever been reliably reported from England. Although always most often found in the south-east, formerly it did extend rarely and discontinuously as far north as Yorkshire and south Cumbria7. Today, although known from about 250–300 populations2, it is restricted to just a few southern counties: Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
This local distribution and the flight period can be understood in terms of the microclimatic needs of the butterfly and its early stages, which are rarely found other than on south-facing chalk or limestone grasslands with a short sward maintained by cattle, sheep or rabbits8. Climate change, bringing increased warmth at the right stages of its life cycle, seems to be proving advantageous. Thus the habitat use of the Silver-spotted in England is now widening and its range increasing – albeit slowly due to its naturally very low rate of dispersal9–11.
The ugliest caterpillar
Peter Eeles
Peter Eeles has recently given us a wonderful new account of the life cycle11. In late August and early September the white, dome-shaped eggs are laid on or close to Sheep’s Fescue grass (Festuca ovina), in which stage they overwinter until mid-March. In the UK, F. ovina appears to be its only food plant. After hatching, individual or small groups of the pale-bodied, black- headed larvae (once said to be “the ugliest of all our butterflies’” caterpillars!13) construct a loose silken tube wound together from fine grass stems. Here they rest at the base, feed, or continue tube-building. From time to time they eject their frass ‘explosively’ from the bottom of the tube – a habit found in many tropical species, and often thought to be a way of reducing detection by parasitoids – which can use volatiles emanating from larval faeces as a search cue. In July or August, the fully grown fifth and final instar, about an inch long, usually wanders away from
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the hostplant, to form the pupa within a strong cocoon reinforced with grass blades11.
Adults emerge from mid-July over a period of weeks, and are on the wing into early September. The males, which appear first, can be distinguished by the conspicuous, black, oblique ‘brand’ (androconial organ) on discal area of the forewing upperside. This is a very active butterfly, but it usually requires a higher ambient temperature than most of our native species before it will fly. This is one of the reasons why, in the past at least, a short sward with bare patches of earth has been so important for its survival in England12.
Lydden Temple Ewell
The Lydden Temple Ewell National Nature Reserve at Lydden can be regarded as the ‘headquarters’ of the Silver-spotted Skipper in Kent. Most of our other Kent populations also occur in the Dover/Folkestone area, with just a few (including some re-introductions) elsewhere in East and Mid Kent (https://butterfly- spotted-skipper).
I hope that in summer 2021 we can try again to visit Lydden in search of ‘Our August Hog’ – and that the vital conservation work can continue. The support of all Butterfly Conservation members and volunteers is both greatly appreciated and needed more than ever.
Lydden Temple Ewell, Kent Wildlife Trust
1 Fox R, Asher J, Brereton T, Roy D & Warren M. 2006. The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Newbury: Pisces.
2 Reuter E. 1896. Ueber die Palpen der Rhopaloceren. Acta Societatis Scientiarum Fennicæ (Helsingfors) 22(1): xvi + 578 pp, 6 pls.
3 Kawahara AY & Breinholt JW. 2014. Phylogenomics provides strong evidence for relationships of butterflies and moths. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281(1788): 20140970.
4 Yeats TP. 1773. Institutions of Entomology. London: Horsfield.
5 Fabricius JC. 1793. Entomologia Systematica Emendata et Aucta 3(1). Hafniae: Proft.
6 Marren P. 2019. Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers. Toller Fratrum, Dorset: Little Toller Books.
7 Simcox DJ & Emmet AM. 1989. Hesperia comma (Linnaeus). In Emmet AM & Heath J (eds), The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland 7(1): Hesperiidae– Nymphalidae: the butterflies, pp. 61–63. Colchester: Harley Books.
8 Newland DE. 2006. Discover Butterflies in Britain. Old Basing, Hampshire: WildGuides.
9 Thomas JA, Thomas CD, Simcox DJ & Clarke RT. 1986. Ecology and declining status of the silver-spotted skipper butterfly (Hesperia comma) in Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology 23: 365–380.
10 Thomas CD & Jones TM. 1993. Partial recovery of a skipper butterfly (Hesperia comma) from population refuges: lessons for conservation in a fragmented landscape. Journal of Animal Ecology 62: 472–481.
11 Eeles P. 2019. Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies. Newbury: Pisces.
12 Davies ZG, Wilson RJ, Coles S & Thomas CD. 2006. Changing habitat associations of a thermally constrained species, the silver-spotted skipper butterfly, in response to climate warming. Journal of Animal Ecology 75: 247–256.
13 Thomas J & Webb N. 1984. Butterflies of Dorset. Dorchester: Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society.
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Butterflies of Blackheath & Greenwich It is surprising just how many species of butterfly can occur at a fragmented London site if there is a mix of habitats available. In 2019 I wrote a paper for the London Naturalist, on the current status of butterflies at Blackheath and Greenwich Park (with notes on some nearby Charlton sites: Beale 2019). The aim was to take a snapshot of the butterfly health of the area, and act as a record of what we have to help reinforce conservation efforts. Here, I would like to use some information from that paper to introduce you to the butterflies of this area - and what is being done to help them.
lackheath and Greenwich Park are green spaces in a busy part of South East London. They
contain a range of habitats, of which the
most ecologically important are areas of lowland dry acid grassland, unimproved grassland and, at Blackheath, European Gorse scrub. The uneven sandy ground
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and mixed habitats of Vanbrugh Pits and Hyde Vale (both Royal Borough of Greenwich) are amongst the best sites for butterflies. Some verges and fields are left uncut for much of the year – though management is still being experimented with. My coverage refers to both the Greenwich and Lewisham sections of Blackheath, but is weighted more strongly towards the Greenwich side. The butterfly numbers are as follows: 33 species have been recorded in the area since 1800, with 28 species known to have occurred across the area between the start of 2016 and July 2019 (including 26 species at Vanbrugh Pits alone). These are decent totals for a London site in the face of encircling urbanisation, heavy recreational pressure, habitat loss and fragmentation, nitrogen enrichment, vandalism and mismanagement.
I became fascinated by butterflies in this area when I was a child. Having returned here as an adult, I still have that childlike fascination but these days I try to be more systematic in my recording, submitting my sightings to records centres, while observing any changes. As well as helping us to understand changes in numbers and any gains and losses of species, such data act as a record of what’s at a site. This can be referred to should there ever be any development threats or should you need evidence to back up a request to
the Council for a new management approach. I walk a Butterfly Conservation transect across Greenwich Park’s One Tree Hill and this data is already proving useful for identifying areas for possible habitat work following the Park’s recent substantial Heritage Lottery award. The transects will also provide a useful baseline to monitor how butterfly and moth populations respond to changes.
There have been more gains than losses across the area. Reading Burton and Freed’s (2009) account, those lost include Wall Brown, which won’t surprise many readers. Nor is it surprising that Grayling has only been recorded once (in 1947) and not subsequently. In common with other London sites, however, several species have returned or colonised – species I would never have expected to see here as a child. Five species not found historically have been recorded since 2010: Ringlet, Marbled White, Silver- washed Fritillary, White-letter Hairstreak and Chalkhill Blue (once). For those five species, Plant’s (1987) London butterfly atlas distribution maps show no records for Lewisham or Greenwich Boroughs for 1980-1986. These species were apparently – at best - butterflies of London’s outer boroughs in those days.
Of the “garden” butterflies, Small Tortoiseshell has had a rough time since the 1990s, but thankfully holds on and
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in 2019 showed a slight increase, while Brimstone has thrived in recent years and Orange Tip remains present in modest numbers, though in higher numbers than in previous decades.
The grassland and scrub habitats are arguably the most important locally, with acid grassland, semi-natural grassland and scattered Gorse scrub all correlating with the best butterfly counts and species totals. My first Marbled White was at Vanbrugh Pits in 2012, likely also the first Greenwich record, and I remember being very excited about what I thought was an out-of-place downland species fluttering around my local patch. I witnessed breeding - one releasing its eggs into the grassy sward - in 2016 and by 2019 it had become an expected and frequent sight in the area, with new populations cropping up seemingly everywhere there was a suitable grassy patch. More widely, by 2017 the London index for this species on transect monitoring was the highest since monitoring began (Williams 2018), and the UK has seen an increase of 111% in the last ten years (UKBMS 2019). Ringlet is another grassland species that is new to the area but now common. New to Greenwich Park in 2015, it now gives high transect counts there (over 30 on one walk in in July 2019, for example). This parallels its impressive spread across London over the last decade (Williams 2018). On the
other hand, there have been no counts of Gatekeepers at Vanbrugh Pits approaching or exceeding three figures since 2014 – apparently correlating with a wider decrease (UKBMS 2019). While Meadow Browns remain fairly stable, the situation for Small Heath is more interesting. There were apparently no local records since the 1970s (Burton and Freed 2009), until five records in the noughties across the area (GiGL 2019), followed by some late summer records in 2018. There was a flurry of records in 2019 at Vanbrugh Pits, with peak counts of four adults – a wonderful sight for a patch-worker who had only rarely recorded this species. This charming butterfly seems to be undergoing something of a revival – hopefully not a temporary one. In 2017, the London transect index for Small Heath was higher than for the preceding four years (Williams 2018), and nationally numbers in 2018 were the highest they have been in the last decade of recording (UKBMS 2019).
Local rarities are always exciting for the patch-worker or transect-walker. Silver- washed Fritillary is a spectacular butterfly anywhere, but especially for a city patch. This ostentatious Fritillary only started occurring - sporadically - since 2010, with about half a dozen records since then (BC 2019). Silver- washed fritillary has been increasing nationally, with a UK increase of 127%
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since 1976 (UKBMS 2019), while in London the 2017 collated index for this species was the highest for at least ten years (Williams 2018). The first Greenwich Park records were two I observed nectaring at thistles and soaring through a sheltered clearing, during a transect walk in July 2018. A beautiful male Chalkhill Blue in amongst the Common Blues in 2013, at Hyde Vale, Blackheath, was a shock - perhaps a wanderer from the North Downs. White-letter Hairstreak is apparently a rare resident, with records from the Blackheath Village area (BC 2019) and one appeared, nectaring at Ragwort, as I walked along Hyde Vale during the hot, dry spell in 2018 (this weather also helped reveal a previously unknown colony in nearby Charlton). There are pockets of suckering Elm across the area and this elusive insect must be resident at low densities.
It is heartening that Common Blues and Small Coppers are still present in reasonable numbers, enlivening the grassland with exquisite colours. Brown Argus has gone from strength to strength since its dramatic mid- noughties rise, with double figure day counts of this subtly beautiful chocolate-and-orange insect across Vanbrugh Pits and Greenwich Park in 2019. Another encouraging story has been the recent rise of the Green Hairstreak at Vanbrugh Pits. After a
sighting nearby in 2014 and at the Pits in 2018, in 2019 I witnessed this captivating emerald-green butterfly holding territory and, very pleasingly, observed a female ovipositing on Gorse. I even found one during a Greenwich Park transect walk in 2019 – the first Park sighting since 1947!
I am trying to help Green Hairstreaks and other species with habitat management: rotating Gorse and Bramble-cutting in places to encourage fresh growth and creating sunny, sheltered scallops and bare patches. In recent years I have been enlisting the help of Royal Borough of Greenwich Council with habitat management at Hyde Vale and Vanbrugh Pits. With fantastic support from the Friends of Westcombe Woodlands and other community and conservation groups, now including Butterfly Conservation Kent and South East London branch, we tackle invasive scrub such as Holm Oaks, Turkey Oaks and suckering Cherry trees which are swamping the grassland and reducing biodiversity. There is much to do after years of succession and nutrient enrichment, and the many other challenges this urban site faces – not helped by the lack of Council funds – but there is much to fight for. At Greenwich Park, the recent Heritage Lottery Award has provided an opportunity to increase scrub and areas of reduced mowing, and my insect
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records should help inform decisions on changes to key areas.
Future challenges will include how to approach the likely increase in droughts due to climate change. For example, cutting selective firebreaks and removing arisings, rather than mowing everything indiscriminately, can help butterflies and other insects to survive dry spells whilst addressing possible fire risk. Encouragingly, Royal Borough of Greenwich Council is seeking ways to help wildlife (and cut costs) across the borough’s green spaces, including by reducing mowing. Public attitudes are
changing too, with more people keen to help biodiversity and accepting less managed green spaces. The key here is to let people know about the wonderful wildlife that lives on their doorstep and what it needs – butterflies are great ambassadors for urban biodiversity, being beautiful and noticeable. I take heart from this study and I hope others will too, because it shows that a combination of species monitoring and determined community effort can help give wildlife a fighting chance, even against formidable odds.
Joe Beale
BEALE, J. 2019. An update on the status of butterflies in Blackheath and Greenwich Park. Lond.
Nat. 98: 220-247
BURTON, J .F. and FREED, T.H. 2009. The Lepidoptera of Blackheath and Greenwich Park, 1800-
2009. Lond. Nat. 88: 117-184. BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION (BC) 2019. Kent and SE London Branch: Blackheath, Charlton and Greenwich datasets. Accessed 12 June-15 July 2019.
Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL) CIC, 2019. Accessed: 1 June-3 July 2019.
PLANT, C.W. 1987. The butterflies of the London area. London Natural History Society.
UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS). Official Statistics (2019). Accessed: 2 July 2019.
WILLIAMS, L.R. 2018. London butterfly monitoring report for 2017. Lond. Nat. 97: 68-77.
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The Changing Fate of Kent’s Heath Fritillary The Heath Fritillary is one of the nation’s rarest butterflies and is found in only four locations in the UK; The Blean in Kent, Exmoor, the Tamar and Lydford Valleys on the Cornwall-Devon border, and a complex of woodlands in South Essex. The combined total occupied area of the entire UK population covers less than one square kilometre.
The UK distribution of the Heath Fritillary
he Heath Fritillary is one of our smaller fritillaries. It is distinguished by its dusky wing
colours and low, flitting flight. In Kent and Essex it flies in warm and sheltered woodland clearings, and rides, and it was given the nickname “the Woodman's Follower'. In the South West it occupies sheltered heathland valleys.
In the 1970s this lovely butterfly was on the brink of extinction. The imminent risk was highlighted even further by the loss of the Large Blue butterfly. The extinction of such an iconic butterfly shocked conservationists and resulted in
a renewed effort to save the Heath Fritillary – considered to be the next butterfly most likely to be lost. Since the 1980’s there has been continuous effort to save this butterfly.
A newly coppiced clearing in the Blean Woods complex: Steve Wheatley
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A young Martin Warren (who later became Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation) was responsible for initiating much of this work. Since then Butterfly Conservation has been working with Natural England plus other organisations, volunteers and Blean woodland managers to ensure habitat continues to be created every year. The butterfly has been surveyed and monitored extensively throughout this time. Over the last 30 years or so there have been some population peaks (1992, 2009 & 10, 2019 & 20) and also some crashes (1988, 2007, 2016), but the data collected during this period reveals a long-term positive change.
Peak counts since 2008
In 2020 the butterfly emerged in exceptional numbers in many Blean woodlands. The highest day counts across all Kent colonies was 2,918 – the highest yet recorded. The highest numbers were recorded at the RSPB’s Blean Woods Reserve. Record numbers were also recorded at West Blean Woods (overseen by Kent Wildlife Trust) and at Clowes Wood (managed by
Forestry England. In addition to such high numbers, the butterfly’s distribution has also broken records in the last two years; Heath Fritillary distribution has been higher in 2019 and 2020 than any previous year.
Heath Fritillaries mobbing a female at Clowes Wood in 2020: Steve Wheatley
An added boost to the butterfly’s distribution is the discovery in 2020 of a newly colonised wood where active management has recently been reinstated. Twenty-four Heath Fritillaries were counted in new coppiced clearings at this site. This new site is around 1km from the nearest Heath Frit colony. Good results and high numbers in core areas in recent years have probably encouraged more butterflies to disperse in search of new (less crowded) habitat opportunities. Thanks to the good management in this private woodland, they found it!
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Heath Frits already pairing up at the newly colonised wood, 2020: Steve Wheatley
The Heath Fritillary photographed in South Blean woods: Derek Butcher
Below: Cow-wheat abundance mapped across the Blean woodlands 2019-2020
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Equally exciting was the sharing of a blurred photograph of a Heath Fritillary in South Blean woods. Any butterfly getting this far would have had to fly at least 2 miles, including crossing the busy A2. It is not thought the Heath Fritillary has yet colonised South Blean but this sighting proves it is possible and there is potential if suitable woodland management can be implemented.
In addition to recording the butterflies each year, we also survey and monitor the caterpillars’ foodplant. Martin Warren first mapped the Cow-wheat in the early 1980s. Using this same
Volunteer and Heath Fritillary Champion, Mike Enfield, observing Cow-wheat
methodology BC staff and volunteers surveyed and mapped more Cow-wheat in 2020 than ever before. Interestingly we have also seen a general increase in Cow-wheat in recent years, even where woodland management has not taken place. The reasons for this require more study.
A Heath Fritillary colonisation could also be imminent at the Woodland Trust’s newly planted Victory Wood. Cow- wheat was found here in 2019 - spreading from an adjacent woodland. Wood Ants are thought to be one of the key agents for dispersing and spreading Cow-wheat seeds (the seeds of Cow- wheat are almost identical in size, shape and colour to the eggs of Wood Ants; possibly the ants confuse the two or maybe they use the seed as a decoy). In 2020 the Cow-wheat at Victory Wood surveyed and found to be sufficient to support the butterfly. Individual wandering Heath Frits have been seen here in recent seasons. We could certainly see the butterfly get established here in the next few years, much to the excitement of the Woodland Trust’s staff.
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A Wood Ant’s nest at Victory Wood with newly established Cow-wheat nearby
The Heath Fritillary is not the only spectacular butterfly of The Blean woodlands, and not the only species benefiting from the ongoing management. These are great woodlands to see White Admirals, Silver-washed Fritillaries, Peacocks and Purple Hairstreaks. On the last five years more than half of all the UK’s butterfly species have been recorded within this complex of woods, plus several nationally rare moths including the White-spotted Sable and the unfortunate-but-accurately named, Drab Looper.
Despite the challenges and difficulties for the human population in 2020, the butterflies are faring well, and it was a spectacular and very positive year for the Heath Fritillary, with some of the highest numbers of any year on record. The Kent Heath Fritillary population is now clearly the largest of the four UK populations. This is thanks to the long-
term efforts of Butterfly Conservation and our conservation partners, such as the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust and other woodland managers. The good work is continuing; new rides are being created at Ellenden Wood; Forestry England are developing good habitat in an area of recent catastrophic windthrow; Kent Wildlife Trust are currently undertaking more woodland management in East Blean and they are making plans to enhance South Blean Woods; ….and the RSPB is continuing their excellent and very successful management of Blean Woods National Nature Reserve.
A new wide woodland ride created at another local wood: Steve Wheatley
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RSPB’s Blean Woods National Nature Reserve: Steve Wheatley
Thank you to everyone who has helped on the conservation of the Heath Fritillary in Kent. If you would like to get involved in the annual Heath Fritillary surveys in 2021, please contact me. More help is welcome (no previous experience is necessary).
Steve Wheatley – Regional Conservation Manager for South East England [email protected]
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Gardening for a Wilder Kent I do not need to tell Butterfly Conservation members that nature is in trouble. We are suffering loss of biodiversity at an alarming rate, in particular insects. But it is not too late. We can all do something to reverse the trend and these actions, however small, will add up to a huge difference. After all, there are 22 million gardens in the UK and together they cover an area greater than nature reserves.
I work with an award-winning team of volunteers at Kent Wildlife Trust who are eager to encourage people to make their gardens and local green spaces more nature friendly. In 2020 because of Covid 19, we were unable to visit gardens in person, so the volunteers have been giving wildlife friendly gardening advice using digital means.
We noticed similar questions occur on regular basis and, rather than just issuing a standard list of “frequently asked questions”, we arranged a series of short, friendly workshops. These will initially be via Zoom. Each session will be restricted to a maximum of 15 people to give all participants the opportunity to ask questions and take part in discussions. If the sessions are oversubscribed, we will hold a waiting list for repeat
sessions, so no one is turned away. It is hoped that, as the year progresses, we will be able to run live sessions from various venues. See our website for full details.
Open Gardens
We are excited to announce that later in the year some of our volunteers will be opening their gardens and giving practical tips on how to make all types of garden nature friendly. Each event will be focussed on one or two specific topics, such as ponds or wilder lawns, and experienced volunteers will be on hand to deal with questions. The relevant Covid 19 restrictions will be adhered to at each site. Booking will be essential and timed tickets can be obtained via Kent Wildlife Trust’s website from January onwards.
Sat 24 April: Wateringbury garden focussing on ponds, nature friendly vegetable gardening and hedgehog habitats
Sat 16 May: Doddington garden focussing on insects and birds
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Sat 5 June: Edenbridge garden focussing on wilder lawns
Sat 26 June: Gravesend garden focussing on pollinators and ponds
Sat 18 July: A repeat of the Doddington garden showing seasonal differences and focussing on insects and birds
If you would like any more information, you can get in touch with me by email: [email protected] or by phoning 07500111717.
Brilliant Butterfly Banks
London Wildlife Trust, the Natural History Museum and Butterfly Conservation are working together creating and restoring chalk grassland to come alive with butterflies and wildflowers in south Croydon and Bromley. We will be working with local residents, schools and landowners to host nature friendly events and make new homes for butterflies by creating over 40 areas of chalk grassland habitat between Downe, New Addington and Coulsdon.
t has certainly been a challenging year to deliver the project but I am pleased to report that the Brilliant
Butterflies team has responded to the challenge superbly by adapting our delivery activities to suit the restrictions.
Over the last year the project has engaged 1233 people directly via our activities, walks and events. Covid-19 has directly impacted this, as the summer is the most beneficial time for community engagement on chalk grasslands. However, we have focused
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on online engagement across the peak of lockdown (April to July). This included regular newsletters filled with project news, recommended reading, at home activities, top butterfly spotting tips, quizzes etc. To date the project has worked with contractors and volunteers to restore approximately 16.8ha of chalk grassland habitat, the equivalent of 39% of our target, across the 6 project nature reserves (West Kent Golf Course, Saltbox Hill, Chapel Bank, Hutchinson's Bank, Riddlesdown SSSI and Dollypers Hill). Recent work has included stump removal and mowing of a meadow compartment at Hutchinson’s Bank and numerous volunteer activities including seed harvesting, meadow management, butterfly transects and creating habitat features such as scrapes.
Trainee Charlie seed harvesting
Volunteer group at Riddlesdown We are excited to report the completion of eleven new butterfly banks across Croydon in schools, recreation grounds and local nature reserves. In addition, we have four in the process of being completed and another twelve awaiting final approval. We have worked with landowners and local communities to design banks that suit the local environment in the most cost-effective way. For example, at Falconwood Meadow a simple scrape, that exposes low nutrient subsoil, provides the right conditions for wildflower seeding and planting to support declining butterfly and other insect populations including the Small Blue. At Milne Park in New Addington two banks were created by spreading imported chalk onto existing roadside bunds. Local volunteers will help plant the banks with chalk grassland flowers and assist with their maintenance. Three New Addington schools now have their very own butterfly bank within their school grounds providing an excellent
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educational resource. The children will help plant, monitor and maintain the banks including recording of butterflies. I have shared images and videos of bank creation on my Twitter account @bc_bolton. We are also planning a number of creation sites in Bromley.
During (above) and after (below) Milne Park Bank Construction
We have just completed year 2 of our environmental DNA or eDNA fieldwork. The Brilliant Butterflies team have been surveying the 6 project nature reserves with malaise (the tent like structures in the picture below) and pit fall traps. These traps take a very small sample of the population in which their DNA is preserved in alcohol, which is then analysed using pioneering eDNA extraction methods.
Katy, Steph (NHM) & Omar (trainee) with malaise trap Why is this important? It is very difficult to identify each species in the field as some insects have tiny differences between them (e.g the position of one tiny hair that can only be seen under a microscope). Furthermore, some of these species only come out at night, making them hard to find! It would take weeks, if not months to survey the invertebrate population by sight using traditional methods. The information we gain from these eDNA surveys will help us understand what species are present on the nature reserves, and how best to manage the reserves for the future!
These activity strands will be progressed with my own role focusing on habitat creation planning and delivery. For more information and volunteering opportunities please visit the webpage -butterflies
Steve Bolton, Project Officer
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Kent’s Magnificent Moths The long-awaited Kent’s Magnificent Moths project launches this April. This 3-year project will deliver an exciting programme of events, activities, and conservation action across six key East Kent landscapes.
wo new project officers (Emma Pestridge and Rebecca Levey) have joined Butterfly
Conservation to lead the project. Emma is our Engagement Officer, leading on the delivery of events and activities and working with local community groups and schools. Rebecca is the project’s Conservation Officer, leading the work with volunteers, land-managers and conservation partner organisations to deliver essential habitat enhancements.
Both project officers bring with them a wealth of experience and enthusiasm. Emma was previously delivering engagement activities in London at Spitalfields City Farm and Battersea Park Children’s Zoo. Rebecca is a keen moth recorder who has worked in Kent before with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
Planning for a moth project began way back in 2016 but the challenges of project development, finding funding and then the pandemic pushed things further and further back. We are so pleased that the project will now go ahead!
Kent was chosen because it has the greatest diversity of rare and threatened moths in the UK. Some of these, such as the beautiful Black- veined Moth, occur nowhere else in the UK. Other nationally important moths this project will help include Fiery Clearwing, Bright Wave, Straw Belle and Marsh Mallow Moth. In addition to this we’ll also be celebrating the wider diversity of moths in Kent including spectacular species like the Elephant Hawk-moth and Garden Tiger. Plus, of course we will be engaging with butterflies too.
Butterfly Conservation is grateful to the
Fiery Clearwing: Mark Parsons
National Lottery Heritage Fund for choosing to fund this project, to national lottery players and the other organisations supporters who have
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helped us finally get this project up-and- running. You’ll be hearing much more about this project in Kent over the coming year and the project will be running until 2024.
Emma Pestridge
[email protected] [email protected]
Rebecca Levey
Big City Butterflies gets the go ahead! Exciting times ahead! Thanks to players of the National Lottery, Butterfly Conservation have secured funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) to deliver an ambitious new project, ‘Big City Butterflies’ that will support Londoners to discover butterflies and moths, and in doing so will connect them with nature and their local green spaces. The people reached through the project will have opportunities to learn about butterflies and moths, how to seek them out, to enjoy them and to help them thrive in their neighbourhoods.
he Big City Butterflies project will enable Butterfly Conservation to make some important discoveries
too. We need to understand more about how populations are faring in the
capital. In London, butterflies and moths are under-recorded, and we’ll be providing training opportunities to equip a new wave of urban recorders in the heart of the city.
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Through our development work for the project in 2019, we identified a network of sites across inner London on which to focus our activities and will continue to make connections with local community and volunteer groups. We’ll be working with land managers to enhance and connect London’s green spaces, so that they can better support butterflies and moths. Our branch is one of four who together cover the London area.
The Kent & South East London Branch area includes four London boroughs; Greenwich, Lewisham, Bexley and Bromley. The project will draw on the local knowledge and expertise of our members, as well as our neighbouring Branches Surrey & SW London, Herts & Middlesex and Cambridge & Essex. A
number of flagship sites have been selected, including Oxleas Meadows in Greenwich and Brockley & Ladywell Cemetery in Lewisham, with more sites added as the project progresses.
We can’t wait to get started and are currently in the recruitment process for two Project Officers to lead and deliver the project. Huge thanks to all of our fantastic supporters, members and volunteers for enabling us to reach this point!
Visit our project page on our website to find our more and if you’d like to be involved please get in touch with the committee!
Kate Merry, Head of Volunteering & Engagement
2021 Dates for your Diary
Field Trips Sunday 23rd May - Abbot’s Wood (Sussex) for PB & SPB Fritillary. Peter Riley Saturday 5th June - Strawberry Banks/Coney Bank for Small & Adonis Blue. Peter Kirby Saturday 12th June - Crundale Valley for Black-veined Moth. Dan Tuson Sunday 20th June - East Blean for Heath Fritillary. Peter Riley Sunday 27th June - Burnt Oak Wood for White Admiral & SW Fritillary. Ben Kirby & on to Warehorne afterwards for White-letter Hairstreak. Alan Cooper Saturday 3rd July - Dene Park for Purple Emperor & White Admiral. Simon Ginnaw Sunday 25th July - Lullingstone for Dark Green Fritillary. Ben Kirby Sunday 1st August - Folkestone Downs for Straw Belle, Adonis & Wall. Alfie Gay Sunday 8th August - White Hill for Chalkhill Blue. Trevor Manship Sunday 15th August - Langdon Cliffs for Wall, Adonis etc. Alfie Gay Sunday 22nd August - Lydden Down for SS Skipper & Adonis. Dick Vane-Wright Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Moth Nights
Saturday 12th June 6pm Saturday 10th July 6pm (National Moth Night) Saturday 14th August 6pm Saturday 11th September 4pm All live at the Bird Observatory if the situation allows. Otherwise there will be a live broadcast and details will be on the observatory website.
Branch AGM & Members Day - Saturday 23 October, Lenham Community Centre
Open Gardens
Saturday 17th July 1pm-5pm White Cliff, The Front, St Margaret’s Bay, Dover, CT15 6HR. Entry £3. Sunday 1st August 11am-5pm Windmill Hill Wildlife Garden, 68 South Hill Road, Gravesend, DA12 1JZ. Entry £4.