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Butterflies at Monkwood 26th July 2023 – a Report by Neil Edwards

For our final walk of the 2023 programme, we gathered at the car park entrance at Monkwood to meet the Trust’s Western Reserves Officer, Dominique Cragg, who had kindly agreed to lead the walk.

To set the scene, Dominique explained that Monkwood was a semi-natural ancient woodland with historical records dating back more than a thousand years. In more recent times, the then owners, the Harris Paintbrush Company, clear-felled large areas and planted quick-growing non-native trees to produce the timber for their brush handles. This action re-created traditional coppicing conditions and woodland wildlife thrived. Then, in the 1980’s the site was jointly purchased by the Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation, who together reduced the numbers of the non-native trees and widened rides to create a mixture of shaded areas and open sunny conditions, which now provide plenty of food plants to encourage butterfly habitation, like meadow vetchling and birds-foot trefoil, which is particularly favoured by the wood white.

In 2016, 10 pairs of wood white were introduced into the reserve and, with a count of approximately 200 now being recorded from their two annual broods, the species is thriving.

With many thanks being given by the walk’s organiser for a clear, dry, sunny morning, we set off along the main south to north pathway.

At our first stop, Dominique indicated one of the many small coppiced plots established within the reserve containing birch, hazel, hawthorn and wild service trees adequately fenced around to protect against the local muntjac and to be used in part for hedge-laying operations.

With good views of gate keeper, meadow brown, red admiral and small white already noted, Dominique was able to point out our first wood white and white admiral, an interesting example of a scorpion fly as well as great willowherb, knapweed and meadow sweet along the path edges.

The list was soon increased as ringlet, peacock and green-veined white were seen in addition. Some of our group were also able to add small and large skippers.

A very photogenic group of rooting shank mushrooms was pointed out in a wet area glade setting. Then, along with further white admiral and wood white, a speckled wood was also spotted.

At the northern end of the ride, we crossed into the newly acquired Green Farm land, where Dominique was able to point out and explain the general format and intentions for the future integration of the four fields into the adjoining Monkwood reserve. It is currently proposed to carry out tree planting to create a mix of woodland, orchard and wooded pasture for cattle grazing by local farmers. Longer term proposals may include re-wilding in some experimental areas.

With thoughts of the future developments still in mind, a brimstone was spotted as we made our way back towards the car park. Then, finally, good views of a silver-washed fritillary were had by most, together with further sightings of white admiral and wood white.

Close to the car park, our list for the morning was completed by a stationary comma and a more mobile holly blue.

Arriving at the car park, we re-grouped to give thanks to Dominique for sharing her knowledge of the reserve and for pointing out so many interesting features on offer. With 17 species of butterfly seen by the group, we all agreed our guide had certainly come up trumps.