One of Britain’s rarest butterflies is the Heath Fritillary. They are well known at Blean Woods in Kent which is their stronghold, there is a couple of sites on Exmoor and luckily closer to home at Hockley Wood in south Essex.
On the 11th of June I went south and two and a half hours later I was watching this little beauty. They were located along the southern bridalway in newly coppiced clearings. It is these areas which are vital for the survival of this species and fantastic conservation work is responsible.
On the day I saw around 20, in past years numbers have been in the hundreds. They were introduced to Hockley 30 years ago and it is by keeping these areas open that the food plant, common cow-wheat, can flourish.
It was a nice sunny morning and well sheltered from the fresh south westerly. There was a good number of Holly Blue on the wing, also the first Ringlets of the year. I just love the chocolate brown colouring of these butterflies. Also noted a female Common Blue and several Speckled Wood.
2nd June 2020
After three years I thought a return visit was long overdue. As I did in ’17 I drove through Hockley and took the Southend road into Hawkwell, turned right up Poplars Ave signposted Belchamps Activity Centre. Parking here take the path into the woods keeping the horse paddocks on your right. When you go through the gate (pond on your right) you are on the southern bridalway, here I turned left and searched the clearings.
The weather was perfect, mid 70’sf, sunny and a light n/e breeze. Reports were that the Heath Fritillaries had emerged early due to the fantastic spring. Unlike three years ago it was quite some time before I saw my first butterfly, a male crossed the path, paused briefly, then disappeared. It wasn’t until I reached the big new clearfell area I encountered more. A few females were nectaring on bramble as some males zig-zagged low in search of a mate. There was plenty of cow-wheat in this area and it should be good for a few years whereas the older clearings are getting a touch overgrown.
In all probably about thirty individuals seen, all nice and fresh. Hopefully emergence has only just begun and more will appear. It may also be worthwhile searching other areas.