Reprinted from Newsletter 124, dated 2007 November

Summer outing: butterflies on the Poldens

Richard Montagu

Geoff Brunt had agreed to lead a walk in the Great Breach Wood area of the Poldens to show us the various species of butterflies that inhabit the area and explain about their behaviour, requirements and conservation. I was looking forward to this outing, but the weather had been far from suitable for butterflies and I spent the morning of July 14 wondering whether it was going to be worth the trip. Just before lunch the cloud began to break and a warm sun appeared. This was all that was needed.

Nine of us met Geoff at the Fountain Forestry carpark and were given a fascinating tour of the wood. The most delightful butterfly, in my opinion, was the silver-washed fritillary: a large orange-coloured butterfly, with black markings on the upper wings. To this is added a silvery colouration to the lower part of the wings, from which it derives its name.

We were able to contrast this specie with the comma, a smaller butterfly but with a superficially similar wing pattern. However, side by side the size difference was obvious, as was the scalloped effect on the comma’s wings.

I now know the difference between the small and large skippers, tiny butterflies that resemble Concorde when at rest and with very different under-wing colouration.

Geoff explained the work that had been done to create the right habitats for these various species and explained how plants had returned to the woods after glades had been formed — plants that were required for certain species to breed successfully and which had been lying dormant in the ground-held seed bank, waiting for the right environment for their regeneration. The large blue butterfly is now breeding in the area.

I have mentioned only a few of the species we saw, together with the moths and many plants. This was a fascinating and instructive walk, in good company. If Geoff can be persuaded to repeat it at some time in the future, I will be there again and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in nature and wishing to understand more about ecology.