It all started with a sunny day in April during the Royal Forestry society visit to Fingle Woods. The sun was blazing down on the road bisecting Wooston Hillfort and as I was driving along, a dazzling show of orange flashed by the vehicle. Now I am a strange creature who performs emergency stops for Elephant Hawk moth caterpillars being attacked by Jackdaws, Shrews scuttling across the road angrily, and it seems butterflies that catch my eye.
In my defense, there was nothing behind me but more importantly it was potentially a Pearl-bordered Fritillary. I flung the door open, scrabbled about for the camera on my phone and hunted down my quarry, which I hasten to add was on the wing zipping up and down the lane. Eventually it landed on the hedge bank, tentatively I approached trying to keep my shadow out of its eye. I got the shot and more importantly got the ID.
For me the Pearl-bordered Fritillary is an iconic butterfly and highlights the issue that much of our native wildlife faces these days, habitat loss. From the mid 1980’s there has been a dramatic 80% drop in its numbers. It requires dog violets for larval plant food and deciduous plant litter for egg laying and for the caterpillar to reside under. For a while now we had thought that areas of Wooston Hillfort could support a population of Pearl’s.
I left with the photo and the question, would I see more?
It came to another glorious spring day and I was on my way to do a butterfly survey in Ross meadow. I stopped along the lane, at the same point and watched and waited. Soon my eye caught several flashes of orange following the hedge bank emblazoned in sunshine and I again took up the chase.
For 20 minutes I followed one of several Pearl-bordered fritillaries up and down the lane, it was me or the butterfly that was going to give up first. It was the butterfly that rested first. When I say it rested, it was a female laying eggs in a typical scatter gun fashion through the leaf litter on the underside of bramble and honeysuckle close to the ground.
Once the butterfly left I lifted the lid on the leaf. A tiny yellow translucent dot on the underside of the bramble leaf indicted that next spring this wonderful butterfly could find a small foothold on Wooston. It’s just up to us to keep monitoring and improving the habitat to give the woodsman’s friend that helping hand.
By Fred Hutt, Fingle Woods Ranger