Billingshurst - creating a haven for hairstreaks and other wildlife
By Michael Blencowe
Head of Community Action for Wildlife
Sussex Wildlife Trust's Community Action Team recently took a trip to Billingshurst where we met with representatives from 'BilliGreen' (Billingshurst's local nature and environment group) and Horsham District Council.
Earlier in the summer when we had led a butterfly walks around the town we identified an area which held great potential for butterflies. The field, to the west of the town, already held good populations of meadow butterflies (such as Marbled White, Small Skipper, Essex Skipper, Small Copper and Gatekeeper) while the blackthorn surrounding the field looked good as a potential home for the rare elusive Brown Hairstreak.
So recently we met to discuss what could be done in this area to improve the site for butterflies - and it was great to hear that Horsham District Council's Jake Everitt and Sorin Caraiman are as keen as we are to improve the field for wildlife. With some changes to the way the fields here are mown more wild flowers can be encouraged and these flowers will provide food for butterflies, bees and other important pollinators.
As we surveyed the area we noted that the edges of the field could potentially be the home to another rare and elusive butterfly, the White-letter Hairstreak, a butterfly which is in decline across England. The hairstreak's caterpillars feed on the leaves of elm trees and, as these trees have vanished from our countryside, so too have these beautiful butterflies. However with elms present in the hedgerows around the field we all wondered if this butterfly could still be hanging on here.
So, I was delighted to be contacted a few days after the meeting by Billingshurst resident and butterfly watcher Dr Alan Birch who had not only seen these secretive butterflies in this area but had also managed to take a photo of a White-letter Hairstreak which had descended to nectar on a bramble flower.
A rare chance to view a female White-letter Hairstreak at close quarters (Photo by Alan Birch)
Now plans are being made between Sussex Wildlife Trust, Horsham District Council and BilliGreen to start improving this site in 2022 and to involved the local community to ensure that everyone can enjoy the special wildlife that can be found here and learn more about it. I was so excited by the prospect of all of this that I came away from the meeting with even more work (I got carried away and promised to lead a Brown Hairstreak egg search in the winter and a Spring butterfly walk).
Look out for details of these events and how you can get involved.
More details on the BilliGreen group can be found on their Facebook page here.
Thank you to Helen and Mela (BilliGreen) and Jake and Sorin (Horsham District Council) for a very positive end to the week.