Butterfly Haven, Perhaps Heaven!

Six-belted Clearwing - Rex Bradshaw

Six-belted Clearwing – Rex Bradshaw

I was recently kindly invited by Rex Bradshaw to join him and his mate Alan on a trip to Yorkshire Wildlife’s Trust Brockadale Nature Reserve. Brockadale is roughly situated just east of the A1 a few miles south of Ferrybridge. The date was set and somehow Rex had chosen one of the year’s best day’s for butterflies. Now I have never seen marbled white butterflies before so I was rather hoping we might see one. In fact my luck was in, spectacularly in. We were still in sight of the parked car when we saw our first marbled white and I kid you not we must have seen over 100 by the end of the adventure. The reserve is of course managed for its flora and fauna and there are fields full of wild flowers including, in places, carpets of the superb clustered bellflower, a tall strikingly blue flower. These weren’t the only flowers, we also saw field scabious, greater knapweed and much much more. Similarly we didn’t just see marbled white butterflies but also enjoyed excellent views of ringlets, meadow browns, gatekeepers and skippers. The star butterfly was perhaps the dark green fritillary but it wasn’t the butterflies which stole the show but the six-belted clearwing moth. This unusual moth is mainly a specialist of southern Britain and it lives on calcareous soils. Brockadale is such a great nature reserve because of the magnesium limestone which outcrops there and because it is in a valley too steep for ploughing. We have around 15 species of clearwing moths in the UK, so called – and no surprises here – because you can see through the wings, simple? This gives them the appearance of a wasp or hornet and no doubt offers them the protection they desire. These fascinating insects are very difficult to see, indeed, certainly in the past, folk looked for their frass (droppings) and exit holes of their caterpillars to find them. Nowadays it seems that pheromone lures are the best way to see them. Their wings aren’t entirely clear and this offers one way of distinguishing them from wasps. Incidentally why do folk consider wasps a pest and feel the urge to dispose of them. They are important pollinators and provide important services in our gardens, just ignore them and you should be fine. The six-belted clearwing feeds on common bird’s-foot trefoil and the larvae feed within the stems of this delightful flower. If you fancy going to Brockadale and it really is worth a visit then pick a sunny day and go soon before the butterflies disappear.


A Gathering of Green-veined Whites

Hen Harrier Plan Fails

The RSPB have announced that they have pulled out of the Hen Harrier Action Plan. The reason they cite is “The voluntary approach of the Hen Harrier Action Plan has failed, leaving licensing as the only viable option.” Illegal killing of hen harriers remains, in 2015 before the agreement there being just six successful hen harrier nests from 12 attempts in England. In 2016 and despite the agreement and the shooting industry’s promises even these lamentable figures have not been achieved. There are apparently only three hen harrier nests in England and none of these are on moorland. The conclusion therefore is that legislation is the only way to achieve protection for our hen harriers and all the other birds of prey which fail to survive life on grouse moors. The law continues to be broken, it needs strengthening. What the RSPB believe needs doing is to introduce a Licensing Scheme, “not to tar everyone with the same brush, or blaming a whole community for the actions of the few. Quite the opposite: it is effectively a targeted ban that will stamp out illegal activity and drive up the environmental standards of shooting.” Maybe such a license can also protect our moorlands from illegal and inappropriate burning, mountainside dredging which forces water into people’s homes as well as allowing predators of all descriptions to survive and enhance the ecosystem. In the interests of fairness, although perhaps not accuracy, read The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s views here.

Barn Owl2 - Steve Tomlinson

Another great photo from Steve Tomlinson, this time a superb barn owl.

Biodiversity in Unsafe Decline

I know I keep mentioning it but sadly these subjects don’t seem to be important to the decision makers and we need to act now to reverse the situation, we need the decision makers to take action. An international team of scientists has issued a warning that biodiversity is dropping below safe levels for the support and wellbeing of human societies. Our local ecosystems affects such things as crop pollination, waste decomposition and regulation of the carbon cycle. These ecosystems depend on the biological diversity within them to function. This is the conclusions of an Internationsl Group of Scientists in a peer reviewed report in a recent copy of Science magazine. You need to subscribe for the full article which can be found here.

Campaigns – Woodland Trust, “Enough is Enough”

The ancient woodland habitats of the UK are our earliest native woods and priority wood pasture, and our oldest and most impressive trees. They are our richest land-based habitats; there’s still so much we can learn from these natural wonders. They are defenceless. Despite being such treasures our ancient woodland habitats are not fully protected. Many people are surprised to learn they have no legal status, and they have very little (sometimes no) real protection from development, climate change, tree pests and disease, inappropriate management, intensive land use and more. Enough is enough. These ancient habitats need proper protection now, before we lose them forever. With your help, we can change their fate. Visit here for more details.

Free Seeds

Grow Wild is the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and they have 100,000 FREE wild flower seed packets to give away to people all over the UK. Any space can be transformed – from balconies to old boots, streets to shared spaces, boxes to buckets. Anyone can sow and grow wild flowers – it’s quick, easy and fun. Each seed packet contains country specific native wild flower seeds – and autumn is a great time to get sowing. Just go online to get your FREE seed packet

Your Sightings

'Feed me! - Ian Willson'

Ian Willson has sent this photo of an adult song thrush feeding its young and it perfectly encapsulates that situation where we humans think, “why can’t the damn thing feed itself?”

Shirley Dunwell, from Bilton, wrote on 19 July, “My observations recently have been restricted (not through choice) to my own garden but in some ways it has focused my attention as to how busy my patch is. The dunnock is very busy and with signs of nest building early June, I am hopeful of finding evidence of their nest later on. There was at least one success – for the sparrow hawk – in its panic a goldfinch hit my window and was immediately taken. A greater spotted woodpecker has visited at least twice, around 6-7am, tempted by the fat balls and then checking out the trunk of my large juniper tree. This was lovely to see and has actually made me rethink my plan to have this ‘not very attractive’ conifer removed. NB mature trees are more useful to wildlife. I am surprised that during these summer months of ‘plenty’ how hungry the birds are. I only regularly put out three types of food: fat balls are beloved by the quarrelsome starlings (particularly this year’s brood) and also house sparrows. Sunflower hearts in the feeders attract goldfinch, greenfinch, bullfinch, chaffinch. (I used to regard chaffinch as ground feeders, but they certainly seem to have mastered the feeder balancing act). Mealworms are the blackbirds’ absolute favourite, one female with still demanding adult-sized young has become very bold, flying onto windowsill to demand more and even coming inside when door is open. I must mention the other regulars: magpie, wood and feral pigeons, jackdaw, rooks and collared dove. Sadly no identifiable butterfly sightings as yet – just a few cabbage whites and one harlequin ladybird”. Some lovely birds, what birds do you get in your garden and are your birds hungry?

Doug Simpson writes, “Should 2016 go down as the year of the chiffchaff? I’ve never previously heard so many calling as I have this year. Just about everywhere I go there’s one singing away. I don’t know about their actual breeding success – others will be better informed than I am on this point. I’m hoping it’s not a case of lots of males and no females – hence all the calling.” I have certainly heard plenty of these birds calling but like Doug don’t really know the answer, are there more chiffchaffs, are there just more males, have you any ideas?

June Sharp, “Wild flower verges would be brilliant! Yellands wild flower meadow is my favourite! As an elderly gardener my cottage garden is my meadow as I can no longer travel the open countryside. Insects are plentiful but have only seen three butterflies this week. I live in the beautiful village of Galphay on the edge of Nidderdale.”

Val Rogers, Bilton, “I have been walking the dog a bit earlier than usual over the last three days, mainly in the field at the back of Tennyson. Each day I have seen the barn owl flying low over the field from the Nidd end down to Willow Woods, then over the track to the other side. I have only seen it once before about four weeks ago when walking in the evening with Keith Wilkinson and members of the Nidd Gorge Advisory Group. I was very lucky this morning (24/7/16), I spotted it as soon as I entered the field, quartering from one side to the other swooping now and then, when it reached Willow Woods it turned and came halfway back up the field, before flying over the track to the other field. That’s it for today I thought, but no after about 20 minutes it was back. What a privilege!” Val’s right, it’s always a privilege to be able to enjoy our wildlife and beyond me why so many feel compelled to destroy it.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings include common redstart, redshank, common sandpiper, little ringed plover, little egret and yellow wagtail. The barnacle geese have been joined by a black swan, colour ringed little egret, common darter dragonfly, ringlet, meadow brown, small white & gatekeeper butterflies. A little grebe with young travelling on its back and the last juvenile avocet has been ringed.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Highlights include whooper swan, as many as six garganey, little egret, spoonbill, red kite, marsh harrier, golden plover, ringed plover, little ringed plover, curlew, black-tailed godwit, dunlin, green sandpiper, common sandpiper, common gull, yellow-legged gull, hobby, peregrine, whinchat.

Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page

Mike Smithson reports, Seven mandarin ducks flew into the farmer’s pond on Midgeley Lane, Goldsborough on 24/7/16.”

3 thoughts on “Butterfly Haven, Perhaps Heaven!

    • The State of Nature report found that 60% of the 3,148 UK species assessed have declined over the last 50 years.Of these 31% have declined strongly. Overall, 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterfly species declined in either abundance or occurrence (or both) over the past four decades.


  1. Don’t forget Hen Harrier protest & ramble on Ilkley Moor on Sat. 6th August. 11am – 3pm. Cow & Calf Rocks, Hangingstone Rd., Ilkley. Also Sunday 7th August at Dunsop Bridge village green, Forest of Bowland at 10.30am.


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