New Forest - Beaulieu Heath

Site feature providing more detailed description, photos and other information for the butterfly observer

Photo 1 - Beaulieu Heath Is A Good Example of New Forest Heathland Habitat

Highlights 

Typical example of New Forest heathland habitat comprising large expanse of open heath with areas of shrub and woodland edge

Decent populations of key heathland dwelling species, notably Silver-studded Blue, Grayling and Dark Green Fritillary

White Admiral occasionally seen in woodland edge

Picturesque stream, a large pond and model flying area add to general interest of the area

Description

 

It may be a surprise to many that large areas of the New Forest comprise open heathland, rather than woodland. Indeed the heathland areas provide important habitat not only for butterflies in the New Forest, but also for reptiles and ground nesting birds. Whilst large areas of open heath are not necessarily the most naturally attractive places to visit, I have chosen Beaulieu Heath, located between Brockenhurst and Beaulieu for this site feature as a good example of the heathland habitat which the New Forest offers. Its variety is enhanced by woodland edge as well as a picturesque stream and it provides opportunity to see 3 of our key heath-dwelling butterfly species.

Beaulieu Heath occupies several square miles centred on the old airfield which is now used for flying model aircraft. There are several car parks located around the western and northern peripheries of the heath, notably at Hatchet Pond, Crockford, Beaulieu Heath and Hawkhill. Two particular areas of the heath to visit for butterflies, and to gain an appreciation of the different habitats and scenery are around the old airfield and Crockford Bridge. I describe these in turn below.

The old airfield on Beaulieu Heath not only offers a chance to see all the heathland butterfly species but provides an easy circular (or rather pentagonal) walk which can be completed comfortably in approximately 1½ hours. The best car park in this case in Beaulieu Heath (map), which is also the one used by most of the model aircraft enthusiasts. Basically one just follows the pentagonal track around the airfield. For your first visit it's probably easier to do this in the anti-clockwise direction but it makes little difference of course. In saying 'follow the track', I really mean use the track as a route guide to explore areas of the heath along its margins on either side (you won't see much if you stay on the track!). The first of the key heathland species to emerge are Silver-studded Blue, typically in mid-June, followed by Dark Green Fritillary in early July closely followed by Grayling. A good time to visit for all three species is therefore mid-July. Note that heathland Dark Greens tend to emerge a little later than their chalk downland counter-parts, owing to the cooler, damper habitat here.

 

 

Photo 2 - Gorse And Woodland Edge Provide A Sheltered Habitat For Butterflies

All three species may be encountered sporadically almost anywhere during the circumnavigation of the airfield, however Silver-studded Blue and Grayling populations, in particular, are not evenly distributed, with the blues favouring areas of lush heather with shelter provided by gorse bushes or shrubs, whereas Grayling favour areas where the heather is less dense with patches of damp bare ground (e.g. one such area just south of the Beaulieu Heath car park). Dark Green Fritillary, being a very mobile species are more likely to be seen in low density flying rapidly across the heath, stopping occasionally to bask or feed. The area just outside at the western apex of the pentagon (Photo 2 above) is sheltered by taller bushes and some trees, thus providing a good mix of habitat for all three key species. Other common species can also be found on the heath with a wider spectrum of flight periods, including Small Heath.

 

 

 

Photo 3 - Crockford Stream To The West Of Crockford Bridge

Crockford Bridge is on southern edge of Beaulieu Heath, and as well as the heathland habitat suited to the key species mentioned above, there is also a picturesque stream and small area of woodland (Photo 3 above). Park in Crockford car park (map) just on the south side of Crockford Bridge. Then walk back over the bridge (over Crockford stream) and turn immediately left to follow the stream westwards towards the area of woodland. During July and early August, a few Silver-studded Blue can normally be seen flitting amongst the heather on the right - and look out also for fast flying Dark Green Fritillary. Continue along the edge of Crockford stream as it bisects the wooded area - in July even White Admiral are known to glide in occasionally from this woodland and have a partiality for the bramble flowers growing close to the stream. From late spring and through summer, many dragonflies (and damselleflies) will also be seen here. Emerging from this woodland fragment, into the area known as Upper Crockford Bottom, bear slightly right away from the stream towards the open expanse of the heath. From mid July until mid or late August, Grayling are likely to be flushed from the perfect camouflage of their resting positions in this area. As one reaches the heath, Silver-studded Blue once again become more numerous amongst the heather.

A visit to Beaulieu Heath can also be combined with a visit to the Hawkhill Inclosure which is just to the north and described in the site feature on New Forest - East Inclosures. Indeed the Hawkhill car park can be used as a common base for both Hawkhill Inclosure and the circumnavigation of the old airfield, in this case using the northern apex of the pentagon as the access point.