Stockbridge Down

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

Photo 1 - Stockbridge Down From The South West

Highlights

National Trust managed area of chalk downland, with some scrub/woodland

Good diversity of butterfly species although populations have declined in recent years

Most downland species represented including Chalkhill Blue, Small Blue, Brown Argus, Grizzled Skipper, Dark Green Fritillary, Marbled White. Silver-spotted Skipper used to be found and may still be hanging on.

Other species present include Silver-washed Fritillary, Ringlet, Green Hairstreak and White-letter Hairstreak

Butterfly interest complemented by the archaeological features of the site, including bronze age burial mounds, prehistoric earthworks and Woolbury Iron Age fort at the summit

Description

 

Stockbridge Down (location map) is a large area of essentially chalk downland just to the east of Stockbridge and close to the Test Valley. It was one of the first areas of chalk downland I visited in Hampshire, and the location where I first saw Dark Green Fritillary in the county. It is a decent site in terms of variety of species, although it has declined in recent years in terms of butterfly numbers, an may now have lost its small population of Silver-spotted Sipper. The down is served by a car park at each end and either can be used for a thorough exploration. I will briefly describe the site and the species to look for with reference to the car park locations, beginning with the western car park, closest to Stockbridge. 

As one enters the down through the gate opposite the western car park, the main downland area stretches up the hill to the north and east (Photo 1 above). The flower rich area at the bottom of the down (Photo 2 below) running east from this entry point and parallel to the road, is a good area to start one's search. Depending on the time of visit, look for Chalkhill Blue, Marbled White, Common Blue, Brown Argus, Grizzled Skipper, Small Copper, Small Blue, Meadow Brown and Small Heath in this area. Whilst some species can be common, others such as Brown Argus, Small Blue and Small Copper are more likely to be found in low numbers and in pockets where the habitat is most suited. In summer, keep a look-out also for the occasional Clouded Yellow, and fast flying Dark Green Fritillaries. 

Photo 2 - Looking East Along The Bottom Of The Down

Now, heading north, up the down, the sward is shorter as a result of grazing by rabbits, however Small Heath and Chalkhill Blue should be encountered depending on time of year. There are also pockets of longer grass, shrubs and taller flowers which provide shelter and a greater variety of nectar sources, to the benefit of butterflies. As one nears the summit, the earthworks below the fort provide a similar sheltered habitat and are another location to look for Dark Green Fritillary. From the fort area, one can of course descend in a south easterly direction towards the eastern car park and make a circular walk back along the foot of the down.

Photo - 3 Sheltered Scrub/Woodland Area At The East End Of The Down

For those making a separate visit to the eastern section of the site, park in the eastern car park and enter the down through the smaller of the two gates (the right hand one). Once through the thicket, you reach an area of scrub (Photo 3) which is sheltered by bushes and woodland around its edge. In spring look for Grizzled Skipper amongst the scrub and Green Hairstreak as the scrub transitions into grassland. In summer key species encountered should be Silver-washed Fritillary (around the woodland edge) and Dark Green Fritillary amongst the scrub and thistles. Commoner species in this area include Brimstone, Comma, Peacock, Common Blue, Marbled White, Ringlet and Common Blue, depending on time of year.

Finally, if visiting in late June or early/mid July, don't miss the opportunity of a minor detour to the colony of White-letter Hairstreak. From the aforementioned gate by the eastern car park, follow the track for about 400m and take the first minor track to the right. This leads in a few yards to another gate, and on passing through it, you will soon reach some modest sized elms on both sides of the track, where the White-letter colony is located (arrowed on this map). They can often be observed during sunshine flitting around the tops of these trees and engaging in short chases. Whilst nectar sources (like brambles and thistles) are not in good supply along this track, a few observers have been lucky enough to find a White-letter feeding low down - good luck!