2013 - July

Chilbolton & Wherwell Wildlife

Fifty years ago, many pairs of Lapwings nested in the wet meadows of the Test Valley. In fact, breeding Lapwing is one of the species mentioned in the original reasons for notification of Chilbolton Common as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Nowadays, very few Lapwings breed in the valley, and they are never seen on the Common. The Common is now too busy for Lapwing, but the reasons for Lapwings’ absence from other undisturbed meadows nearby, are less obvious. It may be because the meadows are, on average, less wet than they were in the first half of the twentieth century. But Lapwings have not been lost altogether from our parishes; many still nest on arable land. Here, their breeding success can be very mixed. Only a few fields have the species’ preferred open vista, and only late-sown crops provide the bare open ground that is needed for nesting. And inevitably, agricultural operations can lead to losses of early nests. Fortunately, some farms now have fallow plots funded through Environmental Stewardship schemes, where Lapwings and other ground-nesting species are provided with near-perfect conditions for their nests. Recently, I was pleased to see there were at least two pairs of Lapwings with young chicks on the fallow plot near Chilbolton telescope. So, on the face of it, the fallow plots are good news for Lapwing. But as always with nature, things are not so simple; there is debate amongst experts about whether the plots simply provide a one-stop shop for predators (foxes, crows, and large gulls), and therefore whether the plot nests are any more successful than those in the normally cultivated parts of the fields? Needles to say, research is ongoing!

On the same morning as I saw the Lapwing chicks, I was quite surprised to see a number of Green Hairstreak butterflies along the Mark Way path. These butterflies normally fly on chalk downland such as at West Down, where the caterpillars food-plant is Rockrose, or on heathland where the larvae will feed on gorse flowers. So it was a bit odd to find these butterflies along a hedge in a wholly agricultural landscape. In actual fact, the Green Hairstreak will feed on many different plants (in the jargon – polyphagous), and one of the alternative foods is Alder Buckthorn. A quick look along the mixed hedge showed me that there was indeed a good proportion of Alder Buckthorn, as well as Hawthorn, Field Maple, Ash, and other species. This makes for a nice example of the benefits of planting a mixed hedge rather than a mono-culture of Hawthorn. Finally, on the same walk, I found (oh, alright, my wife found!) a number of spikes of the White Helleborine. This is a type of orchid, but before you all rush off to look, I have to say that it isn’t very remarkable because the flowers hardly open at all – all you see is white buds. It’s not particularly rare in this part of Hampshire, but nevertheless nice to see within the parish.

Glynne Evans (hantsbto@hotmail.com

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