Our last official egg hunt on 26th January rather summed up in a single morning the general experience of the egghunting season so far: plenty of blackthorn but hardly any of it uncut. We decided to concentrate our efforts this year on Netherwood Lane in Crowle. This long lane is largely bounded on both sides by blackthorn and runs northwards from the village before crossing the railway line just short of Oddingley. Towards the northern end, the lane is within a few hundred metres of Trench Wood, a known location for Brown Hairstreak, which is clearly visible across the fields. Ideal egglaying territory one would have thought but, despite very wide verges separating the hedgerow from the road and despite the fact that most of the adjoining fields were pasture rather than arable, virtually all the hedgerow had been cut for the full length of the lane. The same applied to most of the field hedgerows as well so although there were footpaths leading off the lane which some of us explored there was little hope of finding eggs. All the hedges had received the normal short back and sides treatment, so any suckering growth from the base of the hedge which is often used by egglaying females had also been lost. Despite all this, we did remarkably manage to find an egg in SO9158, halfway along the lane, but this was on blackthorn growing on the road verge well away from the hedge itself and had therefore escaped the flail.
My comments in the last ebulletin about hedgerow flailing provoked a response from other Butterfly Conservation regional branches who related very similar tales of woe. It is quite clear that the new stewardship scheme so far is not having the impact on the way the countryside is managed in the way that was hoped and this is something that perhaps needs to be raised nationally as well as locally. Subsequent to the Crowle experience, I spoke to one of our local Brown Hairstreak champions who is also a farmer and he confirmed that culture and tradition were major inhibiting factors. There is a strongly ingrained belief amongst most farmers that neatly trimmed hedgerows are an outward sign of good husbandry and, in most cases, this means they are wedded to the notion of annual cutting. These are obviously difficult issues to deal with but he also suggested that the level of paperwork involved in applying for grants, delays in assessing applications and the level of grant itself also served as a disincentive to farmers to apply and these are matters which, one would have thought, should be capable of being dealt with more efficiently. On top of this, unfortunately, there remain problems of monitoring those farms that have entered stewardship schemes to ensure that they are compliant. In past issues of this ebulletin, we have raised cases of where hedgerows have been "accidentally trimmed" and, in one instance, totally removed, and this winter we have again witnessed examples of where hedgerow management has not followed the prescriptions as laid down in stewardship agreements. These are serious matters which require urgent attention.
One thing all this does serve to highlight, of course, is how crucial it is to maintain management in those areas where we have some direct or indirect influence like those nature reserves within the Forest of Feckenham managed by Butterfly Conservation and the Wildlife Trust or other areas of land that are owned by those with a strong interest in wildlife conservation. While we still struggle, in the main, to achieve better management of farm hedgerows, woodlands remain key to Brown Hairstreak survival and it is good to see that populations in and around some of our best woods remain very healthy. All of those responsible for the management of these places deserve our gratitude and support. One very practical way of doing the latter is to attend the regular conservation work days at Grafton and Trench Woods which take place every second and fourth Sunday of the month through to the end of March. Meeting time for both reserves is 10 am at Grafton Flyford Church in the case of Grafton Wood and in the reserve car park for Trench Wood (halfway along the Sale Green - Dunhapstead road) and all new volunteers will be very welcome.
To end on a more positive note, it is good to report, in the face of adversity, that several of our local champions have persevered in their efforts to record new areas for Brown Hairstreaks and add to our knowledge of the distribution of the butterfly in eastern Worcs. As well as the new square mentioned above, Hugh Glennie has been successful in finding eggs south of Cowsden in SO9452 which brings the total of 1km squares up to 145 (see map attached - this year's additional squares are coloured red). We have set ourselves the target of 150 squares by the end of the season so only five more to go. In a fortnight's time, a few of us will be trying for a second year to locate eggs on the verge of the M5 motorway and I hope to report back on this in the next ebulletin. Last time, we found plenty of hubcaps but no Brown Hairstreak eggs! At least we know, thanks to the co-operation of AmeyMouchel and the Highways Agency, there will be plenty of uncut blackthorn to search.
Brown Hairstreak Species Champion