Only a few more days to go before this year's Brown Hairstreak Open Day on Sun, 25th August and preparations are in full swing. There has been a strong emergence of Brown Hairstreaks this year with undoubtedly the most adults we have ever seen in Grafton Wood at this stage of the season by a wide margin so, if the weather behaves itself, we are hopeful that Sunday will offer good opportunities of seeing and photographing the butterfly. We meet up as usual at the Three Parishes Village Hall, Grafton Flyford at 11 am for guided walks down to the reserve returning for refreshments at lunchtime. Two innovations at this year's Open Day, which again forms part of the Pershore Plum Festival, is the chance to sample and order bottles of Brown Hairstreak Ale and also to walk at least part of the new Hairstreak Butterfly Trail. The beer has been specially brewed in time for the event and this is your chance for a free sample prior to the beer going on sale to the public the following day at the Pershore Plum Fayre where we will be running a stall (see www.pershoreplumfestival.org.uk for full details). If you are not able to come along to either of these events but fancy trying the beer, it can be ordered online at www.fromthenotebook.co.uk and a donation from each bottle sold goes to Butterfly Conservation. The new Hairstreak Butterfly Trail is now waymarked along its full length (see photo) with a big thank you to all the local Hairstreak Champions who helped with this task. Amanda Hill will be leading a walk along the Trail at the Open Day starting off from Grafton Flyford church at 2 pm and all are welcome. The trail is around 6 miles in length and it takes about 4 hours to walk the whole route but you are welcome to join in for as long as you wish.
Every Brown Hairstreak season is different and this one has been marked by the number of male Brown Hairstreaks seen low down nectaring on bramble and particularly hemp agrimony. This may be related to shortages of honeydew on trees although, as the Big Ash Bashers have been finding out, there have been good counts on some of our known assembly trees as well, together with some new discoveries. Hugh Glennie, along with Peter Seal, has so far recorded Brown Hairstreaks at known trees at Cowsden, Naunton Court and Rous Lench and has also identified a new tree in the same general area as the latter but further along the Wychavon Way. Martyn Ganderton has also recorded Brown Hairstreak on his garden tree at Stock Green but numbers again seem low here with a maximum of only two individuals so far and the regular male there has been christened "Lonesome George". Adults have also been seen on a number of occasions at the so called "Halfway Tree" on the way down from the church to Grafton Wood. Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to find a new assembly tree at the start of Huddington Lane. I arrived there about 9.30 am and there was pretty constant activity for the next half hour involving perhaps 4-5 male Brown Hairstreaks. In classic assembly tree style, they were constantly on the move, perching for just a few seconds before setting off on the next aerial chase. At one point, I even saw one see off a Comma butterfly that landed in the tree - all fascinating stuff!
The area around the pond in the northern part of Grafton Wood has proved a hotspot for Brownhairstreakers and Brown Hairstreaks alike although now females are beginning to emerge, other parts of the reserve may come into their own. The first female Brown Hairstreak was recorded on a Grafton Wood work party on 7th August and, since then, they have been recorded with increasing frequency so we can anticipate that, over the next few days, egglaying will start in earnest. Paul Meers has already spotted the first eggs in Feckenham on 19th and, the following day, Simon Primrose saw a female egglaying in Grafton Wood. There have been some comments from visitors about the extent of hedgecutting that has taken place around the wood and it is important for people to understand that, in most cases, this is part of planned management. Most of the farmland around Grafton Wood is included in agri-environment schemes that specify that some of the key hedgerows are managed on rotations of either two or, ideally, three years. In many cases, with the support of Natural England, we have been able to ensure that hedges are flailed in the early part of August before there is any likelihood of Brown Hairstreak eggs being laid to the obvious benefit of the butterfly which normally loses large quantities of eggs when cutting takes place during the winter months. So, although flailing at this time of the year may come as a surprise to some, it is much the best time for Brown Hairstreaks and we know from past experience that females will even lay on newly cut hedges.
Last weekend, some of the Thursday Streakers, as a break from the Forest of Feckenham, visited a Brown Hairstreak site in Pembrokeshire at West Williamston which is a local Wildlife Trust reserve. The contrast between this site, which is along the side of a tidal estuary, and what we are familiar with in east Worcs could not be more marked but nevertheless we found many Brown Hairstreaks as well as Purple Hairstreaks, Silver-washed Fritillaries and Wall Browns. Despite the weather being generally unhelpful, it proved a really interesting and enjoyable visit and perhaps something we may repeat in the future.
Do come along to the Open Day on Sunday if you can. It is always an enjoyable event and generally the highlight of the Hairstreakers' year.
Brown Hairstreak Species Champion,
West Midlands Butterfly Conservation