Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum to visit rare butterfly project


ONCF will visit Sheepdrove Rare Butterfly Project in early July. If you’re interested in joining their visit, or learning more about nature conservation issues in Oxfordshire, contact the ONCF.

About the butterfly project

Sheepdrove Organic Farm is developing a sanctuary for butterflies in a hidden valley where the Vale of the White Horse gallops onto the Lambourn Downs. Having escaped the plough for centuries, a steep bank at Cockcrow Bottom hosts a variety of chalk grassland wildflowers, including Devil’s-bit Scabious – the caterpillar food plant for Marsh Fritillary. This rare butterfly survives in a very isolated colony on the far side of Lambourn, some 3km away. The farm’s resident ecologist, Jason Ball, realised they had a potential extra site for Marsh Fritillary, if only they could manage the habitat to suit it.

Butterfly Conservation, Natural England, Flora Locale, BBOWTLambourn Valley Countryside Project and FWAG all helped to inform the restorative management on the 2.2 hectare plot. The Forestry Commission also helped enormously by agreeing changes in management for a 4.2 ha area of tree plantation which the farm has dedicated to providing habitat for Marsh Fritillary.

Previously, part of the bank was excluded from grazing, and part was being grazed strongly – each extreme unsuitable for producing the right sward characteristics to suit Marsh Fritillary. During 2009, Natural England agreed to environmental stewardship funding to re-fence and graze with cattle. 

With help from volunteers and staff, the farm planted extra Devil’s-bit Scabious, in addition to establishing Kidney Vetch for Small Blue, and Horseshoe Vetch for Chalkhill Blue. As management improves the potential for these species to start new breeding colonies in the Lambourn Downs, the chalk flora community will benefit too. The project at Sheepdrove shows the potential for more such sites across the local landscape.

Find more information and pictures at www.sheepdrove.com/506.htm

Jason Ball


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