Over the last week we have been working hard for wildlife. Staff and volunteers established Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepis comosa), Devils-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) and Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) to enhance habitat for butterflies at Sheepdrove Organic Farm.
Sheepdrove staff plant Devils-bit Scabious
Can it be as simple as adding flowers?
What is special about these plants?
Jason Ball explains, “Yes, these are very important plants! They are special because each is food for the caterpillar of a rare butterfly. Horseshoe Vetch is essential for Adonis Blue and Chalkhill Blue, Devilsbit Scabious is the favourite of Marsh Fritillary, and Kidney Vetch is vital for Small Blue.”
This is all part of Sheepdrove Rare Butterly Project, launched in partnership with Natural England, Butterfly Conservation, BBOWT, Pang Kennet and Lambourn Valley Countryside Projects, Forestry Commission and Flora Locale to develop a scheme to save some of the rarest lepidopterans in the Lambourn area.
“All of these butterflies are in need of help. Marsh Fritillary is almost extinct from Berkshire with only one colony left, which is located in the Lambourn Valley.”
“However, putting wildflowers around the farm is not enough - we must manage the habitat to suit the ecological needs of the target species we are trying to bring back. This is the task of our fine beef cattle!”
Devils-bit Scabious at Cockcrow Bottom
Cattle grazing reduced the height and dominance of rough grasses at Cockcrow Bottom, our 2.2 hectare project area near the lake. Devils-bit Scabious has thrived here, and is in flower now. Grazing also maintained the short swards at Bockhampton Down where the 4.18 hectare project area includes a young woodland with open habitat zones.
Our potted scabious proved to be tough in surviving dry summer periods, and next year they should flower well, if we can keep the rabbits off them. Sheep will be excluded altogether and the cattle grazing will be stopped early in August to allow the scabious a full flowering season.
Horseshoe Vetch goes into the chalkpit