Butterflies and the Clunch Pit

Extracts from an article by Dr R G Bartlett in the December 1985 edition of the Bulletin

At the time Dr Bartlett, was an experienced, but amateur, butterfly counter.

high on my list of attractions of Orwell is its Clunch Pit

I am recently settled in Orwell, and most happily so. High on my list of the attractions of Orwell is its Clunch Pit. As an amateur I am particularly interested in the world of butterflies and for many years I have been carrying out an almost daily survey of butterfly populations in a small locality in Kent, where I observed thirty different species within a mile of my farmhouse. I did not expect such a variety in the kind of environment offered by Orwell, but in fact I have positively identified no fewer than twenty species in the Clunch Pit this year. Bearing in mind that the Clunch Pit provides an arena for playing children, dog-exercisers and enthusiastic orchid-hunters, and yet offers a repertoire of eighty or more different wild flowers, I think this result is quite astonishing and surely a reason for congratulating the Clunch Pit Committee of the Parish Council.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Butterflies and the Clunch Pit' page
It is not surprising to find that the butterflies of the Clunch Pit are mainly grass-feeders and that Woodland species are absent. Members of the Satyridae family occur in the largest numbers and it appears that night-feeders tend to do particularly well. Can it be that this is partly because they escape the mower and/or the birds of Spring? The case of the Brimstone is interesting. I have been unable to find any of its food plant, Buckthorn, but it is well known that the Brimstone is a tourist and its appearance in the Clunch Pit may not indicate the nearness of a food supply.

A very adaptable common and widespread species, feeding on a variety of plants, including bramble, is the green hairstreak. Of course, I may well have failed to see it even if it was thereto be seen.

Michaelmas Daisies are a great attraction for many butterflies

The scarcity of the Comma and Red Admiral is, I suspect, due to the closeness of very many private gardens full of flowers. It is well known that Buddleia bushes attract the Vanessas in particular and I have always found Michaelmas Daisies to be a great attraction for many butterflies.

After patrolling the Clunch Pit almost daily for many weeks, one cannot escape the realization that the scrub (hawthorn, briar, bramble) grows very fast and that without considerable human interference it would soon destroy the character of the Pit. As it is, much of the ancient meadow type of sward lies above the Pit and being exposed to wind is not especially favoured by insects – or humans. The steeper slopes and some hedgerows appear to be the chosen areas, where human control though difficult would be most rewarding.

most larvae feed from June onwards

Most larvae are feeding from June onwards, so mowing and clearing should be undertaken by May at the latest. And perhaps it should be mentioned that although the hawthorn is pretty useless as a food for butterflies, it forms the staple diet for at least a hundred moth species, bramble serves about fifty and the rose a mere thirty or so.

As the rain continues to fall, I sadly reflect that twenty butterflies don't make a summer.

Dr R G Bartlett

See Table 1 below for a list of the twenty butterflies found in 1985.

Photo:twenty species positively identified in the Orwell Clunch Pit

twenty species positively identified in the Orwell Clunch Pit

This page was added by Martin Grigor on 04/01/2013.

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