by Stuart Cooper

The Brede Valley, with its wooded slopes and patchwork of livestock enclosures, is not just beautiful to our eyes - it presents butterflies with an excellent choice of habitats: woodland, hedgerows, field margins, scrub and undisturbed corners are all here.

Although woodland, much of it ancient, is present on the slopes all along the valley, in the upper reaches beyond the Brede Waterworks, it becomes much more prevalent. Woodland butterflies are in serious decline, so this is of significant importance - the decline in coppicing has had a major impact on all woodland butterflies, so it is to be hoped that the rise in interest in sustainability may help to reverse that trend soon. Other improvements such as widening rides, creating scallops in those rides and leaving margins unsprayed, all help to improve the chances of woodland species. The White Admiral, with its elegant glide, is present in a number of local woods and is a sight well worth seeing. Much the same can be said of the graceful flight of the Silver-washed Fritillary, also a local woodland resident.

Throughout the valley, the more common species may be found - Comma, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell (although much less common of late) with the open fields frequented by Meadow Browns and Skippers. Summer visitors include the Clouded Yellow, a migrant from across the channel that makes its way up the Brede Valley as well as the nearby Pannel Valley.

Gatekeepers, so named for their habit of hanging around field entrances, can be found where the grass grows longer, particularly adjacent to hedges. On the subject of hedgerows, cutting on a two or three year cycle, instead of a yearly scalping, can make a dramatic difference to the survival of many species, particularly those that overwinter as adults. In the case of the Brown Hairstreak, which lays its eggs on the thorns of the most recent growth of Blackthorn, cutting annually has led to massive losses. At Stonelink Farm, where Blackthorn has been left to grow to provide a good Sloe crop, it is possible that they may yet be present. Conditions there are excellent, and we expect that butterfly numbers will increase as time passes - Red Clover is present, and sensitive grazing (and the farm’s organic status) is improving habitat.

Official records of species in the valley are sparse, so we need your help. Conditions in the Brede area are ideal for a number of species and can be improved as outlined above. Details on recording can be found at http://www.ukbms.org/ - we would also appreciate it if you could supply us with your data. You can add casual sightings to the Sussex Butterfly Conservation website at http://www.sussex-butterflies.org.uk/sightings.html - as above, sending copies to info@bredevalley.info please.

Click on image to enlarge