New plants and butterflies arrive at Clandon Wood despite the driest June for decades, and the meadows are nearly ready for harvesting.

It’s been an exciting few weeks here at Clandon Wood as we’ve transitioned into high summer, with new species seemingly being added to our site list almost daily.

The meadows have progressed quickly after the slow start to spring and there are now many plants in flower. Thanks to the prolonged dry spell, however, the grasses in particular have already gone over and turned the pale straw colour of late summer. Indeed, it’s hard to believe it’s only mid-July as I write this. It feels more like August already and we may be looking at a somewhat earlier hay cut this year, if the weather continues as it is. It’s certainly been a strange year.

In terms of new additions to our plant list the best find recently was a small troop of Pyramidal Orchids in the East Meadow. We’ve also noticed Bee Orchids appearing in several places around the site too after we recorded them last year for the first time here growing near the front entrance. The little caged-off patch near the Pavilion is one which we’re allowing to set seed as it’s in an area that we usually mow fairly regularly. Both these Orchids favour dry chalk grassland and rely on fungi in the soil to survive, so provide an excellent indicator that we are making the soil here more hospitable by not ploughing or spraying, etc.

Pyramidal Orchid

Bee Orchid

Other new species we’ve found this year include Quaking-grass, Water Speedwell, Wild Parsnip and Meadow Fescue. It’s really encouraging to see existing species increasing too; Kidney Vetch in particular has given a great showing this year which will hopefully benefit the scarce Small Blue butterfly, the caterpillars of which feed exclusively on this chalk-loving plant. We recently had a visit from Bill Downey and Gail Jeffcoate from Butterfly Conservation who were particularly interested in looking for eggs of this species. They unfortunately weren’t able to find any on this occasion but were confident that the amount of Kidney Vetch onsite would in time support a small population.

Kidney Vetch

We’ve been seeing Roe Deer here more regularly of late; most excitingly was seeing a female with two young fawns in the wetland area in the West Meadow on 24th May and we managed to capture footage of the three of them on our wildlife camera in this area. The parents will likely leave the fawns in the long grass during the day so do remember to keep dogs on a short lead at all times when out in the meadows.

Female Roe Deer

You may have seen on social media that we discovered a pair of Treecreepers nesting in one of the trees on the edge of the site. I’m pleased to report that after a sterling feeding effort from the adult birds three youngsters fledged early on 24th May. Many other birds have successfully bred here already this summer including Whitethroat, Green Woodpecker, Pheasant, Little Grebe and Coot. The West Pond currently has several youngsters of the latter two species in situ, while House Martins, Swallows and Swifts can often be seen feeding on insects overhead or occasionally sipping water from the pond itself.

Treecreeper taking food to the nest

House Martin – photo by Malcolm Fincham

Following on from their leg ring fitting in the middle of June, the four young Kestrels have all now fledged the nest box and can be seen out and about, often in the trees near the box or sometimes perched on the Pavilion or the office. Look (or listen!) out for them when you next visit.

Juvenile Kestrel

During a couple of our regular butterfly surveys recently we were very pleased to record our 29th and 30th butterfly species – Dingy Skipper and Dark Green Fritillary. Both of these grassland species were ones we’d hoped to see move in in due course as there are populations at nearby Newlands Corner and Sheepleas, so these records are really encouraging. Other grassland specialist butterflies we’ve seen recently include the first Marbled Whites, Ringlets, Small and Essex Skippers of the year. On the Elms dotted around the edges of the site, particularly near the two ponds, we have again been recording White-letter Hairstreaks as their 2018 flight season got underway in mid-June. This is the scarcest butterfly we are lucky enough to have resident at Clandon Wood and is therefore attracting quite a bit of attention – in fact the Surrey branch of Butterfly Conservation recently had a field trip here specifically to see them.

Dingy Skipper

White-letter Hairstreak – photo by Malcolm Fincham

All in all, I must say this spring and early summer has seen the site looking the best I’ve seen it in this my third summer working at Clandon Wood, and it’s really great to hear so much positive feedback from customers and visitors. Please do continue to enjoy the wealth of wildlife we have here and don’t forget to share your sightings with us!