Chance to see one of our rarest butterflies

the Duke of Burgundy fritillary
the Duke of Burgundy fritillary
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ONE OF the rarest butterflies in Britain, the Duke of Burgundy fritillary will be on display this Saturday May 19 for the public to see. Weather permitting that is.

If you want to see it on a guided walk conducted by Butterfly Conservation come along to Heyshott Scarp nature reserve for a 10am start led by Neil Hulme, one of the country’s leading experts on butterfly conservation.

Parking will be within the village of Heyshott between Midhurst and Cocking, with a large car park at The Unicorn public house. There will be further walks at 2pm and 3pm to see this magnificent downland reserve, which has 300 species of wild flowers including rare wild orchids.

The Duke of Burgundy fritillary has greatly declined in recent years but on sites where it is properly managed has certainly held its own. It is not in the fritillary family but is one of the metalmarks, most of which live only in South America. But it was called a fritillary because the pattern on its wings resembles those of the true fritillary family. The word comes from the Latin frittilus, Rome’s word for a dice box decorated with tiny squares of patterned inlay.

The Duke of Burgundy apparently had a shield with a pattern upon it that closely resembled this butterfly’s wings, so the entomologists thought two centuries ago. The rare insect requires cowslips for its survival, and there are plenty of those at Heyshott.

On these flowers the female lays her eggs, and the caterpillars eat the leaves in their little crèche. Heyshott is owned by the Cowdray Estate and managed by The Murray Downland Trust. This winter they have been hard at work clearing bushes to make more open downland for flowers and butterflies, and for that they always need more volunteers to help in the work.

A century ago a lime kiln burned on what is now the nature reserve, turning chalk into quick lime. Pits and hollows from the quarry remain, making a hillocky landscape much favoured by rare flowers such as the musk orchid. Other orchids include the spotted early purple, bee, fly, pyramid and greater butterfly orchid.

If you are interested in birds, there will be plenty singing including several different warblers such as blackcap, garden, willow and chiffchaff.

Heyshott is also thought to be the finest site in Northwest Europe for mosses, with over 70 species discovered by the late Dr Francis Rose, whose work will be commemorated this Saturday. If you want to bring a picnic and spend all day on the reserve, and walk onwards to the crest of the Downs to another reserve managed by the MDT you will be very welcome to do so. Even if the weather is bad, there will be plenty to see and enjoy.

As Billy Connolly said, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.

Richard Williamson