The Cholderton Estate is managed
on sound agricultural and environmental principles and incorporates
an impressive array of action for nature conservation. The result
is an estate with an exceptional wealth and diversity of wildlife.
Many of the species on the Estate
are threatened or have declined substantially throughout the UK
and are regarded as a priority concern both in the national and
Birds include barn owl, hobby and
long-eared owl, and good populations of farmland birds whose populations
have declined dramatically elsewhere, such as grey partridge,
lapwing, skylark and corn bunting. There are many hares on the
Estate, and other mammals include the rare and declining harvest
mouse and a good variety of bats.
Over 450 species of moth have been
recorded and 34 species of butterfly are thought to breed on the
Estate. Cholderton supports a good population of the rare brown
hairstreak butterfly and is one of only two locations for this
species in Hampshire. The Estate is notable for a whole range
of other invertebrates, including the rare hornet robber fly.
A wide variety of plants is found
on the chalk grassland, pastures, small woodlands and arable field
margins. Some 70 species of plants are exploiting open ground
associated with arable cultivation, including rare arable weeds
such as Venus’ looking-glass. Three areas of chalk grassland
and an arable field margin on the eastern side of the Estate have
been designated 'Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation'
by Hampshire County Council.
This part of the website gives
an overview of the wildlife of Cholderton, much of it in the words
of Henry Edmunds himself, for not only is he passionate about
nature on his doorstep, he is also formidably and enthusiastically
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The natural history of the Cholderton
Estate is entirely dictated by the chalk that underlies the landscape.
Chalk soils are typically porous and lacking in nutrients, making
them dry and poor. In summer they may become bone dry. Such soils
can be wonderful for wild flowers, because other, more vigorous
plants find it difficult to tolerate the harsh conditions.
The archetypal ground cover in
such circumstances is chalk downland, dominated by short, drought-resistant
plants that can also withstand grazing by sheep, rabbits and other
creatures. This specialised habitat once covered millions of acres
in southern England, with the downlands stretching for miles.
Their primary use was grazing for sheep but, as with so much in
landscape history, the full picture is complex and not easy to
untangle. Such landscapes survived until the 19th century, when
ploughing for arable use began to be the agricultural norm for
soils of this type. It was at this time that the majority of Cholderton
Estate’s downlands were ploughed up. Archaeological evidence
indicates that before this happened most of the landscape at Cholderton
had probably remained unploughed since prehistoric times
Very little original downland survives
at Cholderton; the most extensive examples are a hillside overlooking
the A303 and some areas around the waterworks. However, there
are smaller areas of relict chalk grassland scattered across the
estate, and these have been protected and expanded. Also, using
the opportunities provided by various grants, the Estate is re-creating
large areas of grassland that may one day attain the richness
of the original downland
For more on downland restoration click
Mr Edmunds has had considerable
success in helping the re-colonisation of some typical plants
of chalk downland by scattering their seed by hand. Cowslips,
for example, are now flowering in many places across the Estate.
Today, the most obvious habitats
on the Estate are the fields that make up the farmed landscape,
and the pattern of woods and hedgerows that frame those fields.
The estate has many areas of dispersed
woodland; these are mostly of Victorian origin, and were planted
with shooting, amenity and landscape improvement in mind. There
are areas within Windy Dido and Hills Copse that are of ancient
origin. Windy Dido, lying near the Iron Age hill fort at Quarley,
has a magnificent fringe of old beech trees and a complex botanical
understorey whose history probably includes use as woodland pasture.
Hills Copse, overlooking Salisbury Plain, has fine old oaks growing
on the limited area of clay cap along with interesting plants
such as wood anemone and bird’s nest orchid. There are several
genuine crab apple trees; they have small yellow apples and a
leaf very similar to buckthorn, quite unlike the apple trees that
originate from the discarded cores of orchard fruit. The Spinney,
directly behind the Estate Office, holds many fine oaks planted
by the Nelson family towards the middle of the 19th century. The
ground is heavier here and there is no natural regeneration of
oak, but instead there are profuse stands of young ash, which
were extensively thinned in 2001.
Many of the woods held plantations
of Corsican pine and Norway spruce; these were around 80 years
old when they were flattened by the hurricane of 1989; further
extensive damage occurred in the second blow of 1992. The great
storms wreaked terrible destruction, but the overall effect has
been beneficial. Most of the alien conifers were removed and their
place has now been taken by extensive stands of native species,
some by natural regeneration and others by planting. The majority
of natural regeneration has been ash. There are now many areas
of superb young ash trees that will ultimately produce a high-value
timber crop. This species grows faster here than any conifer with
the exception of Leylandii. Ash comes into leaf fairly
late in the spring and hence allows a diverse woodland flora to
develop beneath it. Dog violets, primroses and other species are
beginning to spread into the new plantations.
Many of the woods have patches
of young yew trees. These are growing under beech trees as the
fruition of seed-rich droppings from roosting birds. One day,
when the other trees have died, the yews will dominate these woods.
The majority of the beech is a result of 19th-century planting,
but there is some natural regeneration. Beech trees are very vulnerable
to grey squirrel attack, and it is not practical to plant them
for forestry purposes today. Whitebeams are generally distributed
around the area. They present a glorious picture in the spring,
with a dome of large white cobs of flowers and white, velvety,
tulip-like buds opening into silvery leaves.
Yews are the natural climax timber
crop on this thin chalk soil, but are vulnerable to wind blow.
This allows the regeneration of ash, whitebeam, holly, birch and
some beech. So the cycle repeats itself. Other species occurring
include hazel, holly, hornbeam, hawthorn, buckthorn, walnut, holm
oak, Swedish whitebeam, aspen, white poplar, mountain ash, Turkey
oak, large-leaved lime, silver birch, sycamore, field maple, laurel,
bullace, dogwood, spindle, privet, Scots pine, Corsican pine,
Douglas fir, sallow, wild cherry, wild service tree, common elm,
box and wayfaring tree. Nearly all the woods have a generous edge
of shrubby species such as buckthorn, hazel and hawthorn. This
gives very effective shelter to the interior of the woodland and
protects young trees from extremes of climate.
Particular care has been taken
to tend and encourage the woodlands and hedges on the Estate.
Insensitive treatment can destroy whole populations. All of the
different species of trees and shrubs
on the Estate are associated with particular insects.
Hedges form an integral and vital
part of the farm. They give valuable shelter to stock in the colder
months of the year. Crops also benefit and hedges harbour predators
of aphids like ladybirds, hoverflies and ground beetles. Hedges
are an indispensable component in the landscape, giving seasonal
colour and character to every field. They are a timepiece of the
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Trees are climatic stabilisers;
they stabilise the soil and prevent erosion, purify the air, generate
oxygen, conserve moisture and put into the atmosphere water vapour
that will return as rain. They are a beautiful embellishment to
the landscape – their leaves give visibility to the wind;
they provide a platform for snow and hoar frost in winter, and
for light and shadows as the sun interplays with drifting cloud.
Trees enrich our lives and are essential for a wide diversity
of mammals, birds and invertebrates.
Shrubs and Associated Insects
has spent much of his adult life studying and encouraging the
insect populations at Cholderton, and he is especially keen to
underline the importance of specific plants to specific insects.
The information that follows reflects the vital connection between
creature and host plant. There is a special emphasis on butterflies
A tree of damp ground, this is not a species you would expect
to find in any quantity on Cholderton’s dry chalk, but there
is one small stand. Dingy shell, blue-bordered carpet, and early
tooth-striped are moths whose larvae feed on this plant. Siskins
– members of the finch family – find alder seeds particularly
This is the most successful deciduous tree on shallow chalk soils,
spreading from wind-dispersed seed in established woodland. It
is able to colonise clearings rapidly with a multitude of saplings.
Much of Cholderton’s ash has grown in former narrow beech
woodlands, where the beech was windblown or felled, with isolated
ash being left as progenitors. It is the foodplant of the ash
pug and the centre-barred sallow moth, whose caterpillars live
on the ground but climb up the trees at night to feed on flowers
and leaves. It is also used by 11 micro moths, as well as privet
hawkmoth and tawny pinion.
This is much the best member of the poplar family to grow on chalk
as it will flourish on even the thinnest soils. Known as ‘the
money tree’ because of the shape of its leaves, it is a
most beautiful tree, with round leathery leaves that flicker in
the slightest breeze. It will sucker freely, so once established
it is able to spread around woodland or down edge rather like
elm. It is a very valuable tree for biodiversity, hosting most
of the poplar-feeding species of moth, such as the poplar hawkmoth,
puss moth, poplar kitten, swallow prominent, and 17 species of
micro moths. A great local rarity is the light orange underwing,
a day-flying moth of the early spring. Aspen is an alternative
foodplant for the purple emperor butterfly.
Little known in the countryside today, barberry is a very attractive
shrub with prickly leaves and bright yellow flowers. It was destroyed
by farmers when it became known that it was the winter host plant
of a rust that attacked wheat. This destruction resulted in the
near extermination of the beautiful barberry carpet moth. At Cholderton
we are now re-introducing barberry, with the hope of providing
a new locality for this rare insect. This is an example of the
work we are doing in partnership with English Nature.
At first glance, beech seems to be a dominant species on the estate,
but in fact this is a false impression. The lobster moth, barred
sallow, clay triple lines and barred hooktip are moths that, together
with 17 species of micro moths, have larvae that feed on the leaves
of beech. Beech has large triangular seeds that are very attractive
to pigeons, pheasants and jays.
The silver or gleaming brownish trunk of this species, sometimes
known as ‘the lady of the woods’, is always attractive,
and the triangular leaves move in any breeze. This is a tree of
colonisation, spreading rapidly by windborn seed. Many butterflies
and moths use it as their foodplant, including iron prominent,
lesser swallow prominent, pebble hooktip, scalloped hooktip, orange
underwing, large emerald, scarce prominent, yellow-horned, argent
and sable moths, plus 78 species of smaller moths.
This is an excellent but neglected hedging plant that spreads
rapidly by suckering, forming an impenetrable thicket. It can
be spectacular in the early spring, with a dense mass of pure
white flowers on bare wood – this is the blossom that gives
the name to ‘blackthorn winter’, a period of cold
weather that often interrupts the arrival of spring. It is the
source of sloes – the plum-like but very dry fruit used
in sloe gin and eaten by many migrating and resident birds. The
brown hairstreak butterfly lays its eggs at the point where the
thorn meets the twig. They are white and very conspicuous, except
in wet conditions, when they tend to become browner. The phoenix
and the sloe carpet moths, 39 species of micro moths and some
sawflies feed on blackthorn.
An inescapable component of most woods and hedges, the bramble
bears flowers that are attractive to insects, particularly butterflies
such as the comma, red admiral and tortoiseshell. The flowers
are also visited by beetles, wasps, bees, bumblebees and many
This once-common tree was depleted by Dutch elm disease, which
eradicated all our wych elm and most English elm. However, there
are some large elms that show a degree of resistance, and although
affected by the disease and showing conspicuous dieback, they
are not killed and continue to grow. These trees foster colonies
of the white letter hairstreak, lesser spotted pinion, white-spotted
pinion and clouded magpie moths, plus 11 micro moths. Many other
insects feed on this tree. It is important to preserve trees exhibiting
resistance to Dutch elm disease, as it is these that may give
rise to a fully resistant variety.
This is one of the best-known hedging species – its pinky
white blossoms can in exceptional years turn the hedgerows white
in May. It flowers after the leaf has come out, unlike blackthorn.
The bright red berries are very important to many birds but especially
to the large flocks of redwing and fieldfare that spend their
winter here as refugees from the north. The brimstone moth, yellow
tail, buff arches, pinion-spotted pug, small eggar, early moth
and green-brindled crescent, plus 62 micro moths, all feed on
the leaves of hawthorn.
For thousands of years hazel was one of the most important woodland
plants so far as men were concerned. The uses to which it has
been put are numerous, and it is the bedrock of coppiced woodland,
harvested on a regular basis and always throwing up a new crop
of poles. Hazel was used to make the vast quantities of hurdles
that were required as fencing for the folded sheep flocks on the
downs. Smaller stems were split and woven into hurdles, larger
ones were cut and pointed to be used as ‘shores’ to
support the standing hurdles, which were secured to the ‘shores’
by using ‘shackles’ – a loop of twisted hazel.
Hazel is also vital in thatching, where bent ‘staples’
of hazel, called spars, hold the straw in place. Hazel once played
a crucial role in the countryside, since it can be used for everything
from fuel to building material. It is a food as well: hazelnuts
are beloved by grey squirrels, but are also important for dormice,
yellow-necked mice and wood mice. Several species of moth and
32 micro moths feed on hazel.
This elegant tree is less vulnerable to squirrel attack than beech.
Like beech, it retains the dead leaves on young trees in the winter,
making it a very suitable hedging plant. Adult trees have silvery
bark with a ripple or twist in the trunk. Twenty-two species of
our smaller butterflies and moths are recorded as feeding on this
plant. Hawfinches are attracted to the seed.
One of just three coniferous species native to Britain, juniper
is a shrubby plant that once clothed the downs – juniper
and yew are the only conifers truly native to chalk downland.
Only relict specimens remain on the Cholderton Estate, but restorative
measures are being taken that include planting and the casting
of seed in suitable places. It is extraordinarily difficult to
germinate the seed; this seems to occur naturally only where the
seed is weathered and in an exposed area free from competitive
grass. Junipers are very attractive, with tight structure and
a dense growth of greeny grey, sharp-pointed needles. They have
a variety of shapes, from tall and upright to low and prostrate.
The plant has an attractive fragrance, particularly apparent on
hot, dry afternoons. Juniper is the foodplant of the juniper carpet,
a very local moth in southern England. Flying in the late autumn,
they can be seen on bushes by torchlight in the evening. Beating
bushes in July and August will reveal the juniper pug, and it
appears that a recent immigrant moth to the UK, Blair’s
shoulder-knot, feeds on juniper. Twelve micro moths are specific
to it. Juniper offers a useful nesting site for birds as its dense
structure is resistant to attack by predators.
This is a very suitable tree for shallow chalk soils, growing
rapidly and tolerating drought. The flowers, which open in midsummer,
are very attractive to bees. The silver lime (spp. T. Tomentosa),
is not planted because its flowers are poisonous to bees.
The beautiful lime hawkmoth, the orange sallow, nine micro moths
and many other insects depend on it. Lime is very attractive to
aphids, which secrete copious amounts of honeydew. Lime should
not be planted near thatch since the depositing sugars from the
honeydew on the straw or reed will encourage it to rot quickly
because of the proliferation of moulds such as Fusarium zamin
oak This is the ‘classic’ tree of English
lowland woods. At Cholderton we grow new trees developed from
our own acorns. It is not really suited to the chalk, but nevertheless
is planted here because of its importance to biodiversity. An
indication is the number of butterflies and moths that depend
upon it: purple hairstreak, grey shoulder-knot, dark crimson underwing,
light crimson underwing, September thorn, brindled whitespot,
great oak beauty, lesser marbled brown, lesser lutestring, pale
oak beauty, oak hooktip, and over 80 micro moths. A multiplicity
of other invertebrates can also be found. Jays, pigeons and pheasants
eat the acorns, as do yellow-necked mice and wood mice. Jays are
the primary distributors and planters of acorns cached for the
winter. Some acorns are never found and thus have a chance to
This shrubby willow is an early coloniser of recently cleared
or felled woodland. Its prolific seeds are spread by the wind
and it tends to be treated as a weed by professional foresters,
but it is a very important food plant for many species, including
the purple emperor, our most spectacular butterfly. Moths include
the pink-barred sallow, the sallow, the herald, July highflyer,
poplar hawkmoth, eyed hawkmoth, lunar hornet clearwing, sallow
kitten and clouded border, and 49 species of micro moths.
pine A superb tree when mature, with a spreading crown
and resinous scent, this tree has reddish fissured bark, spectacular
in sunlight. There are many mature specimens in the woodlands
on richer soil on the estate, but those growing on the shallower
soils were mostly blown over in the great storms of 1989 and 1992.
At the waterworks there is an interesting stand of young trees,
entirely the result of the wind dispersion of seeds from plantation
trees. This group has been extensively thinned to prevent the
downland flora from disappearing. Many seedlings are coming up
through the grass at the waterworks but these are suppressed by
periodic grazing. Pine hawkmoth, pine beauty and pine carpet,
plus 26 micro moths, feed on this tree. Several species of bird
feed on the seed, particularly greenfinch, goldfinch and crossbills.
Parties of tits in search of insects are regular visitors to pine
bark, especially in winter. Hobbies – spectacular summer-visiting
birds of prey – favour old crow nests in pine trees for
This is one of the glories of the autumnal hedge, with cascades
of pink, incandescent berries splitting to reveal scarlet interiors.
It is the food plant of the scorched carpet moth and several micro
moths, including a pyralid, whose larvae bind two or three berries
together and eat them.
A lovely embellishment to the edge of any woodland or hedge, it
grows on the thinnest chalk soils and produces spectacular umbels
of white flowers in early summer. The orange-tailed clearwing
feeds on the pith in the centre of the stems; it is easy to spot
the exit holes left by the adult moths when they emerge from their
Whitebeam A medium
sized but spectacular local tree, widely distributed on chalk.
In the spring this tree, as its buds open, could be mistaken for
a magnolia in full flower: its soft white hairy leaves reveal
a cascade of slim silver tulips. As the season progresses, the
leaves stay white beneath and are dusty green on the upper surfaces.
Clusters of white flowers appear in early summer followed by large
panicles of orange berries in the autumn.
Ten species of micromoths are recorded
as feeding from whitebeam. The rare sawfly Tricosoma sorbi may
also utilise it. Whitebeam yields a yellowish grained timber which
is very hard and was formerly used for making cartwheels, agricultural
implements and cogs for old driving gear.
Yew The dark,
evergreen, poisonous foliage of this sombre tree gives contrast
in the winter to the leafless, deciduous trees. The young yew
trees can be thick in some of Cholderton’s woodlands, particularly
under beech. They are cropped by hares and deer with impunity.
Yew provides an autumnal harvest of luscious red berries, which
are eaten by a variety of birds who then spread the seed through
their droppings. The seed is poisonous if crushed, but will otherwise
pass through the gut. Mistle thrushes generally nest in yew trees;
they breed very early in the year, protected by the evergreen
foliage. Yew is the foodplant of the satin beauty and two micro
moths. The algae growing on yew can be utilised by the red-necked
the yew releases huge clouds of yellow pollen. It is particularly
attractive to cattle at this time and is lethal. Cattle need eat
only a couple of pounds of foliage to be killed. The process of
digesting yew releases hydrogen cyanide into the bloodstream,
which stops the heart. Yew provides excellent firewood, burning
slowly and giving great heat, but it needs to be stored for at
least two years before use to avoid excessive spitting. The colour
of the timber is beautiful – pale orange to reddish, with
white areas – and is popular for art work and veneering.
Yew is an ancient symbol of immortality, and was the source of
timber for the famous British longbow.
to lose your weight!
Photo by: Graham Hatherly
The Estate supports many mammals,
including a good population of hares, a species that has suffered
a substantial decline nationally. Other mammals, described below,
include the rare and elusive harvest mouse and a good variety
There are several occupied badger setts in different woods on
the Estate. Badgers may be involved in the spreading of Bovine
TB, and there is an urgent need to commence a nationwide vaccination
programme to protect badgers from this disease and stop them from
vole Bank voles are quite common at Cholderton, living
in rough grass and hedgerows. They are hugely outnumbered by field
There are colonies of serotine, long-eared and pipestrelle bats
at Cholderton. Given the abundance of invertebrates and the mixed
woodlands containing many old trees on the Estate, it is likely
that additional species remain to be discovered here. Noctule
bats have been heard using a bat detector.
hare Cholderton has a healthy population of this much-loved
animal. They thrive in the mixed cropping regime, under which
there is always suitable habitat for feeding, breeding and hiding.
Hares will breed as early as February, and continue doing so well
into the autumn. They are prone to diseases such as European hare
syndrome and Coccidiosis, which kill large numbers every
Many are also
killed by illegal hare coursers, who trespass on the property
and chase and kill hares for money. Many hours are spent trying
to prevent the activities of these individuals, who intimidate
or even attack anyone who tries to stop them. They also cut fences
and force gates in fields containing livestock.
rat These are very common around farm buildings and hedgerows
on the Estate. They form an important part of the resident barn
owls' diet, so poison is not generally used as a control measure.
Rats can be shot, or hunted with terriers.
shrew As their name suggests, these tiny creatures are
common at Cholderton, being found in areas of rough grass, hedge
and woodland edges. They are often caught by the Estate cats,
but are frequently released unharmed, possibly because they taste
deer These are never resident at Cholderton but both
bucks and does visit quite frequently, usually as singletons.
vole This is Cholderton’s most common small mammal.
Burrows and runs can even be seen in the middle of intensively
grazed grass fields. Field voles can cause damage to young trees,
frequently debarking them completely, and can even fell small
whips. They are a favourite food of barn owls.
Always present at Cholderton, foxes are predators of ground-nesting
birds and their young. They present a constant danger to nesting
grey partridge, lapwings and their chicks.
squirrel Very common at Cholderton and subject to control
by shooting, grey squirrels can cause terrible damage to young
trees, particularly beech, to the extent that beech is no longer
worth planting for timber. Walnut trees have even been damaged
around the upper branches.
mouse Widespread and probably quite common at Cholderton,
harvest mice live in hedgerows over the winter and spread into
cereal fields over the summer. They seem particularly fond of
oats. When the fields are harvested, harvest mice can be seen
running towards the field margins and hedges. Fortunately the
blades of the combine are usually 7–8 inches (18–20cm)
above the ground, so most escape. Very few are found in the threshed
grain. The tall, tussocky grass of the untrimmed field margins
offers good wintering quarters, and flowers such as knapweed provide
Hedgehogs are very common over much of the Estate, particularly
in the more wooded areas. They are useful consumers of slugs and
snails, but unfortunately they are also keen on birds' eggs and
are able to force sitting birds off the nest. They often hibernate
in windblown piles of beech leaves.
Moles are very common at Cholderton, to the extent that grass
fields are frequently covered by mole hills. This is evidence
of a high earthworm population and hence of soils in fertile condition
with high levels of organic matter. No control is undertaken on
Originally released at Woburn in Bedfordshire around 1900, muntjac
were first recorded at Cholderton in 2001. A young one was seen
in February 2002 and several have been found as road casualties.
They will probably become well established in the next few years.
shrew Pigmy shrews are often caught by the Estate cats
and found dead on tracks in the autumn. They favour hedgerows
and areas of rough grass.
There seems to be a growing population of polecats in the Cholderton
area, and they appear to be identical to the true wild polecat,
rather than the ferret. It is likely that these polecats are descended
from feral stock, but it could also be that truly wild polecats
survived on Salisbury Plain and are now expanding their range.
Rabbits are very common, but the numbers fluctuate according to
the prevalence of myxamatosis. They are a common prey species
deer This is Cholderton’s most common deer, present
in most of the woodlands and even resident in quiet hedgerows.
They cause very little damage in the woodlands provided young
planted trees are properly protected. There is abundant natural
regeneration of ash at Cholderton, evidence that trees and deer
can live together. There is no regular culling, but one or two
are shot each year to eat.
Very common and frequently seen, the stoat is an effective predator
of rabbit and rats, and will perform a dance to hypnotise prey
– generally rolling over and running in circles. Its long,
black-tipped tail is distinctive.
Quite common, the weasel is not seen as often as the stoat. Weasels
are much smaller than stoats. Litters of young weasels will follow
the mother head to tail, giving the impression of a rope being
drawn across the ground. They are predators of mice and voles.
mouse A common species at Cholderton, wood mice are frequently
seen at night, even in open fields, and are often caught by the
mouse This species appears to thrive at Cholderton. It
finds the shelter belts, small woods and thick hedges particularly
suitable and is frequently caught by the cats. Some specimens
are up to 9 inches (23cm) long, which is not far off the size
of a small rat. They occasionally live in the Estate buildings.
Reptiles & amphibians
Chalk downland is not the best
habitat for many of Britain’s reptiles and amphibians, as
they prefer damper environments with more low cover. But the Victorian
water features on the Cholderton Estate and the winterbourne that
flows through the village have attracted a surprising variety
This species has been seen only once at Cholderton.
lizard These are widespread in areas of rough grass at
Cholderton, particularly where this is protected from grazing
and the trampling of animals. Common lizards are also found around
Cholderton Park, the waterworks, Bulford Barn and in other areas.
Cholderton is a very dry landscape with little permanent
water, but frogs do breed in the winterbourne that runs through
the village. They find places where the water remains long enough
for the tadpoles to develop. From here the tiny froglets spread
out and move over a huge area in the five or more years that they
take to become sexually mature. The restored Victorian pond at
Cholderton Park has become an important breeding site for them.
crested newt A few of these largest and rarest of UK
newts used to share the softwater tanks at the waterworks with
the smooth newts. They are occasionally found under stones and
logs in the winter and are now believed to be in the restored
Victorian pond in the park.
worm Slow worms inhabit a wide range of grassy, scrubby
areas, and are also occasionally found in Cholderton’s water
newt Common in the old softwater tanks near the waterworks,
smooth newts are also found in the Victorian bathing pool at Cholderton
The nearest breeding site for this species is several miles away,
but individuals do turn up and are now breeding in the pond at
The environmentally friendly farming
undertaken at Cholderton has resulted in a wonderfully rich and
diverse range of invertebrates. Some of the insects found here,
including the hornet robber fly, are nationally rare.
Hornet Robber Fly
appearance, this large and spectacular insect appears in August
and September. It is about 1 inch (2.5cm) long, and has a black
and yellow abdomen with a reddish thorax. The adult preys on flies,
grasshoppers and small dung beetles. Dung pats from cattle and
horses are used as lookout and hunting platforms. Prey is taken
on the wing and then brought back to the perching spot to be eaten.
The hornet robber fly is a nationally scarce species that appears
to have suffered a dramatic decline over its entire range. It
is easily disturbed but, if you approach with care and keep a
low profile, it will turn on its basking spot/lookout post to
face you with its large compound eyes, while crouching down ready
for flight. Pairs fly while mating, with the larger female flying
forward and the male being pulled after, also flying. It is believed
that the larvae of the hornet robber fly prey on the subterranean
larvae of various dung beetles. The females lay their eggs on
bare ground, around dung. Very little is known of the subsequent
behaviour of the larvae.
livestock wormers are the major cause of the decline of the hornet
robber fly. These wormers are persistent in the dung and adversely
affect the larvae of dung flies, beetles and other dung-feeding
invertebrates. At Cholderton the policy is to worm as little as
possible and to use non-persistent types of wormer, such as 'Levamisole'.
Parasitic nematodes can be controlled by rotational grazing and
by reducing stocking rates. Hornet robber flies normally occur
only on old, permanent pasture, but at Cholderton they are present
over a wide variety of habitats, including intensively grazed
leys of recent origin. Cholderton's mixed farming and minimal
worming practices have resulted in one of the most important populations
of hornet robber fly in the UK.
vapour moth-trap has been operated on the Estate for many years.
Its ultra-bright light can attract many dozens of moths in one
night, and warm August evenings can result in outstanding catches,
on occasion more than 100 distinct species.
On one such
night there were common migrants such as the silver Y and the
dark sword-grass, together with the double lobed, which though
not recognised as a migrant is unlikely to have originated here.
Other interesting species included the scarce silver lines, pebble
hooktip, oak hooktip, lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing,
least yellow underwing, dusky sallow, heart and club, rosy minor,
clouded border, the phoenix, the flame, and yellow-barred brindle,
together with 14 species of Pyralidae moths.
364 species of macro moths have been recorded over the years,
the overwhelming majority of which are resident. However, Cholderton
is not usually a good site in which to find the uncommon migrant
species. But a convolvulus hawkmoth has been recorded once, as
has the great brocade, the American wainscot and the delicate.
Humming-bird hawkmoth are seen most years, while the occasional
pine hawkmoth probably originates from the New Forest. The commonest
migrant moth is the rush veneer, which sometimes occurs in hundreds
of thousands of individuals, three or four rising at every step
one takes across pasture. Migrants such as the vestal will breed
over the summer but will not survive the winter.
of moths that were formerly widespread and often common throughout
the UK have been made local and particularly vulnerable by the
recent agricultural intensification of the lowlands. The five-spot
burnet, with its shining black and red spotted forewing, cannot
survive on intensively managed grassland, but does inhabit undisturbed
chalk downland. The ghost swift can be common in old permanent
pasture, which is a scarce habitat today. The hovering, fluttering
flight of these snow white moths is an extraordinary sight on
a summer evening.
has become a refuge for many such species. Relatively local and
uncommon moths that have occurred at Cholderton include: ghost
moth, leopard moth, cistus forester, five-spot burnet, currant
clearwing, orange tailed clearwing, the lackey, oak eggar, fox
moth, the lappet, the festoon, scalloped hooktip, peach blossom,
figure of eighty, poplar lutestring, birch mocha, maiden's blush,
small blood-vein, dwarf cream wave, treble brown spot, the streamer,
beautiful carpet, red-green carpet, pretty chalk carpet, the fern,
brown scallop, pinion-spotted pug, netted pug, chimney sweeper,
small white wave, barred tooth-striped, peacock moth, little thorn,
scalloped oak, brindled beauty, Brussels lace, lime hawk, sallow
kitten, lunar marbled brown, white satin, rosy footman, four dotted
footman, orange footman, scarce footman, scarlet tiger, least
black arches, dotted rustic, true lover's knot, lobster, the nutmeg,
green arches, pale shining brown, broad-barred white, antler moth,
hedge rustic, the sprawler, tawny pinion, pale pinion, grey shoulder-knot,
early grey, alder moth, the miller, the coronet, old lady, bird's
wing, lesser-spotted pinion, reddish light arches, Brighton wainscot,
marbled white-spot, oak nycteoline, golden plusia, the blackneck,
and beautiful hooktip.
no recent records for the Brighton wainscot and the pale shining
brown, but both species could be present, if scarce.
will take place in the coming years to monitor populations and
look for new species that may have colonised the Estate as a result
of the diverse plantings of deciduous trees in place of the many
conifers lost in the great storms.
of micro moths – very small, but often remarkably beautiful
insects – is in its early days at Cholderton. So far 136
species have been identified, including 41 of the elegant Pyralidae.
Some of these are downland species, such as Pyrausta nigrata
and P. purpuralis; others occur in buildings where grain
and animal feed is stored, including Pyralis farinalis
and Glossa pinguinalis.
new record was a first specimen of Colamotropha paludella.
The larvae of this species feed on reedmace; this implies that
the restored Victorian pond in the garden, which has an abundance
of this foodplant, has been recently colonised by this localised
species. The case-bearing moth C. ahenella, also a very
local species, was found in 2001 on buckthorn.
to change over to a fully organic system of farming, and the restoration
of hundreds of acres of chalk downland, together with the extensive
new plantings of native deciduous trees and sensitive but ongoing
management of all the woodlands, should continue to make the Estate
more attractive to an ever wider variety of Lepidoptera.
Number of species per family of Lepidoptera at Cholderton:
Practical Hints for Conserving British Butterflies
(not all occurring at Cholderton)
All butterflies have a common need for sunshine
and nectar rich flowers; thistles, knapweed, bramble, ground ivy,
scabious, burdock, bugle, buddleia, sedum and many leguminous
species are particularly popular. The caterpillars however are
very specific in their requirements both for foodplants and habitat.
Many of the butterflies mentioned here are found on the Estate.
Small and Essex skippers
Both these species occur at Cholderton in abundance in suitable
localities, particularly the drove ways and wide tracks where
the grass is left uncut and nectaring plants like knapweed are
common. The larvae feed on grasses like Yorkshire fog and cocksfoot,
but are not able to survive in a tightly grazed situation. Uncut
field margins, hedge bottoms and waysides are particularly suitable.
A very rare species of specific requirements, now only found in
a few localities. Very similar to the large skipper on its upper
side, but the underwings are greenish with silvery spots. The
food plant is the very fine grass, sheeps fescue, a species occurring
on the thinnest chalk soils. Broken steep ground with bare patches
and very short turf, preferably south facing, appears to be essential.
It is likely that the very fragmented distribution of this species
is due not only to the intensification of industrial agriculture,
but also to the loss of sheep flocks that used to wander seasonally
over Salisbury Plain and other areas. The lack of grazing on former
habitat has resulted in the domination of coarser grasses over
the smaller uncompetitive sheeps fescue. Old localities could
become suitable for this butterfly, given the correct management.
A common species of the woodland edge, the larvae feeding on cocksfoot.
Maintaining sunny grass verges along hedges and woods should ensure
the future of this species.
A further species formerly widespread but now local due to the
intensification of agriculture and the isolation of vulnerable
colonies. It occurs on the downs and other areas of natural grassland.
The larvae feed on birds foot trefoil and other legumes. The conservation
of this species depends on the maintenance of conditions suited
to the foodplant, the prevention of scrub encroachment and light
A species of wood and downland. The larvae feed on wild strawberry
and other potentillas including cinquefoil. This butterfly responds
well to coppicing in its woodland localities, but has become very
local due to the deterioration of this habitat. It is not able
to survive on intensively grazed grassland but has been able to
colonise former arable set-aside where its foodplant flourishes.
Colonies on downland appear to benefit from light grazing to prevent
the grass from becoming too rank and shading out the foodplant.
Normal scrub control measures are necessary.
Wood white An
extremely rare and local butterfly. A woodland species feeding
on a variety of leguminous plants, in particular tufted vetch,
tuberous pea and birds-foot-trefoil. Wide open sunny rides where
the foodplant can flourish is fundamental to maintaining populations
of this delicate and graceful little insect. Regular felling and
maintaining age diversity within broadleaved woodland is vital.
Planting conifers will eventually shade out the foodplant and
destroy the butterfly.
harbinger of spring – the male sulphur yellow, the female
greenish yellow. Flies rapidly along hedge and woodland edge in
March or even February. The foodplant is buckthorn.
Large white A
common pest of garden cabbages but spectacular in flight. Appears
to do little economic damage to kale crops here, so no action
is taken to suppress the population. Natural control is by a tiny
Small white A
further pest of brassica crops; again will feed on kale grown
for livestock consumption, but the crop will quickly recover in
A lover of the woodland edge, lanes and hedgerows. The larvae
feed on Jack-by-the-hedge, a cruciferous plant with attractive
white flowers in the spring. Avoid spray drift and fastidious
cutting and tidying up operations near hedgerows and other habitat
where the foodplant grows.
Orange tip A beautiful
spring butterfly, the conspicuous orange splashed wings echoing
the warmth and promise of April sunshine. The larvae feed on a
variety of wayside plants, but here the most important food is
Jack-by-the-hedge. This butterfly is a relatively recent arrival
to this immediate area.
This species is one of the most elusive of all British butterflies.
It is a very difficult insect to see; there are several localities
where the adult has never been seen but its eggs are found every
The Cholderton Estate forms the heart of
what is probably the largest brown hairstreak colony in Wiltshire
and Hampshire. The adults emerge during early August and can remain
on the wing until October. The male has blackish brown wings,
the female is similar, but with two large orange spots on the
forewings. The underside of both sexes is orange – a conspicuous
feature as the butterfly rapidly flies past. The insect appears
to spend most of its life in the top of tall trees feeding on
honeydew secreted by aphids. However, in warm, particularly muggy,
overcast conditions, the butterfly may be seen in the afternoon
nectaring on thistles, bramble blossom or hemp agrimony. It flies
at considerable speed, 7 to 10 feet off the ground on a level
direct flight. The foodplant is blackthorn, a common shrub of
hedgerows and woodland edge, suckering readily and forming large
clumps if permitted. The brown hairstreak lays its eggs usually
singly, in the fork of a small shoot or thorn. Pairs of eggs are
quire common but very rarely a group of four may be seen.
The key to the conservation of this species
lies in hedgerow management. Cholderton has many very old wide
hedges, maintained at their existing width with only one side
cut each year. This ensures that a substantial number of brown
hairstreak eggs laid on the hedge will not be destroyed by the
hedge cutter. Clumps of blackthorn on woodland edges or on downland
are left or occasionally partly coppiced to maintain a variety
in structure and age. This policy has been so successful that
large numbers of eggs have been donated to restore populations
of this insect to areas where it has been absent for many years.
The commonest hairstreak, though not often seen. A few minutes
spent looking at the top of oak trees in July and August will
normally reveal them. They flick around in the canopy with a characteristic
short flight; often settling on leaves and opening their purple
shot wings to the sun. Oak should be planted not only to secure
the next generation of this magnificent tree, but also the myriads
of insects that depend upon it.
A distinctive white line on the underside forming a ‘W’.
The larvae feed on elm and there were fears that it would be wiped
out by the effects of Dutch elm disease. Fortunately, the adults
appear adept in finding trees that are healthy and will lay on
young elms that have not yet developed the rough bark that seems
to denote the age at which they become susceptible to the disease.
(Henry Edmunds once saw a group of around 12 white letter hairstreaks
leave a diseased elm in the middle of a field and fly together
in a fluttering crowd to a neighbouring wood which had some disease
free trees.) Females will devote a considerable part of their
lives seeking out suitable host plants, settling on leaves and
pressing them with the palps to see if they are suitable or not.
All living elm trees should be preserved; some could be seedlings
and have resistance to Dutch Elm disease, and others may be able
to sustain populations of this very local and elusive butterfly
during their short lifespan.
Small blue The
smallest British butterfly, occurring commonly on Salisbury Plain
but otherwise very local. The foodplant is kidney vetch and the
caterpillars eat the flowers and seed. If kidney vetch is heavily
grazed in the summer, the larvae will be lost. Kidney vetch seed
should be included in downland restoration schemes, and areas
containing it should only be lightly grazed, but preferably not
in the butterflies breeding period.
Brown argus A
member of the blue family but the only one in which both sexes
have upper wings that are brown. A small butterfly which is widely
distributed. The normal food plant is common rock rose, a very
common species of chalk downland, but the larvae can also feed
on various species of geranium, allowing the insect to occur over
a wider area.
Light grazing of downland and the control
of scrub, together with unsprayed grassy field margins and hedge
bottoms, will assist this species.
Common blue A
species much reduced in the countryside due to intensive agriculture.
It is, however, widely distributed and able to take advantage
of small pockets of suitable habitat. A very beautiful insect,
with glowing blue wings, always spectacular on a sunny afternoon.
The larvae feed on yarrow, birds foot trefoil, restharrow and
The common blue can be encouraged by planting
grassy margins, but above all by leaving areas that are not intensely
grazed. This can be achieved by fencing off parts of an existing
field with suitable habitat – a steep bank for example –
and only allowing animals in occasionally.
A down chalkland specialist, the larvae feeding on horseshoe vetch.
The adult male has distinctive milky blue upper wings, whilst
the female’s are brown. This species has been much reduced
by intensive agriculture and is now restricted to areas out of
reach of the plough. Other localities have been reduced due to
scrub invasion or the lack of grazing on remote areas of downland.
It is critical that basic downland management is applied to maintain
Adonis blue The
glowing electric blue jewel of the high downs, sharing the same
foodplant as the chalkhill blue. It has a specific requirement
for a very short herb rich sward with abundant hippocrepis, normally
south facing and able to warm quickly. Chalkhill blues are able
to succeed in habitats that are not suitable for the adonis. The
adonis has two broods a year, the first generation emerging in
mid-May, followed by the second brood in August and September.
Basic downland management is essential to maintain colonies.
Holly blue This
is likely to be the first blue seen in the spring, with some individuals
emerging in April. It has a distinctive flight, working along
tall hedges or woodland edges, normally flying about 10 to 12
feet up. There may be three broods in a favourable year. The females
lay their first brood of eggs at the base of holly flower buds.
The young larvae bore into the bud and complete their growth on
this species. Subsequent broods are normally raised on ivy, dogwood
or spindle. Planting holly and leaving ivy where it is growing
up trees will encourage this species.
Duke of Burgundy fritillary
A species of both down and woodland, the larvae feeding on cowslip
or primrose. It is very local and has been lost for many years
due to fragmentation. Isolated colonies are prone to extinction
as they are unable to move to more suitable areas. The butterfly
likes sunny glades and sheltered areas or banks amongst diffuse
scrub where the foodplant grows.
A butterfly of the deep forest, the larvae feeding on honeysuckle
(also the foodplant of the rare broad-bordered bee hawk moth).
Measures to conserve the foodplant and provide sunny rides, within
a diverse broadleaved woodland environment will benefit this graceful
A most spectacular British butterfly. The foodplant is sallow
(Salix caprea) which has wind borne seed and is an early coloniser
of new clearings. Sallow trees should not be casually removed.
They should be planted at intervals in sunny rides and are very
easy to strike from cuttings and establish quickly. The emperor
larvae hibernate on the trees over the winter and feed up during
the spring to pupate in June at about 300 days old. The adults
emerge in July to recommence the cycle.
Painted lady A
migrant butterfly whose larvae usually feed on thistles. Thistles
are also an important source of nectar for bumblebees and other
insects. Turtle doves feed copiously on thistle down when available.
Leaving some thistles on the farm is beneficial to the environment.
Red admiral, Small
tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma All nettle feeders. This underlines
the importance of leaving a space for nettles on the farm. Nettles
in the hedgerow should never be sprayed and clumps in the field
examined for the conspicuous colonies of peacock and tortoiseshell
caterpillars. It makes no sense to destroy hundreds of useful
larvae for an instant cosmetic affect.
Dark green fritillary
Can be plentiful on chalk downland where the foodplant, hairy
violet, grows on steep banks. Downland should be lightly grazed
to remove grass competition from the hairy violet. Scrub must
not be allowed to dominate. The adults are particularly fond of
thistles and much of their time will be spent travelling and nectaring
from one thistle to another. In woodland, the larvae feed on dog
violet and woodland populations have declined for the same reasons
as the other fritillary species.
High brown fritillary,
silver-washed fritillary, pearl-bordered fritillary, small pearl-bordered
fritillary All woodland butterflies whose larvae feed on dog violet.
These species have seriously declined and their scarcity is largely
due to the collapse of coppicing and other traditional forms of
A species which has suffered from farming intensification and
has now become very local. Colonies have also been lost due to
woodland invasion of former ancient pasture. The foodplant is
the beautiful autumn flowering devils-bit scabious. Any sites
where the foodplant occur should be lightly grazed and efforts
made to reintroduce the foodplant to former arable fields which
are being restored to natural grassland.
Always associated with woodland, the larvae feeding on grasses
growing in glades and wood margins. Heavy grazing within woodland
will eradicate it. The meadow brown, ringlet, gatekeeper, small
heath and marbled white have all flourished on long term set-aside
fields allowed to naturally regenerate with wild grasses.
Wall brown, Marbled white,
Grayling, Gatekeeper, Meadow brown, Ringlet and Small heath
All feed on species of grass including annual meadow grass, cocksfoot
and various fescues. They are quick to take advantage of protected
verges, hedge bottoms and field margins. Small areas can be left
in corners or irregular parts of a field fenced, to provide habitat
for them. All these butterflies could be common given sympathetic
grassland management, with the possible exception of the grayling
and the wall brown which have both recently declined – even
in suitable locations – probably due to climatic conditions.
Good numbers of cowslips or primroses are
a priority, preferably in sheltered sunny places. The butterfly
spends much of its time sunning itself on foliage so the provision
of taller vegetation and bushes is also essential. The trick is
in maintaining a balance that achieves good growing conditions
for the foodplant as well as diversity in the overall botanical
structure of the habitat. Light grazing and periodic scrub thinning
can achieve this.