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Nature - introduction

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 the Hampshire biodiversity programmes.

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 knowledgeable.

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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.

Chalk Downland

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
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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 passing year.

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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.

Trees, Shrubs and Associated Insects

Henry Edmunds 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 and moths.

Alder 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 attractive.

Ash 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.

Aspen 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.

Barberry 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.

Beech 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.

Birch 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.

Blackthorn 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.

Bramble 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 other insects.

Elm 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.

Hawthorn 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.

Hazel 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.

Hornbeam 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.

Juniper 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.

Lime 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 and aspergillus.

Pedunculate 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 grow.

Sallow 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.

Scots 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 breeding sites.

Spindle 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.

Wayfaring tree 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 pupae.

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 footman.

In February 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.

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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 of bats.

Badger 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 spreading it.

Bank vole Bank voles are quite common at Cholderton, living in rough grass and hedgerows. They are hugely outnumbered by field voles.

Bats 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.

Brown 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 year.

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.

Brown 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.

Common 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 horrible.

Fallow deer These are never resident at Cholderton but both bucks and does visit quite frequently, usually as singletons.

Field 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.

Fox 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.

Grey 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.

Harvest 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 nutritious seed.

Hedgehog 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.

Mole 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 the Estate.

Muntjac 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.

Pigmy 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.

Polecat 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.

Rabbit Rabbits are very common, but the numbers fluctuate according to the prevalence of myxamatosis. They are a common prey species for buzzards.

Roe 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.

Stoat 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.

Weasel 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.

Wood mouse A common species at Cholderton, wood mice are frequently seen at night, even in open fields, and are often caught by the Estate cats.

Yellow-necked 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 of species.

Adder This species has been seen only once at Cholderton.

Common 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.

Frog 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.

Great 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.

Slow worm Slow worms inhabit a wide range of grassy, scrubby areas, and are also occasionally found in Cholderton’s water inspection pits.

Smooth newt Common in the old softwater tanks near the waterworks, smooth newts are also found in the Victorian bathing pool at Cholderton Park.

Toad The nearest breeding site for this species is several miles away, but individuals do turn up and are now breeding in the pond at Cholderton Park.


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.

The Hornet Robber Fly

Fearsome in 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.

Some modern 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.


A mercury 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.

Altogether, 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.

Many species 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.

Cholderton 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.

There are no recent records for the Brighton wainscot and the pale shining brown, but both species could be present, if scarce.

Further trapping 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.

The study 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.

An interesting 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.

The decision 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:

Acontiinae 1
Alucitidae 1
Archiearinae 4
Arctiidae 17
Catocalinae 3
Chloephorinae 2
Cochylidae 6
Coleophoridae 4
Colias 1
Cossidae 1
Drepanidae 5
Elachista 1
Ennominae 45
Epermeniidae 1
Gelechiidae 4
Glyphipterigidae 2
Gonepteryx 1
Gracillariidae 4
Heliothinae 1
Heliozelidae 1
Hepialidae 3
Hesperiidae 5
Hypeninae 3
Incurvaridae 4
Larentiinae 70
Lasiocampidae 6
Limacodidae 1
Lycaenidae 10
Lymantriidae 5
Nemeobiidae 1
Noctuidae 134
Nolidae 2
Notodontidae 13
Nymphalidae 8
Oecophoridae 15
Ophiderinae 5
Pantheinae 1
Pieris 4
Plusiinae 6
Pyralidae 41
Sarrottiripi~Tae 1
Saturnidae 1
Satyridae 8
Sessidae 2
Sphingidae 9
Sterrhinae 14
Thyatiridae 5
Tineidea 6
Tortricidae 35
Yponomeutidae 11
Zygaenidae 4

Total: 538

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.

Silver-spotted skipper 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.

Large skipper 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.

Dingy skipper 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 grazing.

Grizzled skipper 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.

Brimstone The 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 parasitic wasp.

Small white A further pest of brassica crops; again will feed on kale grown for livestock consumption, but the crop will quickly recover in the autumn.

Green-veined white 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.

Brown hairstreak 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 year.

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.

Purple hairstreak 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.

White-letter hairstreak 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 other plants.

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.

Chalkhill blue 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 existing colonies.

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.

White admiral 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 species.

Purple emperor 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 woodland management.

Marsh fritillary 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.

Speckled wood 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.