Lullingstone Park

The long walk up from the old, red brick manor house at Lullingstone, now promoted to a castle, leads to neatly mown paths through chalk grasslands that cushion wide fairways and greens.

The meadows are rich in yellow and white flowers: bedstraws, trefoils, fading oxeye daisies Leucanthemum vulgare, patches of yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor and spikes of agrimony Agrimonia sp amongst a sward of tall grasses. The mix is lit from below by the deep purple of pyramidal orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis and from above by greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa; the latter draws all the butterflies.

Marbled whites Melanargia galathea flutter like chequered flags from flower to flower, large skippers Ochlodes sylvanus zip low and suddenly stop still and meadow browns Maniola jurtina and ringlets Aphantopus hyperantus rise from the grasslands and nectar on the brambles Rubus fruticosus.

But the undisputed star is the large, fast-flying dark green fritillary Argynnis aglaja. One briefly lands on a pyramidal orchid before hurtling away low the grassland, but most are found further up the hill settling to feed on patches of greater knapweed. This is a species that relies on Violet Viola species found in the grassland sward or on the edges of the patchy scrub and so is widespread but very local, relying on the continuity of grassland management. Not a wise strategy when most lowland grasslands have been ploughed up or built on, and many of the the few that escaped have lost their flocks of sheep and so reverted to dense scrub and woodland.

Lullingstone 7
Dark green fritillaries on and off greater knapweed

The visitor centre and car park pull the crowds and the walks are busy with push-chairs and a wide assortment of dogs mixing it with impatient drivers, chippers and putters. Lullingstone is a popular leisure landscape and this happy band may well secure the rich wildlife better than any nature conservation designation.

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