Brown hairstreaks on the North Downs

30th July 2023

The walk from home near Hextable in north west Kent to the corn bunting colony up on the downs passes along a tall, ancient hedgerow before emerging onto the rolling arable fields. This year the fields are down to flax and there are no nesting buntings to be seen or heard in the well-spaced and relatively short crop.

On the return walk there is a big and more welcome surprise, a brown hairstreak nectaring on the bramble. There have been recent records on the western edges of Kent, but this is perhaps the most easterly record in the country. This pretty and distinctive species is clearly spreading from its strongholds in central southern England. The presence of the butterfly soon attracts plenty of local interest and on some days in early August there is a good crowd of lepidopterists. It is likely that with the warming climate, the species will become widespread across much of the country wherever its larval foodplant, sloe is present.

Along the tall, south facing hedgerow, there is a rich assemblage of other butterflies including holly blue, brown argus and brimstone. A Jersey tiger moth is another good record; it is an unmistakable, large day-flying moth with black and white striped wings and a bright crimson underside, that is usually only visible when in fluttering flight. This is another insect species that is expanding its range from its southern strongholds.

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