Neil Hulme

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Neil Hulme » Wed May 18, 2016 11:13 pm

New Heights At Heyshott

On Tuesday (17 May) I met Butterfly Conservation's North Yorks Duke of Burgundy Co-ordinator, Robert Parks, to discuss habitat management for our favourite species, while we walked over the slopes of Heyshott Escarpment. Of course the Duke leads a very different life in these two very different places, but there are also features common to both.

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from Heyshott is that relatively small changes in the management of habitat (at least "small" when viewed by the casual observer) can lead to spectacular increases in population. Rare species are often rare because they are so fussy, particularly in the early stages of their life cycle. So when it comes to managing habitat for them, nearly-right is not good enough.

As we slowly and methodically covered the entire reserve, discussing the different challenges faced by the Duke in our own areas, and by us in looking after it, we counted them. Robert was delighted when we spotted the first one, but realised that we were in for a real treat by the time we left the first pit.
I must admit that I was surprised we were seeing so many, bearing in mind that it was cool and almost constantly cloudy. It was certainly too cold for the females to be active, and we only saw 6 all day, with just one very short period of egg-laying observed.

However, males were in real abundance, although most of them were doing very little, other than sitting around in the hope of some sunshine and a passing Duchess. We passed the half-century mark quite early on, so I knew we were almost certain to break three figures. We did so in style, ending up with a massive count of 135, 129 of which were male. I've never seen so many Dukes in one place before. The lack of sunshine made this tally even more incredible, as many would probably have stayed in bed that day.

As I scaled the steepest of slopes at the very top of the reserve, I noticed that a significant proportion of the male butterflies here were freshly emerged, some with still slightly crinkled wings. This suggests that the species is yet to reach peak this season. As we moved over to the west flank, Robert spotted the first of four freshly emerged males. If, as it now appears to be doing, the Duke becomes firmly established here, the population is likely to grow considerably.

I was delighted that Robert, who has worked on Dukes for several decades, was able to share such an experience, particularly having travelled so far for the visit.

BC Duke of Burgundy, Heyshott Escarpment 17.5.16.jpg

trevor
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby trevor » Thu May 19, 2016 10:05 am

Brilliant news, Neil, brilliant!.
And Pearls doing well too.
Perhaps we need more topsy turvy Winter/ Spring's as well :lol: .

From my observations, so far this year, most species seem to be having a good time.
We'll soon see how the high Summer Butterflies have faired.

Best wishes,
Trevor.

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Pete Eeles
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Pete Eeles » Thu May 19, 2016 10:12 am

A great report from a lovely site :) What a superb conservation story.

Cheers,

- Pete

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bugboy
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby bugboy » Thu May 19, 2016 6:42 pm

After The State of UK's Butterflies 2015 review its great to see that's its not all doom and gloom :) !
Some addictions are good for the soul!

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Susie » Thu May 19, 2016 7:34 pm

Great news. :D

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Neil Hulme » Sun May 22, 2016 12:00 am

Thanks, all. This is a story which shows quite clearly what can be achieved when people are willing to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, and if unable to do so, contribute in other ways. There are plenty more examples too, but we need many more.

BWs, Neil

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Neil Hulme » Sun May 22, 2016 12:34 am

The Legacy Of Betty Murray

After delivering a butterfly identification and recording workshop for the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service (VRS), held at the National Park Authority's offices in Midhurst (20.5.16), a large group of us headed to Heyshott Escarpment, to put theory into practice. I was assisted by Jayne Chapman (BC Hants Reserves Officer) and BC/VRS stalwart Arthur Greenwood.

As always, Heyshott risked giving an entirely false impression of the plight facing some of our rarer and more localised species. If one were to live entirely within the confines of the Murray Downland Trust's flagship reserve, it would be easy to think that all was well with the natural world. At one point I became genuinely concerned that people might tread on some of the Duke of Burgundies scattered liberally over the ground. It came as a relief to occasionally find a more common species on which the group could hone its identification skills, but for much of the time it was “Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Burgundy”.

Having recently made an accurate count of 135 Dukes here (almost exclusively males - 129), and knowing the numbers usually encountered within each pit, it soon became obvious to me that I was looking at a larger population than I've ever experienced before. After our group had departed I returned to make a more accurate assessment, but time only allowed a rapid one-hour count over about one-third of the productive area.

Females were out in abundance today and I saw a total of five pairings without having to search very thoroughly. I also came across only my second ever example of the pale aberrant form leucodes (it looks rather like a very faded specimen but isn't!). It's been a very good season for aberrant Sussex Dukes, as I've had the pleasure of sharing two specimens of the rare ab. albomaculata (one including traits of the less remarkable ab. gracilens) with a few friends on another site.

Over some parts of the reserve which seldom support more than one or two Dukes, today there were many. At times the air was full of butterflies, with males chasing males, males chasing females, and males chasing Dingy Skippers and Green Hairstreaks. In several places I counted the number of individuals sitting within an imaginary one metre square, which reached eight in the most favoured hollow (5m, 3f), during a cool, dull spell. The last species I saw in comparable densities was the African Grass Blue in Furteventura. Even at 4.30 pm, males were descending on recently unfurled wings from the steep back-wall at the top of the reserve.

So how many Dukes were flying over Heyshott Escarpment today? I generally prefer not to estimate or extrapolate, but it is important to record, even imprecisely, the unprecedented recovery of the Duke of Burgundy, on a site where it had come so perilously close to extinction. Today there were at least 200 Dukes on these remarkable slopes.

Everyone who has played a part in the conservation work at this Murray Downland Trust reserve should feel very proud of what has been achieved here. I would like to think that the late Betty Murray http://murraydownlandtrust.blogspot.co. ... ation.html is looking down on proceedings with an approving eye.

BC Duke pair (1), Heyshott Escarpment 20.5.16.jpg
BC Duke pair (2), Heyshott Escarpment 20.5.16.jpg

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Goldie M
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Goldie M » Mon May 23, 2016 7:04 pm

Lovely shots Neil, when I was at Gait Barrow on Sunday we found only two Dukes, sad really and that's in spite of the area being cordoned off so as not to be walked on, the fact there was so many at the site you visited is amazing Goldie :D

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Neil Hulme » Fri May 27, 2016 10:25 pm

Hi Goldie,
I do hope your local Dukes recover. While the colony remains there is always hope, as this species is capable of making remarkable come-backs. Fingers crossed.
BWs, Neil

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Neil Hulme » Sat May 28, 2016 12:40 am

Tears Of Joy

On Monday (23 May) I headed to the Downs near Storrington, to survey some Duke of Burgundy colonies that are well off the beaten track and which have been doing rather well in recent years. They mark the current easterly limit of the species' range, this side of the cluster of Kent sites. I had a hunch as to where the next colony might spring up, if the slow movement of the Duke eastwards continued, so had asked a very capable recorder to take a look. Fortunately for me, he was tied up with Honey Buzzard surveys, so had not yet covered this ground.

As I traversed the almost featureless, west-facing slope I was delighted to see a Duke, then another, and another ..... I climbed to the top of the slope so that I could systematically count them as I descended this 'crease' in the face of the Downs. I very quickly realised that this new colony was large. As I stood above them, looking down on outstretched wings, I could see 18 Dukes from my position, and further below me I could see 4 or 5 clusters of males indulging in their vertical ascent combat flights.

I really don't know what came over me, but for no apparent reason I was suddenly weeping. These were tears of joy, and as I started to rationalise this atypical outburst, I realised that here was a watershed, at least in my eyes. After eleven years working intensively on the Duke of Burgundy, it just suddenly seemed appropriate to consider the species safe from being lost to Sussex. Many people and a number of organisations have been involved with this recovery work, but some are worthy of particular mention. The Murray Downland Trust and its volunteers, supplemented by a strong BC Sussex contingent, have been outstanding in revitalising the fortunes of the Duke in the west. In the east, around Storrington, national park ranger Simon Mockford has helped at every stage in the work performed since 2005. I can think of no better example of the benefits provided by working in close partnership with other individuals and groups. Along the way there has never been anything other than complete co-operation.

I composed myself and kept counting. I was surprised to find male Dukes lined up along the very base of the slope for a considerable distance to one side of the 'crease'. This new colony, about 0.33km further east than the last to be established, contained at least 74 individuals. Bearing in mind that I know this to have formed since 2013, I suspect the colony is still in the build phase. Looking at the almost identical, contiguous habitat available, there remains the potential for very significant growth here. This colony could become very large.

Realising that the species had clearly undergone a phase of dispersal, I headed east to look at other sites where suitable habitat awaits, much of it as the result of the 2012 - 2015 Nature Improvement Area project. I found a male and female Duke of Burgundy on a site 2.75km further east, which has not been occupied since the early 1990s. A follow-up visit revealed 5 Dukes, so I hope this registers an intention to stay.

On Thursday (26 May) I returned to Heyshott. What a difference a week makes! From the giddy heights of 200 the population had dwindled to give a count of just 56. Admittedly, females were not out and about, so the count was almost entirely composed of males; I am still yet to work out what triggers the en masse appearance/disappearance of the females, although time of day plays a part. But for male Dukes it's a case of "live fast, die young" and with a string of warm, sunny days recently they had burned out at a rate of knots. Under these conditions many will only have a week. Most of those remaining looked like a 55 year old man who has just run one-too-many laps of his local park. The Heyshott Dukes may already be in their tail-end, but the 2016 egg-lay over these slopes must be massive.

Yesterday (27 May) I returned to the Storrington Downs, fully prepared for the start of the tail-end. However, these colonies are significantly later than Heyshott and there had clearly been a good hatch on two of the three main habitat patches. The 'new' colony produced a slightly higher count of 88, but the two established colonies were bursting with freshly emerged males, providing figures of 82 and 51. This stretch of downland, supporting a total of at least 221 Duke of Burgundy, supported none just eight years ago. The Sussex Duke must now be in better shape than for several decades. One thing I do know; a coombe which today supports 82 Dukes did not contain this species in the early 1970s. When my father brought me here, through the iron gate at the base of the coombe which now appears to lead nowhere, to hunt for Green Hairstreaks, I wouldn't have overlooked the presence of the species I most longed to see.

BC Duchess, Storrington 23.5.16.jpg
BC The Duke of Heyshott 26.5.16.jpg
BC Duke of Burgundy male, Wiston 27.5.16.jpg

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Goldie M
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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Goldie M » Sat May 28, 2016 7:47 am

Hi! Neil, fantastic all those Duke's and lovely photos, I want to go to GB again and hope fully i'll see a few more. :) Goldie :D

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Jack Harrison » Sat May 28, 2016 8:35 am

With your enthusiasm - and success - with Dukes, have you considered changing your username to "Duke of Worthing"? :) I'm sure Mrs.H would be delighted to be known as the "Duchess of Worthing". And the youngsters too would become....? Better search http://www.burkespeerage.com/ for guidance

Jack

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Vince Massimo » Sat May 28, 2016 9:00 am

Congratulations Neil, a brilliant result :D
It will be very interesting to see how the species progresses next season.

Vince

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby MikeOxon » Sat May 28, 2016 10:16 am

How splendid to have all your efforts rewarded in this way :D

Mike

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Pete Eeles » Sat May 28, 2016 3:51 pm

What an amazing result - very well done! I've already raised a glass to you, the Murray Downland Trust + volunteers, BC Sussex volunteers and Simon. Time for another already :)

Cheers (hic!),

- Pete

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Colin Knight » Sat May 28, 2016 3:59 pm

It makes it all worthwhile hearing these wonderful reports of the Duke's success in so many places. I'll remember this on a cold mid-winters day when I think "do I really want to hike up Heyshott escarpment today."! Oh, and the bottle is chilling in the fridge ready to toast "The Dukes of Heyshott and friends".

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby essexbuzzard » Sat May 28, 2016 10:42 pm

Fantastic. So many conservation headlines are negative,but this great success shows what can be achieved when we are all pulling in the same direction. Many volunteers and organisations have played their part, but you have too, Neil,and without you this success would not have realised. So congratulations from me!

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Katrina » Sat May 28, 2016 11:24 pm

Really wonderful news Neil. Congratulations - you are a butterfly superhero!

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Susie » Sun May 29, 2016 7:57 am

Oh well done! Congratulations to you and everyone else who has taken part in turning around the Dukes' fortunes in Sussex. :D

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Re: Neil Hulme

Postby Goldie M » Sun May 29, 2016 4:36 pm

Well done Neil, I'm off tomorrow to check out our Dukes again fingers crossed I'll count more than two. Goldie :D


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