Paradise on the Isle of Wight butterfly walk
Butterfly spotting does not get any better than this; walking along the chalk ridge that runs through the middle of the Isle of Wight you will find an abundance of flora and insect life, pure escapism into the real world.
A great day out in the countryside
This is a great site for Adonis blue and chalkhill blue butterflies, with large populations of small blue, dark-green fritillary and Glanville fritillary. Brown argus and grayling can also be spotted. In late summer you can often catch a glimpse of the clouded yellow.
Compton Chine/Afton Down car park, grid ref: SZ367854
Start in Afton Down car park (National Trust) by the main road. This is usually great for blues.
Cross the road from the car park, turn right until you see a diagonal rising chalky path on the right hand side, signed bridleway F34. Take this path through a golf course to reach the crossing track – the Tennyson Trail.
The chalk ridge stretching from Afton Down to Brook Down is simply the best place for butterfly spotting! Butterflies do well here because of the extent and quality of valuable unimproved habitats. Over 30 species have been recorded - attracted by the profusion of chalkland flowers. Compton Down is one of Britain’s best chalk-grassland butterfly sites, with large populations of scarce chalkland species. Look out for them on the south facing slopes, in patches of gorse and in quarry and scree areas
Head eastwards along the track along the crest of the downs, eventually descending steeply. Dark-green fritillary abounds amongst the cut gorse areas in July.
Since the 1940s, Brook Down and Compton Down have been grazed by a free-ranging herd of Galloway cattle, run by the Trust’s tenant farmers at Compton Farm. The cattle are well adapted to the challenging environment. They graze the slopes perfectly for the flowers and insects, producing a patchwork of gorse, scrub and open grassland. Gorse is also controlled by cutting and burning.
20yds (20m) after a “No entry for vehicles” sign and just after a track joining from right, turn sharp left and round up into Brook Down quarry to explore the quarry slopes and gorse glades.
Look out for grizzled skipper in May and June. Watch out too for the brown argus, a member of the blue family and hard to distinguish from female common blues. Grayling love to sun themselves on patches of bare chalky soil and angle their wings so they don’t cast a shadow, giving away their camouflage. Ringlets can also be found among mixed scrub, particularly on the north facing slopes.
Head back to cross the main track and bear left just before the “No entry for vehicles” sign. Follow this grassy track upwards. Look out for Adonis blues. At the crest of the rise by cattle pens, bear to the right of two gateposts marking the track leading down the hill.
Along two miles of the south facing slope there is an almost continuous colony of the Adonis blue butterfly in late spring and early summer. In windy weather look out for them around the more sheltered quarry bottoms. The males have iridescent turquoise blue colouring. The closely related chalkhill blue is also abundant across the whole slope in July. The tiny charcoal and silver small blue is found around the quarries at Brook and Afton Down in May. There are also common blue and holly blue.
Follow one of the lower cattle tracks/teracettes parallel to the track. This is open downland with no well defined footpaths. Aim just to the right of a line of gorse bushes at the base of the hill in the distance, or the main road beyond. Follow this low level and fairly flat tracks as far as Compton Combe, always keeping on the downs side of the fence line. Clouded yellows are often seen here and on the upper slopes of the camp-site field on the other side of the fence.
Blue butterflies are usually best found in and around Compton Combe, above Compton Farm.
This is the best known site for the Glanville fritillary. This rare butterfly is found in good numbers during boom years, straying onto the downs from its coastal strongholds, forming small colonies which last for a few years. The flight season varies from mid to late May in good springs, to early to mid June in late springs. They can also be found in mown or burnt gorse on Brook Down.
You need to climb up the combe and leave at the top right, about three quarters of the hill height. Find and take a level track through gorse to a five bar gate in the fence into an un-grazed section (unfortunately there is no gate lower down). Continue straight on along the now well-defined grassy track, which descends eventually to the car park. This area is best for graylings, green hairstreaks and small blues.
Hundreds of fast-flying dark green fritillaries, a large orange butterfly with green patches on the under-wing, can be found patrolling the short gorse areas on the top of the down. Harder to spot is the green hairstreak which always settles with its wings closed, well camouflaged in the scrub. Five species of skipper can be found, together with many representatives of the brown butterfly family. The clouded yellow is a sporadic visitor, favouring short turf habitats including downland slopes.
During the Glanville fritillary season (June to early August), take a detour to Compton Chine via the road verge or the coast path from the car park. Go down the wooden steps. Enjoy! It’s a great bathing beach.
Compton Chine/Afton Down car park, grid ref: SZ367854
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