Springtime at Birling Gap

Common Blue Butterfly

Spring time at Birling Gap sees the grassland start to wake up from its winter slumber. The flowers begin to emerge and the sight, sounds and smell of the wildlife can be enjoyed as everything begins to emerge to welcome the new year.

There was once a garden on Belle Tout and the early flowering bulbs of the snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells provide a relief of colour through the browns and washed out green of winter.   Look out for the spotted leaves of early purple orchids, as in late spring these can flower spectacularly with thousands of purple blooms dotting the hillside of Belle Tout. Yellow cowslips and the blue hues of violets mark the start of the awakening  downland colours.

Snowdrops
Snowdrops

As the season moves towards summer, white or purple common milkwort and the yellows of bulbous buttercup and birds-foot trefoil add their colours to the scene and provide nectar for a variety of insects and inspiration to the visitor.  On cloudy and misty days the scrub can be heaving with birds, newly arrived from across the sea after a long winter journey crossing continents. Using the scrub as cover the birds feed up for their journey ahead to warmer climes, although some will also stay for the summer. Look out for the characteristic white flash of rump and black tail of the wheatear as it feeds on the ground, and listen for the ‘jangling key’ song of the corn bunting can be heard as they sit atop fence lines and posts.  

Birds Foot Trefoil
Birds Foot Trefoil flowers

After spending the winter in flocks many of the birds such as linnets and stonechats soon start singing and setting up territories as the breeding season begins. Stonechats are easy to see perched atop plants, they can make a distinctive sound like two stones being struck together.

Female stonechat perched on vegetation
Female stonechat perched on vegetation

Busy sites such as Birling Gap are great places to go wildlife spotting throughout the year. Our rangers can oftne be spotted out and about carrying out the vital conservation work that is needed to make she we maintain the sheer diversity of plants and animals that make our countryside so special.  Every penny you spend in the cafe and shop goes towards helping us look after our much loved South Downs countryside sites.

Sea birds start to move from wintering grounds further south heading northwards along the coast, so flocks of Brent geese can be seen flying low across the sea.  Fulmars nest on the sheer cliff faces and can be recognised from below by their very straight, stiff wings.  They have peculiarly shaped bills that they use to spit a foul-smelling spray over anyone or anything that may approach their nests.  Easterly winds in the spring sometimes bring offshore birds such as gannets and terns closer giving us the chance to enjoy them. 

A gannet in flight
A gannet in flight
 

As the days warm up butterflies start to emerge.  Butterflies that hibernate as adults are the first obvious ones, and these include brimstones, comma, peacock and small tortoiseshell. After emerging these brightly coloured creatures spend most of their time chasing mates and attempting to breed.  The tiny brown and white grizzled skipper loves to bask on paths in the sun, and can be seen any time from April onwards. 

Peacock Butterfly
Peacock Butterfly

There are many ways you can help us look after the wildlife here.  By becoming a National Trust member at Birling Gap, buying a coffee in the café, or picking up souvenirs from the shop, you are directly helping us look after our South Downs sites.  Or you could become a volunteer and join our team.  We were founded to look after special places for everyone and are very grateful for the support we get from our visitors, volunteers and members, as we couldn’t do it without you.