Wildlife of Blackcap

A view of the scarp at Blackcap

On a summers day the sweet scent of marjoram rises up from the turf as you walk across the chalk grassland and butterflies search for the perfect place to lay their eggs.

 Blackcap is a large and diverse site and found growing in its flower-rich chalk grassland are a variety of orchid species. Twelve species of orchids have been recorded at Blackcap including the common-spotted, bee, fly and musk orchids.

A Bee orchid
A Bee orchid flowering at Blackcap

The best place on the site to look for orchids is the steep sided bostal where the early purple orchids flower in vast numbers in the spring amongst the other uncommon and rare plants. The different habitats at Blackcap include woodland and scrub and these are very important as places of shelter and food for insects and birds with common whitethroat being found in almost every patch of scrub.

A common whitethroat
A common whitethroat

Grassland insects are plentiful with many rare species including lots of bees like the two-coloured mason bee which uses empty snail shells to nest in. Marbled white and meadow brown butterflies are abundant in high summer flying above the long grasses and feeding on the knapweed flowers.   

A Marbled white butterfly nectaring on a greater knapweed flower head
A marbled white butterfly nectaring on a greater knapweed flower head

Ashcombe Bottom is a big block of woodland and home to creatures including the dormouse and woodland butterflies such as silver-washed fritillary, white admiral and purple hairstreak. Large open grown oak and ash trees are now surrounded by younger trees and areas of hawthorn scrub which are a fantastic nectar source for insects especially ones that use dead wood for part of their life cycles.

Towering oak tree
Towering oak tree

On top of the hill there are large areas of arable reversion, fields that were ploughed in the 20th century and have been turned back into grassland. These are becoming good areas for grassland plants and animals and will need a bit of help along the way from the Sussex Red cattle and sheep grazing the hill.