Summer wildlife on the South Downs

A few round-headed rampion wildflowers in the landscape

Spring has ebbed to usher in the long hot days of summer. From dawn to dusk the air around the valley is filled by an unending euphony of birdsong. The lush green fields are almost blotted out in places due to the numbers of coloured flowers plying their trade to attract the services of their pollinators.  In every field, hedgerow, and woodland there is much activity and plenty to see and enjoy.

The hard work of many of our birds has paid off, with a rich bounty of fledglings taking the plunge and leaving their nests.  Jackdaw chicks scream to be fed from the chimneys of the farm buildings. Many birds, including the swallows often seen resting on the telephone lines criss-crossing the yards, will be having their second or even third brood.   Search on the ground for pieces of empty eggs shells.  Adult birds will often take fragments of shells from the nest and scatter the pieces elsewhere to keep predators away from the nesting sites.

Swallow in flight
Swallow in flight

Summer also sees the emergence of a fresh brood of insects. Butterflies skipping across wildflower meadows in the sunshine are always a welcome sight, and in the summer numbers simply explode. ‘Blue’ butterflies favour chalk grassland, and the Adonis blue in particular has a magnificently bright appearance and will certainly catch the eye. The attractive marbled white favours slightly longer downland grasses and is unmistakable with its black and white wing pattern. Another special butterfly to look out for is the tiny metallic green hairstreak which can often be spotted amongst the hawthorn bushes.

In the summer the area is a haven for butterflies such as the marbled white
A black and white checkered marbled white butterfly rests on a flowerhead

Amongst summer meadow flowers flourishing on the chalky soil is the beautifully delicate looking round-headed rampion.  This gorgeous purple bloom is the much-loved county flower of Sussex, and is locally known as the ‘pride of Sussex’. Chalk downland is a great place to experience the wonder many species of orchids including the frog orchid, pyramidal orchid, bee orchid, and many others. If you have an interest in orchids keep a look out for some of our orchid walks which are held throughout the summer and led by our knowledgeable ranger staff and specialist experts.  Eyebright is a delicate if insignificant looking flower often found on the South Downs.  However, close examination reveals a complex internal patterning which closely resembles an iris of the eye.  It was named according to something known as the 'doctrine of the signatures'.  This stated that herbs resembling various parts of the body could be used by herbalists to treat ailments of those body parts.

A mass of eyebright flowers on chalk grassland
A mass of eyebright flowers on chalk grassland

The warmer months have led to increased levels of bat activity, and these flying mammals ensure that even the summer nights are filled with wildlife wonders to experience. Spurred on by the emerging flocks of moths there are many species of bats to glimpse in the moonlit skies.  They can be spotted circling a single tree, buzzing across the meadows, or hawking for prey over the dew ponds about the downs. Keep an eye along the hedgerows as most bats use these to ‘commute’ from their roost to the hunting group.

Noctule bat
Notcule bat

Despite their struggle in other parts of the countryside, bee numbers are increasing here on the South Downs.  This is due in part to the way we manage our countryside, with the unimproved grasslands and lush flower-rich and pesticide free pastures offering the ideal habitat to support them. So keep an eye out for some of the many species diligently working around the colourful grassland blooms.

a bee feasts on a patch of clover flowers
Close up of a bee feasting on a patch of clover flowers

With so much going on in our countryside what better time is there to get out and explore the wildlife around Newtimber Hill, Saddlescombe Farm and Devil’s Dyke?