Countrycall . . . . . .
There are not many sites in the north- east of England where 14 or more species of butterfly can be recorded in one short visit but Bowes Valley Nature Reserve at Kibblesworth, south of Gateshead on the Durham/ Northumberland border, is one such amazing location. Situated on a former clay pit and brickworks site, much money and time has been spent in reclaiming the 100 acres and planting a variety of wild flowers, shrubs and trees to encourage the inhabitation of birds and insects. Waterfilled excavations have also been constructed to encourage freshwater marine and aquatic insect and bird species.
Following the closure of Kibblesworth brickworks and adjacent clay pits and a subsequent period as a landfill site, waste management firm Sita U. K., with the aid of a grant from the Forestry Commission and representatives from the Great North Forest and Gateshead Council, have reclaimed the site and returned it to nature. Since the closure of the landfill site in
2001 landscaping and redevelopment work has resulted in the regeneration of several meadows with shrub and wild flower plantings together with hardcore pathways leading visitors around the various meadows and ponds. In just over a decade the reserve has quickly become a haven for many species of birds and insects and, in particular, butterflies.
Whilst some of Britain’s indigenous butterflies are decreasing in numbers this is not the case in the northeast. Species not found in the counties of Durham and Northumberland a few decades ago have now established themselves and indeed continue to spread northwards.
At Kibblesworth, the common and always welcome white pierid butterflies are widespread as is the delightful orange tip ( Anthocaris caramines), the male of which is characterised by its bright orange forewing tips. Three of the skipper butterflies are found there with the
small skipper ( Thymelicus sylvestris) in particular a recent colonist and one of the most common butterflies to be seen now. The browns are well represented with the meadow brown ( Maniola jurtina), small heath ( Coenonympha pamphilus) and three other recent species that have moved northwards and are now commonly seen in several locations that formerly did not support these butterflies. A stroll along the pathways of the reserve will reward the naturalist with views of the ringlet ( Aphantopus hyperantus), the sun- loving wall brown ( Lasiommata megera) and the more shadeinhabiting speckled wood ( Parage aegeria), commonly seen flitting along woodland pathways and stopping at sunlight- bathed leaves with wings spread open to absorb the sun’s rays. One unusual resident is the grayling ( Hipparchia semele), another of the brown butterflies whose characteristic trait is to rest on the ground with wings folded and when
disturbed expose the eye spots on the underside of the forewings to ward off predators. Historically, in the north- east this butterfly was locally confined to the coastal regions of Northumberland and parts of Durham but has set out to move a considerable distance inland to colonise the Kibblesworth site.
The widespread beautiful common blue ( Polyommatus icarus) and equally beautiful small copper ( Lycaena phlaeas) can be seen, whilst the ample provision of nectarfilled thistles, knapweed and teasel ensure a welcome food source for the nymphalid species, peacock ( Aglais io) red admiral, ( Vanessa atalanta) comma ( Polygonia c- album) and small tortoiseshell ( Aglais urticae) and in good migratory years the painted lady ( Vanessa cardui). One more pretty but elusive butterfly found at a few locations on the reserve is the purple hairstreak ( Favonious quercus). Patience will often reward the observer with a sight of these butterflies which breed on mature oak trees. In suitable conditions they can be seen flitting out from the sides of the tree where, after a short flight, they will disappear again into the foliage to feed on
the secretions of
aphids that dwell on the oak leaves.
Despite the site being situated within the boundaries of a heavily built- up region, the variety of flora has been rapidly colonised by butterfly species whilst the ponds attract several species of dragonfly which can be seen in abundance during their flight periods.
Despite the many other havens for butterflies, it is particularly pleasing that in less than 20 years the recently created wildlife haven at Bowes Valley Nature Reserve has quickly become one of the leading sites in the north- east from which to see such a variety of butterfly species. This is ample proof of what can be achieved with appropriate land management and site restoration.
Of the three species of “skippers” resident in the north- east the small skipper is one that has dramatically expanded its range northwards.
The painted lady.
A grayling in typical pose near the large pond. A red admiral.
During a visit in September 2014 this beautiful male common blue was unusually the only such member of the species noted on that day.
The wall brown.
The speckled wood is a recent colonist in the north- east of England.
An orange tip. Left:
The small tortoiseshell is a common species to be seen at Kibblesworth.
The large and spectacular peacock is now one of the north- east’s most common butterflies.