Marsh Fritillary Day at North Hill

White flowered Heath-spotted orchidMy first mutterings of the day were 'Wretched weather!'

Lovely days before and after but that was not to be on the Saturday we met at North Hill village hall to hear about one of our moorland butterflies, the Marsh Fritillary.

After coffee & cake we settled down to a prsentation from Simon Phelps, conservation officer for the 'All the Moor Butterflies' project run by Butterfly Conservation. The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and others, began in January 2017 and runs for three years. The aim is to survey and investigate management of land on the three south-west moors ~ Exmoor, Dartmoor & Bodmin, to try to find out how the four species of butterfly plus one moth are faring. Why are they declining in some areas, yet flourishing in others?

Bodmin Moor was nearly overlooked until early surveys showed that many of our mires are excellent habitats and where scrub is encroaching upon some of the drier hillsides, this could be remedied by volunteers over winter. Cornwall Butterfly Conservation has a loyal and hard working band of volunteers, managed by Jo Poland and already their work is having an effect.

The species are the Pearl-bordered Fritillary ~ likes warm, drier slopes; the Heath Fritillary ~ only present on Exmoor & the Tamar Valley; the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary which is more common (but still in decline) and prefers wetter areas and the Marsh Fritillary which has been discovered in many new areas on Bodmin moor and is the rather special butterfly we have in the marshy areas along the Withybrook. The moth is the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk Moth! Last recorded on Bodmin moor in 2008 and could still be around but not easy to spot. (Training course at the end of July will tell me more...)

Simon then concentrated on the Marsh Fritillary explaining its life cycle and the different surveys such as looking for eggs, larval webs and of course the adult butterflies. Management is tricky to get right ~ too little and scrub and molinia takes over crowding out the Devil's Bit Scabious which is the food plant for the caterpillars; too much grazing will destroy too many caterpillars.

The one and only Marsh Fritillary

Despite the drizzle we all agreed to head up to the moor taking our lunches with us and sharing cars. Because we were just a small group we had a look at the small marsh below Hawks Tor first, walking carefully to try to avoid flattening the display of Heath-spotted Orchids and small frogs.We quickly learnt to recognise the Devil's Bit and many leaves were turned over in the hope of finding the eggs but then a call went out and Keith from the village was the person who found the one and only Marsh Fritillary butterfly of the day!  And because of the weather, it stayed still and was much photographed.

As always, other things of interest were found some of which are listed below.

After lunch, eight decided to tackle the longer walk over to the Withybrook on the other side of Kilmar. The drizzle had stopped, the clouds were lifting a little and a very small patch of blue sky and two seconds of sunlight encouraged us but was not sufficient to persuade the butterflies to fly.

The marshy area up towards Wardbrook is extensive with some very wet areas but we stayed on the drier parts which were rich in Devil's Bit and will be a display of flower by the end of July. Simon is keen to return in the late summer to look for the larval webs of caterpillars so some of us will go back. And next year, we will try harder to monitor numbers of butterflies in the small marsh on a more regular basis.

Keeled Skimmer  Orb spider?  Burnet moth cocoon  Beetle Plateumaris discolor   

On the way back, a cuckoo was seen in some gorse and we suspect that it was a female looking for a suitable nest to lay her egg in. 

Thank you very much to Simon for his time and efforts ~ we all learned a lot more and it was good to see it all in perspective, including the other moors. And thank you to the 'All the Moor Butterflies' project for providing Simon and the rent for the hall.

Across Withybrook marsh

Simon brought some brochures on the Fritillary Butterflies of Dartmoor which are very informative and applicable to much of Bodmin moor. I have spares if anyone would like to borrow one.

Species Seen:
Skylark, Willow Warbler, Cuckoo and Reed Bunting. Meadow Brown, Marsh Fritillary, Small Heath, Small Copper, Small Pearl-Bordered wing. Silver Y moth and Burnet moth cocoon. Keeled Skimmer, metallic beetle: Plateumaris discolor.