Posted by: lensweb | August 20, 2018

Have You Ever Thought About Being a Butterfly Recorder?

Aug 13 Monday Butterfly Reserve at Aston on Trent Brickyards

LENS Meet 7pm at Aston Brickyard Plantation. When coming from Derby Road, Thulston, it is on the right after the Aston on Trent sign DE72 2AY.  Leader Ken Orpe Butterfly Conservation.

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Have you ever thought about being a butterfly recorder?  This is how our evening with Ken Orpe started. Ken is the Derbyshire Butterfly Recorder for Butterfly Conservation. He co-ordinates 100 different butterfly transects and keeps everyone up to date with his weekly newsletter.

One of the transects Ken walks is at Aston on Trent Brickyard Plantation a 5a area of secondary woodland plus mixed woodland planting and a wildflower meadow on the site of a former clay pit and brick works, owned by Derbyshire County Council. Since 2012 it has been managed by FAB, a great acronym for the Friends of Aston Brickyard Plantation!

At the entrance is an old office (very similar to a railway goods office) two wych elms here are where White Letter Hairstreak butterflies can be seen dog fighting in June.

Ken proudly showed us a butterfly bank which had been constructed from sub-soil with a topping of limestone chippings donated by Longcliffe Quarries. It sits at the north end of the meadow and  has been planted with cinquefoil for dingy skippers and bird’s foot trefoil for Common Blue and Brown Argus butterflies. A certain amount of ragwort is allowed to flower.

The meadow is managed in two halves, grassland which is cut in alternate halves each September by a reciprocating mower, cuttings are raked off. The other half is a wildflower meadow where knapweed and field bindweed provide a nectar source for many insects. This meadow is kept clear of bramble and encroaching scrub. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have marked sites for annual quadrat analysis of the species. There are two survey tiles at the edge, which we lifted, to see field vole nests beneath (last time there was a common shrew). Two wonderful carved benches have been donated by a FAB member. Photo posts allow cameras to take a shot from the same position through the seasons.

At the woodland-meadow edge, alder buckthorn has been planted for brimstone butterflies, the caterpillars are so well camouflaged they don’t need to hide and can be seen feeding on the top of the leaves. Specimen trees of Ulmus -Sapporo Gold have also been planted. Arising from a chance crossing of the Japanese and Siberian Elm this has been widely planted due to it’s resistance to Dutch Elm Disease, but does it support White-Letter Hairstreak Butterflies?  It is now known that white hairstreak caterpillars need elm flowers to eat when young, later moving onto the leaves so an elm tree has to be at least 5 years old before it can be colonised. Watch this space!


No cut wood is wasted so the footpath edge is well defined by staked sticks and brash guiding us to the South Pole, where a circle of rustic seats are used for school visits. Autumn seems to have come early this year evidenced by red berries on the Cuckoopint. We were a bit jealous of FAB’s magnificent Bug Hotel and determined to have one at Forbes Hole.

Rides have been created in the adjacent wood which is managed by the Archery Club. There are remains of old plaster pits in this wood and a wharf, where formerly gypsum was quarried and loaded into wagons, to be taken by tramway to the Trent and Mersey canal. The tramway closed about 1925.

We puffed up towards a beaming sun at the top of Aston Hill where we enjoyed a panoramic view across farmland towards Derby and further to Minninglow, Crich Stand and Alport Heights. Ken explained how he had been responsible for an extra curve of the A50 which he had fortunately been able to have re-routed to save the woodland.


There is a lot of sycamore in the woodland but also some mature oak trees, Ken is hopeful of attracting Purple Hairstreak butterflies. Wending our way to the pond it seemed, out of place. Ken explained that after the brickyards closed in the 1950s, the site had been used as a waste tip. This had been sealed before amenity woodland was planted. Derbyshire County Council are wary of penetrating the impermeable layer so FAB been allowed to create a pond at the more obvious damp hollow at the edge of the meadow. Instead, trees had been cleared and the pond dug in a shady area of woodland.

So here we were back in the car park and Ken was still recruiting. Soon he will feature on the TV programme ‘Countryfile’ to tell the tale of the return of the Wall Butterfly to Derbyshire, a butterfly many people have not seen this century. Ken says ‘For once the North has got one over the South, Derbyshire has got them and we’re keeping them to ourselves!’

Marion Bryce 20 August 2018


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