RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Chance to spot rare fritillary butterfly

Heyshott nature reserve is open to the public this Saturday, May 19, to see one of the rarest of all butterflies, the Duke of Burgundy fritillary.

Please do come along and enjoy the wild orchids, birds and butterflies. You can park somewhere in the village of Heyshott where there is a very nice public house, The Unicorn.

Heyshott Scarp is the official name of this reserve, because it covers most of those hanging hills on the scarp slope of the South Downs which you see as you drive between Midhurst and Chichester.

This land is managed by the Murray Downland Trust. They have been hard at work all winter clearing invading scrub and bushes so that downland flowers and butterflies will have more light. A lot of the West Sussex Downs have become woodland, which has destroyed the rare downland habitat of turf with its hundreds of different flowers and insects.

There was an old lime kiln at Heyshott 100 years ago, and quarries to feed chalk into the flames. All these old hollows and hillocks, looking much as the quarry at Amberley looks today, became just the place which wild orchids wanted. These extraordinary flowers grow best on fresh chalk.

Part of the MDT work seems revolutionary when you see a small digger there cutting the turf down to chalk bedrock. But that is best for bee orchids.

There is a rarity there too because Heyshott Scarp is one of only a dozen West Sussex sites where the musk orchid grows. Actually this tiny orchid smells of honey. It grows on the shortest thinnest turf and is scarcely visible with its small golden-green flowers. In my picture are examples of spotted orchids which are much more showy and common at Heyshott.

These hills – green mountains in the words of Gilbert White two centuries ago – look out onto the home of Lord Tennyson when the Poet Laureate lived at Blackdown near Haslemere. They were also known to Frank Bridge, the composer who taught Benjamin Britten, and to Edward Thomas, the first world war poet whose hills at Steep you can see miles away from Heyshott.

As for butterflies about which Thomas also wrote in one of his rare books, Heyshott has 30 species, especially the downland species of common blue, small copper, grizzled skipper and all the grass-feeding family of browns such as hedge brown and speckled wood.

Most of the butterfly species come later in the season, but by then the orchids and downland flowers are fading so a May open day is a compromise.

You will get the best of the birdsong now as well with blackcap warblers and possibly nightingales giving their best performances. Hopefully you will hear cuckoos which stop singing at the middle of June.

MDT wants volunteer workers and members to help with the upkeep of this priceless reserve and for that the co-ordinator is John Murray himself on j_g_murray@talktalk.net.

Guided walks begin at 10am, 2pm and 3pm.