Butterflies on Box Hill, by Frances Jones

After weeks of hot, dry weather, the River Mole meandering gently through its wooded valley looked particularly welcoming. Dogs were splashing about in the water and willows dipped and danced in the breeze at the water’s edge. We took the Stepping Stones across the river and headed up the path through the woods. Meadow Browns and Large Whites were busying themselves on either side and a Speckled Wood sat on a tree root in the shade while walkers passed by. The steep gradient meant we soon had views over Dorking and the surrounding area – I tried to focus on that and not the litter as we reached the viewpoint.

Keen to explore further, we doubled back and found ourselves at the National Trust visitor centre, a ubiquitous complex complete with information posters, Membership stand and union jack bunting strung around its eaves. We turned left down the hill from the Centre and passed Box Hill Fort, a former military fort long disused. The path meandered down the hill in a gulley shaded by trees,  and suddenly we found ourselves on the edge of a hillside with views of woodland in every direction. We scrambled up the bank to look more closely at the meadow flowers.

Seen at a distance, the hillside was a carpet of light brown after weeks without rain, but when we stopped we could see the purple and blues of the flowers attracting the butterflies and bees. Six-spot burnet moths were fluttering around, and bees sat atop Common Knapweed. Field scabious and other purple flowers were providing a haven for the insects and there were lots of them, buzzing industriously with only the chirping of grasshoppers for competition. We stopped to observe a Six-spot burnet moth which was perched on a Common Knapweed, its antennae moving gently back and forth and with little intention of moving.  Close by, another was hanging upside down on a blade of grass, looking for all the world like a dozing sloth. Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites fluttered around us and, having paused to look at the view, I was thrilled to see an Adonis Blue flutter and perch on the ground in front of our feet. This butterfly had chosen the wrong place to stop, however, as the approaching tread of walkers saw him take flight.

A few seconds later, and I noticed a tiny brown butterfly close to the ground. It resembled a Skipper, but, not being able to observe it closely, I couldn’t be sure which one it was. We took the path through the woods which, after a short stretch along the road, led back to the river. In front of us was a steep wooded cliff face, and we realised we had been on the other side in the meadow a short while before. In the riverside meadow Small Whites fluttered across our path and, once again, the cool water was refreshing, even to look at. The green of the trees in the surrounding woodland seemed to defy the current drought, but the cracked ground was a clear sign that rain was needed. This was a lovely walk and it was wonderful to see that the populations of certain butterfly species appeared to be in good shape in this part of the country.

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All photos courtesy of Stephanie Bull

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