Bunny’s Hill

Violets

Earlier this month, I went to visit Bunny’s Hill, near Cardinham and Bodmin, with Cornwall Butterfly Conservation (CBC). A beautiful spot in so many ways, our main reason for being there was to see if we could find Pearl-bordered Fritillaries (Boloria euphrosyne).

English: The Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Bolori...
The Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) (Photo: Wikipedia)

Sadly, we didn’t: the unseasonal cold weather and blustery conditions had presumably delayed the butterflies’ emergence.

It made me think back to 2012 when we made the same trip on the same weekend (and my first ever field trip with my new friends in CBC).  Here’s what I wrote in my notebook from that earlier trip:

We were lucky to see a few Pearl-bordered Fritillaries on this, the first warm day of May (and the first warm day since March!). The males fly a little before females and, newly-emerged, they were pristine and beautiful. We found them feeding on nectar from bugle flowers – maybe they like blue, as Common Violet is the only foodplant of their caterpillars. They are also choosy, as Heath Violets won’t do at all..! The silver spots on the underside of their wings were gorgeous: photographs cannot do justice to the iridescence.

Bunny's Hill, Cardinham (photo: Amanda Scott)
Bunny’s Hill, Cardinham (Photo: Amanda Scott)

I obviously enjoyed the day! I also very much enjoyed Bunny’s Hill this year, even without the butterflies, but it just goes to show what a difference a year can make for wildlife. Natural fluctuations in the weather can obviously affect the timing of emergence and cause short-term population setbacks, and wildlife has survived that for thousands of years. However, these natural variations are increasingly becoming the ‘last straw’ when they overlie habitat loss, pressure from human populations and agricultural intensification (link here to Butterfly Conservation’s recent report on the state of our British butterflies, and here to the equivalent report for moths).

Pearl-bordered Fritillary at Bunny's Hill (Photo: Lee Slaughter)
Pearl-bordered Fritillary at Bunny’s Hill (Photo: Lee Slaughter)

The Pearl-bordered Fritillary is a rare species nationally, and found on only a handful of sites in Cornwall. It is a butterfly traditionally associated with coppiced woodland, of which there is now precious little left, and sites like Bunny’s Hill, with its open bracken-y habitats, perhaps provide an alternative. The good news is that much habitat management work has and continues to be undertaken at Bunny’s Hill by CBC in conjunction with the owners, and this has helped maintain the Pearl-bordered Fritillary population since it was discovered there for the first time by CBC co-founder, Lee Slaughter, on 14th May 1998 – an exciting day he will never forget!

English: Brimstone butterfly The Brimstone Gon...
Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) perfectly matches a leaf when at rest or feeding. The upper surface of the wings is yellow and it is thought that this was the original butter-coloured fly, or butterfly (Photo and caption text: Wikipedia).

Bunny’s Hill is a delightful spot to visit. The Gorse was in full and glorious, coconut-scented bloom, and the views across the landscape were inspiring, even on a windy and chilly day. Looking at my species lists for the two visits, in 2012 and 2013, there is an amazing amount of wildlife to see if you pay attention. Last year, as well as the Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, we also spotted Brimstones, a Green-veined White and a Green Longhorn moth. This year we saw my favourite caterpillar – the Drinker Moth.

Cornish Bladderseed leaves (Photo: Amanda Scott)
Cornish Bladderseed leaves (Photo: Amanda Scott)

What else can you see? Well, you might find the wonderful Bloody-nosed Beetle, which exudes a foul-tasting red liquid from its mouth when threatened. We found nuts nibbled by Dormice and Wood Mice, and this year we even fleetingly saw a Badger, unusually out in the daytime. Plants include  Tormentil, Wood Anemone, Wood Sage, Lousewort and Betony (the last of which, together with the Violets and Bluebells also found there, is an ancient woodland indicator species). We also saw Adder’s-tongue Fern, an indicator of ancient meadow. And, of course, Cornish Bladderseed. This rare umbellifer (a plant of the Carrot family) is only found on a small number of locations in Cornwall and Buckinghamshire, but there is plenty at Bunny’s Hill. It flowers later in the year, in July and August, but its leaves have a delicate beauty underfoot.

Some of Bunny’s Hill is accessible to the public via footpaths. If you would like to visit and experience it for yourself, the grid reference is SX117675: at the fork in the road, turn left, with further parking 50 yards up the track.

Wood anemone

A walk through Cardinham Woods, Bodmin

Through the trees

I was on my way to somewhere else with a couple of hours to kill, and the closest place on the map was Cardinham Woods, about three miles north-east of Bodmin. This was not a spot that had been on my list to visit in Cornwall – a plantation, lots of created trails – it didn’t seem, on paper, to have enough wildlife interest for me to make it a priority for a visit. How wrong was I, and how glad that I made the effort to go there!

Mixed woodland in Cardinham Woods (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Mixed woodland in Cardinham Woods (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

For one thing, while this Forestry Commission-owned wood does include plenty of plantation trees (mainly the stately larch), there is a great deal of mixed woodland and understorey vegetation there as well. I spotted hazel, beech, ivy, oak, honeysuckle and bramble.   Birdsong was constant, and a Jay, a Blackbird and a Thrush all came down from the trees to see me, while woodland plants were growing within a camera-lens distance of the path – the fresh green leaves and pretty white flowers of Wood Sorrel, Bluebells (not as advanced here as further west in Cornwall), the delicate winged flowers of Yellow Archangel, young Bilberry, Common Dog-violets, Foxgloves still green with the promise of their luscious flowers not yet delivered…all this, and ferns and moss and lichens in abundance…

Bluebells in the woods (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Bluebells in the woods (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

The Woods here are very popular with cyclists, walkers and horseriders alike, and the paths were easy to follow and clearly signed. There are four walking routes: I took the Callywith Wood Walk, which circles an area where a long-term dormouse conservation project is being undertaken.

Fresh young Bilberry (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Fresh young Bilberry (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

After a few minutes, I largely had the path to myself, although there were occasional flashes of cyclists whizzing by on a parallel trail. The way is fairly gentle, but climbs through the trees, both the rows of larch and the more untidy mixed woodland that sits alongside it. A small but busy river winds  alongside the track for a while, chattering and splashing along.

Yellow Archangel (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Yellow Archangel (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Most of my childhood holidays were spent in Scotland, and I remember many a walk through mountainside conifer plantations. They are often scorned for their regimented rows and lack of variety in structure and height, but I thought then, and I was reminded in Cardinham, that they do have their own strange, wistful charm. The wind has a quality of constantly rushing though the trees as if it is come from some wilder time and place and has found itself lost in this far-off wood.

The view from the woods (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
The view from the woods (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

And every so often a gap through the tall upright trunks opens to a glimpse of a wider horizon. Cardinham was no different, with its views towards Bodmin and down the Cardinham Valley.

There are many different ways for all sorts of folk to enjoy a day out at Cardinham Woods. There are miles of walking and cycling trails, bridle paths, a picnic area, a play area for the children, and a great place to eat – the Woods Cafe – where I had a welcome cup of coffee and large slice of home-made carrot cake at the end of my tramp through the woods. It’s fairly easy to find – from the A30 turn east down the A38 towards Liskeard and from a few hundred metres further on follow the brown tourist signs to the woods. There is also a large and relatively inexpensive car park.

As I left, the car park was busier than when I arrived, but beyond the laughing children, happy dogs and chattering people, I could still hear the sound of the birdsong, and beyond that again, the same wind, still searching through the trees.

DSCF1341_edited-1