Stockbridge Down is one of my favourite local nature reserves, with amazing views of farmland and villages below, and souring red kites or buzzards above.
The site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), managed by The National Trust as a grassland site for rare wildflowers, butterflies, and moths. These include the very charismatic and rare Silver spotted skipper butterfly. On a really hot day you often see the occasional migrant clouded yellow butterfly zip past very fast. The site also has our nearest sustainable colony of chalk-hill blue butterflies that have been long missing from Andover, despite a local pub bearing this name. At the top of the site are the remains of Woolbury Hill Fort. The ditches and trenches create great refuges for wildflowers, and providing ample opportunities to see the surprisingly colourful and powerful dark-green fritillary butterfly.
Gin-lovers will be pleased to see the occasional juniper bush, which is of high conservation priority. Colourful and unusual flowers include clustered bellflower and round-headed rampion, an increasing hard-to-see plant, and viper’s bugloss, a plant that no bee can refuse to nectar on. The short grass allows the bright yellow flowers of horseshoe vetch to poke through, crucially the sole food plant of the chalk-hill blue butterfly. Equally important for this decreasing butterfly are the ant hills on site. Ants take the butterfly larvae into their nests where they ‘milk’ them for sugars and protect them.
The site is one of the best locally for seeing common lizards. They often use the horse riding tracks to bask in the summer sun. Be quick or you’ll miss them! A great site for a hot sunny day!