Key species: White-letter Hairstreak
Best time to see them: Last two weeks of June through July
As a canopy species White-letter Hairstreak is frequently overlooked. It is often first noticed when rival males spiral upwards together from the top of a tree. Although the butterfly can occasionally be found feeding on bramble and thistle this is not a regular occurrence at this site. Short focusing binoculars are highly recommended. There are several localities in Cheshire and on the Wirral where this species can be seen, but Leftwich Woods is probably the best in terms of numbers of butterflies and ease of access. Although the path is reasonably level it is not suitable for wheelchairs. Part of the route follows the A556 which has mature Wych Elm, the preferred larval food plant of this species. Although many trees are dead or dying there is a large amount of sucker growth sustaining the colony. However, in an attempt to manage the adjacent woodland for the benefit of this butterfly a number of disease resistant elms have been planted on the slopes below Woodside Terrace, and it is here that the best views of White-letter Hairstreak can be obtained. Note; search for the butterflies on trees that are in sun for most of the day. On hot days they will fly from early morning until midday, take a rest, and then fly again in the early evening. White-letter Hairstreak feed on the sugary solutions exuded by aphids and the like, so it is always worth checking adjacent Ash and Sycamore trees. Sometimes only a butterfly silhouette can be seen through a leaf as it drags its proboscis sucking up the sticky solution.
Directions: The safest and most convenient parking is on Old Hall Road, Leftwich near the Junior School. Please park considerately and under no circumstances should you park on the yellow school zig-zags. The site is accessible by public transport from Northwich, take the number 29 bus (no Sunday service) to Winsford and ask the driver to drop you off at the school stop on Old Hall Road, Leftwich (known as the Elms). With the school on your right hand side walk back along Old Hall Road to its junction with a footpath alongside 1 Woodside Terrace. Shortly the path divides; the lower path takes you to the A556. At this stage take the upper path which follows Woodside Terrace. As you pass number 15 there’s a grassed triangle in front of you. Walk off the path and straight onto this grassed area and, with the power pole on your left scan the Elms, particularly the one immediately ahead and to your right. Although not essential this elm flowers profusely late April and through May and seems to be especially attractive to egg laying females.
Return to the path and continue along Woodside Terrace until a path is reached on the right hand side leading down the slope. Take this path and then at a crossroads take the right hand path. You’ll now pass through an area of young plantation of disease resistant elms. The colony started to breed on these in 2014 and close views are possible. Shortly the path enters an area of more mature trees before it emerges into an open aspect, where there are again younger elms that are worth exploring. The path ends at the A556. Turning right onto the A556 it’s possible to scan the trees on the bank to the right. White-letter Hairstreak may be seen anywhere along the bank where Elm occurs for about a ¼ of a mile. Turn around and return to where you departed from the woodland footpath.
This time there is a choice; either follow the stepped hard surfaced footpath to the left, which takes you back to Woodside Terrace/Old Hall Road and the parking area/bus stop, or take a lower path to the right, through a gate and skirting the left hand side of a football pitch until you reach an obvious footpath through a gap on the left hand side. Take this and then turn immediately right following the path above and alongside the River Dane, through the woods until, and still following the river, you take steps down the bank and then onto an open area, Leftwich Meadows. Explore this area. Many common species of butterfly can be found, particularly amongst the wild flower areas. Return to your car the way you came.
- Parking: SJ664717
- General area for key species: SJ666717