This site is known locally as White Hill and is located in the Darent Valley at Shoreham, Kent.

The map reference is TQ529611 and can be found on the Ordnance Survey "Landranger" maps 188 and 177.

Section last updated on 8th January 2018


Location and tenure

The whole eastern side of the Darent Valley, including White Hill, is scheduled as part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  Consequently, this plan has been discussed with Natural England and complies with the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

The agents of the life tenant have granted permission to British Butterfly Conservation Kent Branch to manage the land for the conservation of butterflies.

Environmental Information

The site was once managed by the Kent Trust but this arrangement ceased when the owner's sister, sympathetic to conservation, moved to Wales. With no management in place, the site was soon lost to scrub invasion with very little open grassland remaining.

The conservation interest in the site lies in its being one of the few remaining open parts of the formerly extensive chalk downland. Relict populations of downland butterflies still remain and, of particular note, is the Chalkhill Blue colony and a wide range of moth species is resident including Peach Blossom and Pale Pinion.

White Hill Reserve Map

From the above map, you will see that the main areas of interest are divided into sections and allocated each a number for ease of identification. These numbers suggest no special priority and should be treated as a guide only.

Although the report is mainly concerned with future management, it is important to briefly touch on action to date to establish a picture of what we are trying to achieve. To best indicate these actions I have chosen to deal with each area separately showing action to date followed by action planned for the future.

 

White Hill Reserve Photo Selection
White Hill Reserve - Area 6
White Hill Reserve - Area 6 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Area 8
White Hill Reserve - Area 8 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Area 8
White Hill Reserve - Area 8 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Area 8
White Hill Reserve - Area 8 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Area 1
White Hill Reserve - Area 1 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Area 5 & 6
White Hill Reserve - Area 5 & 6 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Area 3
White Hill Reserve - Area 3 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Area 6
White Hill Reserve - Area 6 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - The Kirby's
White Hill Reserve - The Kirby's - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Area 8
White Hill Reserve - Area 8 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Area 2
White Hill Reserve - Area 2 - © Mike Brown
White Hill Reserve - Circa 1953
White Hill Reserve Circa 1953 - © Unknown
White Hill Reserve - Area 2
White Hill Reserve - Area 2 - © Mike Brown
 
White Hill Reserve - Area 3
2003 Work Party Christmas Group Photo - © Ben Kirby
 

 

Area 1

Historical Overview

Area 1 is composed of fairly open grassland with isolated and self-contained scrub patches and had changed little over the years. Within these patches, there are mature yews providing shelter for juniper bushes. These bushes are of a mixed age and quality and are relatively safe from danger.

The grassland is not particularly rich in flora but represents a useful flight area for the more transient species such as Dark Green Fritillary and Marbled White.

Planned Actions

This area offers little to the butterfly colonies and, until recently, was fairly stable. Two consecutive wet springs have seen a major increase in the volunteer ash shrubs and they now pose a difficult management challenge. Some judicious pruning of the lower branches of certain yews has been undertaken to arrest their spreading nature and contain the scrub patches. The largest juniper is growing deep within the yews and may have to be exposed to allow it to flourish but care will need to be taken so as not to destroy the all-important shelter.

The lower slopes below the path were formally maintained by tight scrub cutting during the winter to prevent invasive ash and sycamore taking hold and this has encouraged the flora so we now see an increasing amount of Horseshoe Vetch establishing itself here. One drawback of tight cutting is the natural increase in the number of ash stems emanating from a single sapling, leading to a change of management policy in this area. During the 2007-2008 work party period, the area was divided into plots, alternately cut tightly and left to grow on. It is hoped that this will allow the main stems of the ash saplings to be identified and removed by mattock but it is destined to be an ongoing issue. The area above the path has suffered similar encroachment, in areas where no previous management was necessary, and signifies that the weather conditions are to blame and not inappropriate management. Chalkhill Blues are beginning to take advantage of the increased ground flora but the high trees bordering the area are likely to prevent further expansion of the colony. A long-term action may need to be instigated to reduce the height of these trees or selected felling but there are no plans for this in the immediate future. Good numbers of Buckthorns can be found here and provide ideal habitat for the Brimstone.

Towards the northern end of Area 1, where it borders Dunstall Woods, the grass is to be maintained twice yearly to allow the setting up of a moth trap. Recent trappings have revealed many new and noteworthy species and the list continues to grow. This important survey is still in its infancy but will form a very strong basis for future management policy.

Area 2

Historical Overview

For many years this area was scrub-bound and quite unsuitable for butterflies. During seasons '95-96 and '96-97 extensive clearing was carried out removing fallen trees and scrub. The result is a lightly shaded area ideal for Browns and we have witnessed an increase in the numbers of Speckled Wood on the site. A ride was cut to connect Area 2with Area 3 but it was found to be counter-productive. With the prevailing wind coming from the Southwest, a wind tunnel effect was being produced and the original idea of encouraging the passage of Dark Green Fritillaries failed to materialise. Several Buckthorns were isolated and proved to be good breeding sites for the Brimstone.

Planned Actions

Area 2 is subject to care and maintenance with no definite plans for change. Scrub is kept under control and the formed ride has been allowed to grow out. The establishment of nuisance species namely ash and Sycamore is being controlled within this re-growth and the option of opening out in the future maintained. Any re-establishment of the ride would need to be radical to be effective but this has not been ruled out. There is a need for the shaded habitat and it is arguable whether it can be improved upon. A policy of leaving the marginal grasses uncut was adopted since seasons '98 as these areas contain over-wintering larvae and pupae of our target species. Bramble threatens to be a significant problem and required annual removal.

Area 3

Historical Overview

Scrub in the form of Dogwood has been a problem here from the early days and, for many years, dominated the site. Persistent brush cutting has brought this under control and season '97 showed the establishment of Horseshoe Vetch and Rock Rose and many nectar plants began to flourish. For many years, the lower slopes tended to be shaded for much of the day but little could be done to alter this without radical change and time was better spent elsewhere. The area would be quite densely covered by 'whips' at the end of the season and approximately one-third of the potential site was unsuitable for butterflies. With this in mind, the established scrub, creating a barrier to the main ride, was removed and the whole slope subjected to a scalping technique. The flora was quick to respond and encouraging results were noted. Dogwood was soon to become a problem and, like so much of White Hill, this area poses a constant challenge.

Planned Actions

This area requires heavy brush cutting to discourage the Dogwood. The use of a tractor and mower gave encouraging results but, as in area 1, the wet springs have seen a major increase in scrub invasion.

Area 4

Historical Overview

This area was one of the first projects undertaken by volunteers in the early days and had to be hacked out of the well-established scrub. Ground flora was reduced to moss and mixed grasses with very little light reaching the ground. Determined cutting and raking produced a ride sheltered from all but the worse conditions and the flora responded accordingly. The path running the length of the ride divides two very different habitats. One side of the ride is exposed to the sun throughout most of the day during the flight period and provides an excellent nectar source for a wide range of butterflies. In particular, this area has proved suitable for Dark Green Fritillaries with several sighted each year. The other side of the ride is somewhat overshadowed by tall scrub and supports a denser sward of grasses. This area is cut back hard each winter and we are seeing a gradual improvement with more flowers showing through. However, there remains the need to lower the height of the scrub to allow better sun penetration and this is being assessed. The wooded area below the ride contains many ash and sycamore trees with an average age of fifteen years and we have been ring barking these where appropriate to afford a degree of control that will have less impact than felling. Natural England advised that these trees should be removed entirely but we have to respect local opposition to such a radical move and a policy of little and often has been adopted. This policy may well have to be revised if it proves ineffective. A barrier of cut materials, along with re-routing the footpath, has been established at the junction to area 2 to prevent access by horses and is proving effective.

Planned Actions

With the upper slopes of this area responding well to our cutting regime, the need for change here is minimal. For the first time since the area was recovered from scrub, we have left several areas uncut to encourage the growth of nectar providing flora and, in particular, Scabious. Kidney Vetch has flourished tenfold and could provide ideal habitat for Small Blue, already recorded from the nearby Fackenden Down. The scrub invasion is minimal here and poses no threat to our overall plans. The boundary has been extended into the central scrub area of the site in a series of scallops to create sheltered hot spots but these are in their infancy with a sward containing a large number of Dogwood whips which, unless cut back hard each winter, would soon dominate. This aside, the area continues to develop with each year and we are confident that a very worthwhile habitat will result. Tractor cutting has allowed the area to be extended further down the bank and the ride is now wide enough to see sunlight all day. Ash stumps and roots have been removed but dogwood is still a problem and requires cutting every winter.

Area 5

Historical Overview

Scrub and trees, until very recently, dominated Area 5. A tangle of bramble and Dogwood covered the ground in many places and it offered a daunting prospect to bring about effective change. Several tall birch trees and deformed beech saplings stood on the upper slopes and created a wide area of shade. It was decided to open up the site in two phases. The first would see the removal of the most dominant trees leaving a selection of mature samples towards the top of the slope where shading would not be a problem. The second phase saw the removal of brambles and mixed scrub revealing several Buckthorns at the same time. Brush cutting was particularly difficult here due to the many stumps hidden in the undergrowth. Three work parties saw the area opened up and the beginnings of a useful habitat but there were concerns about the wind tunnel effect created by the removal of the scrub screen. Summer monitoring proved this to be a marginal problem and thoughts turned to create a windbreak in the form of a low hedge where Area 5 joins Area 6 and this remains an option for the future. Ground flora was quick to respond to the more open habitat and both Rock Rose and Horseshoe Vetch soon established themselves on the exposed soil. Particularly pleasing was the appearance of up to twenty Bee Orchid spikes and dozens of Gentians. Many of the problem stumps were re-cut and treated with stump killer and we await the results of the action. Since this area was cleared, numbers of the rare Lace Border moth have increased significantly.

Planned Actions

This is the driest area on the site and, as such, suffers least from dogwood invasion. Re-growth has been minimal since the initial clearing and spot treatment of the few wayfaring stools is all that is required and will be continued for the foreseeable future.

Area 6

Historical Overview

For many years, area 6 was the main point of interest on the site, is the most open and very much a chalk downland habitat with the associated flora. It was also the main breeding site for the Chalkhill Blues and, as such, received special attention during work parties. Many Hawthorns were removed and the stumps treated. The sward was reduced each winter to 2cm but it was discovered that many Chalkhill Blue eggs were being removed in the process and a change of action was called for. All grass cutting was delayed until January when most of the eggs had fallen and this has shown an increase in adult butterflies. With the scrub very much under control, the need to cut early was reduced and it is felt that this will show long-term benefits. Spot control of certain scrub species was undertaken and many regenerating rootstocks were cut out with mattocks.

Planned Actions

With more scrub removed, this area has been significantly expanded over the past two years. It continues to be the most prolific breeding area for Chalkhill Blues and, as such, is treated with particular care. The use of a tractor and mower for maintaining much of the site gives way to hand cutting here, to ensure a sward height of 5cm. This has proved to be ideal for the blues and the cutting is delayed well into February to allow the eggs to drop to the ground and thus be safe from raking. The lower slope suffers from dogwood invasion and requires constant attention and, even after heavy cutting, the dogwood continues to climb further up the slope year on year.

Area 7

Historical Overview

This area has had much the same cutting regime as Area 6 exercised upon it for many years. The invasive scrub has been kept under control by the very close cropping of the sward during the work parties. Although like Area 6, the blues would benefit from a deeper sward, we have refrained from altering our policy because the Early Gentian seems to favour the shorter sward. The exact requirements of this important plant are not fully understood but suffice it to say, "If it works then leave it alone". With so much of the site now well and truly under control, we can afford to sacrifice some butterflies for the benefit of the flora.

Planned Actions

So far as management goes, there are no plans to alter what we do here each winter. We will continue to cut close and rake hard and keep a close eye on the ash saplings that show here each year. The grass on the lower slope tends to bolt due to lack of light caused by the Sycamores growing along the edge of the track and leaf fall can be a problem during autumn. Natural England advised the removal of ALL sycamores from the site but the visual impact of such a bold move would no doubt create much local opposition and subsequent letters of disapproval to the landowner. With this in mind, the trees were reduced by 50% and the site responded well to the additional light reaching the ground.

Area 8

Historical Overview

Pulled back from total shading from tall trees, this area was slow to respond to treatment until very recently. The ground is very damp and supports a vigorous growth of grasses and scrub. These form a thick thatch that lies damp and cold for much of the year and is quite unsuitable for most species. Most of the larger Sycamore stumps have been treated and no longer cause major problems but the surrounding trees posed a constant source of concern. Our most mature Field Maple was released from their grip several seasons ago and appears to be responding well. Wild Privet abounds near the trackway and has to be cut hard each year to keep it under control. Winter '97-98 saw the extending of the site with the removal of large areas of scrub that revealed bare soil. This has been slow to re-colonise and threatens to return to scrub if not closely monitored. Several large Ash and Sycamores were felled in 1997 and a little and often approach remains in action with many of the taller trees targeted for removal in the future work party seasons. A very severe cut was performed in winter '98 despite concerns for the Skipper population and much of the thatch was raked away. The result on the flora for 1999 was particularly encouraging. Large clumps of Horseshoe Vetch and Bird's Foot Trefoil appeared and Knapweeds provided excellent nectar sources. On most days throughout the summer, masses of butterflies took advantage of this and literally clouds of blues could be seen.

Planned Actions

With the planted hedge bordering the nearby arable field now growing rapidly, some form of cutting will soon be required. The long grass at the foot of the hedge is to be left as an area suitable for skippers and extended out into the meadow. As always, scrub continues to be a problem and it is difficult to see a cure. The exceptional floral growth in this area is a direct result of the damp conditions and gives rise to a management problem. The density of this growth means that hand brush-cutting is not an option and the site would be impossible to control without the use of a tractor and mower. Mulching of the cut material, being so dense, is a problem and requires vigorous raking soon after cutting, not always possible with limited resources. Failure to do this effectively results in enrichment and its associated problems but there is little to be done.

Summary

Areas 1 and 2 will need very close control if the ash invasion is to be abated. This will have to be achieved by plot cutting and individual sapling removal, a daunting task with no clear end. Scrub continues to invade even the higher, unmanaged areas and will soon have to be included in the winter work regime.

Area 4 will not be expanded further down the bank into the wooded area and is now at the optimum size. Early nectar sources continue to be overwhelmed by late summer dogwood growth but there is good evidence that Chalkhill Blues are breeding here on the expanding beds of Horseshoe Vetch.

Area 5 is the most stable on the entire site and needs occasional stump treatment to maintain the open aspect.

Area 6 will continue to be hand cut and still represents the main Chalkhill Blue breeding site. Dogwood invasion of the lower slope is increasing, especially after a wet spring.

Area 7 has been subjected to a relaxed management for the past two years but there is evidence that this is encouraging damper conditions and associated scrub growth. Tight cutting is to be reinstated in the 2008-2009 winter work parties.

Area 8 represents the greatest challenge. The dogwood invasion is more prolific here than anywhere else on the site and there seems to be little that simple cutting can do about it. Glyphosate wiping has been tried with little success and root removal is not an option, with annual growth exceeding two metres, and double raking is often necessary in this difficult area and there.

Scrub invasion at White Hill will always be a major concern. With much of the site reclaimed from total scrub cover, rootstock exists throughout and gives rise to random eruptions of new growth. The recent wet weather has given rise to a massive invasion of ash whips in areas once clean and in need of no management at all and how to combat this invasion remains unclear, especially with limited volunteer hours available. The tractor and mower have transformed the way the site is managed and has allowed more areas to be recovered from the scrub, quite unachievable with hand cutting only. An increase in nectar sources was most apparent after the first year of use and this is presumed to be the result of the rotary action distributing seeds over a wide area. A sward height of 10cm is generally applied to much of the site, with the exception of area 6 where hand cutting is carried out. This sward height is to be reduced to 5cm, where possible, to further stress the dogwood and the situation will be monitored. Grazing would be a preferred option but the site is unsuitable for animals and frequented by dog walkers. Nearby Fackenden Down enjoys a more open aspect and faces south-west and is so subjected to longer periods of sunshine, the result of which is a more controlled sward height. It serves as an interesting comparison to White Hill and also shows the benefit of grazing in a controlled environment.

Peter Kirby - Reserve Manager