Today, Westbury Beacon is one of the few places on the Mendips where Chalk-hill Blue and Wall Brown still survive. It also holds Dingy Skipper and Grizzled Skipper, Brown Argus, Small Copper and Small Heath. In all 34 different butterfly species have been recorded here.
The site’s commanding location high over the Levels explains the presence of a Bronze Age tumulus, long used as a beacon site, and is also the reason for its use for radar testing and Cold War military observation. The legacy of this is a number of intriguing structures alongside the prehistoric burial mound.
Management of the reserve
Before we purchased the land in 2015 it had been ungrazed for many years, although we had been able to clear small areas of gorse and so keep patches of Horseshoe Vetch for the Chalk-hill Blues, which fly in July and August. Now we have started sheep grazing in winter and cleared a lot of gorse but because the site is high and exposed to westerly winds it can get very cold here even in mid-summer, so we have designed the clearance so as to provide sheltered glades in which plants can flower and butterflies remain active.
The appearance of numerous violet plants in the open areas raises the hope of recovering Dark Green Fritillary, which occurred here until a few years ago and is still present not too far away. Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary appeared in 2018 and might also breed.
How to get there
The reserve is around OS reference ST502507above the village of Westbury. Take the minor road signposted to Priddy off the A371 between Rodney Stoke and Westbury; after just over a mile park where there is layby on the right hand side near a small covered reservoir. Walk back down the road to enter through a footpath gate into access land. Walk west across that for about 300 yards and you come to the reserve entrance.
From its western end you can leave the reserve, cross another field of access land and enter our Stoke Camp Reserve.
The Honorary Wardens are John Ball and Peter Bright.