Friday, 14 March 2014

I found my thrill, on Juniper Hill

I ventured onto Epsom and Walton Downs this afternoon, one that was sun-drenched and accompanied by butterflies and mewling Common Buzzards. On Walton Downs there is a northerly facing clearing that is locally referred to as Juniper Hill.  The name comes from a good population of Juniper, one of our few native tree species. The ground here is one of shallow sward and chalky scrapes, and during the summer months is home to a wealth of wildlife including Chalkhill Blues, Dropwort, Round-headed Rampion and Bastard-toadflax (the latter has so far eluded me locally).

Juniper is a species that is in trouble. It has declined throughout much of Britain and some southern counties have declared it extinct! There are maybe only five sites in Surrey. Here on Juniper Hill there has been clearance of invasive scrub through manual cutting and burning, plus livestock grazing (with the fencing off of many Juniper trees to protect them). I didn't count the number of trees, but there must be 30-40 - maybe more. They also seem to vary in age, with large sprawling individuals and 'medium' sized trees to the fore - however, I did see a few small individuals which, to my untrained eye would suggest a population of mixed age. One of the problems with some Juniper populations is that they are all of the same age and do not set seed. This is not good for long-term survival.

Juniper has its own suite of invertebrates, although I could only readily find the ubiquitous Seven-spot Ladybird, up to 50 of them easily seen on the spiky leaves. More can be read about Juniper Hill and its wildlife here.

A small (young?) Juniper, helpfully fenced against deer and grazing livestock
A female tree with the tell-tale berries
A mature Juniper, some are upright and straight, others messy and sprawling

2 comments:

  1. I've been there a couple of times with the LNHS and it's ace – especially if you have a sweepnet. You’re pretty much guaranteed Juniper Shieldbug there in the late spring/summer. If you haven’t seen them before, the nymphs do very good impressions of green juniper berries.

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    1. Still haven't seen Juniper Shieldbug, Rob - obviously need to try harder!

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