30 Days Wild - Day Thirteen - Find the beauty in brownfields

By Katharine Banham

Post-industrial landscapes rich in wildlife...

Bedfordshire, the county I work in, has a rich industrial heritage which has left a lasting legacy on the landscape. Many of the Wildlife Trust nature reserves that we treasure today are the result of these activities, although in some it is hard to imagine. A few examples include Felmersham Gravel Pits, where gravel was extracted to create local Second World War airfields; Totternhoe, which has a long history of chalk quarrying which stretches from the medieval period to the present day; and Flitwick Moor, where peat was cut within living memory.

Recently I was reminded of the wildlife value of some more recently abandoned previously developed areas or brownfield sites, as they are often called. I was out for the day with a colleague from Butterfly Conservation and a local butterfly recorder looking at brownfield sites in the Marston Vale, just south of Bedford. This area has many quarries, landfill sites, railway lines and was once famous for its brick making. Many brownfield sites are private, for good safety reasons. There are, however, several in the area which can be accessed from footpaths or permissive paths, and they are well worth a visit.

The two species we were particularly interested in were the Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) and Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) butterflies, although we could have been looking for a variety of other insects, reptiles or amphibians and would not have been disappointed. Both of these butterflies are priority species for conservation. The Dingy Skipper is a small butterfly with an intricate brown and grey pattern. Its rapid flights can make it a little tricky to follow. Sadly, it is a species which is becoming increasingly rare even though its food plants are fairly common. The Grizzled Skipper is also becoming a rarity. Although it is about the same size as a Dingy Skipper it has a striking black and white pattern on its wings. Both species like open, sunny habitats where suitable food plants grow in sparsely grassed areas with patches of bare ground for basking. Chalk downlands and woodland rides are important but many of the last colonies in Bedfordshire are hanging on at brownfield sites.

Watching sparsely vegetated patches of old ballast or brickwork come to life with rare butterflies as the spring sunshine came out was a real joy. I’m hoping that some of these brownfield sites are the nature reserves of the future, protected and managed for all to enjoy. Although the flight season for the Grizzled and Dingy Skipper will be coming to an end by the time you read this, there will be other treasures to find. Maybe there is somewhere near you where wildlife is appreciating the industries of the past, can you find the beauty in the brownfields?

Day 13 icon for 30 Days Wild

 

Ways to go wild...

Look out for wildlife in the unmanaged in-between places which might have a post-industrial past - patches of land that were part of a building site or 'green paths' by the side of allotments. You never know what you might find thriving there.

Events during June for 30 Days Wild

We've got loads going on all through June to help you go wild in our three counties. Visit our calendar for a full list of events.