Walking the “Butterflies of the Bovey Valley”

It is August bank holiday, a beautiful sunny day, and a perfect opportunity to follow one of the wildlife walking routes around the East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve. There are five wildlife walking routes to choose from, but unsurprisingly, butterfly surveyor Simon, chose to follow the Butterflies of the Bovey Valley trail that follows woodland tracks by the River Bovey and crosses the heathland on Trendlebere Down. This blog is intended not to add any more route advice and detail to the walks leaflet, but to give a feel of what to look out for, to enable everybody to get maximum enjoyment from following the route…

Walking down the Old Manaton Road with heathland on the left and mixed woodland on the right; This series of walking leaflets are beautifully illustrated by Kim Bartlett

I followed it exactly as it is described in the leaflet. Predominantly this is about butterflies, but the area is rich in flora and fauna, so keep your eyes open for any surprises!

I parked at the car park at Middle Trendlebere Down (Point A on the map) and headed right along a path through the mixed habitat where butterflies can lye up. Through the shrubs and trees I was getting tantalising glimpses of the open view on my left, and when I got to the lower car park I was rewarded.  The view across Lustleigh Cleave towards Hunters Tor is fantastic at any time of the year and it’s worth spending a few minutes here taking it all in. I was looking down into the Bovey Valley where the river of that name flows and where I was going to spend the next hour.

There are fantastic views from the Lower Trendlebere car park

I strolled downhill to the Old Manaton Road, (please be aware that vehicles can access this route), where there is splendid stand of pine on the right hand side which extends east along the southern side of the Bovey Valley. These trees are been thinned to allow for understorey vegetation to develop. Amongst other things I have recently seen Sparrowhawk in this area.

After a 100 yards or so, I took the obvious track to the right and quickly came to a fork in the track (Point E) where you can choose one of two routes. I chose to take the steep track directly down to the River Bovey which requires a bit of care. This is always a good place to see Speckled wood which are quite common throughout the whole of the Spring and Summer. They are one of my favourites and are very distinctive and it’s obvious how they got their name! These can do a little dance up into dappled light as you walk past.

I soon met the river which I followed into a meadow. In high summer this is a really good spot for butterfly spotting, such as Meadow brown and also a nice picnic! Remember to pick up everything you bring with you when you leave. Ponies can also be here from July to September, please don’t be tempted to feed them as they are just curious and do keep your dogs on leads.

Following the obvious path, I came to a lovely place next to the river, where it flows slowly through a rare sluggish pool area and is quite good for seeing fish.  I particularly wanted to get to the other side of the river, which was in sunshine and I could see butterflies there. Normally I would cheat and paddle across the river, but for the purposes of this blog I followed the track to Pullabrook Wood car park (Point I) and then turned left, left and left again to bring me into a pleasant sheep field/meadow, which is often full of gambolling lambs in the Spring. I have often seen Comma as I walked across to the entrance gate back into Rudge Wood. You only get a view of the small white comma shaped mark on the underside of its hind wing.

The underwings of commas blend into the trees and logs they hibernate in (Photo: Charles Sharp)

The next stretch closely follows the River Bovey and in terms of numbers and variety is the best part of the walk for butterflies. Shortly I found myself by the pool on the opposite side of the river to where I had been 20 minutes ago. There is a lovely open area here where over the years I have seen White admiral, Silver-washed fritillary, Brimstone and White-letter hairstreak. I have found that the extensive blackberry brambles at the western end are key to their presence, especially when they are in blossom and are being used for nectaring. Natural England has had to protect some of the pony nibbled wych elm trees on which the caterpillar of the white-letter hairstreak feed on.

  • White-letter hairstreak on a wych elm twig

I continued along very closely to the river. This next section is a brilliant area for birds, listen for the short, high pitched call of both Kingfisher and Dipper as they skim low above the water. Gray wagtails can also be seen bobbing their tails as they feed on the many insects. Next, I found myself in Rudge Meadow which in May is usually a blue carpet of bluebells which attract many butterflies. If you are particularly lucky you might see either Pearl-bordered fritillary or Small pearl-bordered fritillary at that time of the year. Today there was a proliferation of Gatekeeper and the back end of a brood of Ringlet.

The next couple of hundred yards follows the track right along the river bank and is just a classic bit of moorland river, as the crystal clear water flows quickly through numerous granite boulders embedded into the river bed. It’s also a very good area for various types of bat, which I was unlikely to see in daylight, but it was good to see varied types of bat boxes up in the trees. There are also a couple of dew ponds which are a mass of frogspawn/tadpoles in the Spring.

Eventually I arrived at Hisley Bridge (Point K) which is a major turning point and will lead you back to the start point. It’s a very attractive and popular spot and being August bank holiday there were young families there paddling and splashing and having a lot of fun! From the perspective of this blog  it’s a good place to see Red admiral and Holly blue which like to settle on the damp earth although I am not sure why. I imagine it’s either for moisture or minerals in the soil.

Crossing Hisley Bridge, I then turned left on the obvious track which would take me back up to the car park.  Please be aware of vehicles that may use this track. Before that though I came to a stream which crosses the track having come down a large combe on my right hand side. It’s worth walking up here for a hundred yards or so as the view opens out and reveals the lower end of Trendlebere Down which is totally different habitat to where I had just spent the last 40 minutes. It’s another hotspot for butterflies and at different times I have seen Small copper, Small heath, Brimstone and Green hairstreak. Today I was very pleased to see Grayling with its wings firmly shut and almost lying on its side which is one of its traits.

  • Grayling butterfly on heather

Returning to the main track I followed it up hill to a small path (Point D) where I turned sharply right and ascended steeply for a short distance and then back to the start.

As always I had a very enjoyable walk through varied habitats and terrain. I hope you take the time to do the same and that this blog has given you feel for what you might hear and see.

You can see all the walking routes around the East Dartmoor NNR on our blog here – Walking routes

Written by Simon Smith
Simon is one of a number of volunteer butterfly recorders who every week from April to the end of September, walk a set route, or “transect”, in the National Nature Reserve (please note some butterflies can be out after this period, but a lot depends on the Autumn we have).

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