Bug’s life revealed on Swanage Downs

One of Swanage’s most overlooked beauty spots got its day in the sun when residents were invited to explore the secret lives of its local minibeasts.

Friends of the Downs held an open day on Saturday 29th June 2024 to increase awareness and enjoyment of the official local nature reserve at Peveril Point and the Downs, and were blessed with glorious weather.

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Hamish Murray of Dorset Wildlife Trust pointed out the secret lives of bugs on Swanage Downs

Nature hunt across Swanage Downs

A bug’s life came under the microscope as visitors were taken on guided walks in warm sunshine and under blue skies to find and identify the wild flowers, insects and butterflies which make the downs their home in summer.

A treasure hunt and craft activities were set up to keep children occupied, though many enjoyed bug hunting sessions just as much – if not more – than the adults.

With about half of England’s 25,000 insect species to be found in Purbeck, there was plenty to keep the eyes peeled for, as Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Hamish Murray led visitors on a hunt across the downs.

Hamish collecting a cross section of insect life from the grassland

HAMISH MURRAY

A thick kneed beetle was one of the insects living its best life on the Downs

Biodiversity on the rise

The uplands behind Broad Road car park, Swanage, have always afforded panoramic views across both Swanage Bay and Durlston Bay.

But with a new policy allowing grasses to grow tall and giving wild flowers the chance to spread, biodiversity of the Downs is now on the rise.

And the new grasslands have given insects – Mother Nature’s pollinators, predators, parasites and prey – an opportunity to multiply and help to restore the balance of nature.

Wild carrot – also known as Queen Anne’s Lace – attracts a wealth of insect life

HAMISH MURRAY

A carrot mining bee was pictured after being drawn to the flower

Half of England’s insect species

Hamish Murray said:

“Purbeck is a fantastic place for insects, we have most of the different types of habitats in southern England here, and probably have about half of the UK’s species here, too.

“We have an exclusive insect – the Purbeck mason wasp, which is one of the rarest invertebrates in the UK, and used to have our own Purbeck nomad bee which only lived at Durlston and nowhere else, but is probably extinct now.

“On even a short walk across the Downs, you might easily see about 40 different insects, but full identification is not always easy.

“If you see a cranefly you may think you have identified your insect, but there are 270 different species of daddy long legs, so it’s not quite as simple as you might think.

Getting up close to the lives of insects

HAMISH MURRAY

A muscid fly (graphomya maculata) was captured by the lens

“This is a little gem, really”

Hamish added:

“I think it is wonderful that fairly ordinary parts of the countryside can be recognised for their importance to biodiversity and become nature reserves. This is a little gem, really.

“As a greenspace close to the town, it has exceptional local interest as well as educational and community value. Becoming an official nature reserve has recognised the site’s value and ensures protection and enhancement of this special natural heritage.”

The land was once privately owned and formed part of the grounds of the Grosvenor Hotel, which has since been demolished. It was acquired by the local authority in 1931 and is now managed by Swanage Town Council.

With help from Sustainable Swanage, the town council led the way for it to become a local nature reserve by carrying out public opinion surveys, writing a detailed management plan and recruiting local volunteers to become involved in wildlife surveys of the area.

A warm welcome to Swanage Downs on a perfect day to explore what the nature reserve has to offer

HAMISH MURRAY

A rose chafer with its iridescent shell was another visitor to the Downs

Diversity of the area is beginning to develop

A decision to allow more than half of the grassland to grow wild through summer before being cut back in the autumn, although controversial, has already started to show an increase in the natural wildlife.

Butterfly identification charts were provided to visitors at the weekend to see how many of Dorset’s 45 different species they could spot.

But there are concerns that many local people are still unaware that the area is an official nature reserve, and it is hoped that the event will have inspired more people to join the Friends of Swanage Downs group.

Dave Pratten from Friends of the Downs took visitors out with butterfly identification charts to see how many species they could spot

HAMISH MURRAY

A Marbled White was one of the butterflies spotted on Dave’s walk

HAMISH MURRAY

A Common Blue butterfly was another great spot

“A great pocket of green space”

Over the next 12 months from 2024 into 2025, Sustainable Swanage in conjunction with the community group Planet Purbeck will be organising a number of events promoting sustainability and the environment.

Luke M Luke from Planet Purbeck said:

“The Friends of the Downs group is an inspiring example of how a community can take pride and ownership in its local environment.

“Swanage Downs is so accessible to the town – a great pocket of green space within easy walking distance of the seafront and the shops.

“The open day has allowed everyone who’s interested to get to know more about the local nature reserve and see the progress made over the last year.

“It would be great to see more people get involved not just in the Friends group but also the Sustainable Swanage events planned for over the next year.”

Amazing views from the Downs, within easy walking distance of the seafront

HAMISH MURRAY

This little hopper is a Roesel’s bush cricket

Sustainable Swanage events

For those interested in the environemt and sustainability there’s a series of events currently being planned for the next 12 months. All the exact details will be confirmed nearer the time:

  • September 2024, Repair and Reuse – let’s get creative and reduce what goes to landfill
  • October 2024, Healthy Homes – tips and tricks to improve energy use and save money
  • November 2024, Improving Our Water Quality – we all live downstream, so let’s take a look at our local water quality
  • February 2025, Youth Climate Vision – come and hear what the young people of Swanage have to say
  • March 2025, Greening and Biodiversity – how to turbo-charge Swanage’s green spaces

A close inspection of hedgerows will reveal a wealth of insect life

You never know what you’ll discover if you just take the time to look…

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