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 The Trust manages the reserves for wildlife, including butterflies - with regular surveys sending results to Sussex Butterfly Conservation.

Click HERE to see a graph of butterflies reported for 2014-2015

This is one of the Trust's star butterflies.

Purple Emperor

Restricted to large woods in southern England where they spend much of their time in the treetops. Large and dark with white-banded wings. Males have a purple sheen. Females resemble the White Admiral, but have an orange-ringed eyespot.

This year we have only identified one male flying over Long Meadow 2013

From a Sussex Butterfly Conservation article  

An Audience with the Emperor on Graffham Down

Awful, just awful! I’m not one to go on and on about the weather but 2012 really took the biscuit. I remember leading a late afternoon walk in the fine spring weather on March 31st. As we walked over the Downs (in shorts and t-shirts!) someone said the weather was about to change. I watched the sun go down over the horizon – and I didn't see it again until August! The rain started and never really stopped – if anything, it got worse as summer progressed and this had a huge impact on butterflies, moths and other insects. This in turn had an effect on bats, birds and the other animals that feed on them. It’s also had an effect on people who love wildlife and being outdoors – whether you enjoy wandering in the countryside or relaxing in the garden, 2012 was an awful year. The only things that seemed to do OK were the slugs and snails.

But here’s a short story about one of the (few) highlights of my otherwise miserable summer. On 15th July a group of 22 people joined Neil Hulme of Butterfly Conservation, Paul Dimmer of Graffham Down Trust and me for a walk up to Graffham Down. Our target was the rare and elusive purple emperor – our biggest and most impressive butterfly. Exciting, energetic and colourful it’s the embodiment of summer.

We met at Graffham church and took a slow walk up the chalk track to the start of the reserve. When we reached the top of the Downs the skies were their usual grey. However, we still managed to rack up a list of butterflies; large skipper, ringlet, red admiral. Marbled whites were common in the meadow and the graceful silver-washed fritillary glided past. The Graffham Down reserve itself looked fantastic – a wonderful mosaic of open glades and meadows high up on the top of the Downs. The volunteers who work hard to manage this reserve need to be commended on creating this fantastic wildiife habitat – it’s well worth spending the day up here exploring. I was thrilled to find a nationally rare moth up here – a drab looper. This moth is only found in a few places in England and it certainly lives up to its name – it must be one of our dullest moths! Some of the group were certainly puzzled why I was getting so excited about finding it. The sky turned even greyer and we headed back but sat down for lunch amongst the orchids and under some pine trees where Neil and Paul had observed the emperor before. And then, from our viewpoint high on the top of Sussex, we saw a sight that made our hearts race. Could it be? Surely not! Over in the distance was a thin streak of blue in an otherwise leaden sky. It wasn’t much but it was heading straight towards us! If the sun could break through this gap we may have a chance of seeing the sun-loving emperor. You could sense the anticipation building as the window of blue sky drifted closer. And then the sun came blazing through. I found myself blinking in the sunshine – after 3 months of dreadful weather my eyes were unaccustomed to this much sunlight!

Quick as a flash, a huge butterfly leapt from its lofty perch and took to the skies acrobatically careering around the tree-tops – a purple emperor. As befits royalty we were all upstanding and soon we were scrambling around the meadow for a better view. The emperor kept us on our toes as he raced around the glade, but all too soon it was over. The window of blue sky closed, the emperor went back to his throne and the grey skies of Summer 2012 returned. Rainclouds were gathering in the west and we returned down to Graffham church. I’ll always remember Summer 2012. It occurred between 1.35 and 1.43 on July 15th up there on Graffham Down. Let's hope summer 2013 lasts a little bit longer!

Michael Blencowe, Sussex Wildlife Trust 




After a very slow start for butterflies on the Downs, during August 2013 we have had a population explosion!