RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Queen of Spain tops continental visitors to south

The Queen of Spain fritillary
The Queen of Spain fritillary

CHICHESTER city went into the history books four years ago as the first-ever recorded breeding site for the Queen of Spain fritillary.

It became the butterfly sensation of the century.

This extraordinary moment took place on the Whitehouse Farm arable fields, which are part of this week’s walk down Centurion Way and into Brandyhole Copse. The area is now under consideration as the site for a housing estate.

Brian Henham, who took these photographs of the rare butterfly, was with Neil Hulme, chairman of the Sussex Branch of the Butterfly Conservation Society, on October 13, 2009 when they actually observed male and female Queen of Spain fritillaries mating.

They could hardly believe their eyes as the rare insects do rather resemble high brown and dark green fritillaries, the latter still found in Sussex, the former now confined to a nature reserve near Dartmoor.

The high brown once bred on Kingley Vale, which is three miles north of Brandyhole Copse nature reserve, until

about 1958.

The two conservation sites are linked by greenfield corridors from the main migration channel from the continent up Fishbourne channel.

Both migrating birds and butterflies use this corridor during spring and autumn and travel onwards into Britain.

This will be the route used this August for the numbers of another beautiful insect which stormed into Kingley Vale from France: the clouded yellow butterfly.

Several readers have contacted me to ask what these saffron yellow butterflies were that they have seen on the Downs during the hot weather in mid-August.

Even more immigrants from the continent suddenly turned up during that fine tropical weather, including swallowtail butterflies, which are normally only ever found on the Norfolk Broads.

Two long-tailed blue butterflies, which are very rare visitors from further south, were also recorded in Sussex during August.

This has put all wildlife watchers on the qui vive. Perhaps the time is ripe for another visitation of the Royal family.

They may well try again to establish themselves in Britain, using Sussex soil as the stepping stone.

The two fields south of Brandyhole Copse nature reserve on the east side of the Ashling road are still in good enough condition for Queen of Spain fritillaries to breed.

With such a foothold they could then continue north-eastward towards the continental climate zones which are drier.

They have in the past been seen on the Suffolk coast though breeding was not proved there, at Minsmere.

It is this possibility of Spanish gold which all Cicestrians should now treasure.