An Exciting and Important New Reserve
After previous unsuccessful attempts to buy, Westbury Beacon finally became a Butterfly Conservation Reserve in September 2015, following a successful appeal to raise the £120,000 required to purchase it and to cover anticipated management costs. The high price reflects the recent steep rise in land values and underlines the challenges faced by all wildlife conservation bodies in protecting key sites.
How to get there
You can get to the Beacon by walking through from our Stoke Camp Reserve or by driving up the road signposted to Priddy off the A371 between Rodney Stoke and Westbury; park at the crest of the hill and follow the path across one field of access land to the reserve.
What you will find
Located on the face of the scarp slope of the Mendips at OS grid reference ST502507above the village of Westbury, the site is 19 acres in size and holds limestone grassland and much dense gorse and hawthorn scrub which has colonised it over a long period in which it has been left ungrazed. Fortunately, the previous owners allowed us to monitor the butterflies and also to undertake some careful scrub removal to maintain the best habitat patches.
Today, Westbury Beacon is one of the few places on the Mendips where Chalkhill Blue (top image), Dark Green Fritillary (second image) and Wall Brown butterfly (third image) are surviving. It also holds Dingy Skipper and Grizzled Skippers. In all 34 different butterfly species have been recorded here.
As well as its exceptional importance for butterflies, and over 400 other wildlife species recorded here since 2007, the site is very close to our own Stoke Camp reserve, two Somerset Wildlife Trust reserves and English Nature's Rodney Stoke woodlands National Nature Reserve. This gives it high strategic value as it is by conserving large areas of linked landscape and working together, as we already do, that we have the best chance of saving butterfly species and other wildlife in the long term.
The site’s location looking out over the Levels towards Glastonbury Tor in the south and towards Brent Knoll to the west (image four) no doubt explains the presence of a Bronze Age tumulus perched on the top of the slope and is also the reason why it was used for radar testing and Cold War military observation during the 1950’s and 60’s. The legacy of this is a number of intriguing structures alongside the prehistoric burial mound (last image).
We are carefully planning the management for this site. Because the site is high and exposed to westerly winds sweeping up the Bristol Channel it can get very cold here even in mid-summer, so we will certainly keep a good deal of the scrub to provide sheltered glades in which plants can flower and butterflies remain active.
We also plan to recommence grazing to reduce the dominance of tussocky grass and encourage an increase in foodplants such as violets for the Dark Green Fritiilaries and Horseshoe Vetch for the Chalkhill Blues. The grazing will be in winter and early spring so as to avoid losses of flowers required by the butterflies but we have a tricky problem with Roe Deer which don't play by the rules and come on in summer to eat nectar plants like knapweeds; we may have to try to devise a way of keeping them out of critical areas.