I became aware of this Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserve in 2014, visiting for the first time on 1st July. The Large Blue was being seen less at the National Trust’s showcase reserve for the re-introduced butterfly, Collard Hill in Somerset’s Polden Hills. So the Cotswolds’ site provided a nearer and easier option then, and did so again today.
Daneway Banks SSSI, lying in the Frome valley about 8 miles south-west of Cirencester, is a prime example of unimproved limestone grassland. The hillside above the village of the same name (SO937034) supports a rich flora and diverse insect fauna that has included the Large Blue since the turn of this century. The British race became extinct in 1979 but following the reintroduction of an indistinguishable race the species has spread to around 25 other places in the west of England, mostly in Somerset.
Last year my three Large Blue sightings were on the lower slopes immediately above Daneway village. So arriving on-site today just after 11am I checked out those same areas first. A good variety of high summer butterflies were on the wing, including season’s first Marbled White and Ringlet, but no Large Blue. More species seen were Small Heath, Large Skipper, one or two Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell; and even Green Hairstreak and Dingy Skipper.
Other visitors told me the Large Blue were active much higher on the hillside. I kept being directed further up than I realised this reserve extended until reaching an area in which about six observers were searching. But it soon became apparent that numbers aren’t necessarily an advantage. Two in-your-face characters, one wearing army boots the other wellies, were charging about like headless chickens before leaping upon then chasing around the Large Blues that they found. The most galling thing was that they located the butterfly I eventually photographed. I had already seen one that didn’t settle and my final tally was three. These looked noticeably darker in flight than the many fading Common Blue that were also present.
I couldn’t escape those people in this spot, felt no desire to compete for the top wing shots they were intent upon, and so left. My enjoyment of Large Blue, both here in the last two seasons and at Collard Hill in 2011, has always been spoiled by this sort of attention that the species attracts. Next time I would like to see these butterflies in a Polden Hills location other than Collard Hill where the ambience might hopefully be more mellow, as butterfly watching should be. But I needed the species for this series, it’s now included and I move on.
After a sandwich break back at my car then a pint in the village pub, I walked around the lower slopes of Daneway Banks again but without seeing any more Large Blue. I left site wondering if these butterflies had been driven up to the higher slopes by all the attention last year, and whether they might eventually be chased away from this place altogether.