Ponies grazing Alners Gorse reserve.

Ponies grazing Alners Gorse reserve. Photo: Daniel Greenwood.

Alners Gorse is one of the few relics of the heavily wooded landscape that used to make up the medieval Royal Forests of Gillingham and Blackmore, with its mosaic of small herb-rich pastures on heavy clay soils.

It supports flourishing populations of Nightingales and Brown Hairstreak butterflies, which are both dependant on the blackthorn and gorse thickets, and a very rich moth fauna including several nationally scarce species.

Much of the land in the Blackmore Vale has been ploughed and drained and has lost the rich diversity of animals and plants that it must have once had. We aim to manage the grassland on the reserve to encourage the internationally threatened Marsh Fritillary butterfly which was formerly abundant in the area. We have thinned out the planted oaks and intend to remove most of the conifer plantation planted since the 1950s in the northernmost sector of the reserve. From November 2012 we have four Dartmoor ponies on the site, to help with the management of the site by grazing the grass.

Habitat & features

14.4 hectares (35 acres) of grassland, blackthorn scrub and oak, birch and conifer woodland.

What to see

Butterflies: Marsh Fritillary, White Admiral, Silver-washed Fritillary, Brown Hairstreaks, Purple Hairstreaks, White-letter Hairstreak, Red Admiral, Comma, Peacock Moths: Dingy Mocha, Sallow Clearwing, Ruddy Carpet

Other species: Nightingale, Garden Warbler, Green and Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Buzzard, Kestrel, Hobby, Barn Owl

Photo gallery

Ownership

Butterfly Conservation. The purchase of Alners Gorse Reserve by Butterfly Conservation in 2005 was funded by a legacy from Pamela Lewis, enabling us to preserve this fantastic site for butterflies. The land was bought from a local charitable trust, The William Williams Charity.