Tucked away behind Blackbushe Airport, with the main entrance and small parking layby on Coopers Hill Road, Castle Bottom is a beautiful but frequently overlooked site. Many people don’t even realise it’s there! Fortunately wildlife hasn’t had any difficulty finding it and taking full advantage of the mix of mire, heathland and woodland.
New Forest ponies have been grazing the site through the summer to help us keep scrub from encroaching on to the heathland. The grazing creates areas with short grass where flowers such as common centaury, bird’s foot trefoil, and milkwort flourish. The 2 areas of mire give rise to interesting flowers that need acidic conditions and low nutrient levels. Bog pimpernel, bog asphodel and sundew are a few distinctive ones. Sundews have evolved to be carnivorous to get enough nutrients to survive, when a small invertebrate inadvertently strays on to one of the sticky leaves it slowly closes around it and digests it.
New Forest ponies
Also this summer, birds have been making good use of the site. The nightjar walk saw at least 3 males displaying, churring, and wing clapping. The dawn chorus walk provided good views of willow warbler, garden warbler and a sparrow hawk in display flight. Not wanting to miss out, adders and common lizards have been seen basking in sheltered spots where the ground is bare.
The invertebrates have also had a successful summer with many warm days for visiting flowers, finding a mate and patrolling their territories. Many species of dragonfly and damselfly inhabit Castle Bottom; golden ringed, black tailed skimmer, emerald damselfly and azure damselfly to name a few. They are strong fliers and skim the top of the heather in search of other invertebrates to eat.
Golden ringed dragonfly
Butterflies, bees, flies and beetles are also in abundance amongst the heather. One of the most interesting and distinctive beetles to see is the poplar leaf beetle and its larvae. The adult looks like a large ladybird without spots. The larvae when large are also very distinctive, yellowy cream colour with black spots along its body through which it emits an acidic smelling fluid.
Poplar leaf beetle larvae
Poplar leaf beetle
As summer comes to an end there will still be plenty to see at this beautiful site. Keep an eye out for birds and fungi.