Finding the valley of the butterflies

Efforts to plant and nurture wild flower areas across Ipswich’s open spaces have been rewarded with a riot of colour and insects aplenty, especially at Landseer Park.

A heatwave at the end of June: perfect conditions for early summer butterflies and tucked away in central Ipswich, the perfect setting.

I had joined members of the Suffolk branch of Butterfly Conservation to take a leisurely stroll through Landseer Park to see what we could find – it was to be a wonderful morning outing.

Leading the way was David Dowding, a wildlife and education ranger with Ipswich Borough Council, who has been involved with enhancing the town’s parks for pollinators for more than seven years. This work was ramped up in 2017 when the Buglife charity provided funding for its Urban Buzz Ipswich project, a two-year initiative aimed at partnering with local community groups to bring bees, beetles and butterflies into the heart of the town.

David Dowding leads a toyur of Landseer Park Photo: Ross Bentley

Led by David and thanks to the enthusiasm and hard work of more than 800 volunteers, over 100 buzzing hotspots were improved for pollinators by introducing a variety of wildflowers, bug-friendly garden plants and flowering shrubs intended to peak at different times from mid-April to mid-October and thus provide a long window of opportunity for nectar seeking invertebrates.

The Urban Buzz Ipswich teams worked on high profile locations such as Holywells Park, Christchurch Park and Landseer Park, with partners including Ipswich Borough Council, Greenways Countryside Project, Butterfly Conservation Suffolk and the Ipswich Wildlife Group – all with the aim of bringing colour and wildlife back to the parks and open spaces of Suffolk’s county town.

Wild flowers in Landseer Park Photo: David Walsh

What a selection

Such is the subtle majesty of our native wild flowers that their beauty only becomes truly apparent close up: the lilac of field scabious; the flamboyant blue spikes of viper’s-bugloss; the yellow, honey-scented lady’s bedstraw – the names conjuring up images of their usage back centuries ago when people understood better the properties of our natural flora.

Once among the flowers and grasses, and moving slowly along the mown tracks, the butterflies also came into view – and what a selection we saw. A fresh-looking small tortoiseshell got the ball rolling, proudly showing off its velvety red-orange wings. Then, the painted ladies got into the act – the intricate wing patterns of this pale pinky-orange long-distance migrant a delight.

Among the grasses, meadow brown butterflies flitted, showing flashes of their orange-dotted upper wing; Essex skippers skipped – at one point we saw four of these little orange gems congregate at a small puddle-pond, taking on water in unison. A chocolatey-brown ringlet butterfly hugged the nooks and crannies at the base of the grasses – moving in and out of the shadows.

Essex Skipper Photo: David Walsh


What sets Landseer Park apart from other open spaces in Ipswich is its history. During the 1960s, this valley that leads gently down to the River Orwell was used as a landfill site, When it was full, it was capped with soil and left to settle. No houses can be built on this 50 acres of undulating terrain, so it has just been left to be. Whereas in the more formal parks in Ipswich wildflower areas are limited to the outside areas to provide a corridor for wildlife, about 80% of Landseer Park is now dedicated to nature – the clay soils used to cap the landfill providing a contrast of soil types to the sandy areas elsewhere. I think of what might be buried below but realise that the true treasure is now found above ground.

And it’s not just butterflies that are found here. David says several species of rare bumblebee frequent the environs, including the large garden bumblebee. I see and avoid an imposing hornet mimic hoverfly while dazzling blue emperor dragonflies make regular appearances. I’m not sure if it is the same dragonfly that keeps popping up to keep an eye on us or whether there are number of these hovering majesties here to lunch on the banquet of insects before them.

Daises abound in Landseer Park Photo: David Walsh

Magic moment

For me the highlight came as we approached an area of knapweed and we caught sight of a marbled white butterfly. This beautifully chequered creature, who proves that you don’t need colour to be stunning, is common in the south west of the country but rarely seen in East Anglia, although David tells me the species is slowly starting to make inroads into Suffolk. This one won’t sit still long enough for us to get a good view. – it moves in an agitated manner across the tall grass, obviously in search of a mate.

Later, we find two marbled whites mating, their rear ends fused together. But there is no privacy for these two winged lovers, as people get close to take photographs – it’s a magic moment for all involved!!

Marbled whites in flagrant declicto Photo: David Walsh

Moving up into a wooded area, more butterfly species make themselves known; small speckled wood butterflies flutter across our path, as if welcoming us to their domain, while a rare white-letter hairstreak butterfly is spotted up in the canopy of some coppiced elms. These butterflies are tricky to see and are generally viewed as a dark triangle silhouette against the sky.

Tired of craning my neck, I follow a more familiar red admiral butterfly – a treat in red and black – out of the woods, and head for onwards. With the sun shining, we drive on to Felixstowe for an afternoon by the sea, an ice-cream and fish ‘n chips – the works.

But amidst all the man-made fun, my mind keeps drifting back to the natural wonders of Landseer Park. At this time of year, it is a truly wonderful place.

This article first appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times in July 2019.

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