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Leisure Outdoors

Devils Dyke and Chalk Loving Butterflies

On August the 21st we went to Reach, a village east of Cambridge, with Will, our Shetland son who was visiting.

It is a very interesting place, on the ‘fen edge’ with a derelict quay on the north west side of the village at the head of Reach Lode, once an important transport route to the rivers Cam and Ouse and out to the North Sea via the Wash.  On the opposite side of the village is the north western end of Devils Dyke, an 11 km Anglo Saxon earth rampart and ditch aligned north-west to south-east. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_Dyke,_Cambridgeshire

Over the years we have visited Devils Dyke on many occasions and it has spectacular flora and fauna, particularly linked to its chalk soils. The google satellite view below shows the section of the dyke nearest to Reach. It forms a cross shape (lower half of the view in the centre) where the dyke was cut through by the Cambridge to Mildenhall railway. This line went through Burwell, the village on the east side of the satellite view.

We walked along the dyke until we arrived at the railway cutting. The photo below was taken looking along the line of the old railway towards Burwell (we could just see the church spire) and the position of Devils Dyke is approximately at the telegraph pole. The point of our visit was to find butterflies and their food plants (not to study transport routes from the past!) and the photo below is typical of Will and Patrick both looking out for anything interesting.

This cutting is sheltered and has a rich flora including many food plants for butterflies such as chalkhill blues. The next two pictures show Will photographing some of them. He is patient and experienced in wildlife photography. His pictures come out well as he knows how to get good close-ups. My efforts are pathetic by comparison along the lines of ‘that was where the butterfly was but it flew away’, ‘you can just about see it but I wasn’t really close enough’ etc!

And here they are checking the pictures.

The photos below are some of those that Will took:

Pair of chalk hill blues

And below a male chalkhill blue

This photo is a male brown argus

Our return took us past this signpost – it indicates that the designated footpath is ‘Earthworks Way’ not surprisingly given that most of it is along Devil’s Dyke, a dramatic earthwork.

Once we were on our way back to Reach we noticed plenty of interesting plants and this profusion of sloes (blackthorn). Normally we pick sloes in order to make sloe gin – but it’s too early in August. Ideally they should be frosted, but that’s not always possible unless there are early frosts in November. By January/February when there are more reliable frosts the berries have gone past their best.

The ditch on the south west side of Devil’s Dyke is very deep. This photo below shows the shallower ‘ditch’ on the north east side of the dyke. It was a rich area of plants, butterflies and ants – we saw at least two anthills.

This very pleasant outing achieved what we had set out to do, to see chalk flora and fauna, particularly butterflies. It ended with a drink in the Red Lion in Swaffham Prior, on our way back to Cambridge!

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