Three Hagges

 Wood Meadow

 Public Access  Biodiversity Project  Selby

Managed by PlantLife

Site  details 

Recorders:  Meg Abu Hamdan, Chris Abbott and Nick Hall           Length 3140m    Walk Time 1-1.25 hour      

  A former intensively farmed arable field converted for biodiversity in 2013 lies on the south edge of the  Escrick glacial moraine on the northern edge of the Humberhead levels.  The soil is sandy silt with a wet area in the south.  The site,  is not far from Skipwith Common  NNR, one of the larger tracts of lowland heath remaining in the Vale of York. The eastern edge of Three Hagges Woodmeadow adjoins Hollicarrs Wood,  a PAWS site with some fine old Oaks and even signs of Elm Coppice.

The woodmeadow was created to build on its local botanical heritage as the area is famous for the rare MG5 damp grassland of the nearby Lower Derwent Valley.  The plan was to incorporate meadow with copses of native trees and coppice areas in order to maximise biodiversity. 40% of the area is seeded with meadow mix seed.  1200 invertebrate species had been recorded by 2019 with more arriving along with what seems like a new species of butterfly every year. The woodmeadow has benefitted not only by being close to ancient woodland and Skipwith Common as a source but  also by being close to the old North Selby Mine abandoned nearly 20 years ago .  There you find abundant invertebrates including  scarce butterfly species such as Dingy Skipper, Six-belted Clearwing, Marbled White and Small Heath and many have made their way to the woodmeadow. 


The transect is damp in the south S1 section with sedge and sallow regrowth.  The transect route skirts the meadow S2, runs up the east side S3 andturns south between the north-west and north-east copses and across the dry meadow S4. It then enters Bomber wood in S5, an old dispersal area of the airfield still with its oak trees and popular with Brimstone, Comma and large numbers of speckled wood.  S6 goes around the boundary of a intensive agriculture field , into an  improved hay meadow S7 and then on into the PAWS woodland S8 and returning along a  shady dyke side S9 that bounds the meadow. Crossing the road we circle the ponds and then enter the resown but unmanaged tiny meadow which often abounds with the skippers and Common Blue  Section counts below

Results:  2023   Yet another new species arrives! with Essex Skipper identified for the first time but drought made for a poor year

County wide 2023 results reflect  the 2022 Heat and drought  with Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock nearly halved for the second year against their 5 year average. Red Admiral arrived in force in July and took advantage of soft nettle growth of the rains and had their best year ever. Drought sensitive species on thin soils were badly hit,  particularly Dark -green Fritillary and Northern Brown Argus but also Ringlet, Green-viened White and Small Heath.  Less drought affected species along with the hottest June on record built even more on gains last year leading to Comma, Brimstone, Holly Blue and most Browns  having a fantastic year reaching all time highs. A increase of 9% overall was mostly due to sheer numbers of Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers ment 2023 nearly pipped 2014 as best year in modern times.  Most noticeable was the large differeces between moisiture retaining mineral soils of the valleys and thin, dry limestone or sandy soils. A large number of damp grassland, hedgerow and woodland  dominated sites benefitted hugely with 3 sites seeing more than 50% increase . A smaller number of thin, chalky, sandy or craggy sites did badly some down up to 25%.

Three Hagges  overal numbers were somewhat down but this was not uncommon on  dryer sandier sites that suffered more in the 2022 extreme heat.  Like almost all downland sites one of the main contributing factors was the very poor performance of Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell which  were badly affected by the heat with the later even failing to have a second generation. Overwintering numbers of both species were also poor and a dry start and a very hot June this year has ment 2023 was  an even worse year. There are signs in the uplands  and north of the Vale of York that Peacock has started to come back. Hopefully after this wet summer we might see some recovery next year.

The site also has a good deal in common with teh overall County  species trends. The drought sensitive species were hit worse with Ringlet, Orange Tip and Green-viened white down.  The big winners were once again Brimstone, Comma, Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood and of course Red Admiral all of which had their best year ever here and of the county.  On the sandy sareas it also suited Common Blue and Small Copper which returned almost to their 2019 peak. 

Always brilliant to see a new species with Chris spotting an Essex Skipper. Well Done.

3HWM Transect report 2020

Results:  2022   Numbers down  but worryingly the Vanessids failing to produce a summer generation in the extreme heat.  However  Holly Blue, Comma , Brown Argus and Gatekeeper boomed!

Overall numbers were a tad down and drought began to play a factor.  Meadow Brown accounted for half the losses but also a devastating loss of  the whole summer generations of Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock recording almost zero from July onwards.  Other losers were Small Skipper  Small Copper and Common Blue while in the heatwave  favoured Brown Argus which boomed. Holly Blue also boomed after zero last year they bounced back getting the upper hand temporarily over its parasite in its regular 5-6 year cycle of boom and bust. Comma in contrast with all the other vanessids boomed having its best year at the meadow so far.  In common with previous years Marbled White visited and this was a common occurance in the local area with even one in  my garden. They certainly had a dispersal year driven on by the heatwaves.  It is doubtful it wil establish just yet as it needs an abundance of Red Fescue grasses which needs the grasslandto  mature. Still our best hope is Small Heath coming from north selby mine site which should appear in advance as it is less fussy and will take other grasses as well as Red Fescue.  Marbled White is certainly breeding on a few select local sites like dry verges and chalk railway enbankments around York. It  is rapidly rising in number around Kippax and along  the magnesian limestone ridge which may account why it has become such a reguler visitor to the site.  

Amongst the brown Speckled Wood did  well doubling up on last year. Gatekeeper boomed as it did throughout the county  while Ringlet  had its best year so far.  Dingy Skipper held its ground breeding somewhere near the pond and we might suspect on Birds foot trefoil overhanging bare soil where it gets the most advantageous boost in  microclimate temperature.  A butterfly bank would greatly assist keeping this rare and special little butterfly and would attract other species like the Small Heath and the Blues and the Brown Argus if some Dove's foot cranesbill was sown.

It was still our best year since 2019 which was a universally a good year for all.  Numbers recorded did drop off rapidly in the beginning of August and most species finished early and September was extremely disappointing indeed apart from bomber wood. This section  is the most consistant section for a wide range of species. Next year is difficult to judge with the disaster amongst the Vanessids and so few going into hibernation.  The effects of the drought is also tricky to forecast and the survival rates of eggs and young caterpillars but it was some conselation that after the July heatwave we had  significant rainfall at the end of that month which will hopefully save many. The rains  greened up the meadow significantly at least till the August heatwave when the herbs and grasses once again suffered.  It could have been so much worse!

Results:  2021   

Numbers down overall  after a very bad start  but a good recovery.  Dingy Skipper now breeding on site  

The beginning of the season was atrocious with cold, often wet weather right  up to June which resulted in very few butterflies seen but also missed walking weeks.  It also created a big delay in the start of the main summer season by up to 2 weeks. Both May and June were almost months without butterflies even with the better June weather. Transect walkers across the country became quite concerned.  However when it did start, the bounce back was good!!  Also,  species recovered well in their  second generation. The bad effects of  the spring were particularly pronounced on our hibernating species  that held out  till May but then succumbed before laying an egg.  The few that made it through  were then a month  late.  

Stand out species were first Small Tortoiseshell and then Gatekeeper but also Orange Tip and Brown Argus did better.  As you can see from the trend analysis most of the losses were among  the Skippers, Whites  Blues and Vanessids while the Browns had a fabulous time! The less numerous species seemed to suffer the most  but this follows similar trends throughout Yorkshire.  It was our poorest season so far, numbers being near 8% slightly worse than the Yorkshire average. Everywhere grass growth was strong this year and  the sward height was much higher than normal and less floral as a result of competition. It is worth pointing out  the  previous three dry warm springs which had become a pattern since 2018  went firmly in reverse in 2021 with a very weak undulating  jet stream causing alternating weeks of   cold arctic air being  dragged south  and then warm Spanish plumes being dragged north! Yorkshire seemed to live directly under this crazy switch with both Scotland and parts of the Dales , southern UK  and  particularly Europe getting a better summer.

The standout success of the year was Dingy Skipper  appearing now to be breeding  just south of the pond  and Brown Argus  also breeding although this species tends to be migratory . Large Skipper had a bit of a boom  year while the trend over Yorkshire was strongly down(-25%) while in contrast Small Skipper  was the opposite and had a bad year while in Yorkshire there was little change. The reasons for this are unknown although the weather remains chief suspect  although there could be a management element.  Brimstone was down as they are elsewhere in Yorkshire and the new generation was a disaster so we should expect next spring   to see  reduced numbers.  The cause we suspect is the poor spring and being heavily predated by hungry birds.  The  2 cabbage whites after a bad start had  a  good finish  but Large White  was down 5% and Small White  well down 40%  which follows the Yorkshire trends down 5% and 27% respectively . Green-veined White was average -3% and Yorkshire  was also unchanged.  Orange Tip had a  better than average year  even with the weather during its flight season  up 8% and in Yorkshire up 25%.  Small Copper had a very poor year -45% as did the Common Blue  -43% and numbers continue to fall  for the third year.  However the Yorkshire trends  are also down over the same term.  Neither Holly Blue or Purple Hairstreak were seen this year although numbers are always very low. In Yorkshire Holy Blue had a disastrous 1st generation but rallied  on the second but was  down on all transects! The Dark Green Fritillary was not seen this year and although not near as good a year as last its movement north continues and it remains Yorkshire's  fastest expanding species using the magnesian limestone ridge's woods and meadows as its  pathway.  

Amongst our Vanessids  Small Tortoiseshell stands out again as it does elsewhere in having a second if not an even better year than last up 42%  and in Yorkshire up near 90% even with last years boom. There were very high numbers on the second generation. Peacock and Comma were average although the second generation of Peacock was a disaster as it was throughout Yorkshire.  The trend for Yorkshire's Comma is also  down.   Red Admiral was  down 50%  and  follows the  Yorkshire trend and we only saw numbers right at the end of the season.  Amongst the Browns, the headline is Gatekeeper had an exceptional year up19% and in Yorkshire up 66% and Marbled White was seen again so we know  it is testing the site for suitability!  Both Meadow Brown and  Ringlet, by far the most numerous species,  were average,  although both species were quite late emerging. 

2021 had the potential and we began to believe it was going to be a disaster... it wasn't! However we  should expect spring 2022 to reflect lower numbers entering hibernation particularly Peacock.  

Results: 2020

The Browns boom!  Dark -Greeen Fritillary and Marbled White visit!!

 The Meadow’s highlight in 2020 was the appearance of the Dark Green Fritillary seen on several occasions but not recorded on the transect. This species was also the highlight of Yorkshire with large numbers recorded and individuals turning up in gardens and appears to going through a migratory phase. In addition the Dingy skipper reappeared on several occasions plus a pair of Marbled Whites were seen by Chris Abbott. The summer downpours in the woodland meant the trees were washed clean of their honeydew, the major food source of some of our canopy dwelling species like the Hairstreaks and they revealed their presence for the first time at low level and occasionally, very unusually, taking nectar. Several Purple Hairstreaks were seen in Bomber wood . The large Wych Elm in the corner of the meadow did not yield any sightings. 

  Eight species were significantly down even after making some adjustments for the missed weeks. This is likely the effects of 2019 heat on survival of eggs and larvae and the absence of Painted Ladies which were recorded in good numbers in 2019.There was also a significant drop in Red Admirals which are also migratory. Comma and Peacock were down we think due to nectar shortage as this was not the case elsewhere. Small Copper joined Large Skipper with rather low numbers. Common Blue had a disastrous year. Gatekeeper was also down somewhat which could be attributed possibly to 2019 heat or the 2020 spring drought while its caterpillars were feeding up. 6 species showed an increase. Most notable was Small Tortoiseshell numbers were hugely improved returning to much more normal levels after several bad years. Nationally a similar picture was seen with some areas showing large gains but southern England continued with poor figures. This is thought to be much more to do with its parasites. Whites showed similar gains here and elsewhere. It was also better news amongst the Browns (apart from Gatekeeper). Meadow Brown had a super year and made up the numbers lost from the other species plus a lot more and are largely responsible for the larger total of butterflies reported. It achieved 4 weeks of numbers greater than 100 individuals compared to just 2 weeks in 2019. Looking at how individual sections of the transects faired we can see section 3 stands out ( that is the walk along the eastern boundary) and abounded in Browns. The main meadow sections of 1, 2 and 4 were similar but the agricultural field numbers were well down. Bomber wood had sustained nectar and was a solid performer through the season with the richest range of species much like Bishop Wood and numbers were similar in the other sections