Tales from the Trees: Monk Wood, Worcestershire - The flutter of butterflies will take you back to childhood

 

It suddenly strikes me that I can't remember when I last saw a butterfly. I have memories of summers where every tufted thistle top was alive with these winged works of art, but in recent years they've largely been notable by their absence, save for the odd cabbage white flitting around a railway siding buddleia.

Well, not today. Monk Wood in Worcestershire is an unassuming little place, but it has a wonderful secret.

A semi-natural wood once belonging to Worcester Priory, that dates back to the time of William the Conqueror, its ash and hazel were regularly coppiced in the 17th and 18th centuries, creating large glades and gaps in the tree cover. These "rides" are still maintained by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, creating perfect patches for woodland wildflowers, those butterfly magnets.

I'm soon stepping over muntjac deer prints as I wade into deep bramble and thistle to reach a secluded, sun-lit expanse. The air is awash with flashes of light, darting, landing or beating their wings as they refresh with nectar. I recognise some: the beautiful peacock with its two painted "eyes" and sapphire circles; the tortoiseshell, so named for its iridescent tones of orange, black and yellow with blue trim.

Other rarities are harder to place and demand a dip into my field guide – a small copper, a purple hairstreak, a common blue and a brimstone. It is striking to watch such a mass of movement, such industry, occurring silently. There is a soundtrack, however, as always in woodland; it is the constant burbling of warblers in the ash trees and the far off call of a woodpecker.

Somehow, the afternoon vanishes as I hungrily scour the wood. Once I have my eye in, it's hard to switch off. Thankfully, my nearby accommodation has an enviable garden and orchard largely turned over to wildflowers so the treasure hunting can continue.

Stalking among the high grass, guided by my host, Stuart Smith, a keen butterfly man himself, we find yet more species: the small gatekeeper and the curiously but suitably monikered "comma", trembling its large, tiger-toned punctuation-mark wings in the last of the day's sun.

* Monk Wood is near Monkwood Green (WR2 6NX), five miles from Worcester station. Trains are operated by First Great Western (08457 000 125; firstgreatwestern.co.uk). Stay at The Retreat self-catering apartment (holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/worcester/210892) in nearby Wolferlow from £86 per night. Drake's (07968 969626) supplies evening meals at on request, £17 for two courses, £25 for three

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