Three Remarkable Finds. By Andrew Brown

Over the years since I moved to Norwich in 1976 I have been involved in three situations
when I found two rare butterflies and an orchid, and had the responsibility of sharing my finds
with other interested people.
The summer of 1976 was memorable for its sustained beautiful weather (1977 was nearly as
good!). Just after I moved to Norwich that year my new neighbour kindly offered to show me
the Norfolk coast in mid-August. As we walked along the East Bank at Walsey Hills,
Salthouse I asked him what was a large yellow butterfly with a brown edging to its wings.
‘Camberwell Beauty. Why?’ ‘I’ve just seen one’, I replied. Unfortunately, he didn’t. 1976 was
possibly the best year ever for Camberwells in modern times.
Fast forward almost exactly 28 years to 2004.
At that time, I spent most mornings walking the dogs before breakfast but on this particular
day, probably because of a late night with my student, I walked the dogs just before midday.
As I got to the end of the road a Camberwell Beauty jumped out of a decorative purple plum
tree and posed defiantly in front of me with wings spread wide. I later took this to be a
territorial display as it stayed in and around the tree for nearly three weeks, The fruit of the
tree was beginning to rot and I imagine this was what persuaded it to hang around..
I immediately returned home to spread the news, but at that stage didn’t know any butterfly
people. I worked with a top birder called Peter Milford who some readers may have known, so
I phoned him with the news and pretty soon the area was full of people. Peter was one of
those birders who thought nothing of jumping into his car on finishing work on a Friday to see
some rarity somewhere in the British Isles and then getting back in time for work on Monday
morning.

The Beauty stayed in the area for two and a half weeks, and many people came from all over
the country to see it. It was a very cooperative and spectacular insect often stretching
its wings flying from house to house and it was quite strange to walk past and to see it every
day, perched on the eaves of a house or hanging upside down on a fence. I particularly
remember on the second Saturday a lot of people arrived from all over but no sign of the
butterfly. People gradually drifted away until by mid-afternoon only one person, who had
travelled down from the Wirral, was left. I was commiserating with him when my neighbour
came running round the house to tell us that his quarry had become trapped in his
greenhouse; so, the patient visitor got some of the best photographs.
After the Beauty disappeared, stragglers continued to turn up to see it including an author
who wrote books on the circumstances surrounding rare sightings but I don’t know whether
my butterfly ever made it into print until now.
My other sightings which caused considerable interest somewhat overlapped. One was a
butterfly which had only been seen in the British Isles once before, some sixty years ago. The
other, an orchid that had not been seen in the County since 1956. Both came with problems
and the need to make decisions as to how best to manage these sightings.
In 2011 Matt Casey and I decided to rescue a neglected site in Queen’s Hills on the site of an
old open cast sand quarry in Costessey. An area which a bankrupt builder had tried to
unsuccessfully annex was a perfect prospect, set in a semicircle of oak trees open to the
south with a multitude of buddleia already flourishing. The only problem was the newly built
houses marching quickly towards the site.

Over the next few years 28 species of butterfly had been attracted to the site including
Clouded Yellow in five consecutive years. After a week of bad weather in early July 2014,
Matt and I visited the site on the Sunday afternoon and immediately on arrival Matt shouted
‘Large Tortoiseshell’, which were then very rare in England. It was extremely hungry and was
only interested in feeding. After the excitement died down I notified Butterfly Conversation of
our find and provided them with pictures. It was accepted as a Large Tortoiseshell but was felt
to have been released from a green burial service from a few miles away. The uncertainty
continued until I arrived home from playing Bridge on the Monday evening to learn that Matt
had called to tell my wife that our butterfly was, in fact, a Scarce or Yellow Legged
Tortoiseshell, many of which had been blown north in mainland Europe, with a few crossing
the North Sea to England. Despite this information the official position so far as Norfolk
Butterfly Conservation was concerned, was unchanged.
We invited a few friends, including a committee member of Butterfly Conservation to
photograph what was made easy as the visitor was still a very hungry insect. We didn’t know
what to do. Returning home on Tuesday evening after a succulent steak and a couple of
glasses of red wine I decided to throw the site open as we knew quite a few people were
searching for its location. I notified Rare Bird Alert and the next morning plenty of people
turned up. We needn’t have worried about our site being trampled as visitors were very
respectful. About midday our visitor appeared 20 feet up on an oak tree at the back of the site
with its wings pressed back against the tree trunk.
I realised afterwards that visitors had stood around it’s favourite buddleia bushes and this
might have been the reason it didn’t come down to feed as it had done the previous two days.
After half an hour or so it left and never returned. As the few visitors had arrived in Norfolk
unimpregnated, and presumably a male and female had not met in this country, no sightings
of the species has been seen in England since.
It was an opportunity missed by Butterfly Conservation to gain maximum publicity. Instead of
coming to us, BBC tv went to Minsmere. On the same day that our overseas visitor arrived
we saw a Silver Washed Fritillary on the site for the first time, which stayed for the rest of the
summer.

Before and during the excitement over the Yellow-Legged Tortoiseshell, Matt and I were
checking the Old Hospital site in Drayton for butterflies, in particular for Small Heath which
were declining markedly on inland sites. Whilst doing so we noticed an unusual orchid
growing and were disappointed when nothing happened as it seemed to wither away into the
Autumn.
In the late spring of 2015, the orchid reappeared, and for a while nothing much seemed to
happen. I played Bridge against one of Norfolk’s best known orchid enthusiasts and I sent her
regular pictures of the developing plant. Finally, in mid-June, I received an email from her
from Madeira where she was working on something to do with orchids, giving me the news
that it was a Lizard Orchid so called because the many flowers resembled a lizard.
What I didn’t know was that my contact was a specialist in exotic orchids and that there were
several different societies. From checking up I found that the Lizard Orchid had not been seen
in Norfolk since 1956 in Newton Flotman, and that there are only three known sites of them in
the British Isles.

I released pictures to various interested people, got my picture in the local paper and let
various organisations know but nobody came forward to take responsibility as to how best we
should handle the situation. We didn’t know whether to protect the site which would probably
attract attention We were very worried about a mole seeming to make a beeline for the plant.
Should we disclose the location or not or should we throw it open to let interested people see
it? In the end when nobody seemed to want to become involved, I decided to invite
members of WVBS and their contacts to see it on a Saturday morning which quite a few
members took advantage of.
Nobody knows how the orchid came to be growing there. Apparently, it needs two years of a
particular climate sequence. It is possible that the seed may have lain dormant for a long

time, that seeds may have been carried there by migrant birds or that they had been wind-
blown from the continent.

The next year I was told that the Lizard could flower for a second year. I went to the site in
early spring and there was new growth on the orchid. It flowered a second year but not in the
majestic way it had done the previous year. My picture admiring the plant in the local press
reappeared a couple of years later with those opposing the development of the site using it as
a reason for refusing planning permission.
I’ve checked every year since in the area but no further sign. It is possible that it was removed
so as not to thwart the owner’s intention to develop the site.

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