Once the grounds of an 18th century mansion (Warren House), Stanmore Country Park is a fantastic 31-hectare park in Harrow. Even on a warm, sunny day there were surprisingly few people enjoying the multitude of paths that criss-cross the site, several with spectacular views.
I entered the park from the bottom most westerly corner off Dennis Lane where dense woodland is punctuated by open, sunny glades. It was here that I started to see an abundance of butterflies. Within minutes I’d seen all three of the golden Skippers that can be seen in London at this time of year: Large (patterned wings), Small (orange-tipped antennae) and Essex (black-tipped antennae).
They bobbed and darted between flower heads in their moth-like manner, every so often being challenged by a Meadow Brown, looking giant in comparison. Winding past wide-crowned oaks, I startled a muntjac deer which in turn disturbed a cloud of Ringlets as it disappeared into the damp undergrowth. This small, dog-sized deer species was introduced to the UK from China in the 20th Century and is now widespread across southeast England.
Following the path upwards through towering stands of Hemlock giving off their pungent mousy scent, I spotted several golden Commas basking on bramble leaves. These fresh-looking individuals will have hatched from eggs laid in the spring. This part of the park is known as Wood Farm and has only been open to the public since 2015; the climb is well worth the breath-taking view from the ‘London Viewpoint’ at the top. It really felt like a window to the world with views right across from Alexandra Palace in the east to Heathrow in the southwest, and over London to Box Hill in the south.
The area surrounding the viewpoint has been sown with native flower mixes and the abundant plumes of Lady’s Bedstraw and punky purple mop tops of Greater Knapweed were teeming with Marbled Whites and my first Gatekeepers of the year. Chocolatey orange-coloured Gatekeepers get their name from often being found near gateways and on field edges. They are widespread across London but can often be confused with the larger and usually less orange Meadow Brown.
I followed a Holly Blue down the brambly slopes and back into the woodland glades of Stanmore CP proper. Throughout July, one butterfly species goes about its business largely unnoticed, spending much of its time at the top of oak trees where it feeds on aphid honeydew. Purple Hairstreaks are one of the five hairstreak species found in the UK but due to their tree-top habits they are largely under-recorded. I sat on a well-placed bench in one of the glades and trained my eyes on the top of one of the largest oaks nearby. Before long I was rewarded with the sight of two silvery individuals darting jerkily between the uppermost branches, the perfect end to a splendid walk.