Saturday, 28 July 2007

Lydden Down

There is a nature reserve on the east side the the valley betweenTemple Ewell and Lydden, which has been managed for the benefit of chalk downland plants and butterflies. The result is spectacular, as hundreds of Chalkhill Blue butterflies emerge to fly across the down.

An expert was out on the down today, and his report can be seen here.
There are apparently still Chalkhill Blue butterflies in Kingsdown, on the clifftops and possibly on downland elsewhere - I haven't yet seen any, but I'll keep looking!

Post script - one (only) blue butterfly on the rifle range today - a Common Blue.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Knight's Bottom & The Lynch

A path follows the dry valley from Hawkshill to Oxney Bottom, dividing Kingsdown from Ringwould. The northern part is known as Knight's Bottom and the southern part is the Lynch, with a small wood between them known rather grandly as Great Coombe.

Great Coombe has a number of interesting trees including a stand of Yews (above) and a Wych Elm (below).
The east side of the valley was clear of scrub and trees until the 1950s, and presumably was grazed chalk grassland. Now however the stronger varieties have mostly taken over, making the path enclosed and oppressive, and the banks are bare or ivy-covered.

The only remaining piece of grassland (and as far as I'm aware the only piece inland from the golf course and cliffs apart from Hawkshill) is a small side of the Lynch, which still has a good variety of chalk downland plants.

A local told me that during the last war, troops used the chalk bank as a target for shooting practice, so a metal detector could bring up some interesting finds.

The bank catches the sun in the afternoon, and there was a good selection of butterflies, day-flying moths and other insects enjoying it today.

Green-veined white

Large Skipper on Scabious

Large Skipper on Burdock

Hiding under a hedge was a reminder that Autumn is not far away - Lords&Ladies berries.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Borage and terns

Just off the A20 at Hougham there's a field of a spectacular blue crop, or maybe a serious weed problem. Eventually my curiosity got the better of me, and I had to stop to see what it is - and it turned out to be borage.

One mystery therefore gave way to another - why would the farmer want to grow so much of a crop which (while I know it's a medicinal herb, being called officinalis) has no commercial use that I know of.

The net comes to the rescue as always, and it transpires that borage is a high value crop grown to produce starflower oil for health food supplements and skincare products. As it needs plenty of bees to polinate it, special beehives are often brought in to do the work, resulting in an individually-flavoured honey - I'll look out for it!

The leaves taste of cucumber and are used in salads, and can also be a pleasant addition to a jug of Pimms.

On another matter, the coast is resounding to the harsh calls of the Sandwich terns, which are starting to leave their nesting sites (like Rye Harbour) to fish over a wider area. Their 'kerrick's
can be heard surprisingly far inland if the wind is in the right direction. They often provide a marvellous sight off Kingsdown, diving into the sea after fish.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

The Glen

The inland road to Walmer and Deal is called the Glen, and although it goes between open fields itself is well wooded. A photograph taken around 1920 shows that it was then completely open (perhaps indicating the recent drop in demand for firewood?)

The paddocks along The Glen currently have a full and varied vegetation, similar to a meadow that I'm surveying for a local landowner. The contrast with grazed grass fields, and especially with monoculture arable fields, is striking.


There are good views from here to the Ripple windmill, recently renovated.
One of the benefits of spending time surveying a meadow is the proximity to the many insects that inhabit it. Today, in addition to the usual Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns, little Skippers and the numerous Gatekeepers, there was a Clouded Yellow, keeping still for a change.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Kingsdown Wood

Kingsdown Wood (or the Bluebell Wood or the Magic Wood) sits on a clay outcrop through the chalk, providing a contrast to the surrounding countryside. The vegetation is more like that of the weald, with bluebells, celandines and wood anemones in spring, and becomes a dark gloomy place when the canopy closes in the summer.

The south-west part has quite large trees (mostly ash) while the greater part of the other half is hawthorn, knarled with age.
Now that the spring flowers have gone, there are just a few areas of red campion, and the splendidly-named enchanter's nightshade to brighten the gloom.

Mosses, bracken and lichen abound in the undergrowth, quite unlike the dry chalk downlands around the wood.
Until recently, the wood has been quiet in summer, with few birds apart from roosting wood pigeons, but over the past few years some clearings have been made, opening up parts of the wood to the sunlight, and encouraging nesting birds like green woodpeckers, blackcaps, blackbirds, robins and wrens, and butterflies (speckled woods and red admirals) and other insects. The variety of plants has also increased in these areas.

A young robin

Hedge Woundwort

Harlequin Ladybird

There is a hole at the eastern edge of the wood, which has become a good play area for kids, but which is of uncertain origin. We've found old bottles and crockery in the soil there, perhaps indicating the site of an old refuse tip, but others say it is a crater from a wartime bomb.

This part of the wood has large numbers of small pebbles in the soil, which I think occur naturally, although Tony Pettit, a naturalist and man of wisdom, told me that they may have been collected by early inhabitants of the wood, as ammunition for slings.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Two Little Owls

There were two little Little Owls on the stump this morning - one looking frightened, one looking aggressive.

One of the parents was on a nearby bush, displaced from his usual position by the youngsters.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

More knapping

On the subject of knapping, Kingsdown, like other places on the chalk, has many examples of the use of flint in construction. The older part of Dial Cottage, above, is a good example of a flint-faced building, alternating with rows of brick.

The wall around the church uses roughly-knapped flints as filling between sandstone. The church itself, being relatively recent, does not use flint, in contrast to the older churches in surrounding villages.

The wall of the 'big house' uses knapped flint and brick to a pleasing decorative effect, similar to that of 'Wayside' below, which is much older.

Returning to the etymology of 'Knapweed', the word 'knap' was used to mean 'to take' or 'to steal', and to be 'knapped' meant to be pregnant, as did 'Mr Knap's been there'. Your knapper could mean your head, while your knappers (confusingly) are your knees.
I expect that the word 'flint-knapping' comes from the sound of chipping away at a stone to give it the right shape....knap, knap, knap....but that's only my guess.

On another matter, there were over a hundred Marbled Whites on the beach between South Road and the rifle range today (the first and maybe last day of summer?), with smaller numbers of other species including my first Gatekeeper and Clouded Yellow of the year.


Thursday, 5 July 2007


The flowers of Greater and Common Knapweed are stunning on local grasslands at the moment - and the insects are loving it. Many types of bees and bugs can be seen gorging on the nectar of the attractive flower-heads, so engrossed that they often ignore the distraction of a large camera being thrust at them.

A large hoverfly perhaps?

The name Knapweed is interesting - as it's usually found on chalk, is the plant merely a pointer to the knapable flints that lie beneath it, or is there a closer link?

Get in there my son!

A small cluster of white knapweeds were seen today - an local aberation or an interloper species, I wonder?
Knapweeds are part of the vast thistle family, and so is a relative of the Musk or Nodding Thistle, below.