Thanks to Rob Sonnen for an interesting talk on the operations of the National Trust in east Kent, and Kingsdown in particular. The Trust owns or manages the Leas along the cliff-edge, Bockhill Farm, Barrow Down and Kingsdown Wood, and as they want to promote the countryside aspects of their work (as well as their stately homes) this kind of area should benefit.
Kingsdown Wood was only added to their portfolio quite recently, and the careful rotational coppicing has opened up parts of the dark wood to the sunshine at last. I had not realised the wood's importance, being possibly the only one in Britain with a concentration of Field Maple. These trees can be found in hedgerows, but there must have been a cottage industry based on them nearby, using their knots, knarls and burrs in fine wooodworking - it provides both turning-wood and birds-eye maple.
It's a slow-growing tree, and they are likely to have been planted around 1600.
The main work of this region's warden is, however, taken up on the chalk downland on the cliff-tops.
It's very pleasing to hear that there are plans to try to recover the otherwise lovely Barrow Mount from the dreaded Tor-grass, which has smothered almost all the other plants, apart from in a couple of depressions (bomb-holes?) which are little botanical oases.
On the Leas there has been one cut, which has brought immediate benefits as far more Knapweed, Scabous, Wild Carrot and even a few Pyramidal Orchids have emerged this year, contrasting with the other uncut areas.
With a few more cuts in a marbled pattern we can hope that the finer tapestry of Thyme, Marjoram, Trefoil, Harebells, Fairy Flax and Quaking Grass will gradually return from their footholds on the very edge of the cliff. There are certainly plenty of bees at the moment.
My unpaid researcher has found a fascinating account of a botanical walk from Deal to Folkestone in 1861 recounted in The Phytologist on pages 253 to 261. Many of the plants are still here and perhaps surprisingly some of the current "modern pests" like Red Valerian were already well-established. A notable loss is, however, Burnt Tip Orchid, perhaps crowded out as Tor-grass moved in. Or maybe their habitat was built on.
Elsewhere, two pleasing finds at Dungeness were Red Hemp-nettle coming into flower (and what a lovely one it is) and Sheeps-bit.... both very rare and both very small.
If I had realised what the Sheeps-bit was when I found it, I would have worked harder on the pictures, but as it was I only realised on the way home - Eureka!