Friday, 28 June 2013

New things in old places

A new tick for the Kingsdown rifle range! The first bee orchid I've seen there, to add to the early spiders and pyramidals. It seems to be a good orchid year with bits popping up all over.

On a very different site by the lakes between Chartham and Chilham we saw a host of bee orchids....

....and a veritable forest of meadow vetchling, which I've previously only seen as individuals peeking out from long grass on chalk. This habitat of gravel pits doesn't make you think of chalk downland, but perhaps it's rich from dumped soil in the past.

Beside one of the fishing scrapes was a length of fencing, which held half-a-dozen dozing lizards. It wasn't warm despite occasional sun, so their usual skitterishness was constrained - they just lay there and posed.

Back on Walmer beach in the evenings we have seen four painted ladies, lovely butterflies which I like for their undersides .... much as for their spectacular upper wings. No cloudies yet but I'm hoping maybe this weekend?

The Western Heights hold some excellent chalk habitat with a carpet of common spotted orchids and a good population of small blues, but this year there's an additional sight ..... early gentian Gentianella anglica.

OK, it looks just like autumn gentian Gentianella amarella but it's interesting to see it among the lush growth of early summer.
And finally, a photo of a "what's that" plant on the Lewes Downs, which I subsequently realised was hairy rock-cress Arabis hirsuta which has an eastern outpost between Kingsdown and St Margarets, but I've not seen it here. More searching required!

Saturday, 22 June 2013


 A selection of old writings has come to my attention, providing interesting information about the state of nature in our area in times gone by. 
For example Cowell's A Floral Guide for East Kent, 1839. which lists a host of information especially from the mysterious and hard-working "Miss H".  One example that I followed up was the burnt tip orchid, now sadly lost from Kent but previously recorded under Kingsdown:

and "near South Foreland Light Ho." The National Trust's purchase of the cliff top there money well spent if it reappears there again!

A fascinating catalogue of herbaria is in the herbaria United part of the BSBI's site, showing innumerable specimens collected from the land in the past couple of centuries. Who would believe that round-headed rampion was to be found on the Freedown between Ringwould and Kingsdown in 1875!

The collection of plants was, I suppose, similar to our obsessive photography but presumably had an impact on the continued survival of the species, especially as the rarer the plant the more likely to be pluck'd untimely from the sward. Nowadays we are more likely to trample or lie on nearby plants, which is bad enough.

Other species of interest in the Herbaria include
  •  Nottingham catchfly (undercliff between Kingsdown and St Margarets in 1872 - when the undercliff was not yet underwater, presumably);
  • sea pea on the beach at Kingsdown and Walmer, whereas it's now only found at Walmer;
  • rock stonecrop, an introduced plant, but obviously introduced before 1925;
  • sand catchfly at Deal, now only at Sandwich Bay; and
  • stinking hawk's beard, now only just hanging on at Dungeness.
    I've not seen burnt tip orchids in Kent (few have) but we made a foray to the Sussex Downs near Lewes to try to find it. It took some doing, with many hours tramping the wrong part of the reserves, but eventually we caught up with hundreds of them on a south-facing bank.

Part of the enjoyment of the search was walking over the downland which is subtly different to our own. Generally more grazed and springy, but with similar plant species of course. Except that they still have round-headed rampion and burnt tip orchid.

As the sun went down on our second walk, large numbers of newly emerged common blues came to roost on convenient shrubs and grasses, while the occasional pair enjoyed the romance of the occasion.


If anyone has any other references to old records of the area, it would be good to see them!