Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Pale pallida

It's not often that a first plant for Kent is found, but that's what this is:

Look, that small light flower in the foreground, beneath a new fence marking the edge of the National Trust's latest acquisition of cliff-top land at the South Foreland, by the lighthouse.
It's a pale form of scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis forma pallida), which has apparently been recorded 112 times in the UK, but never in Kent.
The new land, reclaimed from the plough, has been spared the weedkillers this year and is producing a reasonably varied flora from its chalk seedbank. There is an understory of pimpernel, mostly scarlet but about 20 plants of the pallida form, with the more robust wild carrot, mignonette, thistles and even some Nottingham catchfly breaking through the swathe of left-over cereals.

We look forward to the summer months, to see if any arable weeds will show through, and it will be interesting to see how the NT will manage the land if they do - is it better to maintain a remnant arable area (à la Ranscombe) or to rebuild the chalk downland by mowing and/or grazing?
In the same area was found a green hairstreak, and the sky seemed filled with singing and chasing skylarks and meadow pipits.

Also in Dover........
... which is, of course, a town surrounded by interesting habitats, is St James' Cemetery, up the Danes. I assume that it, with its neighbouring cemeteries, were allocated to the various town wards, as each seems to have similar age gravestones and none is full, giving an airy ambiance that is accentuated by the surrounding rolling hills.
St James' seems to be the most interesting, with not only fascinating and poignant war graves but also plenty of mature trees and grassy banks.
One south-facing chalky bank retains a varied flora of salad burnet, rock rose, bird's foot trefoil and the fragrant horseshoe vetch, with attendant butterflies including brown argus, common blue, green hairstreak and dingy skipper.

 Despite the presence of a little kidney vetch, no small blues were seen. But talking of small blues, we stumbled over some old records of JW Tutt this week, which included mention of an aberation of the small blue, cupidus minimus ab. pallida,  - "a rare aberration of the i, in which the ground colour is of a pale
grey tint. The type of this form came from the South Foreland, in Kent, though rare".

It's a small world.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Hall of Legends

The early part of the Bank Holiday weekend was spent meandering around the byways and hollow lanes of east Kent, pottering around where the fancy took us (and that's not a slur on the quality of the navigator).
Mostly sunny but often chilly, the coolness had the benefit of slowing down the few butterflies that had taken to the air, and so could be photographed more easily.

I think this is the first photo of an orange tip at rest that I've ever achieved.

Green veined white

Sharp eyes spotted some twayblade orchids at the roadside, and sharper eyes then found a host of herb Paris - 70 were counted, which is a good number for this scarce plant.

A passer-by fell into conversation and told us he was the local farmer, so we took care to tell him what a good habitat he has there. He pointed us to a by-way which the book Natural History of the Folkestone District described as "a bridle road running almost due north along a deep valley which in summer is brimming with flowers". That would be overstating the case now, but the farm is working under the High Level Stewardship scheme to restore at least some of the land to less intensive farming.
One surprise was awaiting us, though, in the form of crosswort, which I did not know occurred this far east.


 The farmer also told us that Tappington Hall nearby was holding a fundraising tea party, so - loathe to let a slice of cake go to waste - we turned up as uninvited guests and were made most welcome. It's a lovely old building, hardly updated to the 20th let alone 21st century, and it has plenty of tales to tell.
There's the tale of brothers separated by the politics of the Civil War, who one day met on the stairs and the parliamentarian killed the royalist with an axe. The splintered wood remains but the blood stain has finally gone.
And the tale of Evil Sir Giles, and many others - all recorded in the Ingoldsby Legends in the 1840s by the Rev Richard Harris Barham, who owned and lived in the Hall. 
To complete our social afternoon we met the owner of Denton Court and much of the Denton valley. I'm clearly upwardly mobile now. I could handle the landowning life, I think, especially if the cake is always that good.