Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Summer chalk downland

OUR excitement was quite hard to contain when the sun (as predicted) made an appearance on Sunday.  In anticipation of this rare event we had decided that it would be great to get out onto some downland and, for the first time this year, catch a glimpse of the the wonderful range of specialist flowers that grow on the National Nature Reserve at Pewsey.

These hills are slap bang in the middle of Wiltshire; they provide spectacular views of the vale below, as well as being a botanist's dream - its also a great place to fly a kite or have a picnic...

Having worked as a botanical field surveyor on the downland in the County in my past, this habitat has to be right up there as one of my favourites.  Although it was too windy for butterflies, it hosted a spectacular array of wild flowers.  As the season progresses different plant species come into flower and set seed.  In spring the yellow cowslips dance over the short sward, but now the colours are varied and spectacular.  Anthills are clothed in purple thyme and white squinancywort.  

Wild thyme with harebells leaves between
Standing proud are the much rarer round-headed rampion and the common small scabious.  The sawwort flowers were still in tight bud in the main, but their characteristic serrated-edged leaves were a give away to their identity.

Round- headed rampion
Small scabious
Clustered bellflower and thyme and (yellow) rockrose
 Not all the exciting and rare plants are amazing to look at.  The bastard toadflax is a small creeping thing with tiny white flowers - it is frequent on this site but very rare elsewhere.   It requires quite specific grazing management, as do all the downland flowers.  I have seen it growing in Switzerland in the Alps, but there it was less choosy - it was growing in a road gutter!

Bastard toadflax
 The high winds that whipped up made it particularly hard to photograph the frog orchids.  This is about the only in focus image that I managed to capture:

Frog orchid
It is hard to display the diversity of the flowers the the pictures below might give you some idea:

There were a surprising number of boletus sp. mushrooms growing over the site - this may be due to the dampness of the year.

A few butterflies were brave enough to venture out in the more sheltered combes such as these the meadow browns, marbled white and ringlets

Whilst many of the orchid species were over for another year on the site, the fragrant orchids were still putting on a good show:

Fragrant orchid
Its a shame that we've only been able to visit this site so late in the year, relatively, but it was still wonderful!


  1. The plants seem happy with all the rain, even if the people are finding it challenging. Lovely photos. I like the snail in the small scabious. The marbled white butterfly is attractive, the fragrant orchid very pretty.

  2. Your photos are so vivid and bright. While I am 100% urban-living dedicated, I love seeing the glory of nature as shown in your photos.

    Thanks for sharing them.


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