Hunting Pinks

The wheat and oil seed rape has dried to a soft gold in a blink. The huge fields are somehow less mundane than when growing dull, deep green. The tangle of tall rape below Farningham Wood holds an abundance of house sparrows and linnets together with a smattering of corn burnings. The sparrows have finished breeding in the nearby barns and dilapidated eaves and bounce about the uneven surface in noisy flocks but the other two are still on the go.

Cock linnets sit on the top of hedgerows that hold their well hidden nests singing their little lilt in the hot sun, and pairs bound into the fields to forage; these will be nesting through to August having started way back in April. Male corn buntings give their prosaic tickle of a call from any prominent stalk or fieldside bush and lumber low over the fields like old bombers with their undercarriage down. They are often polygamous and females on nests are hidden deep in the crops or thick grassland of the margins. They too breed late with young often still stuck in nests through August. The combining of the crops may doom these birds, and add an unnecessary dash of protein to our bread and oil;  it is one of the reasons why the dull old curmudgeon is now so rare in the arable landscape.

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Corn bunting riding the oil seed rape.

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House sparrows at large.

The field margins are sagging under falling tall mallow (Malva sylvestris) and blown grasses. The field scabious (Knautia arvensis) stands tall but not a butterfly alights. A six-spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae) is bright on the alfalfa (Medicago sativa). Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus) are common and fly in droves in the hedgerows and are joined by occasional large whites (Pieris brassicae) in their thirst for nectar. On the slopes beneath the woodland, brilliant, light blue chicory (Cichorium intybus) dots the flower-rich chalk grassland.  The abandoned field is where motorbikes race along sinuous dusty tracks.

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Field scabious standing tall.

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Six-spot burnet moth on alfalfa.

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Large white and gatekeeper on bramble flowers.

The path through the dark sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), pedunculate and sessile oak (Quercus robur and Q. petraea) and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is July quiet; a blackcap’s brief song and chiffchaff’s sad ‘sweep’ are the only sounds. Blackbirds and song thrushes scatter and wood pigeons clatter. A few commas (Polygonia c-album) and peacocks (Aglais io) chase the patches of sunshine, the flowering brambles (Rubus fruticosus) and the starstruck veils of Clematis vitialba that flow over the woodland rides. A broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa) settles on a stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and a tall clump of nettle-leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium) is attention-seeking again.

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Comma on Clematis flower.

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Broad-bodied chaser settled on a nettle.

Off the southern bank of the woodland the motorway drones, sirens sound and disturb the peace until a loud green woodpecker yaffles and distracts, and the background din is soon forgotten as it bounces away across the dead wheat.

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The view of a poppy red field and neat village from the edge of Farningham Wood.

On the edge of the wood on a sandy bank, where thick grasses and bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) are largely absent and wood sage (Teucrium scorodinia) flowers quietly, there at last is the leggy Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria). The flowers are diminutive and sit on long thin stems but still sparkle in the banks. They are a meagre Dianthus but delicate and up close a brilliant pink jagged-edged jewel, now rare in England and Wales but still I think widespread across Europe. Arguably, they are no more beautiful than than the much more abundant and widespread square-stalked (Epilobium tetragonum) and rosebay willowherbs (Chamerion angustifolium) that line the forest paths. But perhaps the wee twist of diversity evidences that the monocultural smog craved by modern time and motion Man has not quite yet suffocated this hard-scarred corner of southern England.

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Deptford pink on a south facing bank of Farningham Wood.

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Square-stalked and rosebay willowherbs.

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