Denge and Eggringe Wood is part of the great East Kent forests, much of it ancient with oak Quercus robur and sweet chestnut Castanea sativa. It contains two small open patches of scrub and chalk grassland, each renowned for supporting a colony of Duke of Burgundy fritillaries Hamearis lumina. The woods are dry in the open valleys and damp in the dense shade with a fauna and flora more akin to the continent than the rest of Britain. It looks good for a displaying honey buzzard Pernis apivorus.
The Duke of Burgundy is a species of glades and coppices requiring bare ground sprouting with their larval food plant, primroses Primula vulgaris and cowslips Primula veris. It is a small, characterful species but slow to colonise new habitats, and so populations expire when the glades turn to scrub and woodland. Much butterfly management is thus about using volunteer work forces to restore open areas by forest clearance, thus mimicking the many centuries when woodlands were worked hard for timber and other resources. Like many ‘edge of range’ species in Britain ‘the Duke’ is more common in southern and central Europe including Montenegro.
The woodlands glades support other butterfly species including numerous green hairstreaks Callophrys rubi and dingy skippers Erynnis tages; and both live up to their name.
There is also a diversity of day-flying moths that are an indicator of the richness of the flora. Speckled yellow Pseudopanthera macularia is the most common, perhaps because it is the most obvious. A small back and white moth flits around the ground vegetation, constantly disappearing under leaves. I think this is a white-spotted sable Anania funebris but the view is fleeting and the evidence poor.
Unmistakeable lady orchids Orchis purpurea are most numerous in the glade known as ‘Bonsai Bank’. This small patch of chalk grassland, amongst stunted conifers that gives it its name, is where there is the most wonderful array of orchids.
A single man orchid Orchis anthropophora is well hidden amongst the swathes of common twayblade Neottia ovata. Also just coming out are elegant greater butterfly orchid Platanthera chlorantha and white helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium. Common spotted orchids Dactylorrhiza fuchsii are a week away but their dark-spotted leaves are everywhere.
Other plant species are interesting and attractive and a grass vetchling Lathera nissolia stands out like a ruby on a slender stem. Wayfaring tree Viburnum lantana and guelder rose Viburnum opulus are common shrubs along the woodland paths.
The dark woodland is less accessible and less easy to comprehend than the bright glades full of plants and insects. Yellow pimpernel Lysimachia nemorum grows by the path and yellow archangel Lamium galeobdolon is lit up by rays of sun that reach the forest floor. Even rough meadow grass Poa trivialis has an architectural beauty.
The woodland is quiet in the afternoon sun and the chorus of songbirds muted; just the squeaky contact calls of young birds. The peace is broken by the loud repetitions of a singing song thrush Turdus philomelos sounding like an unmusical child practicing too hard on the piano.
Finally, my thanks to the tall gentleman of Dartford who showed me the Dukes at Bonsai Bank. A kindness that was much appreciated.