Shoreham on the Verge

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British Wildlife

The A225 sweeps the edge of the downs above the Darenth, passing Lullingstone’s long history; the railway runs the same route, switching sides on Victorian brick bridges. On a sunshine-filled evening, a little after the first Wednesday in June, riders in black leather lean low into the curves and cars run for home in long lines. The riches of the roadside reserve are enjoyed in snatches of silence.

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A roadside nature reserve near Shoreham

The verge is long and wide and full of yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor, a parasite of grasses, which creates dense patches of flowers; here man orchids Orchis anthropophora poke out their well-camouflaged, long noses amongst quaking grass Briza media, comical red mops of salad burnet Sanguisorba minor, purple, blue and white milkwort Polygala sp. and emerging knapweed Centaurea nigra. The man orchids are common on the long verge, but this is one of just a handful of downland sites in the country in which they occur. Rare plant distributions are often quirky and illogically discontinuous.

There is a flutter of small white moths; these may be grass rivulets Perizoma albulata  which are associated with yellow rattle and the beautifully marked, burnet companion Euclidia glyphica that is ubiquitous on any old pocket of ancient, chalk grassland and so, as a consequence, is uncommon.

A path leads up and over a railway and on up the steep down where bee orchids Ophrys apifera chance their luck on a well-trodden path. Common blues Polyommatus icarus chase over the grassland and settle on the bird’s foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus and higher lookouts. Common spotted orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii are pretty in pale white and fairy flax Linum catharticum suddenly appears in small pockets within the grassland.

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One of many male ferns on an old railway bridge above the roadside nature reserve

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Chalk grassland and invading hawthorn scrub

Along the road at the Shoreham reserve the brilliant white florets of sanicle Sanicula europaea light the deep shade, trefoils colour the open ground yellow and the evening sun warms the west facing slope. The view across the unspoilt valley is full of fields and great hedgerow trees.

The long dark blanket of woods on the far side of the Darenth hides the M25 motorway that cuts this corner of west Kent. Wildlife hereabouts is trapped in very reduced circumstances, like the neglected daughter of a superannuated dustman.

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