Kent Life

In mid-May, the early purple orchids are up at Fackenden Down. The sward is short and so the orchids stand proud at the top of the ridge. Dingy and grizzled skippers flit low over the ground. The chalk grassland is just coming alive after a long winter of grazing the dull, unassuming turf.

At the entrance to the down, a large grass snake, probably a female, slithers off a pile of wooden fence posts to disappear beneath. The downland has an abundance of common lizards and slow-worms and a healthy population of adders; the grass snake means it supports all four common species of reptiles. One has to travel to the heaths of Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset to find the two rare species; smooth snake and sand lizard, which like many edge of range species are widespread across Europe and west Asia.

In late May, at Kemsing Down the bluebells are on the way out and sword-leaved helleborine and sanicle on the way in. Man orchids are littering the sward and the grasses are still not dominant.

At Fackenden Down in early July, the dark green fritillaries are zipping over the escarpment and landing to nectar on the greater knapweed. There are skippers too and a horde of marbled whites that explode into the air as the rich sward is disturbed. The pyramidal orchids are perfect but almost drowned in the tall grasses.

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