Devil’s bit

The early September colours across the downland slope are golden brown. The devil’s bit scabious is out in brilliant blue; the small pincushion flowers on slender stalks light the dying sward.

A spider hides beneath a flower head and waits; a solitary bee lands and busily works the florets; the spider climbs up and then gives chase but the bee appearing not to notice, moves round rapidly and eventually flies off.

Butterflies are scarce on the down; it is mainly the few species that over winter as adults that remain. A red admiral works the ivy flowers in the high hedgerow; this is an important and abundant source of nectar for many insect species at the end of the season.

The upper down is covered in autumn gentians which in late August are just coming out and by early September are fading to a light brown crisp. The dark green leaves and small delicate mauve flowers hide in plain sight. There are no autumn lady’s tresses to be found here although the hard-grazed patches of grassland appear suitable. Only the last knapweed flowers; yellow hawkbits; tiny, brilliant white, eyebrights with their yolk yellow centres; and a handful of pastel blue harebells are present.

The downland is quiet; a howzat! from the cricket field a mile away in Otford carries up the slope in the empty air. There is no singing yellowhammer on top of the hedge at the base of the slope this year; a chiffchaff briefly calls from the tall beeches, a pair of crows chase off a passing buzzard and wood pigeons clatter from the trees. A single Spitfire from Biggin Hill flies beneath the white-edged clouds, the distinctive thrum of its Merlin engine at home in the skies of North Kent.

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