The Welsh Marches

A unique patchwork of fields rolls over the valleys around Church Stoke. The farms are mixed; winter wheat, rye grass silage fields, and pastures grazed by sheep, and dairy and beef cattle, but the overriding impression is of fields of green. The intensive agriculture means the fields no longer hold many curlews and lapwings but…

Bees, spiders and monkeys

A hot day on the Folkestone Downs and the late spider orchids are up on the edge of the grassland; they are confined to a small fenced area just above the footpath, presumably to stop them being trampled by livestock or passers-by inadvertently squashing them while admiring the view. The spiders are rare in the…

A small day on the Downs

At Fackenden, the sun-baked escarpment is covered in a white spray of ox-eye daisies, with an understorey of quaking grass, stemless thistle, chalk milkwort, kidney vetch and bird’s foot trefoil. Small patches of fragrant and common spotted-orchids and a handful of man orchids add to the richness. Small blue females are hanging in the tall…

Denge Woods: The Warren

The Warren is cleared of scrub with a handful of retained trees, and encompassed by ancient beech, oak and sweet chestnut woodland. There is a diverse carpet of primrose, vetches, trefoils, salad burnet, speedwells and orchids, adorned with day-flying moths and butterflies; duke of burgundy fritillaries, dingy skippers, green hairstreaks, brimstones, red admirals and burnet…

Shropshire hills, mires and mosses

The rolling landscape around Churchstoke on the border between Shropshire and Powys is a mix of green fields and woodlands except for some steep-sided landmarks like Roundton and Corndon Hills where acid grassland, bracken and gorse remain. Most of the valleys are drained and improved with monocultures of rye grass and arable crops but a…

A pearly day

Park Corner Heath in East Sussex is a postage stamp of acid grassland, heath and coppiced birch within a mixed woodland of planted pines and ancient beeches. The small reserve is managed for its butterflies and moths by Butterfly Conservation. The winter management by teams of volunteers maintains the clearings; this supports a range of…

Meadows and brambles

At Bough Beech there are no nightingales this year but a garden warbler is singing its continuous rattle from the bramble patches in the wilding fields. Nearby a chiffchaff makes short sorties to collect dead leaves and grasses to construct a domed nest in a short tangle of grasses and brambles. At Marden Meadow, the…

Old Lodge warblers, larks and starts

The last week of April is the week when Old Lodge reserve on Ashdown Forest comes alive with the sound of birds; the most obvious is the liquid song of willow warblers foraging in the birches but also blackcaps and redstarts. A mistle thrush sings from a tall pine. A pair of woodlarks forage quietly…

Curlew country

A weekend in the spring sunshine and a cold east wind helping my old friend Tony Cross colour-ring curlew and dippers in Wales and Welsh Marches. Male curlews are highly territorial so they respond to a playback of their effervescent bubbling call alongside a stuffed curlew (inappropriately called ‘stuffy’) placed by a net and we…