February

The cherry plum is in full blossom and at its best; the first shots of Spring have been fired and the dull winter colours of the hedgerows and narrow lanes are lit by the otherwise inconspicuous, small trees. So far, February has been warm and mild unlike last year when ice and snow covered the…

Scabious and ivy

As the autumn equinox arrives, the downs are browning and the last flowers support the last insects. The slope at Fackenden is now thick with summer growth; the marjoram and other summer flowers create dense blankets of green growth with a few flowers; the autumn gentian has gone over and only the devil’s bit scabious…

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…

The carnival of the insects

The weather has been grey-clouded with storms threatening but not fulfilling their promise, providing a steel backdrop to the downland. Fackenden Down is bone dry after a long dry summer and the flowers are going over fast; the butterflies are are no longer thick on the ground, just a single marbled white and a handful…

Conserving Crookhorn Wood

To the west of the Medway gap in Kent, an untidy patchwork of woodlands between Cuxton and Trottiscliffe covers the steep, downland slopes and plateaus; much is designated as one large Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and select parts as one half of the North Downs Woodlands Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The latter…

Adders on the down

A black and white male adder sunbathes on the upper slope of an old pile of fence posts and the chocolate brown female does the same on the lower slope. On another day, a darker male is on the fence pile tightly coiled as the cloud is over; he tastes the air then slides silently…

Early spring in west Kent woodlands

The hornbeam woodlands on the North Downs are at their best; carpeted with a white blanket of wood anemones. A perfect example locally is on the rolling hills above Eynsford. The anemones are a near monoculture but the dark green bluebell leaves are emerging and the swathe of deep blue flowers will take over in…

Chalk grasslands cleared and ready for Spring

6th March Fackenden Down is spring cleaned; a herd of red Dexter cattle has been in over winter. This native breed from south west Ireland is often used to manage chalk grasslands, especially to clear invading tor grass. Being small with short legs that give a comical appearance, they tend not to poach the turf….

February light

In early February, the cherry plum throws out the first blossom in random bursts of dazzling white along the dark lanes. At Bough Beech in late February, a pair of Egyptian geese have a brood of young goslings that are paraded along the edge of the concrete dam. Garden birds are foraging intently at the…

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…

White Hill Chalkhill Blues

The nature reserve of White Hill on the ridge above Shoreham in Kent is carved out of the high beech woodland. The reserve is managed by Butterfly Conservation as the small patches of herb-rich, chalk grassland support a strong colony of chalkhill blues as well as many other butterfly more common species. The scrub encroaches…