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…

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….

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…

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…

West Kent

A male barn owl is hunting through to mid-morning over a rough pasture field near Bough Beech reservoir. The bird keeps up an effortless round low over the ground on elegant long wings with an occasional sudden but fruitless stoop into the sward. Then a brief stop on a branch of one of the huge…

Queendown Warren’s Autumn Flower Show

The North Downs in Kent are sandwiched by the M20 and M2 motorways; the wilderness muted by the constant roar of traffic and ancient grasslands nearly neutered by post-War agriculture. The nature reserve of Queendown Warren is one of the best remnants to have escaped the plough; it lies on south facing slopes within earshot…

Box Hill

Box Hill is 30 degrees in the midday sun and lean cyclists in colourful jerseys pedal hard up the narrow road that zig-zags through steep slopes of chalk grassland with patches of dogwood, whitebeam and bramble topped by woodland dominated by beech, ash and hanging yew. The landscape tells a complex story of clearance, abandonment…

Park Gate and Points East

Park Gate Down is a dry valley¬†hidden in the well-wooded hills between Stelling Minnis and Elham. The string of three small meadows, wrapped in dark, dense woodland, are ungrazed chalk grassland full of famous orchids, myriad other plants and insects. The fields were¬†never ploughed in the Second World War or afterwards, when the white heat…