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…

Dexters on the Down

Dexter cattle are either tan or black with elegant curved horns and small with short legs, so perfectly formed for grazing the steep downlands. At Fackenden, they are put out over winter and early spring to keep the chalk grassland sward in check and perhaps halt the spread of tor-grass which occurs in distinctive, light…

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…

Adders on the meadow

There are just a handful of traditional lowland hay meadows left in Southern England. On a land use map of Kent, Marden Meadow looks like a short line of postage stamps stuck on a large, white envelope; a remnant from a time when the only implements to work the land were scythes, carts and barrows…

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…

Red kite mobbed by a carrion crow

Red kites are renowned nest predators especially of rooks and crows. In mid April, most carrion crows pairs have a nest on the go, probably with with four blue speckled eggs in a stick nest lined with wool, and if a kite approaches then the male will climb vertically out of the woods to harry…

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….

Autumn Spring Tides

At the end of September, the moon is full and because it is also the equinox, the tides are some of the highest of the year. The ‘Spring tide’ on the Swale fills the estuary and appears to almost drown the land. If the sea level rises as predicted then the coastal grazing marshes and…

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…