Saturday, 4 July 2015

Orchids everywhere

Yes, it's orchid time (well, actually, slightly overdue) so I headed off to Martin Down for a fix.

Typically, as soon as I stepped out of the car, it started to rain, but thankfully the floristic spectacle made this seem inconsequential. It was truly amazing - one of the best years I've seen in a long while - carpets of orchids and cloudy drifts of dropwort, together with various hawkbits, vetches and thyme.

I was lucky enough to not only see the beautiful bright pink pyramidal orchid, together with tonnes of common spotted orchids, but also many fragrant orchids with their delicate scent not dampened by the rain, together with one magnificent specimen of greater butterfly orchid.

At the moment we're still in the 'yellow season' of flowers - i.e. the hawkbits and various vetches (horseshoe, birds foot trefoil, kidney vetch), but the knapweed is on the cusp of emerging, bringing with it an explosion of butterfly life, including the amazing dark green fritillary.

Although the rain meant I didn't get to see many butterflies (apart from those disturbed by me walking!), a brief foray up to Cockey Down yesterday afternoon more than made up for it.

This is a small SSSI of chalk downland above Laverstock on the edge of Salisbury, owned and managed by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. You pass through a small area of open access land called Laverstock Down to get to it, which was alive with butterflies - meadow brown, small heath and lots of marbled whites - a taste of things to come.

Emerging onto the SSSI, I looked back towards the Cathedral spire, over rolling countryside of ripening arable crops. The down itself had an excellent display of flowers again. There are two basic types of chalk grassland - CG2 (short) and CG3 (longer with a grass called Upright Brome frequent). Martin Down is a combination of both, but with more areas of CG3. Cockey Down is mostly CG2, with carpets of thyme, squinancywort, birds foot trefoil, together with taller spikes of ladies bedstraw and fragrant and pyramidal orchids, all alive with marbled white and small heath butterflies fighting each other for territories.

This largely made up for a week stuck inside various offices - although there was a notable and surprising encounter with wildlife in the form of a pyramidal orchid spotted on a verge whilst standing outside the office in Blandford during a fire drill!

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