Saturday, 6 August 2016

Lazy hazy days of summer

It's been a bit of a whirlwind of socialising, of course, always featuring the Great Outdoors!

Last Friday I introduced a good friend of mine (and her one year old in a push chair) to Martin Down - I should be getting commission on the advocacy of the place! Although a bit overcast and with ominous clouds gathering, the light seemed to pick out the mass of colour in the 'purple season' that is upon us. I'm not quite sure why this is, but it also follows the 'yellow season' - cowslips, hawkbits and yellow rattle give way to knapweed, scabious and harebell, and with them come the butterflies such as dark green fritillaries and marbled whites. The Down is looking absolutely stunning this year, so made an excellent impression on my friend - she can now understand why I keep raving on about the place! We encountered a trio of intrepid mobility-scooterers, who had negotiated their way through the rutted tracks to the very top of the reserve - admirable that they wouldn't let decreased accessibility get in the way of a good view!

I followed this up with a weekend in Kent, visiting an old school friend, who showed me some of the sights. Once again, despite the drizzle and mugginess, the White cliffs of Dover were amazing, and carpeted with wildflowers. I even heard a corn bunting up there, which was surprising given the scrubby nature of the area - they like to sing from fenceposts in wide, open fields usually.

And for once, during the week, I was able to negotiate time away from the desk, not once but twice! On Tuesday we had organised a team meeting on a farm on the upper Itchen - the river was a mass of aquatic plants, forming a green underwater carpet, amongst which trout darted and damselflies skimmed over. Quite idyllic, although on close inspection you could see the diatoms coating some of the vegetation (looking like brown slime) - an indication of phosphate levels being too high, mostly from agricultural runoff. Still much work to be done to improve things.

I also spent a day out on the Dorset Heaths, on a mini tour around the outskirts of Poole, hearing about the restoration work to sites, through hard negotiation with landowners, the complex politics and history, and how they join up on a landscape-scale. Some of the sites had good heather growth in under 5 years - quite staggering, and a testament to the resilience of the natural environment, if given the right conditions. This year seems to be particularly good for the heather, with a vibrant swathe of the different purple tones of bell heather and common heather.

Finally, I've just got back from a quick potter in the New Forest with more friends - Churchplace Enclosure near Ashurst is a mixture of ancient and conifer woodland, and on a hot day like today, the dappled sunlight cast beautiful shadows in the cool depths, with silver-washed fritillaries swooping in the glades, and tormentil flowering on the rides.

Quite a contrast but once again, I marvel at the variety of sites within close reach of Salisbury and, for the most part, the ability of them to 'soak up' people, enabling tranquility and peace, not far from the hustle and bustle of the busy school holidays.

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