Early September

David Beeson

A tour of the chalk landscape.

For me, this is a quiet time. The male birds (except the pigeons)are non-territorial and mostly quiet, although the UK robin is his normal pugnacious self. Butterflies have largely vanished to dust, while a few struggle on. It is the same with the flora, some show their colours now, while the English flush of flowering is history. So, we have to look for more divergent highs – the fungi are showing their spore-bodies and the misty mornings are atmospheric. The fallow, sika and red deer are gearing up for their rut, however the roe are past their mating season (May and June locally) and the muntjac females are sexy all the time!

I am hopeful of spotting bronze slivers of baby slow worms soon. A mating pair spent 36 hours in copulation in the spring and this female spends time near our wild hedge … so I will keep an eye out under some tin put down for them. Our horse-obsessed neighbour kept hens until recently (I’m told to eat the ticks carried by the horses), and these birds (with pheasants) are reptile predators. With the last hen’s demise I am hopeful the slow worms will increase their population.

About half of the Summer Meadow is now cut short, and that herbage is composting. The remainder is awaiting the final movement of butterfly larvae to hibernate at soil level before it too will be managed. If the plants are not removed the meadow will go through succession, becoming shrubby and will grow too strongly for the orchids and lower-growing plants to thrive.

Conservation is always a compromise. What do you save? In our case, with only a small Summer Meadow we aim at flora first, then insects. The seeds are not left for the finches, so they lose out. However, the ant-eating green woodpecker enjoys the short turf. Fungi find too little organic matter to show well, and voles have too little cover. Wood and yellow-necked mice do well from the hedge, mini copse and quantities of nuts, acorns and hedgerow berries on the garden’s forest fringe.

The flower borders still attract insects

Flower borders still hold both pollen and nectar, so the wild bees are having a good time. There are wasps and their bully-brothers, the hornets, around searching out food. A day ago, I watched a common wasp stalking around and chasing, on its feet, a big aphid. It caught it and ate it while the green insect attempted to depart. The wasp won.

Chalk heath and chalk downland intermixed. Tank training areas in the distance.

Yesterday, Annette and I joined Julie and John Moon exploring Sidbury Hill on the army’s Salisbury Plain Training Area. The Moons have a great knowledge of the area.

Sidbury Hill is a Bronze Age settlement situated on chalk. Nearby are (Superficial) Reading Beds of a more acidic gravel geology and these have allowed the development of chalk heath – a more acidic soil type that allows ling (a heather) and gorse to establish themselves on top of the chalk.

Wide landscapes for Southern England. Track edges, short and long grass gives a divergent open habitat.

Some butterflies were still flying: small heaths, common and Adonis blues, meadow browns.

The army’s conservation partners
Eyebright, Euphrasis nemorosa
Carline thistle, in flower (not seed).
Edible mushroom
Ling on the chalk heath
Yellow version of the normally red Fly Agaric
A boletus?
Silver weed, Potentilla anserina dominates this gateway
Beech woodland on chalk. The large input of leaf litter and limited light allow a specialist flora to develop at ground level. White helleborine orchids occur in their thousands, together with bird’s nest orchids and yellow birds nest.
Rupture seed capsules of the bird’s nest orchid. This non-green plant probably feeds off the underground fungi.
Only exceptional plants can live under these conditions. Marsh fritillary butterflies occur nearby.

The extreme north-west of Hampshire is a quiet area. A place lost.

These images are of a walk from Linkenholt to Combe.

Combe Church. Guess the date … answer below.
Domestic pheasants dominate the area, but the swathe to the left is open grassy meadowland.
Barn owl nest site built into the old barn
Scentless mayweed in the stubble.
Ancient woodlands coat the shallow valley’s sides
Countryside at Combe.
Look carefully! Notice the gibbet … a hanging spot in the Middle Ages.

So, that’s a tour of what’s about on the north Hampshire chalklands.

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