Saturday, 22 September 2018

People's Walk for Wildlife - Kent Wildflowers Part 1

People like you and me who care about the massive decline of our wildlife, joined in a peaceful march today from Hyde Park to Downing Street to try and make the Government listen and act to stop the continuing destruction and eventual extinction of many species of our wildlife.

I couldn't be there today, so in support of the march and its ideals, I am writing this blog to raise awareness of the plight of some of the rare plants in Kent. Some of the species I will feature will be a big surprise as they were very common just 40 years ago (when I was a teenager) but are now listed as vulnerable to extinction in the wild or worse!

There will be several parts to this blog so as to give publicity to a wide variety of our wildflowers that are now in big trouble.

Adonis annua - Pheasant's Eye

Endangered in England and GB as a whole and rare in Kent.
Once common in arable fields it has now declined to just one sighting of only 7 plants in a field edge in East Kent since 2000. It's been pretty much wiped out by intensive farming and the application of herbicides. I have yet to find any in the wild in Kent (or elsewhere) and I took this photo of plants being grown at Kew Wakehurst - Millenium Seed Project.

Ajuga chamaepitys - Ground-pine

Endangered in England and GB as a whole and uncommon in Kent, this is a species that favours dry, disturbed chalk habitats. As Kent has plenty of chalk, the county is one of the last remaining strongholds left for this wildflower. It's mainly found on the chalk either side of the Medway Gap.

Its decline is due to intensification of arable farming, including the use of herbicides and nitrate fertilisers and ploughing of headlands and fallow; the decline of rabbits from 1954; the abandonment of fallow field farming on the North Downs and the development of scrub and woodland instead; and the destruction of chalk downland habitat.

 Anacamptis morio - Green winged Orchid

Near threatened in GB as a whole and considered Vulnerable to Extinction in England as a whole.

This beautiful wild orchid flowers in early Spring in traditional hay meadows and in old unimproved nutrient poor grasslands.

It is a much loved and oft photographed flower of the Spring.

Right up to the 1960s it was considered abundant in Kent found in 24 tetrads. However, by just 1982 this had reduced to just 17 tetrads. However, recently the population has stabilised and possibly increased due to conservation efforts.

However, in England as a whole it has declined by 32% over the periods 1930-1969 and 1987-1999.


Threats to the species may arise from habitat damage or destruction, but are more likely to relate to lack of grassland management. 


Bupleurum tenuissimum - Slender Hare's Ear

Nationally Scarce and Vulnerable in the UK as a whole.

This is a small plant found on the landward side of sea walls in coastal grazing areas where there has been some disturbance.

The Kent population has remained stable, but it is threatened by a lack or discontinuance of grazing and poaching/disturbance of the soil.

Calluna vulgaris - Heather

Currently designated as of Least Concern but due to a 21% loss in England from 1930-1969 to 1960 to 1987 it is now Vulnerable to extinction in the wild.
I bet that's a surprise for some, especially those that are surrounded by miles of flowering Heather in early Autumn each year. Habitat loss is the biggest concern, with heathlands scrubbing over from neglect or lack of grazing, shading out the understory plants. In Kent the decline is about 11% from 1980 to 2005 as heathlands disappear to development and scrub.

Campanula rotundifolia - Harebell

Another surprise! These plants are everywhere right? Perhaps so, but read on for the disturbing news.

In England considered to be of Least Concern, however, there has been a decline in recent years leading the species to be considered Vulnerable to Extinction.

In Kent there was a 23% decline from 1930-1969 compared to 1969 to 1987. 

This is bad enough, however, the latest data show a further decline of 57% from 1971-1980 to 1991-2005.

Losses included building development, ploughing and farming and of great concern, the species appears vulnerable to increased Nitrogen deposition from the atmosphere.

Very worrying for a once very common plant. 

Clinopodium acinos - Basil Thyme

Classed as Vulnerable in England. This small but colourful plant likes disturbed chalky ground and was formerly a common agricultural weed.  Due to changes in agricultural practices, herbicides and intensification it is on the decline..

Cuscuta epithymum - Dodder

Vulnerable to extinction in the wild. A parasitical plant of species such as Wood Sage, Broom and numerous other plants, it has become increasingly scarce in Kent. From 1971-1980 to 1991-2005, there had been a reduction in finding this by almost half. Since then however, more sites have been discovered and the population decline is not as drastic as previously thought.

Dianthus armeria - Deptford Pink

Endangered in the UK. This species has been in severe decline since the 1930s and by 1980 could only be found at 17 sites nationally. In Kent, the decline was 97% over this period so that it is now found only at a very few sites in the county. It requires some disturbance to thrive. The major threats being herbicide spraying and scrubbing over of sites through neglect.

Eryngium campestre - Field Eryngo

Listed as Critically Endangered in GB thus in severe danger of becoming extinct in the wild. It is mostly found in the SW of England and is rare in Kent.  It needs open ground with poor nutrients and low competition to thrive. Habitat loss through agricultural practices, development and mostly scrub encroachment are factors in its rarity. Only found historically at 5 different sites in Kent, only 3 now remain, and one local to me is in danger of scrubbing over very soon. 
The photo below shows scrub encrochment at the Darenth site -I intend to take some secateurs and cut back scrub over the winter as the site is obviously not now being managed.

Similar to a white Sea Holly to which it is closely related. 

Fragaria vesca - Wild Strawberry

This is another once very common plant whose inclusion on Kent's Rare Plant Register may be a surprise to some. It is now listed in England as Near Threatened, meaning it is at risk of extinction in the wils at a future date if current trends continue.
Fro 1930 to 1999 it has declined by 29% in England. In Kent is has declined by 23% from 1971 to 2005.

Galeopsis angustifolia - Red Hemp Nettle

Critically Endangered and at high risk of extinction in the wild.
This was formerly a widespread weed of arable fields and waste ground. It requires disturbance to thrive.
 To cut a long story short, in 1899 it was found all over Kent, but by 2017 it was restricted to the shingle areas of Dungeness and surrounding locales only. It became extinct as an arable weed sometime around the 1970s in the county. Agricultural intensification and herbicide applications have been its major threats.

Herminium monorchris - Musk Orchid

Endangered in England with a high risk of extinction in the wild. The Musk Orchid is a plant of the South of England only. As such, with the whole of the UK population in one area, it is very vulnerable. Between 1930 and 1999, the chances of recording this species fell by 54%! In Kent from 1980 to 2005 there was a 50% reduction in where it was found, a very worrying trend.
It requires short turf on calcareous soils to grow, thus loss of habitat from scrub encroachment or agricultural use are the biggest threats. however, there is some worrying evidence that drought and hot summers may adversely affect this plant, thus in the near future, climate change may hasten further losses.

Jasione montana - Sheep's Bit

Vulnerable to extinction in England due to a 39% decline from 1930 to 1999. Almost exclusively confined in Kent to the Dungeness area, though very old records show it was found in now unlikely places such as Plumstead, Bexley and Dartford. Through the mid 20th century scattered records were found of this species around both East and West Kent, all now gone. It requires short turf and thin acidic soils to thrive. Losses to development, agriculture and scrub are the likely causes for decline.

That's it for this part of the blog.

I will continue this blog with some more examples from Kent's Rare Plant Register soon.
I would like to thank Geoffrey Kitchener and the Kent Botanical Recording Group for much of the data used in this and subsequent blogs. Full species accounts and a list of Kent RPR species can be found at (click on your own county on the map at to see your own local flora group).

Thanks also to Chris Packham and all those who marched on 22/09/18 in London for the People's Walk for Wildlife to which this blog is a tribute.

Further resources on Twitter:





Next blog will follow soon






Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Dover White Cliffs - 30/06/18

There is a beautiful flower filled walk along the white cliffs of Dover from the National Trust car park above the docks to St. Margarets Lighthouse a few miles away with wonderful views. There are several routes you can take and each has its own attraction. The whole area comprises of typical rich chalk grassland flora and associated insects with some arable verges as well that are worthy of a look aorund. Species such as Early Spider Orchid, Field Pepperwort and Hoary Stock can all be found here (see previous blogs).

We found so many wonderful wildflowers, but I'll only show you those I haven't recently featured along with some fine views.

Kidney Vetch with its cottony fluffy bits between the flowers - it's the food plant of the small Blue butterfly caterpillars. 

Anthyllis vulneraria

The Slender or Seaside Thistle.
this is as about open as the flowers get.

Carduus tenuiflorus

The dead looking bronzed Carline Thistles were in bud, but none were in flower yet.

the beautiful open rays of Greater Knapweed adorned the cliffs, a favourite with bees.

Always check the lower leaves as Common Knapweed flowers can also look the same as this but the leaves are quite different.Lobed on C. scabiosa, unlobed and strap shaped on C. nigra agg.

Centaurea scabiosa 

Some of the views from this walk follow.

Wild Basil was just coming into flower.

Clinopodium vulgare

Field Bindweed is a troublesome garden and arable weed that is difficult (impossible) to eradicate. However, no-one can deny their flowers are very attractive, especially when they flower en masse in a small area.

Convolvulous arvensis

I didn't notice this until later but this Bindweed has a bright red throat to the flower and I think it may be Convolvulous sagittaria which is actually a garden escape.

Convolvulous sagittaria (possibly)

A nice display of Perforate St. John's Wort.

There are lots of St. John's worts to find. A tip is to gently feel the stem:

round and hairy - Hairy St JW
square - Square stalked St JW
round with opposite ridges - Perforate St JW
feeling square but with opposite pairs of wings down stem - imperforate St JW
Great big bush, large flowers - Tutsan
Creeping along the ground with runners - Trailing St JW
There are other Hypericums I haven't mentioned as well.

Easy eh!

Hypricum perforatum

Hedge Bedstraw displays are usually small affairs with sprays of small flowers hardly noticeable in the surrounding vegetation.

However, here we found huge drifts of them turning the area white with their four-petalled flowers. Beautiful.

Galium album


On an arable field edge were Common Poppies, Wild Mignonette, Scarlet Pimpernels, Field Pansies and much more. Here's a Round-leaved Fluellen ( a type of Toadflax) as well.

Kickxia spuria

Here's the key to maintaining the species rick chalk grassland - grazing by Konig ponies. This prevents the area scrubbing over and turning into a comparitively dull forest within 20 years or less.

A Large Skipper butterfly on a Pyramidal Orchid.

Another Large Skipper, this time on Meadow Vetchling

And a Marbled White on Greater Knapweed.

 The small native prostrate form of Sainfoin was dotted among the grasses.

Onobrychis viciifolia

The Wild Marjoram were just coming into flower.

Origanum vulgare

As were the Wild Thyme

Thymus polytrichus

The South Foreland Lighthouse comes into view signifying the end of the walk from Dover. A cream tea in the tea rooms and back to Dover along another route.

There is a fantastic tour of the lighthouse which is still a working (though decommissioned) one. It's worth spending the time to do the tour. National Trust members get it for free and there is a fee if not a member.

On the old wall around the lighthouse were some nice White Stonecrops in flower.

Sedum album

My final plant for this trip is the Scented Mayweed. It's flower is much smaller than Scentless Mayweed and its receptacle is hollow and nicely scented.

Matricaria chamomilla

There were lots more plants to see and more to come such as Autumn Gentian. I thoroughly recommend a visit to this wonderful area.

Take care

Saturday, 11 August 2018

North Essex and the Suffolk Brecks - 23/06/18

This was a follow up trip from the 1st May to the Brecks to find some other later flowering rarities. We had a good idea of where to go but will give special thanks to Karen Woolley and Brian Laney who helped out with specific areas at some locations. On a single day trip, there isn't much time to explore and find one's target plants without such information.

One such tip Karen gave us was to stop off en route in North Essex to see some magnificent rare plants. On the way to it we passed numerous Knapweed Broomrapes, sadly gone over. Needless to say I got lost, but eventually found an unassuming country lane with  an unmown verge.
This is that verge!

This is the amazing Crested Cow-wheat, a hemiparasite and very rare. It is absent from Kent and East Sussex and there are only a few colonies left in Essex and the surrounding counties.

Given its rarity and beauty, forgive me for adding several photos of it.

 Melampyrum cristatum

If that wasn't enough, there was another very rare plant hiding amongst the Cow-wheat, Sulphur Clover.

Similar to White Clover, but with bigger flower heads in a sickly yellow colour - like sulphur!

 Trifolium ochroleucon 

The next photo shows both the Crested Cow-wheat and Sulpher Clover growing together.

A habitat photo for both of these rare plants.

We then drove North to a venue on the Brecks in Suffolk. The grass was parched, brown and pretty much dead, but several wildflowers were shrugging off the drought conditions.

This is a Musk thistle with its obvious nodding flower heads.
I have seen it in Kent but it's quite rare to find it locally to me.

Carduus nutans

and a close up shot of the beetle in the last photo.

Near to the car park were hundreds of Maiden Pinks. This is another very rare plant in Kent and one I've yet to find in my own county. Here there were so many that there were plenty of colour variations in the flowers, though the scorching sun made photography challenging to saay the least and I failed to get decent photos of the all white variants.

 Dianthus deltoides

When looking at my photos later when we got home, I was alarmed to see several ticks on the flowers. The photo on the right shows a red tick on one of the anthers.
Be careful before you sniff one up into your nose!!!

All joking aside, take precautions against ticks as they can carry Lymes Disease. Google it and you can see how nasty this infection can become.

I rarely wear shorts when out, even in intense heat, and tuck my trousers into my socks. Check your arms over after laying down taking photos of plants as well.

Ticks are numerous where there are animals such as sheep or wild animals like deer, as here.

Along a road verge I found Alfalfa or Sickle Medick, the yellow flowered and much rarer form of Lucerne.

Medicago sativa subsp. falcata

We drove on to another venue after this

This spindly looking plant is related to Red and White Campions, it's the Spanish Catchfly, another rarity and speciality of the Brecks.

It was quite breezy and an open meadow, so photos were very difficult, but a fast shutter speed got me some nice shots. This species features in the Back from the Brink project mentioned in a previous blog.

Silene otites

Close by in another meadow were at least a hundred Purple Milk Vetch, one of the species very much on my wish to see list.

Photographs on line and in books tend to give the impression that this is a relatively large plant, but it certainly isn't.

Most were less then 3" tall and hidden amongst the dead grasses.

 Astralagus danica

To spot them, look for small specks of purple in the grasses and eventually you get your eye in and see them easily.

Rosebay Willowherbs look great against a skyline, right in the car park.

 Chamerion angustifolium

There were supposed to have been another target plant here, the Proliferous Pink, but unfortunately they had all been burned off by the relentless sun and high temperatures of the 2018 drought.

There were some very weak and spindly Pyramidal Orchids that I didn't photograph at all due to their poor condition.

Here's another car park plant that had deep roots and thus able to prosper in the heat, the Foxglove.

Again, getting under the plant to only have the sky behind it removed the clutter of vegetation from the composition. It forces the eye to focus on the detail of the Foxglove and not on its surroundings.

Digitalis purpurea

Onto another venue, this time near Santon Downham where the heat had burned off the Annual and Perennial Knawels and the expected Tower Cress was nowhere to be found.

However, we did find these rare plants, the Small Cudweed. Only a few inches tall and some as thin as a matchstick, they were difficult to photograph.

Not much of a photo but the best I could do in the hot breeze.

It wasn't a case of looking intently trying to find these tiny plants. There were so many (thousands) that you couldn't fail to notice them. They grow in and around the dry and dusty areas of paths and other worn areas.

Filago minima

 The last flower I photographed was the Sand Spurrey - Spergularia rubra, just a few left  with the rest all shrivelled up in the sun.


So ended another fantastic trip to Breckland.
I didn't see everything I had hoped for, but that will draw me back next year when hopefully weather conditions will be less adverse. I hope you enjoyed the photos and proof that there are wonders to be found North of the River Thames!

Once again, many thanks to Karen Woolley @Wildwingsand and Brian Laney @BrianLaney2 from Twitter for their help with venues.