Darent Valley Hills nr Sevenoaks 22nd May 2016

The walk I had planned was on chalk and involved open grassland and thick woodland on steep slopes above the River Darent. I was on the lookout for any orchids really, but as ever, I kept an eye out for any wildflower or wildlife.

In and around Sevenoaks itself, the soil is acidic, so don't bother looking for Kent orchids in that soil type (Hothfield being the exception).

I started off clambering through woods on a steep hill with no discernable path through it! It did mean that I expored areas off the path though.
Wood Speedwell was abundant now, along with left over Bluebell, Yellow Archangel and a few Lesser Celandines.

Veronica montana

This tiny flower is Three Nerved Sandwort, petals shorter than sepals and 3 prominent veins on the leaves.
It's quite common in Kent but easily overlooked.

Moehringia trinervia

In more open areas (and back on a path), common wildflowers were abundant. Cow Parsley, Red Campion and Creeping Buttercup add nice colour to this scene.

Sanicle is a typical chalk woodland species, but it is declining rapidly, so has been entered onto the Kent Rare Plant Register (RPR) so when and where it declines over time can be measured.

Sanicula europaea

This is White Bryony, a climber with small flowers and big leaves. Often found on woodland edges and hedgerows. It has no petals but beautifully detailed sepals instead.

Bryonia dioica

I had been walking a while now and being a warm day I had worked up a bit of a sweat, so attracting midges! I must remember to put the Deet on before I go out into woods or marshes now. It's been cold enough all through Spring so as not to have to worry about insect bites, but that's all changing now.

Anyway, I rounded a bend and a small break in the canopy came about where plenty of light got to the woodland floor.

I then had this wonderful sight in front of me.

It was possibly the most majestic Lady Orchid I had ever seen, and I've seen over a thousand in the last three years or so. It was a good two and a half feet tall in full flower. Fantastic!

The Lady Orchid is on the RPR and is only found in a few places in the SE with most sites being in East Kent. I did know that historically a single Lady Orchid had been found in this area, which was probably why I chose to explore it if I'm honest!

As I looked around this area, I found a total of 10 Lady Orchids, wow! Most had gone or were going over and past their best but a few were still beautiful.

Orchis purpurea

There was a fallen tree nearby and I just sat down and took it all in for about 30 minutes with only the birds chirping away, the odd butterfly flitting past and these stunning orchids to keep me company - Bliss!

Looking at them more closely, I was struck at how much variation there was in their petals. In most populations they are all pretty much the same. My favourite is the left one with the purple fringe.

Anyway, enough of orchids. The woodland soon ended and I came out onto a chalk grassland slope with superb views over the Darent Valley. Surprisingly, some of this grassland was in pristine condition with many chalk species present in good numbers. Much of the hills are over grazed meaning not a lot to see!

There are 4 species of Plantain inland, Ribwort, Greater, Buckshorn and Hoary.

Only Hoary plantain is rare though and was another RPR find. It's leaves are round oval and hairy. The only other Plantain with similar leaves is Greater, but that has hairless leaves and a completely different shaped flower head.

Plantago media

This was a day of flower combination photos, quite by chance, but I do keep an eye out for a photo opportunity that nature provides me with.

Here were Salad Burnet (on the left) and Horseshoe Vetch (right)

Poterium sanguisorba
Hippocrepis comosa

As I rounded a hillside I came across over a hundred Early Purple Orchids. I was too late to see them at their best, but it was great to see so many in a small area. So much for moving onto other flowers instead of orchids.

I did find one in excellent condition, though in an unusual form, in that it was almost completely devoid of spots in the white bit of the petals.

Orchis mascula

In amongst all these I found a single Chalk Fragrant Orchid about to flower. The long spur is distictive in this species, so there's no doubt as to what orchid it was. There was also a budding Bee Orchid, but no flowers yet.

Gymnadenia conopsea

The final plant I photographed here was a grass, but a very distinctive one as it shivers or quakes in the slightest breeze. In a week or so it will open up and put forth yellow/white stamens to disperse its pollen, They look even better then.
Of course, it's called Quaking Grass, common but declining and on the RPR as well.

Briza media

As I headed up the hill the plants grew more vigourous and dense. In this photo are Germander Speedwell (blue ones) and Common Vetch (pink ones)

Veronica chamaedrys (blue ones)

Vicia sativa (pink ones)

My final photograph was another lovely combination of Common Vetch and Crosswort (another RPR plant).

Vicia sativa
Cruciata laevipes

So ended a wonder filled walk not far from home either, always a bonus. From now until mid June is peak time for most UK wild orchids. Nearly everywhere in the UK has some species, so go out there and find some soon, but don't forget to admire everything else nature is displaying now as well.

Take care



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