Monday, 29 August 2016

Holly Hill Delights, nr Snodland, Kent. 3rd August 2016

Holly Hill is a large area on the chalk hilltops of the North Downs just West of the Medway Gap. There's a mix of pristine chalk grassland and remnants of ancient woodland. There's always something amazing to see here, if only for the views South and East. Don't be fooled by going into the woods by the Holly Hill car park, there's not much to see there. Instead, walk back along the road to Birling Hill, cross that road and the chalk grassland opens up before you.

As you enter you don't know where to look first, flowers, butterflies and bees everywhere.

However if you are planning a visit, I am writing this 3 weeks later and by now most flowers will have by now gone to seed.

I'd just walked in from the road and found this Eyebright and Common Centaury growing together.

Euphrasia sp.
Centarea erythraea

Carline Thistles love the chalk, but from standing height they look, well, rather dead! Look closer and you may see a ring of tiny purple flowers. Bees certainly like them.
Due to habitat loss, this species is now on the Kent RPR.
They can also be found in shingle/sandy habitats such as at Dungeness.

Carlina vulgaris

The Harebells were out now, only about 6-8" tall, but always bobbing back and forth in the slightest breeze. This day was actually windy so it was quite a challenge to get any photos.
For those interested, the camera was set at 1000th of a second on f2.8, auto ISO.
You still have to wait for a lull in the breeze though!

These are very common around the UK but again dying out in Kent, another RPR species.

Campanula rotundifolia

I was on a chalk hill, so it was rather fitting to find numerous Chalkhill Blue butterflies on the wing. My favourite blue butterfly.

Lysandra coridon

Next was a single flowering Autumn Gentian, a beautiful wildflower with cup like pink flowers filled with fronds of white.

I spotted numerous plants in bud but only the one with open flowers. They should be at their peak at the time of writing (29-08-16)

Gentianella amarella

Again these are on Kent's RPR list of rare species.


This is Small Scabious which looks similar to Field Scabious. The easiest way to tell them apart is by looking under the flower heads. Small Scabious has numerous black bristle like bracts underneath, Field Scabious (and Devil's Bit Scabious) doesn't.

Scabiosa columbari

For Harry Potter fans only:

It's ScabiOsa

Sorry, couldn't resist!

And here is the flower head of Small Scabious, a big hit with Six Spot Burnet Moths which fly in the daytime. A bright eye catching moth, they're not fussy which flower they feed on. You can find them hatching from long strands of dead grass stems. This is an important consideration when hay cutting, to leave some grasses standing for those insects that need them. Don't cut all of it every year is what I'm trying to say!

Zygaena filipendulae

Whenever you sit down for a rest on chalk downland turf, you always sit on an unseen thistle. Well, here is the culprit, the Dwarf Thistle, the flower spike rarely growing more than a few inches tall. However, at this time of the year, the hillside was dotted with these delightful purple flowers.

Cirsium acaule

Another flower combination presented itself, this time the pinks of Large Thyme with the bright yellow Common Birdsfoot Trefoil.

Thymus pulegioides
Lotus corniculatus

There was plenty of Large Thyme in flower. It's actually very small, no more than 5-6" tall but still bigger than Wild Thyme. There's several differences between these two species, I think I have detailed some in previous blogs.

Thymus pulegioides

Common Knapweed is flowering now in abundance all over the country. This shot was photobombed by another 6 Spot Burnet Moth.

Centaurea nigra agg

That was it for the chalk grassland, though there was a lot more to see, but time was pressing, so we moved on.
A few years ago, I found an unrecorded colony of Violet Helleborines  in a wood not far from Holly Hill, so we decided to go and see how they were doing, or even if they were still there. Living in Kent, you never know if something you saw last year will be there the following year due to any number of factors, from grazing to being built on!

We needn't have worried, as there were plenty up, though a few down from our last visit.
Deer have a habit of eating the flowering tips before they open, but these seemed to have escaped this year.

They tend to grow in deep shade where not much else grows, making photography rather difficult to say the least.

Note how the leaves are narrow, making it very easy to separate from the superficially similar Broad-leaved Helleborine.

Epipactis purpurea

These are wild orchids, please do not pick, dig up or trample them. They're not endangered yet, but it wouldn't take much to make them so.

I'll leave you with a close up shot of these delightful wildflowers. In Kent these are the second to last wild orchid to flower, with Autumn Ladies Tresses following on soon.

Take care,

Monday, 22 August 2016

England Coast Path Sandwich, Kent. 30th July 2016

This blog should have been done before the last one on Strood, but I missed it!
We had a day out at Sandwich, a small town on the East coast of Kent. There are many botanical rarities in this area, so when I heard that a brand new public footpath had been opened, called the England Coast Path, I thought we had to walk it.

On the way we stopped on the Thanet Way for a drink, so naturally, I had a look around.

This is Mugwort with its flowers fully open! They are tall leafy plants which when crushed have a lovely smell. They grow just about anywhere as well.

Artemisia vulgaris

There were plenty of plants around, but the only other photo I took here was the underside of Wild Carrot. This shows its feathery bracts underneath, very distinctive. Most flower heads also have a red flower bang in the centre of the umbel (but some don't ).

Daucus carota

Lunch at McDs arrived so the camera was put away here. Got it just in time as well, as they had a power cut straight afterwards!

We arrived at Sandwich and began the long walk down the River Stour, where there were plenty of flowers to see, such as this nice display of a Common Mallow and a Scentless Mayweed growing through it.

Malva sylvestris & Tripleurospermum inodorum

Butterflies were everywhere, and I managed to photograph quite a few of them on the walk. Here's the first, the attractive Gatekeeper, settling on a gone over Bristly Oxtongue.

I then found a Kent RPR species, the rare Dittander. There were hundreds of them along the tidal river. The only other place I have found them is on the Dartford Marshes in North Kent.

Lepidium latifolium

Dittander is a tall spindly plant with masses of small crucifer white flowers. As such, they sway about in the wind a lot and are difficult to photograph!

Birdsfoot Trefoil type flowers abounded, but this one looked different. On a closer inspection, I noticed the leaves to be narrow and strap shaped, quite unlike the usual Common variety.

It's Narrow-leaved Birdsfoot Trefoil

Lotus tenuis

Along the mowed edge of the path my partner found a tiny Broomrape. These have all gone over elsewhere, and I suspect this one came up after being cut down by the mowers.

This is an unusual form, being an all yellow Common Broomrape. The only plant anywhere near it were Trefoils.

Broomrapes parasitise certain plants and knowing which ones are close can help to identify them. Sandwich is home to two very rare Broomrapes along the dunes near the sea so it's always worth keeping an eye out for them.

Orobanche minor

We then turned off the old path onto the new England Coast Path, which is several kilometres long and twists around the Sandwich peninsular before arriving at the coast  on the South side of Pegwell Bay.

Initially there wasn't much to see as the path was new and freshly mowed either side. But there were plants of interest and a habitat like this one was sure to have some good finds. There's even a single Dittander in the photo.

You can see these in the photo above as well, Purple Loosestrife, a tall plant with an impressive spike (or in this case, spikes) of purple flowers.

 Lythrum salicaria

There was another different Birdsfoot here, the Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil. Don't go by size only as some Common Birdsfoot Trefoil can be very large. Check the pointed sepals at the base of the petals, the outer two will curl outwards (usually) in this species. They also prefer wetter areas and usually grow a lot bigger than Common.

Lotus pedunculatus

Along the edge of a ditch feeding the lake were several of these Celery-leaved Buttercups. They only grow in permanently damp or wet areas, often in the water itself.

Ranunculus sceleratus

 There was another interesting plant in the ditch. I think this is Three-lobed Water Crowfoot, another rare plant.  I used the BSBI plant crib to help me ID it, though I've sent several photos to my County Recorder to help determine the species for sure.

Ranunculus tripartitus

Fan-leaved Water Crowfoot were also present.
These are easier to ID as they have no surface leaves and the submerged thread like leaves all branch in twos (like a fan).

I recently found some of this species in the Long Ponds at Dungeness.

Ranunculus circinatus


The path then changed to a horrible mowed grass path with all the cuttings left on the new path. This meant you couldn't see any obstacles and I turned my ankle several times on cattle hoof prints or tree stumps, all hidden under the cut grasses. A freshly ploughed field was easier to walk on and this went on for about 2km!

Anyway, by the edge of the path, I spotted this Restharrow, normally a very common plant, but this one was different to the usual. It was tall and bushy with vicious spines. The stems almost hairless as well, confirming this to be Spiny Restharrow, a Kent RPR species. I've only found this on the North Kent coast before, so it was a great plant to find on the new path. I have put a record in for it as well. There's a long spine on the lower left of this photo.

Ononis spinosa

Pale Persicaria put in an appearance as well, growing right next to a group of the more common Redshank, which have the usual pink flowers.

Persicaria lapathifolia  

Although I've already shown a photo of a Common Mallow, I thought I'd include this one to show how tall they can get. This one is about 4' tall and mostly in seed. Some can get so big you think it might be a Tree Mallow, but the flowers are quite different and the Common Mallow never has a true woody stem.

Malva sylvestris

All of sudden, the terrain changed to vegetated dunes. The flowers became more varied and more numerous, as did the wildlife.

I noticed this Garden Tiger Moth on a stem in the dunes. It had been a cloudy day with some rain and was quite cool and the moth didn't fly off. I could even cut away grass stems in front of it to get a good photo, without it flying off.

The plant below the moth is Lady's Bedstraw going to seed.

Arctia caja

Wild Teasel are very common and were plentiful here as well.  Their flowers come out in bands around the flower head, you rarely see the whole flower head in flower at the same time.

Dipsacus fullonum

Common Mallow is nice to see, but Musk Mallow is a delight to see. The flowers are pale pink , much bigger than Common Mallow and are usually in pairs facing in opposite directions.

Malva moschata

Once in the dunes, the amount of butterflies around increased dramatically. Whites, Skippers, all sorts, including this Marbled White.

This was a Red Admiral, quite plain on its underwing, but with a vivid red stripe on the upper.

The final butterfly I photographed was this lovely Small Copper, a declining species, but still often seen in coastal areas. I did see some in Shoreham (Kent) and also Dartford Heath in recent years, but I rarely see them inland now.

Back to the flowers and these tiny Lesser Sea Spurreys grew in salty areas. They are common around the coast, saltmarsh and surprisingly along salted roads inland (such as by the A2 at Northfleet)

Spergularia marina

When I'm by the coast I always keep an eye out for rare Clovers, as most seem to grow by the sea. I didn't find any this time, though most would be in seed now. I did find a nice Hop Trefoil with a spike in seed and another in flower.

Trifolium campestre

Sea Holly is on the Kent RPR, but is quite common at Sandwich. It's now in flower and it's pale blue mini florets look good on the dunes.

Eryngium maritimum

I must go and find Eryngium campetsre soon (Watling Street thistle) which looks similar, but the flowers are white.

A rust fungus was my last photo on this long walk. I don't have time to look it up now, but they are quite fascinating organisms in their own right.

It then started pouring down with rain and by the time I got back to the car in Sandwich by an alternate route I was soaked through. However, it was a very interesting day overall.

All credit to the authorities that created the new path, but hopefully, they will iron out the rough bits of it in time.


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Botanical Recording in Strood West, Kent - 31/07/16

This OS square is under recorded, probably because much of it is taken up by the A2/M2 interchange with the HS1 railway going through it as well. However, there are some paths and areas to explore, which I what I did this day. I was fortunate enough to record 129 new records for this monad. I didn't get the camera out too often, but the following is what I did photograph.

This is Common Fleabane, a plant that actually is Common and can be found on wasteground, shingle, dunes, road verges, just about anywhere really. Their leaves are light green and hairy giving it a silvery appearance, making them easy to identify.

Pulicaria dysenterica

Even alongside roads you can find wildflowers, such as this Fennel, with its fine, thread like leaves and umbels of yellow flowers making it very distinctive.

Foeniculum vulgare

Another plant that can be found anywhere the soil is poor, such as in pavement cracks, is this Annual Pearlwort, a very tiny plant with really small flowers. From a standing height it looks like a bit of grass.

Sagina apetala subsp erecta

This is Tansy, quite a tall plant with rayless daisy like flowers. The leaves are very distinctive as well, it can't really be anything else.

Tanacetum vulgare

There's a tiny black Weevil on it that I never did identify due to a lack of time.

In one place was a small area of chalk grassland where I was able to record many chalk loving species like Marjoram and Wild Thyme.

Amongst them were several Corm Mint plants, an RPR species for Kent.

Mentha arvensis

In a previous trip (where I didn't record) I found Bee Orchid and Common Spotted Orchids here as well.

Off this grassy area was a small woodland with a dense canopy overhead. Not much grew under it, but in places where the canopy was a bit thinner, I found several Common Dog Violets in flower. These flower en masse in early Spring, but some will flower again at this time of the year if conditions are right.

The various Violets can be tricky to identify, so always check the shape, colour and size of the spur and sepals, leaves and rosette. Don't just look at the flower, as they can all look surprisingly similar.

Viola riviniana

Here's the fruit of the Sweet Chestnut that covered much of this area. Planted in vast numbers hundreds of years ago to help power industry, they are still grown now and coppiced every 15 years or so to provide materials for a range of products. Not to mention that roasted Sweet Chestnuts are lovely to eat come the Autumn.

 Castanea sativa


As I came back into the open again, I found several of these tiny flowers in the wooded edges. There's not many umbellifers that have tiny umbels of different lengths. I suspected this to be Stone Parsley, and there's one very easy way to double check your suspicions.
Break a bit off and smell it!
If it smells like petrol or diesel fuel, then it's Stone Parsley and this one was quite pungent to the nose!

Sison amomum 

Here's a photo of the whole plant. Although similar to Cow Parsley or one of the Chervils, it is actually quite distinctive, with thin spindly umbels and very few flowers in each.

Dogwood, which is a shrub, was also coming into flower in the hedgerows. They actually have a reasonable scent, unlike Hawthorn or Elder for example, which smell quite rank!
In Winter they can be distinguished by their red twigs.

Cornus sanguinea

Another patch of chalk grassland revealed several Yellow-worts in their full glory. Their flowers only open in full sun and close by mid afternoon.

Blackstonia perfoliata

Here's a photo of the whole plant. The flower stems appear to go straight through the centre of the leaves, which themselves look a light silvery green.

Another common plant on chalk is Common Centaury with lovely displays of pink flowers. However, for some reason, I found many in this area that had completely white petals.

Centaurium erythraea

I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of Pyramidal Orchids with most of the flowers still going strong.  At other places I've been to lately, they have all gone to seed.

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Up until now I hadn't found anything particularly rare, until I came to this spot, an entrance to a hilltop reservoir. What on earth could be here that could be rare? What I found is actually within this photo but was so small you can't see it.

And here it is, Common Cudweed, the photo below is the biggest ones in the colony which numbered 20 plus. It's another one of those plants with the name "Common" that are now very rare, especially in Kent.

At first I thought I had found the even rarer Broad-leaved Cudweed. Cudweeds are a hard group of plants to tell apart, mainly because most are so small. However, @Ranscombe_Farm kindly helped me identify them for sure as Common Cudweed.

Here's what most of them looked like, less than 2" tall. A great species to find in an under recorded square.

Filago vulgaris

Since finding this, I have also found Small Cudweed (F. minima) at another site, but this time asked my County Recorder for help with the ID!

That was about it, a worthwhile few hours recording what I had found. The records will end up via my County Recorder, going into the BSBI database, which is an important long term tool for identifying trends over time, both good and bad.