Therfield, Hertfordshire and Icklingham Triangle, Suffolk - 01/05/18

I'd always wanted to see a wild Pasque Flower since I saw it in my first wildflower identification books, so, I decided on a trip to Therfield Heath in Hertfordshire to see them, being one of the nearest venues to Kent. Another place I wanted to visit was Breckland in Suffolk and as Therfield is over half way there, I thought I'd combine the two venues in a single day trip.

It didn't take too long to get there via the M25 and M11, yet some days it could take hours!
On arrival, we parked in the reserve car park. It didn't look too promising as the only wildflower I could see were lots of Cowslips and not much else. There was a golf course and a horse galloping area, neither of which looked promising. Fortunately I had asked those in the know where to go and we set off for an area called Church Hill (not marked as such on the OS maps).

This area was unimproved and it didn't take long to see the beautiful Pasque flowers dotted around the slope.

For a small, compact flower, they were surprisingly difficult to photograph. They are quite three dimensional and flutter about in the slightest breeze - and it was breezy!  

Pulsatilla vulgaris

Pasque flowers are related to the very common Wood Anemone, so it's surprising that the latter flourishes almost everywhere in the shady woods, yet the Pasque flower has a specific habitat in the open on chalk. It is its downfall as its chalk grassland habitat has been lost to neglect, agriculture or development at an alarming pace since 1945


It's very difficult to show you the fine display of these plants here, imagine this scene repeated over a wide area of the hillside, it was a delight to see.

We headed back to the car via Fox Covert Wood where we saw hundreds of White Helleborine spikes coming up, which will be in full flower now

(end of May).

We then made our way to Suffolk and stopped at Icklingham Triangle, a well known location for its wildflowers. My main quarry here would be to find Spring Speedwell, a tiny, unimpressive Veronica but subtely different to all the others.

It's not easy to park here as there's no car park and the only obvious place had a car parked there already. I found a place on the grass verge and began to explore.

The first wildflower that I saw was Meadow Saxifrage - in their hundreds, lining the verges. This was an amazing sight for me as I had only previously seen them in a disused graveyard at Darenth, Kent, where they are quite uncommon.

Saxifraga granulata

True to form it was very sunny and breezy, making it extremely difficult to get any satisfactory photos of a two foot tall beautiful white flower. 

There was an interesting arable verge at the wide end of the triangle which I had a browse along, but it was too early in the year for any rarities here. What I had noticed was that it was like walking along a sandy beach with a smattering of topsoil on it. My feet easily sunk into the sand and rabbits had exposed some bare patches, showing the substrate soil. It is these sands that make the area very interesting for the botanist as several species only flower here and nowhere (or nearly nowhere) else.

There were drifts of Field Mouse-ear, an uncommon and declining species, albeit another impossible flower to photograph in bright sunlight. I did my best in the conditions though!

 Cerastium arvense

In the next photo you can see rabbit droppings, showing you how small these flowers were, though in the better soil on the chalk (and that's thin), they can grow to several inches tall.

There were also many common flowering plants like assorted Cranesbills and these Common Storksbills.

Erodium cicutarium

Another lover of sandy soils is Springbeauty, a non native that has spread all over the south. I see it regularly along the road verges of Camber Sands in East Sussex. It has the odd form of its flower stalk appearing to grow out of the middle of the leaves.

Claytonia perfoliata

I then found a tiny flower of a plant I'd not seen before, yet since, I've seen it in numbers on the Kent and East Sussex coasts - Spring Vetch. It's flower is about 1/4 of the size of a Common Vetch and the leaves have none or stunted tendrils.

Vicia lathyroides

This photo I hope, shows how tiny these are. I should have put a coin next to one for scale.

This tiny plant was common here as well, it's Rue-leaved Saxifrage. It's rare in Kent and usually only found growing on old walls or on old concrete on brownfield sites, so it was odd seeing it growing out of the sandy soil.

Saxifraga tridactylites 

Another rare plant was present in droves, the tiny Shepherd's Cress. It also carpets the old shingle ridges of Dungeness in Kent.

Teesdalia nudicaulis

I wasn't having a great day with the camera due to the conditions, but these habitats were a delight to the soul.

Dotted here and here were some tiny Speedwells that I hoped might be the elusive Spring Speedwell, however, closer examination showed them to be the common Wall Speedwell. These grow in the pavement cracks of my front garden!

Veronica arvensis

I didn't have very long here, and I couldn't find any unusual speedwells.  I had kindly been given directions to where they might be, but that area was now long grass or scrubbed over. However, I then spotted a man obviously looking at some flower in the sand. As soon as I approached him I recognised him as (I think from memory) the outgoing President of the BSBI. We struck up a conversation and he then showed me the Spring Speedwell, even smaller than the Wall Speedwell and without an open flower. We later found a couple more but none with open flowers.

As usual for this day, my photos were a bit disappointing, but then this flower was so small, I'd really need to use image stacking to get a good photo and at present, I don't do that, perhaps I should!

Veronica verna

We then drove a short way to Thetford to a wildflife verge on a housing estate (!) where more Srping Speedwell and also Fingered Speedwell could be found. I didn't find any, probably too late for them here and also much of the verge had been mown by the council strimmers.

I plan to return in late June to the Brecks to hopefully see a few more rarities like Tower Cress and Proliferous Pink, perhaps it may coincide again with Bastard Toadflax at Therfield as well.



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