Saturday, 3 November 2018

Ashdown Forest and Birling Gap, East Sussex - 01/09/18

The Ashdown Forest is a huge expanse of semi natural wildrerness, with vast areas of Gorse and Bracken. Hidden amongst them all are some beautiful wildflowers. Uness you're very lucky in stumbling across them, it's wise to get some help with locations. Either some helpful tips from other botanists (thank you to Brad Scott - Sussex Botanical Recording Society) or from researching books and the internet for clues. Flowering times can usually be found by others posting photos on social media sites. Books can be wrong with flowering times by a few weeks depending on the weather that particular year.

This is the Marsh Gentian with its vividly blue flowers.

A very rare plant and I believe, absent from Kent.

It grows with other acid loving plants such as Gorse and Cross Leaved Heath.

Gentiana pneumonanthe

Heather was just coming into flower, looking great in the sunlight with a golden backdrop of Dwarf Gorse flowers.

Calluna vulgaris

More colourful than the Heather was the Cross-leaved Heath with its large clumps of pink bell shaped flowers.

Erica tetralix

A photo of the leaves helps identify these species; how many leaves in a whorl and whether the leaves are inrolled on their margins.

I've seen Dwarf Gorse on Dartford heath, but it's uncommon and I never visited when it was in flower, so it was nice to see it in bloom.

It's always prostrate, close to the ground with smaller, less stout spines than normal Gorse.

Ulex minor

A view of Ashdown Forest and its grassland habitat

From here we drove down to the coast to the very different habitats of the chalk cliffs and grasslands of the Seven Sisters at Birling Gap.

It was a beautiful sunny day and a perfect one for a walk along the chalk cliffs West out of Birling Gap. 
Tiny pink jewels of Common Centaury poked up in the short turf.

Centaurium erythraea

Dwarf Thistles were in flower, here is a typical example, though sometimes the flowering stem can be a few inches tall.

Cirsium acaule

This is a Hoary Plantain which is becoming scarcer and is a Kent RPR species as a result. I don't know if it's rare in Sussex, but there were lots of them here.

Their snowy plumes of white anthers are quite different to the other more common plantains.

Plantago media

Butterflies were abundant like this Small Copper, but the warm sun kept them active and hard to photograph.

 Succisa pratensis

Devil's Bit Scabious, one of the taller plants found

The tiny flowers of Wild Thyme.

Thymus polytrichus

The majority of wildflowers were dwarf varieties suited to the rabbit grazed turf of the chalk downs.

A dwarf Common Knapweed
Centaurea nigra agg 

Euphrasia agg

Dwarf Field Scabious
Knautia arvensis 

Common Restharrow growing in the shingle edges of a driveway!
Ononis repens

Given the time of year, I was conscious that there was a possibility of finding the last flowering orchid of the season, the delicate Autumn Lady's Tresses. I knew it had been seen here in the past so I kept an eye out for it.

I found twenty plus flowering spikes high up on the cliffs above Birling Gap. Most were only about 6-8" tall and when growing amongst other grasses, they are surprisingly easy to miss.

As if to show how easy they are to miss - on the return walk to the car park at Birling Gap, we noticed several more growing on people's lawns, completely missed on the way up.
The plant throws up spirals of tiny frosted white and lime green flowers, from an inch or so up the stem to the tip.

The spiralling form gives it its scientific name:

Spiranthes spiralis

So ended a fantastic day out to East Sussex. Like Kent, the county has a huge diversity of habitats. This is the key to having great biodiversity of plants and everything else up the food chain. At the right time of the year, the South Downs are a botanical delight, go and visit for yourself if you can!

Take care
@Barbus 59

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