Ranscombe Farm, Kent - 14/06/20
Ranscombe is a very large reserve for rare plants and wildlife located near Cuxton managed by Plantlife. I highly recommend people to visit as it contains an amazing variety of both common and rare wildflowers. Don't be put off by the word "Farm" as it isn't just fields, there are several ancient woodland areas and even chalk grassland too.
As such, wild orchids feature heavily and several species are found here. I added Bird's Nest Orchids to the list of those found here a few years back when I saw some on the edge of the Great Wood.
One of the commoner orchids found here is the Bee Orchid which is common especially on the northern edge of the reserve. But in 2019 a special variant was found which is an amazing variant that I haven't seen anywhere else. So I went to visit and have a look for myself.
Here it is.
It's not uncommon for a Bee Orchid to show variation, but what is rare is for a whole colony to show this variation and where they were found there were at least 20 seperate plants all showing like those above.
Ophrys apifera (possibly) var. cambrensis
Surprisingly, these weren't located on chalk turf but hiding under fronds of Bracken on the acidic soils that cap the chalk higher up a hillside. You can see the Bracken fronds in the first photo above. Experts determined these may be var. cambrensis, though I remain unconvinced when I compared these photos to the herbarium material. See also https://bsbi.org/wp-content/uploads/dlm_uploads/Kent-Botany-2019.pdf for the original find in 2019.
What an amazing set of Bee Orchids! It is this variation that makes the Bee Orchid one of the most interesting to find. One always has to bend down just to check it isn't one of the variants or perhaps even a new one!
Ranscombe Farm though is far more than orchids. There are millions of wildflowers there, some planted, but most naturally occurring from the seedbank. Herbicide use is minimal and the wildflowers respond as if from the days of old. A marvellous sight to see. Here's a crop of poppies, but in between them were all sorts of arable plants missing from the vast majority of modern intensively farmed fields. You can make out the intense green spikes of Weld in the centre and Flax is dotted around along with Phacelia and Wild Radish varieties.
This is the Corncockle.
A view across the famous Kitchen Field, full of rare arable plants with the southern flank of the Great Wood on its border.
Venus's Looking Glass
I also managed to find just a single Fly Orchid remaining with the rest all now in seed and withered away. This one from the Mill Hill woods area.
There were some nice examples of Common Broomrape too, their flowers were unusually purple.
One of the fine views at Ranscombe.
Of course I saw lots more, but one has to draw a line somewhere. There's always interesting things to see here, throughout the year too, including a wealth of fungi, insects, birds, mammals, you name it, much can be found at Ranscombe. Why not join Plantlife and contribute to its conservation work too.