Tuesday, 28 September 2021

The joyful sights and sounds of another summer

The joyful sights and sounds of another summer

AFTER all the dark and gloomy months of winter, I look forward to the onset of summer.

If, like me, you take an interest in our local flora and fauna then these are the halcyon days when you can walk through grassland full of native aromatic herbs such as marjoram, its scent rising as if from a dream.

I often visit the Goring Heath area at the beginning of June with a friend. The mixture of wood and meadow is simply wondrous.

We enter an old orchard opposite the now defunct King Charles Head pub and head south through some wonderful pasture.

There is a horse at nearby Rose Cottage that seems to remember me and accepts some pieces of carrot.

This part of South Oxfordshire is very rich botanically, largely down to the custodianship of Sir Julian Rose, owner of the Hardwick Estate in Whitchurch. His land has been farmed organically for as long as I can remember and the majority of the estate is wooded.

The wild service tree (sorbus torminalis) is quite evident here with its distinctive leaves, bark and autumn fruit, a beautiful and elegant component of this part of our silvine world.

No pesticides have been used here and it is obvious how this has preserved so much of our local species.

We revisited a very small old spinney of hazel with hawthorn in an attempt to rediscover a colony of fly orchids (ophrys insectifera), that we came across a couple of years ago.

We were delighted to find 20 flowering spikes, probably a record for such a small area of South Oxfordshire (about the size of a small garden). Alongside are two other plants that grow in these shady places, dog’s mercury and enchanter’s nightshade.

Interestingly, two species of helleborine are emerging alongside the orchids. These will soon reveal their true identity but I believe they are the narrow-lipped (epipactis leptochila) and green or pendulous-flowered (epipactis phyllanthes). We’ll have to wait a few weeks to see.

All three species are scarce nationally but we are blessed in this area with a substantial population of these intriguing plants.

A wonderful day was topped off with the evocative sound of a cuckoo. Summer has truly arrived but, alas, I have still not heard the song of the willow warbler.

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