Field Event Reports

Sunday 4 June: Harslock Nature Reserve ( BBOWT)

Leaders: Malcolm Brownsword and Chris Raper (Site Warden)

Monkey Orchid was one of the target  species

A group of seven AbNats members met in the Car Park of Goring and Streatley Station at 1.15pm and at 1.30pm four cars convoyed up to the Reserve. Fortunately we met no other cars coming in the opposite direction as the road was extremely narrow and virtually lacked passing places. The gate to the Reserve was open and we parked at various angles on the slopes. In fact, this was our introduction to what was to be a walk on continually sloping ground throughout. We were met by Malcolm Brownsword and his wife Valerie, who introduced us to Chris Raper, warden of the Reserve. Chris is a the volunteer warden and works as an entomologist at the British Museum (Natural History), London. We were extremely fortunate to have him escorting as his knowledge and enthusiasm for the site is unsurpassed. We also had our first sight of the stunning views over the 'Goring Gap', with the Thames and Great Western Railway line immediately below us and the wooded slopes of the Chilterns beyond.

Chris initially introduced us to the history and facts about the site. Hartslock Nature Reserve is located on the north side of the Thames between Whitchurch and Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. The site is owned by The Wildlife Trust for Berks, Bucks & Oxon (BBOWT) and managed by its staff and volunteers. The reserve is a south facing, unimproved chalk downland hill; the grassland is surrounded by ancient hedges and mixed Yew woodland and, although it is only small (11-acres or 4.4 hectares), it is home to a very wide variety of plants and animals, some of which are extremely rare. For this reason it and the surrounding area is designated a 'Site of Special Scientific Interest' (SSSI) and the whole Goring Gap region is an 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' (AONB)iiii.

The Reserve is renowned for its orchids and Chris explained that while some species were still in flower and others emerging, perhaps the rarest and most unique were generally 'over' due to the variable weather in the previous weeks. However, he hoped we would find some specimens. Indeed very close to the parked cars we found rather old but still identifiable specimens of Common Spotted Orchid, the rare Monkey Orchid (which only grow in two other places in the UK and are protected by law), and the hybrid of the Monkey and Lady Orchids, discovered at Hartslock in 2006 and the only place in Britain where this hybrid has been recorded. Since Lady Orchids are not found on the Reserve, the source of this parent is a mystery.

The walk progressed across the grassland of the Reserve, with a brief diversion into the edge of woodland to see some White Helleborines. Back on the grassland, Chris pointed out the notable and rare chalkland plants, most with small flowers and hugging the ground, including Downy- fruited Sedge, Common Milkwort, Chalk Milkwort, Clustered Bellflower, Fairy Flax, Rockrose, Common Thyme, Bastard Toadflax and Pasque Flower. The most notable shrubs were Sweet Briar, the leaves of which have an apple-like scent. In one area the dominant tall tussock grass had started to be a problem and the sheep used to graze the site avoided it. The solution had been to heavily strim out the dead bases and then allow sheep to graze - the result was a short-grass turf with numerous chalkland herbs - Chris was very proud of this success. While on the main slopes, the hunt was for Bee Orchids with Malcolm searching for some he had seen previously; a few isolated and diminutive specimens were found.

We returned to near the Car Park, where there was a more level patch of ground, which was much damper than elsewhere as it retained the moisture run-off from the slopes above. The vegetation was therefore lusher and here many Pyramidal Orchids were starting to flower. Notable also were the parasite Dodder and the Adder's Tongue Fern.

The weather had been mostly overcast and breezy, quite acceptable for our walk, but not for butterflies - just single specimens of Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown and Common Blue were seen. Birdlife was also thin on the ground, but a flock of several Ravens flew over and as is typical of the Chilterns, Red Kites and Buzzards were frequently circled, sometimes unusually being able to have a view the upper side of the Kites as they flew below us in the valley.

Now back at the cars, thanks were conveyed to Chris and Malcolm for our two-hour walk around a small but most interesting site, complemented throughout by stunning views over the valley beyond. There was no doubt about the enthusiasm that Chris has for the Reserve; the work he and his other volunteers have put in have created and maintained a hidden gem in the Chilterns. It should be noted that Chris later emailed me to say: 'I really enjoyed walking round with you all. Being in the field with a group of really keen naturalists is always good.'

Report: Graham Bateman

Orchids seen:
Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia), Monkey/Lady Orchid hybrid, Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera),White Helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium), Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).
Other Notable Chalkland Plants:
Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), Downy-fruited Sedge (Carex tomentosa), Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), Chalk Milkwort (Polygala calcarea), Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata), Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum), Sweet Briar (Rosa rubiginosa), Rockrose (Helianthemum nummularium),Common Thyme (Thymus polytrichus), Bastard Toadflax (Thesium humifusum), Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum), Adders Tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum).

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The site overlooks River Thames in the Goring GapClose study is worthwhile at timesThe site overlooks River Thames in the Goring Gap