Friday night’s social was a barbecue at a private nature reserve in the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire called Gray’s Lane Bank. It’s almost like an extension of the owner’s garden, and it’s been so lovingly managed that it’s one of the most impressive wild flower meadows we’ve ever seen. It’s a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) which means that it has been recognised as important and Natural England, a government agency, has a responsibility for advising the landowner on how best to manage it.
Wildflower-rich chalk grassland is one of the most important habitats to protect in our part of the country. It would once have been quite common in the south of England, but changes to farming practices have made it much scarcer. Today, it’s important to protect grassland that is ”unimproved”, meaning that it hasn’t ever been fertilised. The fertiliser means that the grass grows bigger and chokes out all the wild flowers which are more successful when the soil is low in nutrients.
We do lots of work protecting grassland by clearing scrub, but we mostly do this work in Autumn or Winter, or sometimes in Summer after most of the wild flowers have set seed. At Gray’s Lane bank, we did three tasks last year and we have one more planned for July. Unlike some sites where we only have time to cut off the hawthorn as it appears, on this site the owner has encouraged us to get it out by the roots so that it takes a long time to re-emerge. This has worked really well on the site and it was great to be invited to see the results at the perfect time of year.
My wild flower identification skills are very limited, but I immediately noticed hundreds of Oxeye Daisy, Fragrant Orchid, Common Spotted orchid, Yellow Rattle, Salad Burnet and Chiltern gentian. Someone else spotted some Bee Orchids, but then we lost them. What was most amazing actually was the sheer number of orchids, it was hard to walk without standing on them. Here are a couple of my best photos.
After we’d spent some time admiring the flowers and the splendid view across the valley, we were treated to a splendid barbecue as a thank-you for all our work on the site. Of course, we don’t expect any reward for working hard on OCV tasks, because they are enjoyable in their own right, but it’s certainly nice when appreciation is shown in this way. And what a view we had to admire!