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 beautiful south facing, unimproved chalk downland hill with stunning views over the river Thames and the Goring Gap region. 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 the government has designated it and the surrounding area a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ (SSSI) and the whole Goring Gap region is an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (AONB).
The wildlife on Hartslock is typical of unimproved chalk downland but unfortunately, due to modern farming methods and the increasing pressures on land in the south of England, this kind of habitat is becoming increasingly rare.
Anyone who has driven to Hartslock knows that parking has always been a problem in the lane outside the nature reserve. We receive a lot of complaints from our neighbours each year, that they can’t gain access to their fields when they need to, so this year we have (sadly) had to restrict it even more. I’m currently trying to work out something that will allow a small car or disabled people to park close to the site but for most visitors we are requesting that they park down at Goring railway station and walk up.
This winter just doesn’t seem to want to end, with the north winds blowing across the slope today. It was nice when the sun came out but pretty withering with any cloud. Beyond a few flies, the only insect I could identify was a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly and I swear I could hear its proboscis chattering and all 6 knees knocking together as it flew by!
On the plant front, the Pasque Flowers seemed to have gone over early, or at least had taken a breather because I could only find 1 tiny flower. There were a few patches of cowslips lower down on the slopes in full flower and the first common milkwort and chalk milkwort flowers. The wild cherry is flowering well too and is quite a sight at the base of the orchid slope.
I visited the site today and thought I’d update everyone on the orchid flowering. Basically it’s looking like a fairly late year (certainly not early) so I wouldn’t expect any of the orchid species to flower before the first week of May with the usual sequence of Lady, hybrid, Monkey. All species should be flowering throughout May but this depends largely on the way the weather develops through the next 2 months.
We have only just started to map the plants but it looks like we might get 2 Lady orchids flowering and a few hundred hybrids – 98% in the same square as they first appeared. Monkey orchid numbers are harder to estimate but today I found plenty so it should be a fairly average year for them.
Monkey orchid (Orchis simia)
Hybrid (Orchis purpurea x simia)
Hybrid (Orchis purpurea x simia)
Went up to the site yesterday and it all looks lovely – the views from the top of the hill are stunning at this time of year.
The orchids have done well this year, with about 230 hybrids, 1 lady orchid and about 100 monkey orchids. Currently the Lady orchid has finished flowering and many of the hybrids are looking past their best or are going to seed but there are still plenty of see. The Monkey orchids are doing better, due to a late start this year, and there are lots to be found skulking in the long grass but looking very nice when you get up close 🙂
Watch out for Hobby while you are up there – there have been about 3 pairs nesting in the area and flying very prominently over the river and Lower Hartslock Wood. Kestrels, Red Kites, Buzzards and Sparrowhawks are also doign well.
Gerry & I went up to the site today to do a bit more maintenance before the season starts – a bit of scrub cutting and orchid finding. But we were surprised to see one of the hybrids in good flower! Before you race up there to get your photos I should say that ALL of the other plants are still in tight bud and won’t be shifting for another week, so I don’t know why this one has decided to flower so far in advance of the others. The Monkey Orchids are even less ready to flower (probably 2 weeks away) and the Lady Orchid, which si usually the first to flower, is about a week away. 🙂
This year the Pasque Flowers have been very good – I took these photos on the 12th April. I am writing this on the 26th but there are still a few that haven’t gone to seed if you want to get up there quickly 🙂
I have just got back from a lovely morning up on Hartslock where I can confirm that the orchid flowering season is definitely over. All of the Lady, hybrids & Monkey orchids have set seed or are very close to going to seed so if you haven’t come already then book a date in your calendar for the second/third week of May 2015. There are plenty of Common-spotted Orchids and around 100 Bee Orchids looking really exotic and the Pyramidal Orchids are just starting.
The rest of the site was looking really lovely with a profusion of flowers and butterflies. The first Large Skippers and Marbled Whites were out and a lone Clouded Yellow zoomed across slope 3, pausing to drink nectar from Dogwood flowers.
Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) is starting to appear across the reserve but isn’t in flower so can be tricky to spot, while another rare and elusive plant, the Bastard Toadflax (Thesium humifusum), is flowering well across in slope 4 – accompanied by the Bastard Toadflax Bug (Canthophorus impressus)
Plenty of visitors came up to see the orchids this weekend, despite the wind & rain. I counted around 140-150 hybrids in full flower plus 1 Lady orchid. They are still mainly in the same square on the slope (A1) but there are a few outliers to the west and south, with a growing colony of healthy plants pushing into the woods outside the rabbit fence. We even found a potential hybrid seedling on the steps up through the woods!
Monkey orchids seem to be coming out nicely and most plants are fairly large and strong. There are still quite a few in bud so please watch where you are treading because they are very easy to miss and we want as many as possible to set seed this year. The colony is recovering from a succession of bad Springs (2 droughts followed by 1 exceptionally cold & prolonged) so plants on the more exposed southern face have been suffering disproportionately. There are a few flowering in this part of the slope but we have taken the decision to cordon this area off to allow the slope to recover without disturbance this year.
One Monkey orchid has been seen in flower in the first field, just down from the bench, but please be very careful not to tread on it because it is difficult to see. It seems to be the only flowering plant in this field this year. There are 2 more Monkey orchids below the beech tree on slope 4 with one in good flower. This satellite colony also suffered badly in the drought years so we hope that they will recover over the coming years.