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.

Monkey orchids have started

Checked on the orchids during the regular May workparty and found about a dozen or more starting to flower. There are plenty still in tight bud though so I’d encourage visitors to wait until next weekend, otherwise the ones in bud are going to be trodden on before they become visible. However, the Lady orchid is starting to fade a bit and the lower flowers are browning.

Plenty of skippers and hairstreaks again and the whole site is looking lovely.

Bank holiday Monday update

Absolutely scorching hot up there today. Lady orchid & hybrids flowering well but the Monkey orchids are still in tight bud (see below). I would  expect the first to be in flower by next weekend, though you could wait a week to get more of them out.

Lots of Grizzled & Dingy Skippers and Green Hairstreaks all over the site, with Brimstones, Green-veined Whites, Orange Tips & tons of Holly Blues.

Orchid season has started … kinda

Looks like a lovely weekend ahead and the orchids are starting as they mean to go one with 1 nice Lady orchid and plenty of hybrids in flower. No signs of the Money orchids at all yet – hence the slightly guarded declaration of a start to the season.

Butterflies are appearing too, with 2 Grizzled Skippers seen (in slopes 2 & 4), Green Hairstreaks (on the hedge in 2 and down in the lowest corner of 4) and Dingy Skipper (on slope 4). Also plenty of Brimstones, Orange Tips, Green-veined Whites and a Peacock seen. Lots of Pyrausta nigritia and Small Purple Barred moth too. Also a few female Bombylius major still hanging on and some Osmia bicolor and Andrena cineraria in abundance too.

Spring is springing!!

Another glorious Spring day up on Hartslock today – sunny and warm all day with insects getting very numerous. Lots of Brimstone, Bombylius major, Andrena cineraria, Osmia bicolor and Orange Tip. The flowers are also lovely with 100s of Cowslips and the first Lady Orchid (Orchis purpurea) flowers. The most advanced hybrid (Orchis x angusticruris) is still in tight bud so it’s not worth going up there yet to see the orchids but give it a few weeks and everything should be very colourful.

And suddenly Spring has arrived!! 

Spring 2018

The winter has been dragging on for ages and even now, in the middle of April, the Hairy Violets have only just started to really flower in earnest and the Pasque Flowers are just poking up, long after Easter. Cowslips are just coming through and I saw my first beeflies on Saturday 8th, along with a Comma and Peacock butterfly – we saw a few male Brimstones on a sunny workparty a month earlier. I have been up looking for Gonia picea (a very early parasite fly) many times and still haven’t seen one.

The orchids seem to be growing well from all the winter rains but they are growing slowly, so we are all waiting to see when the weather will change and we might start to get some warmth. If the sun shines then I expect they will all romp away but we’ll need a decent period of warm weather, above 16C.

Winter workparties have concentrated their efforts clearing scrub around the lone beech between compartments 3 & 4 – to give the sheep a place to shelter in the summer. We will be summer grazing the top of 4 this year to suppress more of the Brachypodium grass. To this end Gerry has also bee topping-off the Brachypodium with the scrub-cutter and scythe, which in previous years has opened it up nicely to let the sheep get in and eat it down to the ground.

Winter 2018

Apologies for the lack of posts since last Spring – it’s been an incredibly busy time for me personally and career-wise. I have still been doing plenty of stuff on the reserve but haven’t been writing anything on the blog.

One big change from previous years is that I have now handed the mapping task back to the Wildlife Trust, as it was becoming impossible for me to maintain the same level of effort that I had done before, due to work commitments. The mapping usually involved 5-6 visits to the reserve each Spring with teams of friends or just by myself, noting down the plants or trying to find them using measuring tapes. Then the bit that nobody saw, when I’d spend 2-3 hours each evening typing the data into a huge spreadsheet and checking it against previous years. The Trust staff are now going to take a more pragmatic view and are developing their own method of estimating the colony size, rather than calculating it to the individual plant.

This gives me much more energy and time to concentrate on running the monthly workparties and to actually go up and enjoy the site – something that I have been missing recently. I’ll now have the time to do more guided walks for visitors and actually take time to survey insects and to watch how the winter management pans out during the growing season. But it does mean that I won’t be able to report here on exact numbers of plants but instead I will be giving my overall impressions on how the orchids are doing and on the condition of the site and the species living there.

News update – 13th May

Visited the site today and it’s bone dry up there but there are plenty of orchids flowering. Highlights include:

  • hybrids – about 100+ plants if full flower, looking very good indeed and they seem to have avoided the effects of the drought
  • Lady Orchid – just 1 in flower this year but it’s looking very good
  • Monkey Orchids – I counted 15-20 but most were very small indeed and showing signs of aborting due to the prolonged drought this year – especially those on the southern face. That said, there are some very nice plants over on the western side.
  • White Helleborines – plenty of plants up in the woods but none seen on the grassland this year – too dry, I suspect. Most are in bud.
  • Chalk Milkwort – flowering well and plenty across the slope
  • Downy-fruited Sedge – plenty of flowering plants this year but very difficult to find
  • Pasque Flower – about 10 in full flower in slope 4. These seem to be flowering for a long time this year but all plants are very small.
  • No Grizzled Skippers seen but plenty of Dingy Skippers, 1 Small Heath and Green Hairstreaks were seen a few weeks ago. Also 1 Common Blue was seen today.
  • Two pairs of Hobby seen flying across the tops of the trees and the river.

The latest news is on Facebook

This year I’ll be posting all the latest news on our Facebook page – here: https://www.facebook.com/Hartslock/

EDIT 26/4/2017): So far we just have 1 Lady orchid in flower and the drought is keeping the other orchids fairly small. The hybrids will flower perhaps in the coming bank-holiday weekend (29th) and I suspect that the Monkey orchids will be at least another week. But if we get plenty of rain then things might accelerate.

Spring has finally sprung!

This weekend was a bit chilly but the sun helped get things moving and the rain last week seems to have freshened everything up. I counted 15 Monkey orchids in flower or close to flowering so it won’t be a great year for them but the cold & dry weather has been bad for them this year and a lot haven’t appeared.