Welcome

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.

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.

Hybrids in flower – Lady orchids picked/eaten

Been very busy recently but last weekend I checked and the hybrids were coming into flower nicely but the 2 Lady orchids that were expected were missing. On closer inspection they had been nipped off along with a few hybrids so it looks like deer grazing but could have been caused by human.

Monkey orchids will not be good this year, I think due to the severe drought and cold this Spring. We have found quite a few but in many places the plants don’t seem to have even sent up leaves. A few were in bud so we will have flowers but not many. I would expect them to appear next weekend at the very earliest.

Still nothing to see

Went to the site today to check progress and everything looks a month late. There is 1 Lady orchid and a handful of hybrids in tight bud, on very short stems – at least a week away to the first buds opening. No signs of any flowering Monkey orchids at all – all very short and stunted. Cowslips are still very short and the ground is incredibly dry – we have had no serious rain for a long time and night time temperatures have been very cold all Spring.

New parking restrictions!

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.

It’s looking like a late year …

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.

April 2016 update

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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.

Status update

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.

Some nice finds

On todays work party we got the slope ready for visitors by setting out the last of the tapes, to protect the Monkey orchids that are just pushing through the grass. The orchid mapping is going quite well, if a little slowly, and we have been finding lots of Monkey orchids in bud so it is looking like they are slowly recovering from the previous few years of bad Spring weather. The rain has certainly helped a lot.

Highlights on the wildlife front today were dozens of Adder’s Tongue fern coming up in the front field and the first male Common Blue flying around on the orchid slope 🙂  Monkey orchids are still in bud.

A nice start

The Lady x Monkey orchid hybrids are looking extremely good this year and have brought a splash of purple-red to the slope. I counted about 250 hybrid flower spikes today …. well, to be frank, I lost count around 200 but there are plenty to impress anyone who goes up there. We have 1 flowering Lady orchid (there are more in leaf), nestled in the front of the hybrid patch but the Monkey orchids seem to have been held back by the dry spell a few weeks ago and, although they are coming along, they will be a week or so before they flower.

A bit of a one-off

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. 🙂