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 2020 – late May

By the end of May the site started to look really dry and parched, with the paths clearly taking a real hammering from visitors. Sadly, this also saw a large burn mark appear at the top of the orchid slope, left by an inconsiderate visitor who decided to have a BBQ up there and to leave their mess burning the grass and soil. I even found a discarded pair of BBQ tongs in the grass!!

Still, as the hybrids and monkey orchids vanish (they have all finished flowering now) the bee orchids have started to appear and, much to my surprise, they are quite large too, over in slope 4 (beyond the beech tree at the top).

Spring 2020 – early May

Here are a few more photos to show how the site developed through May, when it was possible to travel more freely to exercise. The lack of rain was good for the insects but has caused quite a lot of the orchids to be very short in stature or to abort flowering completely. This was particularly noticeable on the southern face, which is the driest, where I only saw 1 flowering orchid this year.

Plants like the Downy-fruited Sedge and Chalk Milkwort have been doing very well though and by the end of May I even saw the first flowers of Bastard Toadflax.

Spring 2020 update #2

During lockdown we were unable to visit the site, except for really exceptional reasons. I live locally so was able to justify visits for exercise and while there I completed some much needed maintenance and safety work.

This is how it looked on 1st May when I put up the path marker tapes. The site was being visited by quite a lot of local ramblers on their weekly walks.

Spring 2020 update #1

Apologies for being off-line but with the lockdown I was only able to get to the site rarely and we (the Trust & I) decided not to encourage people to break lockdown by showing any photos of the site of the orchids. So, here are a few images that I snapped up there on the first time that I could justify a visit – 22nd April 2020. As you can see, the hybrids were flowering very early – but no Lady Orchid flowering and Monkeys were still in bud.

It has been an excellent year for butterflies and the dry, warm weather brought them out in fantastic numbers. I’ve never seen so many Grizzled Skippers!

Wild Flower Society visit

Showed a group from the Wild Flower Society around the reserve today and we all had a really great time. Highlights of the day were the last few Monkey Orchids & hybrids, lots of Common Spotted Orchids & Pyramidals; Downy-fruited Sedge doing well; literally hundreds of Bee Orchids (must be an excellent year); Bastard Toadflax in good flower over most of the far fields (with a couple of Bastard Toadflax Bug); Slender Bedstraw & Dodder.

How to distinguish our hybrids from the parent species

Orchis purpurea x simia (=angusticruris) on Hartslock NR

I’m often asked about our Lady x Monkey orchid hybrids and visitors frequently seem confused about how to distinguish them from their parents. So here is a quick summary and discussion about them to give you some tips.

Here is a summary of the features that the hybrid takes from each parent. The hybrid feature is in bold.

Leaf colourgrey greenyellow green
Leaf shapekeeled and smoothbroad & ribbed
Plant stature Short and thintall and vigorous
Flower colour pink red
Flower hoodpale and relatively unmarkedcoloured with dense spotting
Flower shapewith legswith a “skirt”
Flowering timeLast week in April*First week in May
  • in reality the hybrids are usually a few days after the Lady orchids

Here is a selection of hybrids:

Here are the parent species:

12th May 2019 – looking good

Here’s just a quick update from the site as of today (12/5/2019). The hybrids are looking amazing and are probably at their peak flowering now. Still no sign of the Lady Orchid so that has clearly skipped a year. Here are a few photos on the Monkey Orchids, starting with a new one on slope 1, which Gerry discovered last weekend. It’s just by a patch of Adder’s Tongue fern so be careful if you take photos. The rest are a fair example of the range of sizes we have this year. Most are pretty small and many are not open yet so it’s probably best to go next weekend to see them at their best.

Here are some photos of the hybrids, looking amazing as always:

Butterflies weren’t very common but I saw quite a few Brimstone & Dingy Skipper, plus some Common Blues and a Small Heath.

May 2019 – orchids starting

Just come back from putting out the path-marker tapes with Gerry. The hybrids are flowering very well and looking great but the big news is that no Lady Orchids are flowering this year. This is the first time we haven’t had a Lady Orchid flower for many years and might show signs that the plants are weakening. The Lady Orchids haven’t spread from their original location and so it seems that the site isn’t really very well suited for them.

Most Monkey Orchids are still in tight bud with only one or two just opening. Be very careful when walking on the slope because it’s very very difficult to see the plants in bud and it is very easy to step on them.

For those that wonder why we rope-off the orchids and try to keep visitors to the paths should take note of the photo of plants that have already been flattened. I’m sure that visitors are all well-meaning but it is so easy to get distracted by the view and step on even large orchids.

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.