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.

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.

FeatureMonkeyLady
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.

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.