Wild Flowers Scrub & Trees
Botanically the reserve can be divided into three main habitats as follows:
1) Chalk grassland
This grassland has by far the greatest diversity of plants. In spring, cowslips, speedwell and violets provide most of the colour with other less showy species such as sedges and early grasses also adding interest. By late spring there are usually many pyramidal orchids in flower (picture right) together with milkwort, ox-eye daisy and salad burnet. By summer these are eclipsed by knapweeds, hawkweeds, St John’s wort, scabious, bedstraws, trefoil, wild parsnip and carrot and many elegant grass species. Centaury and yellow-wort are also present as are agrimony, stemless thistle and the sweet smelling thyme and marjoram.
Although some summer flowers continue into autumn the main interest at this time of the year are the seeds and fruits mostly found around the scrubby edges to the grassland. Here dogwood, blackthorn, elderberry, wild plum, field maple, rose, wayfaring tree, spindle, hawthorn, buckthorn and clematis provide a colourful diversity of seeds and fruit. Many of these species would soon invade and smother the grassland as is seen in parts of the overgrown chalk bank. Therefore, management of the grassland has to be carried out in winter with the introduction of a flock of sheep and the cutting back of encroaching scrub.
2) Mature Woodland
The woodland grows on a sandy gravel layer which forms a cap over the chalk. The soil is more acidic than the rest of the reserve and has a different flora. The mature trees are mostly oak with a scattering of cherry including one huge example with a circumference of nine feet and a diameter of almost three feet. The shrub layer is mostly bramble with some holly, elderberry, hawthorn and honeysuckle and even a few wild gooseberry and currant. Because of the shading the ground flora is quite sparse with some ivy, dog’s mercury and wood sanicle. Towards the SW end, on the lower side, some beech and ash are to be found and, in more open areas here, the ivy is supplemented with some yellow dead nettle, woodruff, wood anemones and arum lily. In this area in spring some patches of coral root are to be found.
3) Overgrown Chalk Bank
At least a good proportion of this land below the mature wood appears to have been hazel coppice, but has since grown into mature trees some over a foot in diameter. In some areas hazel is absent and here dogwood, spindle, wild privet, hawthorn and blackthorn form a dense thicket. It may be that, such areas were originally open grassland and this illustrates what happens when management and grazing are not maintained. In many places on the chalk bank whitebeam is outgrowing all of the other trees and bushes and is becoming dominant. The ground flora varies with the amount of light passing through the canopy with virtually nothing growing beneath the thicket. In some other places dog’s mercury forms a thick carpet while elsewhere ivy dominates with a few primroses, violets, arum lily and wood spurge surviving. One or two plants of the early flowering spurge laurel can also be seen. Orchids are present with the early purple being found in a number of locations. Small numbers of white helleborine, twayblade and spotted orchid are also present as is later in the year the rare narrow lipped helleborine.
Early in 2007 a portion of the old hazel coppice was once again coppiced for the first time in living memory and it will be interesting to record the changes in the ground flora resulting from the increased light availability.
There are always quite a few Viola hirta or Hairy violet on the chalk bank in March and April, but in 2019 there was an exceptionally good display with hundreds in dense groups on the SW side of the steep path that runs up the NE side of the bank.
Narrow Lipped Helleborine
This summary cannot describe the entire flora present on the reserve. However, it does hopefully give a taste of the diversity of the area which has already yielded over 190 species of flowering plants. You can find a full list of these plants on the Species List page in the Vascular Plants table.