Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Monkeying around

We've been on a real adventure today, to a reserve we've never visited before. Hartslock is near Goring by the river Thames and is a bit further away from home than we usually travel. We were there for something very special today though ... to see the very rare lady and monkey orchids that grow there.

The reserve was hidden away down some lovely country lanes and we had to walk about a mile to reach it. Then we had to scrabble up a steep slope, but what an amazing view from the top of the hill!

Monkey orchids are listed as vulnerable and nationally rare. They're quite small, between 10 and 30 cm tall and are only found in three sites in Britain, this one and two in Kent. Records have been kept for the monkey orchids at Hartslock since 1792.

The lip has four lobes that form the arms and legs of the monkey (each tinged a darker pink). A short fifth lobe forms the tail of the monkey.

They're unique amongst British orchids as the flowers open from the top down, opening in quick succession so they're at their best for a relatively short amount of time.

Hartslock is the only site in the country where a hybrid of the lady and monkey orchids has grown. First seen in 2006, these flowers have characteristics of both parents, but they are much larger than the monkey orchids. They're beautiful orchids, standing tall above the grass, mostly on one sheltered side of the slope.

Lady monkeys
We'd hoped to also see lady orchids while we were there, but I checked the Harstlock website and it looks like the two flowers they were waiting to open had been eaten or possibly picked. The site is taped off to mark the paths and protect the orchids, but we could still see where people had stepped over the tape and knelt in the grass to get photos (and broken off orchids!) Seems crazy that anybody would pick the orchids or damage them, especially when you could still get very close to the flowers by staying to the marked path.

There are seven different orchids found on the site, including twayblade, which we found hiding away in the grass. The others (bee, common spotted and pyramidal) will flower in a month or so.

While we were there I saw my first grizzled skipper of the year and found a shiny green beetle sharing a buttercup with a smaller black beetle. As I was looking at it, a little moth crept up a stalk of grass and had clearly just emerged and was starting to stretch out and dry its crumpled up wings.

We walked back to the car through the country lanes lined with frothy cow parsley.

The cows were leaning over to reach the goose grass, which they were pulling up in clumps and thoroughly enjoying eating.

We had a wonderful morning exploring somewhere new. I like the reserves that take a bit of effort to reach, especially when there's something really special waiting for you when you get there.


  1. Wow! Well done with the rare orchids! I'm hoping to get my own rare species soon... the swallowtail butterfly! They are out now, but I haven't seen one yet.