Yesterday morning he who presently spends his time making a scale model of a static steam engine, surprised me by abandoning house and shed to take part in the orchid count on Windmill Hill. We had the first count last year, but this year the orchids are far more numerous. The hill is in the care of the Windmill Trust, a group of local volunteers, and in the past the limestone grassland was mostly kept in check by a flock of small ponies, brought in to graze at the end of summer. Unfortunately the little ponies had to be sold, so last year at summer’s end the Windmill Trust had the hill mowed, the hay baled and dispatched to the local riding centre and the ground harrowed. It’s certainly given the purple pyramidal orchids a boost, though later when I went up the hill to see for myself, apart from the pyramids, I could only find this single Bee Orchid and one Spotted Orchid, though I was probably a bit late for the latter; they anyway prefer the parts of the hill where the soil is less calcareous.
With all the rain we’ve had, the grasses are knee-high and the orchids not as conspicuous as they usually are. But there are also masses of other limestone meadow flowers: wild thyme, mallow, agrimony, viper’s bugloss, knapweed, thistles, ladies bedstraw, hop trefoil, vetches, yellow rattle, cinquefoil, brambles, St. John’s Wort and hawkweeds. The place was alive with insects too – not only bees, but also blue damsel- and dragon flies and masses of Meadow Brown and Small Heath butterflies. Also a Common Blue. I didn’t see the peregrine falcon though that Graham had seen in the morning, but I went home thinking what a treasure place is Windmill Hill.
P.S. Hot off the press come the orchid count results: 3,574 pyramidal orchids (compared to 864 last year); 129 spotted orchids; 15 bee orchids.