Harting Down

Field meeting reports

Meeting date: 29 June 2003

(Leader: Dawn Nelson)

We wandered out on the down above the village of South Harting sweltering below in the Summer heat and soon came to grips with those delightful species typical of the chalk turf, at first wandering through tall Bromopsis erecta grassland. On the edge of the Down, at the behest of our leader Dawn, we turned our backs on the breath-taking view and paused to complete a fixed quadrat – a worthwhile discipline, especially when Beryl is on hand to referee the grasses! On the eastern slope of Round Down very near the beaten track we came upon some bushes of Rosa micrantha (Small-flowered Sweet-briar) identified for the party of 15 by Arthur, who drew our attention to the fragrance of the glandular leaves and the upward folding of the somewhat leathery leaflets. Here we were on the edge of the well known population of Juniper but the Polygala calcarea (Chalk Milkwort), which was said to have occurred, remained undetected, despite a careful search and much talk of ‘gentian-blue flowers’ and ‘basal rosettes’. So, with fingers now bleeding from the prickles of Cirsium acaule (Stemless Thistle) encountered in our rummagings, we turned our attention to Cynoglossum officinale (Hound’s-tongue). One member demonstrated that when crushed this plant smells remarkably like peanut butter – much to the excitement of Peter, who guiltily confessed to being a hopeless addict.

A low but expansive ash tree provided the requisite shade for lunch and then we walked over Round Down on a vast expanse of turf dominated by Leontodon hispidus (Rough Hawkbit) and Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal Orchid) and punctuated by scattered Ophrys apifera (Bee Orchid). Then Dawn led the hardy survivors on a diagonal path down the escarpment beyond the reach of the blessed breeze, passing a little Phyteuma orbiculare (Round-headed Rampion) near the tree-line, and so into welcome shade. We were rewarded with a good collection of Neottia nidus-avis (Bird’s-nest Orchid) in the deep beech-litter. All were duly appreciative of Dawn for a very enjoyable and well-organised meeting. Her services will be called upon again!