Ditchling Common

Field meeting reports
Picture of Dactylorhiza maculata ssp. ericetorum (Heath Spotted-orchid)
Dactylorhiza maculata ssp. ericetorum (Heath Spotted-orchid). Photo: Nick Sturt

Meeting date: 2 June 2018

(Leader: Ruth Eastwood)

Achillea ptarmica (Sneezewort), Carex panicea (Carnation Sedge), Cirsium dissectum (Meadow Thistle), Dactylorhiza maculata ssp. ericetorum (Heath Spotted-orchid), Danthonia decumbens (Heath-grass), Genista tinctoria (Dyer’s Greenweed): these were some of the highlights of the morning spent wandering in the meadow immediately south of the Country Park, where the ground falls away on a gentle slope to a rivulet and the view is commanded by the almost naked ridge of the Downs. At one point I stood taking in this vista with the field before me dotted with the twenty members gathered, all engrossed in the task. So entranced was I that by the time I had thought to record it on camera most had drifted out of sight. There were familiar faces but also new recruits such as George and Wolfgang; and I could see Ruth and Esme botanically engaged – happily, the joint leaders of a lovely day’s botany.

Photo: Nick Sturt

In a way it was a tale of two Commons, however, for in the afternoon the decision was to survey the fields west of the Ditchling road, which several of us remembered as of possibly equal interest. Scrub and trees had since gained a foothold and the second half of the day was rather different as the party processed northwards beside a narrow stream and investigated clearings where some good plants lingered on. The situation was not beyond remedy and indeed cattle were already employed munching their way through the ranker vegetation. At one point Esme took her customary siesta and she slept soundly as her push-chair bumped along muddy paths and was hoisted over the winding stream. We emerged parallel with the St George’s entrance to look out over a field that seemed to promise as much as that of the morning, but by now thoughts were turning towards tea. Any wavering ideas of setting about it were banished by Esme who, clearly refreshed by her nap, chirped ‘Let’s go!’ The party duly crossed the road and began the trek back through the Country Park. Here too, of course, there was interest, even if a large area of bracken was noted and the bog that used to support Carex hostiana (Tawny Sedge) is long gone. We did enjoy some more Danthonia and also Conopodium majus (Pignut) and Lathryus linifolius (Bitter Vetch) and by the time we had reached our parked cars we were somewhat surprised to find we had amassed in excess of 160 species. Ruth and Esme were thanked by all for what had been a splendid day out and a very muddy push-chair was stowed in a boot.

Photo: Nick Sturt