2021 Update on the status of Sussex’s rare and scarce plants

Latest sightings

During the first half of 2021, with the gradual relaxing of the Covid-19 restrictions, I and several other SBRS members have been checking out the status of some of Sussex’s rarer and scarcer plants. Below is a brief resume of the findings. The species and subsp. covered are a more or less random selection and have no particular significance for inclusion other than their scarcity in the county.

East Sussex

Moenchia erecta (Upright Chickweed)

Picture of Moenchia erecta (Upright Chickweed)
Moenchia erecta (Upright Chickweed)

Small populations confirmed on ant hill, at Beddingham Hill; Short mown turf at Selmeston; Sandy ground in the upper Cuckmere, valley and a good sized population on short turf in Peacehaven.

Tephroseris integrifolia subsp. integrifolia (Field Fleawort)

Rediscovered In the Cradle Valley, Scattered plants on the Seven Sisters cliffs at Flagstaff point, and also to the East and west of Hope Gap, in reasonable numbers.

Neotinea ustulata (Burnt Orchid) [early form]

Picture of Neotinea ustulata (Burnt Orchid)
Neotinea ustulata (Burnt Orchid)

Very good numbers (c.300+) in their classic location at Mount Caburn, probably due to the rain several days before they appeared.

Neotinea ustulata (Burnt Orchid) [late form]

Although it is still early in the season for this plant, there is a reasonable sized population emerging in the Cradle Valley, but other populations need visiting.

Himantoglossum hircinum (Lizard Orchid)

Picture of Himantoglossum hircinum (Lizard Orchid)
Himantoglossum hircinum (Lizard Orchid)

Never a truly established species in Sussex, it has appeared and disappeared in several locations in the last thirty years, and in the past. Found on Beachy Head in 2004/05, it survived for seven or eight years before disappearing, and the site becoming increasingly overgrown. Once again, a single spike has appeared, very close to the original site on Beachy Head.

In addition, there have been three other records for this plant, in the Lewes area, one at Firle and one at Hamsey.

Ophrys apifera var. flavascens (a yellow form of Bee Orchid)

Know in several locations between Eastbourne and Birling Gap, the Belle Tout population has had a very good year with over one hundred spikes. Hopefully, it has done just as well elsewhere.

Bupleurum baldense (Small Hare’s-ear)

Picture of Bupleurum baldense (Small Hare’s-ear)
Bupleurum baldense (Small Hare’s-ear)

This insignificant species, often mistaken for Euphorbia exigua (Dwarf Spurge), with which it grows has had fluctuating populations for the last fifty years, sometimes not appearing at all. This year is a bumper one. Always difficult to find, even if you know where it is! This year I found about ten plants growing on the precarious cliff edge above Shooter’s Bottom. I was quite excited by this, until I stood up, and found I had been sitting on another one hundred plants! The most I have seen in forty years of monitoring it.

Ophrys sphegodes (Early Spider Orchid)

After a poor year in 2020, this delightful little Orchid had a better time of it this year. The classic downland site near Brighton, produced a good number of plants, and were seen by many. As yet there has been little or no feedback on the sites between Eastbourne and Birling Gap, but I am hopeful!

Lithospermum officinale (Common Gromwell)

This plant of infrequent occurrence has been recorded in two locations this Spring, on the Downs near Lewes.

Pinguicula vulgaris (Common Butterwort)

Restricted to a single site on the Ashdown Forest, this uncharacteristic Sussex species has always existed on the brink of extinction in the county. This year we could only find one, well grown, plant, which happened to be flowering, as well. Some light management will be undertaken later in the year, in the hope of improving the habitat so it can flourish. The site also had Hypericum elodes (Marsh St. John’s-wort), Carex demissa (Common Yellow-sedge) and Wahlenbergia hederacea (Ivy-leaved Bellflower).

Phyteuma spicatum (Spiked Rampion)

An excellent display at the classic site near Cross in Hand, with c.150 flowering spikes. In addition, after some concern as to its continued existence at Abbot’s Wood, it was recorded there earlier in the year.

Cerastium arvense (Field Mouse-ear)

Increasing at the Oxsteddle Bottom site, adjacent to the Southerham Farm NR, and found in a second location close by on the edge of Bible Bottom.

Potamogeton acutifolius (Sharp-leaved Pondweed)

Still in some quantity in the northern section of Pevensey Levels, one of the two extent Sussex sites for this nationally threatened species. Sussex accounts for a very high percentage of the national population.

Ranunculus hederaceus (Ivy-leaved Crowfoot)

Seen in some quantity in the northern Pevensey Levels, this species is much reduced due to drainage of wet meadows, and other habitat loss.

West Sussex

Orchis anthropophora (Man Orchid)

Know from two locations on Wolstonbury Hill, this species has always been limited in its occurrence. One of the two populations had nine spikes in June. As yet there is no information forthcoming concerning the second population.

Galium pumilum (Slender Bedstraw)

The population at Wolstonbury is doing very well with a great showing in the second week in June.

Platanthera chlorantha (Greater Butterfly Orchid)

Lots of plants on the National Trust reserve at Wolstonbury. An expanding and superb population.

Cephalanthera damasonium (White Helleborine)

c.25 to 30 plants among the Greater Butterfly Orchids on Wolstonbury

Orchis simia (Monkey Orchid)

Picture of Orchis simia (Monkey Orchid)
Orchis simia (Monkey Orchid)

A solitary plant, of unknown origin, was reported in May on private land in West Sussex. Visited by a small group of SBRS members, it flowered well, and appears to be setting seed. There are no other rosettes around or near the plant, and it is impossible to say that it was definitely planted.

Tephroseris integrifolia subsp. integrifolia (Field Fleawort)

This is one of the species of fine chalk grassland that becomes less frequent towards the west of the county.  Rackham Hill: the first confirmed record west of the Adur since the 1980s.

Himantoglossum hircinum (Lizard Orchid)

One flowering plant was reported in 2019 on private land near Arundel and has persisted.

Paul Harmes & Nick Sturt.

One thought on “2021 Update on the status of Sussex’s rare and scarce plants

  • Spiked rampion was been introduced at Wilderness Wood, Hadlow Down by the Species Recovery Trust 2 years ago. After rabbit predation the tubers nearly wiped them out, they were fenced by chicken wire, with a dozen or more flowering this year.

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