Ampney Downs, 25th June 2024

By Alan Waterman

A limestone downland area in the east of the county, just north of Cirencester and part of the Barnsley Warren valley system. This meeting was led by Anna Field who is a GNS member and the Glorious Cotswold Grasslands Programme Officer at the Cotswolds National Landscape.
We met at 5.00pm at a location on the narrow road known as Welsh Way which extends east to west (towards Wales?) on a very warm evening, there were about 10 members. We were blessed by the presence of Clare and Mark Kitchen so along with Anna we had several experts on hand to identify the wealth of wild flowers on view.

Calcicoles; plants that like alkaline soils like limestone or chalk. The opposite is Calcifuges which live in acidic conditions, I think of them as refuges from calcium and then there are many species which are not so fussy and live in neutral soils but will tolerate a pH a bit above or below 7. There are many more Calcicoles than Calcifuges so on downlands you can expect a large number of species, and this was exactly what we got.
Obvious early in our walk were the bright pink Pyramidal Orchids which were at their best, we also saw some Fragrant Orchids which were going over a bit and one Bee Orchid and one Common Spotted Orchid.
Once we got onto the steep south-facing slope where the grassland was unimproved, managed by autumn/winter cattle grazing, the numbers of species vastly increased, were you to randomly place a 1m quadrat anywhere in this region I would guess you would encounter upwards of 25 species.
From memory we saw Woolly Thistle, Common Rock Rose, Dropwort, Autumn Gentian ( not yet in flower) Squinancywort, Fairy Flax, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Betony, Agrimony, Salad Burnet, Red Clover, White , Clover, Eyebright, Common Milkwort, Yellow- Wort, Field Scabious, Small Scabious, Meadow Cranesbill, Yellow Rattle, Ladies Bedstraw, Hoary Plantain, Wild Thyme, Selfheal, Mouse-eared Hawkweed, Oxeye Daisy, Heath Speedwell, Glaucous Sedge, Wild Basil, Bittersweet, Stemless Thistle, and many more. Dyers Greenweed was much in evidence and this a species I had not seen that much in the past, it was used as the name suggests to produce a dye but not green as you might expect form the name but yellow, the colour of the flowers.
Mark Kitchen commented that it was surprising that as we walked back along an old hedge largely composed of Hawthorn and some lovely Dog Roses showing a nice range of colours from almost pure white to a good strong pink that we did not see any Old Mans Beard or Honeysuckle, shrubs normally found in alkaline regions.
This was largely a wild flower walk but we did see a few birds notably a group of 18 Lapwings which evidently nest on the top of the downs also Sky larks were seen and heard, also corn bunting, skylark, yellowhammer, whitethroat, redstart, buzzard, red kite, various commoner species.

Several of the plants had Ladybirds but mostly they were the Harlequin species, there were a few butterflies about but not many largely Meadow Browns and the odd Small Heath.
Many thanks to Anna and her very knowledgeable 8-year old daughter who did her best to spot as many different species as possible. I shot off quickly at the end to catch the England Football match, they got a 0-0 draw, but it was not as memorable as the visit to Ampney Downs.

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