Waterside Natural History Society visit Martin Down

Martin Down is often regarded as the jewel in the crown of Hampshire’s nature reserves and in the past it has never failed to disappoint.

The visit in the third week of May occurred during warm sunny weather and started from the Sillens Lane car park.

Skylarks rose into the sky and serenaded the small party as they walked out on to the rolling downland of the reserve.

A small copse was reached a short distance into the walk consisting of a mixture of Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Gorse, Brambles and Rose bushes.

The outwardly impenetrable thicket hid a narrow track which opened out into a sheltered clearing about the size of a tennis court.

The sounds of a Chiffchaff and Whitethroat gave way to the purring of a Turtle Dove and the distinctive call of a Cuckoo.

If the sound of a Wood Pigeon is the most irritating of the Pigeon family then the sound of a Turtle Dove must be the most pleasant.

Unfortunately they are becoming more and more scarce with every passing year but remain one of the great attractions at Martin Down.

There were several butterflies in the clearing including Speckled Wood, Brimstone, Green Hairstreak and Common Blue.

Small Blue butterfly
Small Blue butterfly

Small Blue butterflies rose from the vegetation at every step and seven specimens were on one plant of Common Gromwell.

Common Gromwell is a member of the Borage family with a square stem, green lanceolate leaves and small pale yellow flowers.

The seeds turn into small white beads that remain on the plant over the winter looking like a pearl necklace.

In the past it was thought that to cure an illness you had to find a plant that resembled the problem and as the small beads of Gromwell were taken to resemble gall or kidney stones the Gromwell was eaten as a cure.

However Gromwell also caused bleeding and damage to the liver so was never a complete success.

The Cowslip flowers had mostly turned to seed but in parts the yellow of Cowslip was prolonged by the Greater Butterfly Orchid.

Although not as prolific as cowslips there was quite a number in various stages of flower.

Greater Butterfly Orchid can be distinguished from its Lesser variety by having diverging pollen guides in the flower.

Many other plants were beginning to flower including Horse Shoe Vetch, Kidney Vetch and Birdsfoot Trefoil.

A few Hairy Violet were flowering on the chalky soil, Salad Burnet flowers sprang up everywhere and Dropwort plants were in bud.

Yellow Rattle also put in an appearance.

Birds normally hide themselves in the vegetation but some sit on the highest part of the bushes to attract a mate.

The Yellowhammer was one such bird which apart from being a golden yellow also has a distinctive ‘A little bit of bread and no cheese’ call.

A Willow Warbler also sat on the top of a small tree with its descending warble being broadcast to all points of the compass.

It was a pleasant experience to meet people interested in nature; some looking for orchids, some for birds but all willing to pass on information.

Nature was all around on the reserve; even when stopping for lunch a Raven could be heard, a Dingy Skipper butterfly flew past and Trembling grass or Briza grew on the poor soil.

Martin Down provided interest and atmosphere on an abundant scale.

The indoor meeting for May was an illustrated talk on ‘The plight of the Bumblebee’ by Jenny Abery on behalf of the ‘Bumblebee Conservation Trust’.

Bumblebees form only one group of the wide variety of Bees of which Honey Bees are perhaps the best known and the talk began with a comparison of Bumblebees against other types of Bee.

It was not long before the subject of the decline in Bee populations raised its head.

Honey Bees provide a clear service for humans in the form of honey and consequently are well catered for but Bumblebees in contrast are on their own.

Nevertheless they provide a vital role in pollinating both wild plants and commercial farming.

There is a concerted effort at the moment by organisations such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Friends of the Earth to count and monitor the number of Bees and members of the public are invited to help.

The speaker gave a clearly spoken and flowing talk with a clear passion for Bees which was much appreciated by the audience even though most of the audience was over thirty years older.

It was good to see the next generation taking such an interest in nature and making sure it is there for generations to come.