Waterside Natural History Society visit to Ovington

The purpose of our visit to Ovington was primarily to look at the Snowdrops which flower reliably during February every year and carpet the area around the Bush Inn.

Winter weather however is not so reliable and our visit has to be taken in context with the unusual amount of rainfall that has fallen already this year.

Deep depressions have piled in across the Atlantic one after another depositing huge amounts of rainfall until the ground has become saturated with water and rivers have overflowed flooding the land.

On the day of our visit, by contrast, the weather had been dry for a couple of days and the sun shone on a warm spring day.

Evidence of recent rainfall around Ovington was not hard to find as large lakes had been formed in the fields wherever a dip in the chalk downs had fallen below the water table.

We were therefore a little apprehensive that we would be able to walk around the village particularly as a large puddle covered the road outside the Bush Inn and our walk would take us over and alongside the river Itchen.

This river, which goes on to flow through Winchester, had already been featured on the news as threatening to overflow.

A Bridge Over The River Itchen
A Bridge Over The River Itchen

When we reached the river it became evident that it was
still contained within its banks and we were able to walk alongside as normal.

The river was full but the flow was no more than normal for this time of year.

The river Itchen is a chalk stream and gets most of its water supply from aquifers and springs that originate below the chalk downs so the flow of water should be relatively constant.

Water from already saturated ground runs off quickly into the streams and supplements the normal flow so the river level does respond to some extent to heavy rainfall.

Water from the river Itchen has in the past been used to irrigate water meadows in order to stop the soil from freezing in the winter and encourage two crops of hay each year.

Although this practice has been discontinued some features remain such as the canal or main carrier that runs alongside the river.

Walking between the river and this main carrier on the narrow pathway gives the impression of being surrounded by water.

The snowdrops around Ovington are scattered throughout the area and after crossing over a bridge on the main carrier canal we gradually ascended along a small lane leading up to St Mary’s church at Itchen Stoke.

Fresh white nodding heads of Snowdrops grew in bunches on the raised bank at the side of the lane opposite a quaint cottage garden which itself had plenty of spring flowers in bloom.

Snowdrops were also a feature around the church but wild Daffodils had also started to flower in the grass between the gravestones.

These daffodils are shorter and frailer than their cultivated cousins with a paler yellow outer ring of petals.

A patch of Germander Speedwell at the side of the entrance gate already had a good supply of small blue flowers.

Snowdrops have many local names such as ‘February Fair Maid, Candlemas Bells, Dewdrops and Deaths Flower’.

The last name derives from the belief that it is unlucky to pick the flowers and take them indoors in which case a death can occur in the family.

The Snowdrop flower does not appear to have a covering over the white parts so the sepals and petals cannot be distinguished.

In this case the parts are called tepals. Other flowers that are regarded to have tepals are the Helibore, Lillies, and Crocus.

The warm sunny weather encouraged the birds to sing and we were serenaded by Robins, Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Great Tit and Jackdaws.

Overhead we were attracted by the mewing call of Buzzards to find eight of the birds circling around each other and a ninth not too far away.

A Sparrowhawk flew across our path rising and falling to go over the hedges and as we left the area in our car a Red Kite manoeuvred in flight looking for food.

The walk round Ovington and Itchen Stoke was completed in about an hour and was at a very leisurely pace so we decided to take advantage of the good weather to visit the nearby Cheesefoot Head.

Personally I cannot say that I enjoy walking for its own sake but if I had to choose such a walk it would be at Cheesefoot Head.

The views are spectacular on all sides and with white wispy clouds in a blue sky and Skylarks singing overhead it encourages you to put a spring in your step and sing- ‘The hills are alive’ etc. – or maybe not.

We certainly enjoyed a good day out which was quite unusual considering the recent weather and the time of year.

Anyone wishing to attend our meetings or even rich benefactors should contact our secretary Ron Mintrum at 023 8089 3803.