Waterside Natural History Society visit Selborne

A summer holiday spirit inspired the Society to travel to the far flung Hampshire outpost of Selborne for their July field trip.

Although sandy beaches and sangria were not on the menu a visit to a lavender farm and SSSI on a warm sunny day certainly felt like a summer holiday. The lavender farm in question was Hartley Park Farm near Selborne and the SSSI was nearby Noar Hill.

The lavender farm and shop is based on a business estate to the north of Selborne.

Lavender is grown primarily as a commercial venture to extract the perfumed oils from the flowers and add them to household products.

The lavender flowers themselves however are a spectacular sight especially when seen in large numbers and this provides a secondary business opportunity from the large number of visitors.

At the time of the visit field tours had ended because the lavender had been harvested but a field near the shop had rows of lavender still not cut.

These rows of lavender were planted between large beds of wild flowers sown from seed.

The rich dark blue of the lavender flowers seemed to absorb sunlight giving them a velvet appearance.

This contrasted well with the Corn Marigolds whose golden yellow flowers reflected the sun like a spotlight into the eyes.

The wild flowers were in three strips; one mainly yellow, one white and one blue.

The blues included Cornflower, Vipers Buglos and Borage.

The yellows were mainly Corn Marigold and the white were Mayweed with Ox eye daisies.

Meadow flowersWild flowers were at their peak during the visit and almost eclipsed the Lavender in their attraction.

Bees and other pollinating insects were attracted to both the Lavender and wild flowers but Honey Bees in particular require up to five different sources of nectar to produce good quantities of honey.

It was interesting to see wild flowers sown in a field like another crop but it compares poorly to the way nature does it in the wild.

This was well demonstrated by the visit to Noar Hill in the afternoon.

Noar Hill is the site of medieval chalk workings which have left the hill pockmarked with hollows and ridges.

These undulations with the removal of any soil have left the area unsuitable for arable land and have allowed the indigenous flora to flourish over hundreds of years.

First impressions on entering the reserve however were of an area overgrown with blackberry and small shrubs but these soon gave way to the short cropped chalk meadows on which wild flowers thrive.

Hedge Parsley is one of the last of the umbellifers to flower together with Wild Carrot and Hogweed and this managed to poke above the brambles.

Pyramid orchids grow wherever the seed falls but were of a light pink in the shade and a vibrant red in the sunshine.

Frog orchids only grow to a height of a few centimetres so these occured on the shortest grass but even here were difficult to spot because of their pale green colour.

Going down on hands and knees is not recommended either because of the preponderance of Stemless Thistles which make up for the loss of a stem by having more prickles on their prostrate leaves.

Kidney Vetch with its woolly seed heads had few yellow flowers remaining during the visit but Ladies Bedstraw and Heath Bedstraw were at their best. Field Scabious was in flower and attracting many bees.

Greater and Black Knapweed also acted as a magnet for many insects.

Mignonette and Agrimony were still in flower. Hemp Agrimony was just coming into flower amongst the taller vegetation near the woods.

The purple or lavender colours of herbs like Marjoram and Wild Thyme thrived on the chalky soil.

Wild Basil and Betony put in an appearance and the small but detailed flowers of Eyebright covered the ground.

These were just a selection of the wild flowers growing on Noar Hill but each one had its place and they all complimented each other in a way that hand sown seed beds could never do.