Waterside Natural History Society visit to Badbury Rings

Badbury Rings in East Dorset began its association with humans over 6000 years ago due to the shape of the hill on which it stands.

The height of the hill gave a commanding view of the area and its rounded top was big enough to hold a small village.

These defences must have proved inadequate at some time because around 2000 years ago circular embankments and ditches were built around the hill to provide a fortified enclosure.

The three embankments in the shape of rings are still in place today and give their name to the Badbury Rings.

Today however the undisturbed downland provides a rich area for wild flowers, butterflies and other insects.

It is in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty.

The visit to Badbury Rings began even before reaching the site as the approach along the tree lined avenue is in itself a spectacular sight.

A two and a half mile stretch of the present road was originally meant as a toll road on the approach to the estate of Kingston Lacy and was planted in 1835 with Beech trees on either side of the road.

These trees are now coming to the end of their natural life and are being replaced by a line of Hornbeam trees further away from the road.

On arrival a walk from the car park through the embankments to the top of the hill was undertaken followed by a return to the car park along the top of one of these embankments.

This enabled the society to study the wild flowers and butterflies of the chalk downland and also take in the view from the top of the hill.

The panoramic view of rolling downland with green trees and meadows was interspersed with the golden brown corn fields providing a truly spectacular sight.

A sense of history was given not just by the ancient hill fort but by the Tarrant Rushton airfield visible to the north.

A glider from this airfield was the first to reach France during the D-Day operations in 1944. After WW2 it was involved in air refuelling particularly in relation to the Berlin Airlifts.

The village of Witchampton associated with the novelist Thomas Hardy could also be seen from the top of the hill.

Hardy created a fictional county called Wessex and described the hard country life in books such as ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’.

Gone are the days when farmers walked behind the horse drawn plough to be replaced by the high seat of a tractor cab.

Wild flowers such as ‘Ploughmans Spikenard’ and ‘Restharrow’ were named in those days and still remain to evoke the period.

The main purpose of the visit was to look at the wildflowers and butterflies typical of chalk downland.

Many of the flowers were looking rather tired after a long dry summer but a few of each species still hung on.

Purple or blue flowers such as Field Scabious, Knapweed, Self-Heal and Wild Basil had a good display of flowers.

Thistles were in flower with the pink ‘Creeping Thistle’ and the dark purple ‘Marsh Thistle’ ready to disperse their seeds.

There are two wild flowers with the name Agrimony, Hemp Agrimony and Agrimony, but they are not related.

Agrimony originates from the Greek word for Poppy but neither the yellow spike of Agrimony nor the compound pink flowers of Hemp Agrimony remotely resemble a poppy.

Hemp refers to the plant leaf arrangement which has a star shape similar to those of Hemp or Cannabis.

Both were in flower during the visit.

Chalk Hill Blue
Chalk Hill Blue

The second purpose of the visit was to look at butterflies and other insects.

Warm sunny weather was certainly a help in this regard but butterflies are fickle things.

They have a remarkable ability to synchronise their pupations so that one week they may be abundant and the next non-existent.

Fortunately several different species were on the wing during the time of our visit.

Gatekeepers have been particularly prolific this year but these and Meadow Browns were rather depleted at Badbury Rings.

Numerous Chalk Hill Blue butterflies were seen and could be identified simply by their chalky blue colour.

A Painted Lady which may have travelled from the continent was seen on one of the embankments. Also seen were Peacocks and Large White or Cabbage butterflies.

A Southern Hawker dragonfly obligingly perched on a flower stem while photographs were taken.

After lunch outside on picnic benches and plagued by wasps a longer walk round the base of the hill was completed.

A combination of good weather, historical interest and wildlife made the visit to Badbury Rings a worthwhile and enjoyable visit.