Waterside Natural History Society Walk the Lepe Loop

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There was a distinct autumn feel to the weather on the day of our visit.

The warm muggy weather of the week before had been pushed into the channel by a cold front moving down from the north.

High pressure however still remained the dominant feature so dry weather with the occasional white cloud provided ideal walking conditions.

Lepe Country Park is a popular destination for many people even outside the school holidays and the car park was busy both when we arrived and on our return.

People were sailing on the water of the Solent, cycling along the country lanes, walking around the park or just lounging along the shoreline.

The walk around the Lepe Loop was also busy and we met many walkers on our journey.

Lepe Country Park is constrained by private estates on all sides and even the car park is rented from the landowners.

Lepe Loop is not actually part of the park but runs along public footpaths through private lands so wandering away from the path was not an option.

Nevertheless the walk provided diverse scenery of woods and fields inland with spectacular seashore views on our return.

We did not have to go far inland before the noise of the road gave way to the quiet of the countryside.

The plaintive cry of a Curlew from the reed beds along the Beaulieu River provided the perfect background to the picturesque scene before us.

Only the top of Fawley power station chimney destroyed what could have been a Constable painting.

Much of the plant life is looking a little tired at this time of year.

Colourful flowers have largely given way to seed heads but the odd flower of Ragwort, Fleabane, and Black Knapweed remain.

The black refers to the dark bracts below the flowers.

Although we have had little rain recently the heavy dews of autumn provide enough moisture for Buttercups and Daisies to restart flowering.

The daisy- like flowers of Scentless Mayweed, with their feathery leaves, have been flowering all summer unaffected by the dry conditions.

We came across several Dragonflies during our walk but it was not until nearly the end that one stopped flying long enough to identify it as a male Migrant Hawker.

The grain and straw from fields of wheat have been gathered in and safely stored leaving only stubble behind.

Around the edges of the field however where the herbicide level is low the yellow wild pansies and pink Field Madder eke out an existence. Scarlet Pimpernel and Speedwell also add colour to otherwise barren ground.

A well-known attraction of this walk is the opportunity to see Alpaca’s in the field alongside our path but on this occasion the single beast was hiding in the far corner.

It obviously realised that Sunday would attract many humans pointing and making ooh- ah noises.

Autumn is the season of fruits from the trees and hedgerows and this year is particularly prolific.

Horse Chestnuts, Sweet Chestnuts, Ash, Beech and Sycamore are all laden with fruit. Keys on a row of Maples were growing in threes instead of the usual two.

Hawthorns, Elderberries and Rose Hips have turned the hedges into a rich claret colour waiting for the birds to gather their winter feast.

A road runs back along the coast but we managed to walk along the shoreline for most of the way and so escaped the traffic.

The seashore walk was not easy as the tide had only just started to recede and some of the pathway had been washed away by the winter storms.

Warm sun on our backs and the variety of scenery provided a pleasant journey.

Plants growing along the seashore are completely different to those growing inland and are found nowhere else.

Yellow Horned Poppy
Yellow Horned Poppy

The yellow flowers of Golden Samphire had almost finished but the Yellow Horned Poppies were still flowering amidst the unusually long seed heads.

Many plants have inland equivalents with ‘Sea’ added as a prefix such as Sea Kale, Sea Rocket or Sea Aster.

We came across several butterflies on the coast path such as Small White, Small Copper and Clouded Yellow.

The three Clouded Yellows we saw had almost certainly just migrated across the channel but not in sufficient numbers to label this as a ‘Clouded Yellow Year’.

We spent some time watching these golden yellow butterflies fluttering between plants on the sun drenched shingle.

Sights such as this linger in the memory long after the visit.

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