The limeyards, an area once devoted to industrial limestone quarying for the production of quicklime has since been left to re-wild and consists of some fantastic grassland and woodland interspersed with tranquil ponds. The grasslands were created by the National Trust’s ranger team 16 years ago by clearing some of this wooded area, and due to the areas underlying calcareous geology has given rise to a valuable chalk grassland habitat. This habitat is maintained with the help a small flock of Hebridean sheep, which graze these areas and help keep vegetational succession from returning these areas to woodland.
A trip through this area at the moment is rewarded with an abundance of flowering orchids that include common spotted orchid, fragrant orchid and common twayblade.
Chalk grassland with orchids in flower. (Photo: James Woodcock)
The common spotted orchid is the UK’s most common orchid, identifiable by their pink flowers and dark spots that occur on their leaves and give rise to their name.
Common spotted orchid (Photo: Susan Guy)
The fragrant orchids are less numerous, and have a deeper pink/purple colour, although can vary through to a lighter pink/white colour. As its name suggests, a strong scent emenates from this orchid, a floral smell to my nose, but often described as a sweet orangey smell by others.
Fragrant orchid (Photo: Susan Guy)
The other orchid found here is the common twayblade, so named because it usually has two leaves at its base from which the flower spike arises. The flowers are a green colour and resemble a tiny little person.
Since the creation of these grassland areas, each year the number of orchids has been carefully counted, showing us how the habitat is responding to the management that is carried out. The count started in 1998, with a count of 253 common spotted orchids. This gradually rose to 1727 in 2006, at which point the numbers really took off increasing to 4018 in 2008 which included our first recording of a fragrant orchid. This year’s count took place just a few days ago giving us 5125 common spotted orchids, 316 fragrant orchids compared to last years 62, and one orchid which we have deemed to be a cross between fragrant and pyramidal.
Maticulous counting of orchids.