Butterflies & Moths at Steyning Downland Scheme and Autumn Ladies Tresses at Anchor Bottom. 01.09.22
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
In the afternoon of Thursday 01.09.22, I went to Steyning Downland Scheme as I had heard on social media that there were quite e few Pied and Spotted Flycatchers around, eating insects near the area of the woods that had had a wildfire, and because I wanted to see if there were any Brown Hairstreaks around, as it is a good place to see them (as the scheme includes maintaining habitat for them); probably its best site in England Targeting Hairstreaks | Steyning Downland Scheme. I saw neither Flycatchers nor Brown Hairstreaks; but I still had an enjoyable walk. I then went to Anchor Bottom (Beeding Hill, just north of the old cement works) to look for Autumn Ladies Tress (an autumnal orchid that is a native of chalk downland habitat).
As usual, I got to Steyning using the number 2 bus from Brighton. (Not all 2s go to Steyning; one in three do, once an hour). The journey time to Steyning from Brighton is ca. 70-90 minutes, depending where you get on in Brighton. I took the 2 from Steyning to Dacre Gardens to get to Anchor Bottom, a 10 minute trip from Steyning, and then the 2 back from Dacre Gardens back to Brighton; see: 2 - Steyning-Rottingdean | Brighton & Hove Buses
All the sections of text in italics are quotations; sources cited.
STEYNING DOWNLAND SCHEME
See Home | Steyning Downland Scheme for more details
I walked around the Rifle Range and Steyning Coombe. I saw ca. 10 Meadow Browns, ca. 10 Common Blues, ca. 5 Small Heaths and a Clouded Yellow, and 3 common moths. Not that much about! Most of these species were seen in the Rifle Range; I only saw the mint moth and some Meadow Browns in Steyning Coombe. There was sun and partial cloud. ca. 18 degrees C with little wind.
A Speckled Wood, with a damaged hind (right) wing, on the tree-lined path up to the entrance of the scheme
A small brown moth; not sure which species!
Female Common Blue
Common Carpet Moth
Mint Moth on Ragwort
Another Meadow Brown!
Common Carder Bumblebee on Devil's Bit Scabious
Meadow Brown on Devil's Bit Scabious
Common Blue on Knapweed
Male Common Blue
Patch of Devil's Bit Scabious; looking beautiful
Clouded Yellow on Bird's Foot Trefoil
For more information on the ecology of Anchor Bottom see the excellent website: Anchor Bottom (glaucus.org.uk)
Autumn Ladies Tresses
I saw several 100 Autumn Ladies' Tresses on the south-facing slope of Anchor Bottom; about 500m east of the Dacre Gardens entrance.
A stunning, delicate orchid, whose individual white blooms grow in a near-perfect spiral and are tightly packed against one another round the short stem.
This slender plant can be difficult to spot and to make this more tricky, its flowering time can vary from one year to the next. The leaves at the base die back before the flowers appear. Each flower has a green-centred lip with a frilly white edge. It is reported to have the scent of coconut.
Where to find Autumn Lady's-tresses.
From South Devon to as far north as Yorkshire. The plant crops up locally in short grassland as well as damp slacks. It has a preference for short turf and therefore is often found on garden lawns. Across the chalklands of Hampshire, Sussex and Kent it has almost become suburban. On one East Sussex lawn alone, over three thousand orchids have been recorded.
It grows in a variety of habitats including dry grass, meadows, garigue and pine woodland. It is generally found on calcareous soils and rarely on acidic heathland.
How's it doing?
This native plant is becoming increasingly rare in the north of the UK but is locally frequent in southern England and the Welsh coast. Its decline is linked with agricultural intensification.
Did you know?
It is known locally in Hampshire and Yorkshire as Lady's traces.
It can grow as thickly as grass. In the Summer 1992, a front lawn in West Sussex sported 672 spikes in about 230 yards square.
Whilst Autumn lady's-traces were not often used in physic, the 16th Century naturalist William Turner commented that 'the full and sappy rootes of Ladie traces eaten or boiled in milke and drunke, provoke venery, nourish and strengthen the bodie, and be good for such as are fallen into a consumption or fever Hectique'.
Geoffrey Grigson lyrically compares them to a braid of the Virgin's hair. Autumn lady's-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) (plantlife.org.uk)
From the Hardy Orchid Society:
As its name suggests, Autumn Lady's-tresses is the last of our British orchids to flower each year and typically appears at the end of August and the beginning of September. This orchid grows in short-sward, lime-rich grassland, often close to the coast. In a good year thousands of flowers can appear, but if the grass is cut or grazed too often Autumn Lady's-tresses can fail to flower, perhaps saving itself for more favourable conditions. Spiranthes spiralis also colonises some lawns and gardens where the grass is kept short, but it will only thrive in locations where it does not have to compete with other taller plants. Two similar species are found in Britain: Creeping Lady's-tresses Goodyera repens and Irish Lady's-tresses Spiranthes romanzoffiana. The latter was, until recently, thought to be confined to scattered locations in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland and to have become extinct in England. However in Wales, where it had never been recorded, Spiranthes romanzoffiana appeared in 2019 in Dyfi National Nature Reserve, near Borth. Spiranthes spiralis, in contrast, is found in southern England, Wales and Ireland. In England its most northerly known site is in Yorkshshire. On mainland Europe this orchid occurs from Scandinavia in the north to as far south as the Mediterranean Region. Autumn Lady's-tresses Spiranthes spiralis: identification, distribution, pictures (hardyorchidsociety.org.uk)
From the Hardy Orchid Society:
Plant: 3 to 20cm in height; stem pale green and densely hairy towards the tip.
Leaves: between 3 and 7, narrow, greenish-white, sheathhing the stem.
Bracts: pale green with scattered white hairs.
Flowers: up to 21, white and trumpet-shaped sipraling up the stem. The white sepals are washed green towards the base. The upper sepal, petals and lip form a narrow tube, with the tip of the upper sepal pointing forwards and upwards. The lip is green with a whitish margin. Autumn Lady's-tresses Spiranthes spiralis: identification, distribution, pictures (hardyorchidsociety.org.uk)
Whilst in Anchor Bottom I also saw a few butterflies; about 10 male blue butterflies were in flight, most didn't settle long enough to make a firm identification of which blue they were.
Female Adonis Blue
One that settled - a male Common Blue