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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Wild Flowers. Wolstonbury Hill NR, Ditchling Beacon NR & Mount Caburn NR. 25.05.22

Updated: May 30, 2022

On Wednesday 25th February the weather was overcast and very windy; not at all like late spring like weather. In such weather conditions it was unlikely that I would see many birds or insects. Therefore I turned my attention to the macro world of wild flowers; focussing on colourful flowers filled the day with colour despite the gloom of the overcast skies.

I got the 17 bus from Brighton to Pyecombe. I then walked along the South Downs through Wolstonbury Hill NR, Ditchling Beacon NR, Blackcap, Southerham Farm NR to Mount Caburn NR (Lewes). I returned home by train from Lewes to Brighton.

The first two flowers in this post are the Burnt-Tip Orchid and, I believe the Fragrant Marsh Orchid. These two orchids are scarce and nationally endangered. Last week some Burnt-Tip Orchids were stole from a Sussex Wildlife Trust Reserve; therefore I have put these flowers in this post out if sequence, without any location details, to keep their exact location confidential.

The rest of the photos are in chronological order. All sections of text in this post in italics are quotations; sources given.

I am no expert in wildflowers, so there may be some mistakes in identification. I use the Collins Wild Flower Guide 2nd edition David Streeter, Christina Hart-Davies and Audrey Hardcastle and Plantlife Plantlife: The Wild Plant Conservation Charity, the Wildlife Trusts The Wildlife Trusts | The Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust online to support identification

Burnt-Tip Orchid (aka Burnt Orchid)

The Burnt Orchid has suffered a massive decline in the past 50 years due to habitat loss and destruction. In Wales there is only one site where it still occurs, and it is hanging on in around 70 managed sites around the UK. Neotinea ustulata is classified as endangered on the Red List of threatened orchids in the UK. Its specific habitat requirements of unimproved chalk grassland has been the cause of its downfall as modern agricultural practice, reliant on herbicide and pesticide chemicals, has replaced traditional farming methods. ... The common name 'burnt' refers to the appearance of the flowerhead when in bud: the flowers open from the bottom upwards and the buds on the upper part, which are a rich dark maroon, remain tightly closed, giving the impression of a singed tip. The Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea is similar when in bud but is a much more robust plant. Burnt Orchids do not all flower at the same time and, as a result, are sometimes considered as being two varieties, although there is little scientific evidence to support this. Neotinea ustulata var. ustulata is the more common and flowers in late May and June, whereas Neotinea ustulata var. aestivalis (occuring in southern England) flowers in July. The Burnt Orchid's range is confined to Europe, where it grows in Scandinavian countries and southwards towards the Mediterranean. In southern Europe this orchid is mainly confined to mountains, and it does not occur in the Mediterranean lowlands. Neotinea ustulata: identification, distribution, pictures (

Possibly a Marsh Fragrant Orchid

Of the three species of Fragrant-orchids (Chalk Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia conopsea, Marsh Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia densiflora and Heath Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia borealis) that occur in the UK, the Marsh Fragrant-orchid is the scarcest due to habitat degredation and land drainage. Until recently the Fragrant-orchids were regarded as merely subspecies or forms of one species, but genetic studies have revealed that they are sufficiently different to warrant separate species status. The three are extremely difficult to tell apart, and they are also frequently confused with Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis because of the similarity in colour and flower-shape. In the case of the Pyramidal Orchid, however, the flowerhead is more compact and oval when fully open, whereas the Fragrant-orchids have laxer, narrower and more pointed infloresences. The habitat in which Fragrant-orchids grow is the key to separating the species from one another: the Marsh Fragrant-orchid grows almost exclusively in wet calcium-rich sites including fenlands and sand-dune slacks that are submerged during at least part of the year and remain damp throughout. The flowering time for Marsh Fragrant-orchid is from mid June to August. The flowers are usually deep pink to purple. In Europe, Fragrant-orchids can be found from Scandinavia in the north to the Mediterranean region in the south, although records do not often distinguish the precise species, merely referring to them as Fragrant-orchids. Marsh Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia densiflora: identification, distribution, pictures (

The walk from Pycombe to Wolstonbury Hill

Red Campion. A very common plant on the South Downs, but no less beautiful for being common

  • In the Language of Flowers red campion symbolises gentleness.

  • The first part of red campion's scientific name - Silene - comes from the Greek woodland God Silenus. He is often depicted as drunk and was the tutor of the God of Wine, Dionysus. Why? Silenus was often covered in sticky foam (his name comes from sialon, the Greek word for "saliva"). Female red campion flowers also produce a froth that helps catch pollen from visiting insects.

  • It is also known as Batchelors’ buttons which suggests it was once worn as a buttonhole by young unmarried men. Other local names include Johnny Woods, Ragged Jack and Scalded Apples.

  • Flowers open during daylight to attract the butterflies and bees Red Campion (Silene dioica) (

A Grey Birch Moth, I think

Wolstonbury Hill

Wolstonbury Hill is the ‘jewel in the crown’ when it comes to wild orchid spotting on the Devil’s Dyke Estate and it is the only place in Sussex where you are likely to see the man orchid.

Many other chalk downland flowers and butterflies can be seen here in the summer too and Wolstonbury is also home to the highest concentration of anthills on the South Downs. The strange humps that pepper the hill each house around 100,000 ants and can be seen all year round.

There is history here too in the form of a Bronze Age camp, cross dykes, sunken trackways and the scars of a 20th century rifle range. Wolstonbury Hill | National Trust

Sainfoin (an escapee from cultivation)

Also known as Holy Hay, the beautiful pink plumes of this wildflower are a magnet to insects This perennial plant, from the pea family, was commonly grown as a fodder plant from the seventeenth century onwards, until the introduction of chemical fertilisers in the 1950s.

How to identify Sainfoin The flowers grow in densely packed racemes, with upright hairless hollow stems. It has alternate, pinnate leaves, with 6-12 pairs of narrow leaflets, similar in appearance to those of a vetch. The plant grows to around 40cm tall.

Where to find Sainfoin As an escapee from cultivation, it can be found in roadsides, banks, quarries and railways, predominantly in the south and southeast of England and around East Anglia. It prefers dry grassland and limestone soils. Did you know?

  • Local names include Baby's Cradle (Dorset), Cock's Head and French Grass (Somerset), Everlasting Grass (Oxfordshire).

  • It is highly palatable to livestock, as well as helping to prevent parasitic worm infections in cattle and also reduce methane production.

  • Its name, from the French, translates as 'healthy hay'.

Thrilling of throstles in the keen blue dawn, Bees fumbling and fuming over sainfoin-fields

I Know The Music by Wilfred Owen

Common Carden on Sainfoin

Common Spotted Orchid

The UK's most common orchid. Its spires enliven many wild places, particularly chalk and limestone downs.

Individual flowers spikes can vary from deep to light pink, but have distinctive darker pink to purple spots and stripes on their three-lobed lips. The flowers are densely packed in short, cone-shaped clusters. The leaves are marked with wide oval-shaped, dark spots and form a rosette at the base before the flower spikes appears. Narrower leaves sheath the stem.

It can sometimes be confused with its cousin, the Heath Spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata). However, this is more of a pale-purple colour and the spots on the leaves are round. It also has narrower leaves and its flowers have a more shallowly-lobed lip.

Where to find Common Spotted-orchids.

Apart from the Scottish Highlands, the Common Spotted-orchid is found throughout the UK. Its inhabits damp grassland, open woods, scrub and fens as well as spoil-tips, railway embankments and old quarries. It prefers chalky soils and can form carpets of flowers. ...

  • The Common Spotted-orchid is the county flower of West Lothian/Linlithgowshire.

  • It has local names including Adam and Eve, adder's flower, crow-foot, curlie-daddie (i.e. 'curly head'), dead man's finger, kettle-case, old woman's pincushion and ring-finger.

  • The perfumed flowers are attractive to day-time flying moths. Plantlife :: Common Spotted-orchid

Common Milkwort

A plant of many colours, although most commonly dark-blue (it can also be purple, pink and white).

You can tell it apart from its close relative the heath milkwort by its leaves: common milkwort leaves alternate up the stem while heath milkwort's are opposite each other.

The name 'milkwort' comes from the ancient Greek botanist Dioscorides.

He called it polugalon or 'much milk' believing it to 'make milk more abundant'. Exactly who's milk he sadly doesn't say, but herbalists used to prescribe it to nursing mothers (as opposed to grazing cows!)

Milkwort also used to be gathered to be used in Christian processions known as 'Rogations' up until reformers decided to do away with them. Plantlife :: Milkwort (Common)



Comfrey with Buff-Tailed Bumblebee

Yellow Rattle

One of our most important meadow wild flowers. It is hemi-parasitical on grasses and so weakens them, thereby giving other wild flowers a chance to compete and gradually establish themselves.

How to spot it

An erect plant with longish stems without many leaves. When the yellow tubular flowers fade, the calyx behind them becomes a silvery sphere in which the seeds ripen – the rattle.

Where it grows

On nutrient-poor grasslands, including permanent pastures hay meadows and dunes. Also on roadsides and waste ground.

Best time to see

In flower from May to July

How's it doing?

Yellow rattle underwent a marked decline in Britain throughout the 20th century, thought to be a result of changes in farming practices.

3 things you might not know

  • It used to be said that when the yellow rattle was in flower, the hay was ready for cutting

  • Cattle love yellow rattle – when let into a field it is the first thing they will eat

  • The plant’s leaves make a yellow dye Plantlife :: Yellow rattle

Carrion Crows

Jack and Jill windmill from Wolstonbury Hill


Wolstonbury Hill

Wolstonbury Hill is a Bronze-Age Ram's Hill type enclosure, these were constructed on hilltops in southern England throughout the Bronze Age (2000-700 BC). They usually survive as an oval area of up to c.5ha defended by a single bank and external ditch interrupted by simple causewayed entrances. See Wolstonbury Camp: a Ram's Hill type enclosure on Wolstonbury Hill and associated later remains, Pyecombe - 1016153 | Historic England for details.

Common Spotted Orchid

Great Tit

View toward Ditchling Beacon from Wolstonbury Hill

Path through the woods on Wolstonbury Hill

Ground Ivy

Sheep om Wolstonbury Hill


Silver-ground Carpet moth, a night-flying moth

Logs placed on a muddy part of the path to walk on


Broken beech

Path through Wolstonbury Hill

Moss and lichen


Looking back to Wolstonburry HIll

Red Campion


Looking back to Woolstonbury Hill

Horse-Box Coffee at Jack and Jill Windmills, on the way to Ditchling Beacon

Ditchling Beacon

Ditchling Beacon sheep

Ditchling Beacon Dew Pond with Mallards

Goldfinch (?) in the wind

Ditchling Beacon sheep

Another Dew Pond

Fine Streaked Bugkin, lover of oak and hawthorn. It was on the ground close to a Hawthorne. Fine Streaked Bugkin (Miris striatus) - Woodland Trust

Meadow Pipit

Orchids and other wild plants on the north escarpment of Ditchling Beacon

Fragrant Orchids and Kidney Vetch


Fragrant Orchids

Fragrant Orchids and Kidney vetch

Fragrant Orchid

Often a vivid pink, but can vary from purple to white, this pleasantly scented orchid smells similar to cloves.

Elegant spikes with up to 200 individual flowers are held on a leafy and robust stem. The stem has a striated surface and the grey-green leaves are long, narrow and lanceolate. Like many orchids, it has a symbiotic relationship with fungus in the soil, which is required for seeds to germinate and develop. It may be confused with Pyramidal Orchid, but this species has darker flowers, a cone-shaped spike and it not scented.

The scent is strongest in the evenings, in order to attract the night-flying moths that help to pollinate. These moths have long proboscis to reach into the deep flowers.

Where to find Chalk Fragrant Orchid.

Quite a frequent species of chalk and limestone grassland in England and Wales. It is found in mildly damp, upland meadows and pastures, grassland and fens and also quarries and railway banks.

How's it doing?

In its preferred habitats it is widespread in the UK and can be abundant in some localities.

Did you know?

  • The genus name Gymnadenia is formed from Greek words gymnós ("nude") and adēn ("gland") and refers to the characteristics of the organs for secreting nectar.

  • The specific Latin name conopsea derives from the Greek kónops, which literally means "mosquito-like", probably because of the similarity of the long spur of the flower with the mouth-parts of a mosquito. Chalk Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea) (

The ditches on Ditchling Beacon that contain many orchids. Ditchling Beacon was a Iron-Age Hillfort; these ditches may be part of the earthworks of the Hill Fort. See Hillfort, a beacon and dewpond on Ditchling Beacon, Ditchling - 1015340 | Historic England for details of its history.

Common Spotted Orchid

The spotting on its leaves which gives it its name

Fragrant Orchids, Birds-Foot Trefoil and Buttercups on the lower slopes of the north escarpment of Ditchling Beacon

Snail having lunch

More Gromwell

More Cowslips

Germander Speedwell Considered a good luck charm for travellers, the bright blue flowers of Germander speedwell are meant to 'speed' you on your way. This reputation may well have come about because of its habit of forming large clumps in hedgerows, roadside verges and grassy lanes; it can also be found on grasslands and in open woodlands. The flowers appear from April to June. Germander speedwell | The Wildlife Trusts

Looking west from the bottom of Ditchling Beacon

An entry in the Ditchling Scarecrow Exhibition, see: Scarecrow Competition - Ditchling Fair

From the bottom of Ditchling Beacon I walked along Underhill Lane for awhile, before turning up the bridleway at Westmeston Farm that re-joins the South Downs Way atop the South Downs.

Just before I reached the bridleway, I caught this ensemble out of the corner of my eye on the other side of the road; it frightened the life out of me initially until I went and looked at it and saw what it was. Its a sort of sinister scarecrow Queen Elizabeth with two hay-filed stocking Corgis. I think this may be a tribute to HRH for the Jubilee, or may be a republican comment. It is near Lewes, and Lewes has a long tradition of republicanism stemming from Thomas Paine.

Walking from Mount Harry (above Westmeston) to Black Cap (National Trust, above Lewes), I photographed Ashcombe Mill; a post mill near Kingston, south west of Lewes, East Sussex, built in 1828,

The Combe, Malling Down Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife Trust) from Black Cap

From Blackcap I walked down to Hamsey. I walked into Lewes from Hamsey and from South Street I walked up through Lewes Gold Club, through the Southerham Farm Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife Trust); see Southerham Farm | Sussex Wildlife Trust for details.

Conservation grazing herd by the Dew Pond in Southeram Farm Nature Reserve at Oxteddle Bottom

Firle Beacon from Mount Caburn. Mount Caburn is a National Nature Reserve managed by Nature England, see: Lewes Downs (Mount Caburn) National Nature Reserve - NE493 (

Mount Caburn’s 49 hectares of ancient, traditionally managed chalk downland has extensive south facing slopes, perfect for sun loving flowers and their associated insects, such as rare butterflies. Mount Caburn is part of the larger Lewes Downs Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) encompassing more downland to the north and west. As an excellent example of orchid-rich chalk grassland, the Lewes Downs SSSI has been given the European designation of a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). In addition to the wildlife value of the site, it also contains the Caburn; the best preserved and most important Bronze Age hill fort in Sussex (English Heritage Monument Number 405932). Mount Caburn (2).pdf

The monument includes the earthworks and interior of a small multivallate hillfort, and an adjacent, earlier, Bronze Age bowl barrow, situated on a prominent spur of the Sussex Downs. The spur slopes down steeply to the south, west and east and overlooks the Ouse valley to the south west. A 20th century army slit trench is also included in the scheduling. The hillfort defences, which survive as earthworks varying in date, complication and width, enclose a subcircular area of c.3ha. Part excavation in 1937-1938 revealed the hilltop to have undergone a complex history of development involving several phases of settlement and reconstruction from the Iron Age to the medieval period. The first phase preceded the construction of the hillfort and is represented by the buried traces of two circular wooden buildings discovered within the interior of the later hillfort. These have been interpreted as forming part of an unenclosed Iron Age village dating from at least c.300 BC. Hillfort, bowl barrow and associated remains on The Caburn, Glynde - 1014527 | Historic England

Crosswort, of smooth bedstraw

It's name derives from its hairy, oval leaves that are arranged in whorls of four like a cross around a four-angled hairy stem. When in bloom they are filled with frothy yellow flowers that smell of honey.

Crosswort grows across England, Wales and southern Scotland. It is rarer in Cornwall, west Wales and northern Scotland. It is a common sight along wayside verges such as roadsides, cycle paths, hedgerows, and railway embankments. It can also be found in open woods, scrub, meadows and other grassland areas and prefers calcareous soils.

Did you know?

  • Crosswort is a flowering plant species in the coffee family.

  • It is also known as smooth bedstraw or Luc na croise in Gaelic. Other charming names are maywort and maiden's hair.

  • The Latin epithet laevipes refers to the plant's smooth stalk.

  • Although Crosswort is rarely used in herbal medicine today, it was once recommended as a remedy for rupture, rheumatism and dropsy.

  • It has also been recommended as a cure for headaches.

  • Grigson (1958) states that 'it was long in repute as an inward or outward vulnerary, taken also in wine against ruptures'. Plantlife :: Crosswort


Fragrant Orchid

White-tailed Bumblebee bee on Yellow Rattle



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