Julia Cooper and Ian Duddle led a walk on the afternoon of Saturday 1 September at Bartley Heath near Hook, a nature reserve of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. The last time that the Society visited the reserve, back in 2011, the heathland was wet and the ponds were full of water. After this year’s hot and dry summer, the heathland was very dry and the ponds were empty. But despite the dry conditions, most of the target species were found, though some were not flowering and some were smaller than usual. The walk started out through open woodland, where flowering Common Fleabane and the leaves of Sneezewort and Betony were noted. A Common Dog-violet in flower was a surprise find here. The route then led out onto the open heath, where Heather, Bell Heather, Cross-leaved Heath, Dwarf Gorse and Devil’s-bit Scabious were in flower. Creeping Willow, both Downy and Silver Birch and the leaves of Meadow Thistle were also seen here. There were a few plants of Petty Whin and one of them had several plump seed pods. Star plants of the afternoon were the Marsh Gentians. About 15 plants were found, some with single flowers, a few with up to 5 flowers. Back in 2011, the official count had been of almost a thousand plants, but apparently numbers have been much lower in recent years. Common Blue, Small Copper and Small Heath butterflies were seen here. Next stop was a series of small dried-up ponds which had been formed by the small-scale extraction of gravel by the commoners. Bog Pimpernel, Lesser Skullcap, Marsh Pennywort, Creeping Jenny, Water Mint and Lesser Spearwort were amongst the sightings here, and a Ruddy Darter flew between perches nearby. The walk continued along a woodland ride where Tufted Forget-me-not, Water-purslane, Water-pepper and Marsh Cudweed were found in a damper section. Clumps of Broad and Narrow Buckler-fern were growing close together, the latter with pale brown scales at the base of the stalk, the former with leaf scales with a dark line down the centre. The ride led to another open area of heathland, where there were many more Betony plants, but only a few small flowers. The final section of the walk was along the old road, leading to a sunny clearing where Purple Hairstreak butterflies can reliably be found earlier in the summer, flying around the oak trees in late afternoon. A Southern Hawker dragonfly and a Speckled Wood butterfly were seen here. Finally, a member who had returned ahead of the main group reported a Treecreeper in the trees by the car park.
Pictures by Rob Stallard