Chris Ash and Sheelagh Hill led a walk at Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve on Saturday 17 July. The walk started at the northern end of the reserve, where the Ridgeway crosses the A40. It was a hot afternoon, with the temperature forecast to rise to 27C, but the Beech trees which line the Ridgeway provided welcome shade. A Hornbeam at the side of the track dangled abundant seeds and a Green-veined White butterfly landed on the track in front of the group, presumably to take up moisture or nutrients. Dusky purple flowers of Meadow Crane’s-bill were seen a gateway which led into an area of flower-rich grassland. Plants here included Common and Greater Knapweed, Field and Small Scabious, Wild Carrot, Quaking Grass, Oxeye Daisy, Lady’s Bedstraw, Squinancywort, Salad Burnet, Burnet Saxifrage, Harebell, Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Wild Mignonette, Marjoram, Dwarf Thistle, Fairy Flax, Common Rock-rose, Pyramidal Orchid and Yellow Rattle. It was interesting to compare the plant list with the sightings at Martin Down on the previous week’s outing. Dropwort was much harder to find at Aston Rowant, while Yellow-wort, Clustered Bellflower and Pale Toadflax were more widespread. Big orange Dark Green Fritillary butterflies flew powerfully above the grassland and there were good numbers of pale Chalkhill Blues. Commonest butterfly of the afternoon was the Marbled White, while other sightings included Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Small Copper. A Six-spot Burnet moth was found on a Greater Knapweed flower and grasshoppers provided a quiet background chorus. The path led under a spreading Whitebeam tree which offered welcome shade. Its still-green clusters of berries promised an abundant harvest for the birds in a few months’ time. The noise of the motorway increased until the path dipped down into a sheltered sunken trackway, which is a good place to find butterflies in windy weather. Following a steep scramble back up the side of the track, the heat of the afternoon prompted a leisurely stroll back towards the start. Just before reaching the Ridgeway, another track, edged on one side by berry laden bushes of Spindle and Buckthorn, led back around the edge of the reserve. Common Valerian, Meadow Vetchling and a white specimen of Clustered Bellflower were in flower on the verge, while in the middle of the trackway were white-flowered specimens of Self-heal. In the field to the right were several big multi-stemmed Whitebeam and Beech trees, while further up the hillside, a Raven was being mobbed by Red Kites.
Pictures by Sheelagh Hill