Author Graeme Lyons
For the last five years I have looked for the mythical burnt orchids that Reserve Officer Steve Tillman found around ten years ago at Southerham
Independently, Steve and I both came to the conclusion that chalk milkwort seems to grow only on the very best parts of the chalk and could maybe be an indicator for other interesting plants. The chalk milkwort is by no means ubiquitous at Southerham like common milkwort is, in fact it grows in discrete but diffuse patches that lend themselves well to mapping. In fact the area where the bastard toadflax is, is in a chalk milkwort area too (but that is too hard to find until it's in flower). I did see some yesterday but only by getting on my hands and knees, I'll go back to do this in a month. Anyway, we were surprised at how little chalk milkwort there was compared to what are memories were telling us, I believe this is the fault of our memories though and not a decline in the plant and demonstrates the importance of detailed monitoring. Memories change the more you access them, Excel files don't.
Right at the top of the slope, way further up than I would have thought to search, we found the first patch of chalk milkwort we had seen in all the huge area of Bible Bottom and ten metres beyond this I walked right up to a single burnt orchid. Suddenly there were four more and then Steve found another seven. Despite a thorough search, we didn't find any more. Twelve specimens tallies with what Steve recorded all that time ago. Another point this illustrates is the importance of taking accurate grid references, we only ever had a six figure grid reference for the old record. Now we can monitor these plants and keep an eye on them. A brilliant and unexpected end to the week! Not the best photo in the world but I don't care as this is evidence that we have our own burnt orchids!