Pride of Sussex
By Charlotte Owen, WildCall Officer
The 16th June marks Sussex Day, an annual celebration of local culture, heritage and all things uniquely Sussex. The county’s identity is deeply rooted in its wildlife and iconic wild places; the gently rolling South Downs, the ancient woodland of the West Weald, and the rich and varied coastline of Sussex by the sea. The traditional emblem of Sussex, which appears on the county flag and would have graced the coat of arms of any self-respecting Sussex knight, is suitably wild: six gold martlets on a blue field.These stylised birds are depicted with two little tufts of feathers instead of feet, and are thought to represent “little martins” or swifts, which have such small legs that people once believed they had none at all.Swifts are only with us for three months each year, so listen out in June for screaming parties of these urban birds flying overhead and nipping in and out of their nests high up in the eaves.
Best of all is our county flower, the round-headed rampion or ‘Pride of Sussex’, which grows almost exclusively on the chalk grassland of the South Downs. It’s a little early in the year for it to be flowering just yet but come July it will produce beautiful deep-blue flower heads. Each one seems to be a single bloom but is really a collection of multiple smaller flower heads clustered together, slightly resembling a land-bound sea anemone. The flowers perch on top of leafless stems, which can be as short as 5cm on grazed grassland but usually grow to about 40cm, making them particularly eye-catching. They are magnets for colourful downland insects including the chalkhill blue butterfly and striking black-and-red six-spot burnet moth. Look out for our county flower in pockets of flower-rich chalk grassland along the South Downs in both East and West Sussex.
Particular hotspots include our nature reserves at Levin Down, Ditchling Beacon, Malling Down and Southerham Farm, where it covers the slopes in a purple haze: one of the final displays of summer, and certainly a plant to be proud of.