Thursday, August 4, 2011

Frolics at Fowlmead

Fowlmead Country Park, between Sandwich and Deal (Kent), is a recently rejuvenated coal spoil heap and now a great place for off-road cycling, and, as it happens, botany. I'd not visited Fowlmead on my previous Kentish excursions, due to the plethora of other fabulous natural habitats in East Kent in which to indulge my botanical fetishes.

But, my niece loves Fowlmead, so we made some lettuce and salad cream sarnies, packed her bike into my car, and off we went (28th July). I hired a bike for £3.50/hour (hire includes a cycle helmet). Parking is £1.50 all day, so very cheap if you bring your own bikes. It was pretty busy with lots of kids (and adults) having lots of fun :-)

The first thing I did was park, inadvertently, in the disabled parking bay. It's not, IMHO, very well marked, as once a car is parked in front of the sign, other driver's can't see it. Hmm.

Young niece was quite a demon on her bike, with dastardly tactics which, included the deliberate running of her aunt (encumbered with a digital camera as she was and gazing forlornly at the plants as we flew past them) off the track and into the rough. I didn't get many chances to botanise in the morning, only when small person needed a rest, but I think I got enough for a decent flog (aka a flower blog).

Our first spot of the day was the adorably fluffy hare's-foot clover (Trifolioum arvense) in the play area.

Blue fleabane (Erigeron acris) has rather insignificant but very beautiful flowers.
We stopped by Fowlmead Lake for a rest. 
One of the highlights of my day was finding the uncommon narrow-leaved birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus tenuis (syn. glaber), by the lake. (ID has been confirmed by VC recorder).
It's taller and more wiry than common BFT, and very distinctive. It prefers dry grassland near the the habitat is just right at Fowlmead. Chuffed I am....... :-)

Nearby the pale pink flowers of the insect magnet, hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) were coming into bloom. It's named for the similarity of its leaves to cannabis (to which it is not related).
Ploughman's spikenard (Inula conyzae) with its cute, little, green spreading bracts, was growing by the path. In France they call it herbe aux mouche (herb of the flies). Mrs Grieve lists its common names as Cloron's Hard, Horse Heal, Cinnamon Root and Great Fleabane. [I've not found out what or who Cloron is yet.....except it might be derived from a Welsh word for potato]
On the more open grassland we found swathes of common centaury (Centaurium erythraea) with its curly yellow anthers. 
And yellow-wort (Blackstonia perfoliata), its flowers open despite the grey skies.  
Both common centaury and yellow-wort are members of the Gentianaceae.

So we come to my other botanical highlight of the day......basil thyme (Clinopodium acinos). It's on the Kent rare plant register and this record has been lodged with the vice-county recorder. Very chuffed indeed I am!
Here basil thyme is growing with wild-strawberry.
We also indulged in some spur-of-the-moment botanically-related art-activities; namely Teasel Sculpture.
Move over Andy Goldsworthy and Derek Jarman......
We then went in search of wild food, finding banks of wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare) on the way.
The dusky purple sloes on the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) looked almost ripe. We'll need to wait for the first frosts before they're ready for sloe gin......
The dewberries were delicious...
...and we tucked into blackberries and a few late wild strawberries, getting our clothes a tad stained in the process. Ooops.

Autumn in July continued with bright red berries glistening on Guelder rose (Viburnum opulis)...
...and lots of waxy, speckled orange fruits on sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides).
All in all, a wonderfully successful trip, thoroughly enjoyed by both of us, despite our 45 year age difference. Heaps of fun and very interesting habitats to boot.

We're both polishing our cycle helmets and oiling our gears for a rematch on those cycle-tracks in late August :-)


  1. Hi Mel, have just returned froma wander round Fowlmead to hunt for Bee orchids, found 60!! Its a great place and improved every year.
    Like your blog

  2. Hi Lis. Fowlmead keeps turning up more interesting plant records :-) I've not seem the bees there but am due a visit - when the rain stops. Mel