This was a “mindful”walk at it’s most intense – an important therapy for today’s stressful life. The walkers were blissfully unaware of their destination merely concentrating on the amazing flora and flora through which they travelled.
Unspoilt chalk downland is a rare and highly prized habitat which can produce an abundance of wild flowers and butterflies in favourable seasons. People maintain and complain that no corner of this right, tight little island has been unimpressed by the human boot – well this is as wild at it gets in this part of the world.
The gentle stroll last Monday took over two hours for the twenty or so visitors navigating the Ivinghoe Hills led by Lawrence , and supported by the stalwart volunteers, Anthea, Arthur, and Mike.
Flowers and butterflies have a symbiotic relationship – they depend upon each other for their survival with butterflies taking nectar and in turn pollinating the flowers. While bees do a lot of pollinating buzzing their way from flower to flower, butterflies glide and flit back and forth as if they know that they are putting on a show for us – some are territorial.
The profusion of wild flowers on show would be too numerous to mention. What was apparent was the amount of the yellow frothy blossomed Ladies Bedstraw, with it’s wonderful honey scent popping up all over the place. As the name suggests it really was used as a popular bedding for people in earlier times, with it’s springy quality and pleasant hay smell when dried. This reminds us that the country folk around Ashridge used wild flowers and plants not just for medicinal purposes but for practical ones, as well as food additives – summer was a bountiful time for foraging for the people when over eighty percent of the population lived in the countryside.
Apparently the hills at Ashridge were intensively grazed by sheep until the nineties, with many more animals than today grazing all year round. This denuded the slopes and it is only now with a change in farming policy that a more acceptable sward has returned to support the flowers and thence the butterflies. The return of clumps of brambles is an important requirement for the summer warblers and the local rabbits as well as the scarce large dark green fritillary. The silver washed fritillary occupies the wooded slopes of Steps Hill where the oak tree is present. It is a fast moving butterfly of the woodland glades feeding off the flowering brambles. Interestingly it lays it’s eggs in the bark of the oak tree where they over-winter before emerging as grubs in the Spring to descend to the woodland floor to feed off the dog violet, and then to emerge as a butterfly a few months later.
If you have not yet experienced the joys of chalk-hill walking in high Summer then you can join the Rangers next Saturday , July 1st from 10am to 12noon at the Beacon car park for a mindful event.