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Pansies’ rare appearance

Nature Notes by Peter Gay

Wild pansy in its three-coloured form
Wild pansy in its three-coloured form

Some years ago when walking along a sandy footpath above Stowting I came across a few plants of the lovely little wild pansy, viola tricolor, from which many of our garden violas have been developed. It is quite rare in east Kent and was immediately added to the late Eric Philp’s Atlas of the Kent Flora. A couple of weeks ago, not too far away from the same corner, a large and very beautiful colony was discovered in a private field which had once been ploughed and was now grassland. Some were three-coloured as befits their Latin name and others in various shades of blue. We visited the field with the permission of the landowner and photographed several plants, one of which appeared to be a cross with the more common smpll pale yellow field pansy. Wild pansies have a number of alternative names such as heartsease, kiss-me-quick, love-in-idleness and in Kent, Kitty-run-the street. Long considered a plant of remembrance, the name pansy itself comes from the French for thoughts, pensée. In recent years a number of rare or scarce species have been rediscovered in the county including the red pheasant’s eye, pink corncockle and bright blue meadow clary, the latter thriving at the Plantlife reserve at Ranscombe near to Rochester.

Does any other bird work as hard as the male blackbird I wonder. In recent weeks several have been hopping and trotting around my garden looking ragged and exhausted, their wings almost trailing on the ground as they scour the lawn for slugs and grubs to feed their young while neglecting themselves. Just occasionally mother blackbird appears from tending the nestlings, looking sleek and elegant as she leaps up to peck at the raspbemes having finished off the strawberries a couple of weeks ago. Any day now the young will leave their nests and start flying low and clumsily around the garden, settling on the ground to tweet their parents for food, a dangerous habit which also alerts marauding cats.

I was puzzled by what looked like a swallow’s nest on a roof beam above the summerhouse decking as I had never seen any swallows visiting it, but sitting quietly in a corner I caught sight of a little wren with a mouthful of insects climbing up a supporting post and flying across to her young as they called from the nest. What a clever site the wrens have chosen, completely safe from cats but they will have to look out for the sparrowhawk which I saw sweeping into the garden at incredible speed to capture a young blue tit, probably to feed its own young. There have been several reports recently of a decrease in the number of starlings. That may have been reversed locally. A few years ago a pair took up residence in a nearby tall ivy covered blackthorn. This year I have seen 20 or more flying into the tree to roost.

If June was the month for orchids, July is the month for blue and purple flowers and exquisite canine thistles. Wild chicory with the colours of a clear blue sky lines part of the A2 road around Bridge, purple knapweed loves the chalk downs and is incredibly rich in nectar, attracting many butterthes, including marbled whites, meadow browns and red admirals. But the star is surely viper’s bugloss, often tall and stately, loved by bees and named after the resemblance of its ripe seed to a snake’s head. The old herbalists believed that a tea made from the seeds would relieve sadness, ease back pains and help nursing mothers improve their flow of milk.

Once again dog walkers are being urged to keep their pets under strict control when walking through fields with cattle. There is nothing more pleasing than watching a cow caring for her calf, but that doe-eyed protective look can quickly turn to anger if she feels threatened by a dog and can become a danger to the owner and other walkers. My advice is never take a dog in a field where there are cows and calves, even on a lead.

Herne Bay Gazette, July 3rd 2014

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