a somewhat occasional blog

Orchids, Open Golf and Memories of Nature wardening

Hopefully the Orchids on the Royal St. George’s at Sandwich have now cast their seed and are safe from the wood, the iron and the putter. And the feet of the spectators at the British Open Golf this weekend. For Sandwich Bay is a wildflower paradise.


Flower rich dune, Sandwich Bay

We visited two weeks ago.  A long trip to Colorado and late June not being the best birding month. A spot of Orchid looking would be in order. At the same time a tweet from @WaterVole came out about the Orchids of Sandwich and the idea was sealed.

I spent a lot of my teenage years on both St. George’s and Prince’s and up at the far end at the Sandwich Bay Nature Reserve. I  ‘spotted the earliest recorded of Sandwich Tern in Kent for the time on March 16th 1979. I missed the White-rumped Sandpiper that arrived at the high tide roost one summer. A call of nature missing me my first Yankie! And I remember the Open of 1981 though I wasn’t watching gulf but the Little Terns that still nested up on the sand on the Nature Reserve.

Each weekend during school time I would rise at 5 and cycle the 16 miles to the Sandwich Bay Nature Reserve and ‘unofficially’ act as an assistant warden to Dave Gilbert, the official warden. The job was simple to keep the people off the reserves sand dunes (mainly the nudists) to allow the few Little Terns that still hung on and breed. High tides in June could be more damaging, washing the eggs away than people. But people were still a problem.

But the story of Little Terns, which to this day I have a particular love of, is for another time. For those summer’s spent at Sandwich Bay were actual botany days. for Sandwich is one of the best places in the UK for these charismatic plants. And others that grip the imagination. None more so than broomrapes.


Common Broomrape - Orobanche minor

This years visit was a little late – the broomrapes had turned to seed. I managed to see a few Common broomrape (Orobanche minor) though the Bedstraw broomrape (Orobanche caryophyllacea) eluded me. Many of the orchids were still in bloom. Pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) were to be found besides Princes Golf course and large numbers up on the dune slacks of the nature reserve.

Pyramidal Orchid with Burnet moth

So too were Southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) – tending to be in lowest parts of the dune slacks, it needing much moister ground than the Pyramidal.


Southern marsh orchid, Sandwich Bay

We didn’t find Twyblade or Marsh helloborine sadly, but were happy to lie in the flower rich dunes amongst the restharrow, bartesia and Lady’s bedstraw, watching the bees and burnet moths feeding.


Lizard Orchid on a lawn, Sandwich Bay

The re star though were the Lizard orchids (Himantoglossum hircinum). We found a few on St. George’s but the real gems were actually to be found on the lawns and road edges of the small village of Sandwich Bay. One particular lawn had to giants growing out of the lawn.


Lizard Orchids on lawn

Apparently the wind was ‘big’ on the first morning and the rain on the third day caused minor mayhem. They should be there on a January day, when a fierce north-easterly gale can bruise in from across the North Sea and hit the dunes and the tees with a force. The rain can cut into the skin. it can be grim.

But on a cloudy day in late June, there is an element of wildness along the two miles of dunes at Sandwich Bay. And although there are birds to see, though sadly not the Little Tern, it is the wildflowers of Sandwich that are worth the visit. I hope Darren Clarke wins today but, even more so, I hope that the orchids of Sandwich are still there when the next Open comes to Sandwich.



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