Living the Botanists Dream! Brecks & Fens, 17 & 18 July 2020

After blagging the use of the car for the day on Friday I hatched a plan to do some dirty botanical twitching. I'd been kindly given some sites and gleaned other information to make it a full day.

First up was a drive to Cambridge, and specifically Cherry Hinton on the eastern edge of the city. A short walk here and I found my main target - the superbly named Moon Carrot which grows on the chalk here and hardly anywhere else. If ever there was a plant whose name is better than it's looks then this is it. A member of the umbellifer family with subtle differences from Wild Carrot which I was sure to scrutinise! Also in the same small area I had Wild Parsnip, Wild Basil (both also new for me), Wild Marjoram and a couple of Common Blues.

Moon Carrot

Wild Basil

Wild Marjoram

 Wild Parsnip

My second port of call was the less than attractive surroundings of a layby (complete with burger van) by a busy A road near Ely. Here I crossed the busy road to feast my eyes on the only UK specimens of Fen Ragwort in a rubbish-strewn ditch. With justhalf a dozen plants this is one of the rarest plants in the country and despite the site they are big, attractive and distinctive things. The ditch also had some Common Fleabane.

 Fen Ragwort

 Common Fleabane

I then made my way further north and into Breckland. A quick stop and dash later and I'd seen a plant that was very close to the top of my 'most wanted' list - the rare Brecks speciality Spiked Speedwell. Some Breckland Thyme at the same site was also most welcome and allowed me to examine it closely under a hand lens.

   Spiked Speedwell

The site I wanted to spend a decent amount of time at was Santon Downham. Here, along some managed strips I spent ages working backwards and forwards scrutinising the ground. All of the things I was looking for are small/tiny but luckily I managed to find Annual Knawel and Small Cudweed in good numbers plus the 'vulnerable' Corn Spurrey, Sand Spurrey and the diminutive Birdsfoot. Beside a nearby track a single Hoary Cinquefoil plant caught my eye and the Viper's Bugloss there held Essex Skipper, Small Skipper, Large Skipper and Small Copper.

Annual Knawel


Corn Spurrey

Hoary Cinquefoil

Sand Spurrey

 Small Cudweed

My final stop was at Barnhamcross Common where I quickly found my quarry - the local speciality of Tower Mustard. Although it was less towering than I had imagined it would be!

 Tower Mustard

On Saturday night I received a tip-off from a mate which meant I was very keen to head back in the same direction on Sunday! This time Belinda came with me with the promise of a good walk. Lakenheath Fen was to be our destination and a walk around the whole reserve circuit was very entertaining and enjoyable. My main aim was to see Large-flowered Hemp Nettle which I managed to do quite easily and was surprised to find some decent sized patches in one small area. These are absolutely gorgeous looking plants and they were in pristine condition too. Into the bargain I also found Bifid Hemp Nettle, Common Hemp Nettle, Dwarf Mallow, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Water Parsnip and Sticky Groundsel. Birdwise a flying Bittern was very welcome but apart from Black-tailed Godwits on the scrape I rued not having my scope with me as everything was too distant.

It was back to the knawel site at Santon Downham for a further look on the way home. With a bit more info I was finally able to locate the one remaining target Perennial Knawel and also had a Crossbill fly over. Several Broad-leaved Helleborines are now in flower nearby together with several spikes of Dark Mullein.

Large-flowered Hemp Nettle

Lesser Burdock

Lesser Water Parsnip

Bifid Hemp Nettle

Common Hemp Nettle

       Perennial Knawel

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