Yesterday I was lucky enough to emerge from the trees at the top of Fackenden Down just as eight – yes, eight – buzzards soared in the updraft together overhead, calling out and engaging in mock battles. I’ve never seen anything like it. Nearby Magpie Bottom was also a picture with mauve scabious flowers and purple knapweed giving the pollinators a real treat. On a small sandy lump, made by burrowing insects I guess, I spied a tiny, dark lizard which shot off as I reached for the camera inevitably.
Fackenden Down, near Shoreham and Otford stations, is a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve of rare and superb value. The trust is trying to encourage reptiles, butterflies and more varieties of wildflower to return to the spectacular site but needs money so please donate to them if you can.
The bluebells are well and truly finished now we’re into June, but the meadows in this little pocket of near-idyll from Westerham to Eynsford are alive with wild flowers. The field adjacent to Down House is particularly spectacular as are the open grass sweeps of Lullingstone. I’m no expert on variety identification but there’s more to see than just daisies and buttercups – there’s pyramidal orchids, abundant cow parsley, cowslips, chalk milkwort, speedwell…
Pyramidal orchid. Photo: Durlston Country Park, Dorset, flickr Creative Commons
Cycling near Cudham recently I disturbed a large buzzard. Close up, the scale of this bird of prey is decidedly impressive, but what suddenly occurred to me is that, when growing up, it was unheard of to see buzzards so close to London. They were definitely considered birds of the upland wilds, not the suburban fringe. There’s clearly been a sharp rise in their population in recent years in these parts … I wonder if there’s a breeding programme nearby, or perhaps it’s that their persecution by landowners has stopped. Soon after this I saw two buzzards soaring over the valley between Downe and Cudham, closely followed by a red kite gliding at height from north to south. Again, sightings that would have been almost unthinkable up until 10 years ago.
At Downe Bank, on another cycle on a recent coldish evening, I saw my first ever badger in the wild, hurrying across Cudham Road ahead of me as I laboriously ascended that steep hill.
Red Arrows pictured near Biggin Hill by Adam McCulloch
On June 13 walkers in the area will be treated to the sights and sounds of Spitfires, Hurricanes and the Red Arrows, all flying at the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight. The air show marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and while a more modest affair than the airfield’s major International Air Fairs (until 2010), the event should prove a fitting tribute to those who fought against the Nazis from Biggin Hill. And walkers and cyclists in the area that day will get some unusual and exciting views of the planes as they manoeuvre for passes over the airfield.