If you visit a Nature Reserve and are disappointed to find nothing of great interest, there may be one or two reasons. Either you're not looking hard enough or, more likely, you're there at the wrong time of year. In order to negate these possibilities I've been walking to as many reserves as I can this year. These are the results so far.
These pretty little orchids are in serious decline and can only be found in a few scattered places. They need traditionally managed meadows to survive and can not tolerate any chemical intervention, either fertilizers or pesticides, which modern farming relies upon. It's only through historical anomalies that such unimproved grassland has survived and most of the sites are managed by various wildlife trusts.
It differs from the more widespread Early Purple Orchid in that it has "wings" which are striped with narrow greenish or purple parallel veins which you can clearly see in the close-up photo above. You also see occasional pink flowered Green-Winged Orchids and I've seen photos of white flowers too.
This tiny orchid is one that you could easily miss unless you know exactly where to look. Although they look like little flies what they are trying to attract are digger wasps, and their fragrance apparently imitates the pheromones of that insect. The wasp then comes in and attempts to mate with the flowers passing pollen from one plant to another. All of which suits the flower but must be both frustrating and embarrassing for the male wasp!
That's the top of my index finger on the left to give you some idea of how insignificant the Fly Orchid actually is. The plants I saw were no more than 2½ inches (4 cm) tall, though they can grow much taller.
These are also easy to pass by as they look similar to a lot of other more common wildflowers. Again it is a plant which is in rapid decline as it needs traditionally managed grasslands. However it is also declining in some places where naturalists are trying to do everything possible to conserve it, which is puzzling and worrying.
This is a handsome plant of beech woodlands on chalky soil. It ought to be easy enough to see but somehow its pale colours fade away into the dappled shade.
They never seem to open up fully so you never get the chance to appreciate that they are actually one of the more impressive members of the orchid family.
Another plant of chalk grassland and one that always causes a second or two of excitement until you realise that it's not a rare gentian but Clustered Bellflower. Never mind, by any name it's just as beautiful.
This rather plain, greenish flower, on the other hand and despite appearances, is actually an orchid. It gets its name from the two leaves at its base. It grows in considerable numbers in a meadow just a mile or two from home.
This is another small orchid, but it needs a bit more effort for me to get to the only place that it grows in this area. Although the tip can appear almost black on some plants (hence the name) this one looked more like some blackcurrant juice had been splashed on it. They grow in rather unpromising sites often on hilltops where there are thin soils over chalk. Like most of the plants here, it's competition from other plants that prevents it being more widespread.