RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Quiet woodland presence of the shy, dainty fly orchid

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Some say the fly orchid resembles a bluebottle pinned to a green stem, I see a little person in velvet trousers, an Elizabethan dandy like Black Adder.

This extraordinary flower, which is common in West Sussex, deserves respect. It has a quiet, watchful presence, in the shady margins of the downland woods.

For the past 40 years or more I have tracked it down, on Goodwood, West Dean, Inholmes Wood at Stoughton and Bignor.

It is one of those flowers you never notice, like the quiet child in the classroom who just gets on with their studies and leaves the noisy show-offs who have nothing in their brains to be noticed by the teacher.

The fly orchid is a powerful indicator of integrity. That is to say that all is well. The soil is good, the atmosphere heathy, the management benign.

I have counted particular populations for almost half a century and find little alteration. Unlike the bee orchid. That flamboyant flower with its bumble bee lip wanders around the landscape like a poppy, popping up in the most spectacular places.

A year or so ago the bee orchid settled on the roadside verge outside Sainsbury’s supermarket near the A27. Once it appeared on my old friend Bernard Price’s lawn at Hunston, a new housing estate. Frequently it went scrambling on the scree chalk at Amberley Chalkpits Museum.

In other words, it is a bit of an agricultural weed, taking advantage of disturbed ground.

Not the fly orchid. Year after year, the flowers hang on their sepal crosses to be visited by small insects which take the paired pollinia away for cross fertilisation with others. These orchids are at their best in May.

The photograph here was taken by Brian Henham at the Murray Downland Nature Reserve at Heyshott Down. This steep slope was quarried for lime burning in centuries past. Today it holds 15 of our 26 Sussex orchids among the 300 species of flowers that grow there. This is a wonderful example of how nature heals an industrial landscape.

Today everybody can enjoy the orchids, birds, butterflies and even the 100 species of mosses at Heyshott – the finest site for these in NW Europe.

But what we do need are enthusiasts who will monitor what is going on there in the same way I have monitored my fly orchids, also the birds, butterflies, and other plants at Kingley Vale.

We need people to adopt, say a colony of orchids at Heyshott, or the breeding bird population, or a square metre of downland turf, and see how their chosen subject alters over the years.

Some reader might want to monitor the butterfly populations in the way I have done at Kingley Vale for 35 years.

The results can be perfectly fascinating as time goes by. If you think you have this interest in the first instance log your name and interest on our address dae.busn@btinternet.com and we will start recording next season.