RICHARD WILLIAMSON An abundance of orchids

A record number of orchids bloomed on Kingley Vale this year. I have kept accurate records there since 1964 and this year the number of spotted orchids in the main colony soared to 1,537.

The path on the western side of the nature reserve was a dazzling sight of lilac-coloured flower spikes. My cluster photographs were unsatisfactory so I’ve reprinted a close-up of just one group on this page.

Because there has been so much rain they have shot up with long stems and so the picture has to be portrait. Landscape is best for these flowers, but there it is.

I started counting everything the first summer I was at this NNR and have never stopped. Doubtless psychologists would have a name for the habit and a friend recently suggested CCD - continuous counting disorder.

I’ve done the same for butterflies and birds as well as all the other orchid colonies and not to speak of the fixed point photographs that run back to 1954, having been started by Dr Thomas of UCL. This is a very long run of data and becomes more and more interesting as the years go by.

What it shows is the planet is on a conveyer belt of change, often so small a change as to be unnoticed by us except when they impact our lives, for example through climate change. Most ecosystems are altering so slowly we ignore what is happening.

The spotted orchids on the western side numbered 25 in 1964. Gradually they increased to a couple of hundred in the 1970s and then 600 two decades later. Two years ago they numbered 1,000 and the numbers just go on up.

Obviously this type of weather we experience now with droughts and deluges benefits spotted orchids and many other species. They have done well on many other sites as well.

But this 50-year window on to a species is a minute glimpse of time.

Other orchids have not responded in the same sort of way. Frog orchids at Kingley Vale are now hardly seen there at all. Twenty years ago we suddenly had a population explosion with many thousands.

It is time I put all this data into another book. The butterfly data is showing most interesting patterns emerging and so is the bird data.

Who would have thought today for instance that Kingley Vale held the highest concentration of nightingales per square km than anywhere else in the UK? Not one has been seen for decades, due to changes in the habitat from deer.

By the way, CCD, also known as obsessional defence mechanism manifested by such activities as not walking on cracks in the paving stones and playing with a rosary was what my father indulged himself in, recording every aspect of his life in 60 books, most notably the 15-novel sequence: A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight.

But then, he was related to John Galsworthy who did the same in The Forsyte Saga.