Ranscombe Farm IPA
Location: Situated on the North Downs, immediately west of the Medway Gap, near Cuxton, Medway, Kent.
Grid Reference: TQ 705 680
With sweeping views of the Kent countryside, Ranscombe Farm is one of the most famous botanical hotspots in Britain. Its cornfields are jam-packed with rare and colourful arable flowers, while the woods and grassland support ten different species of orchid. Lying on the slopes of the North Downs beside the River Medway, this 560 acre working farm boasts an exceptional repertoire of cornfield flowers. In the absence of herbicides and fertilizers these rare and threatened plants are given the chance to thrive in the light, cultivated soils; two fields in particular are considered to be some of the best sites for arable plants in Britain.
In late spring and summer the display can be spectacular, with drifts of red common poppy, blue viper’s bugloss and white stinking chamomile. Look closer and you start to see rarer flowers. Along with dwarf spurge, blue pimpernel, night-flowering catchfly and field pansy, corn cockle is found here – the last place in Britain where it grows as a truly ancient cornfield flower – and these grow with prickly poppy, rough poppy, Venus’s looking-glass, fluellens and various fumitories. Less colourful, but perhaps most important, is Britain’s largest population of broad-leaved cudweed, while finding rare ground pine will have you searching the field headlands for hours. Ranscombe is very much a fragment of a lost landscape, a reminder of how rich and colourful our cereal fields were before the age of intensive farming.
But there’s much more to Ranscombe than farmed fields. The woodlands are very varied, with some being predominately oak, others including hornbeam, ash and beech, and others dominated by sweet chestnut plantation. In spring they are full of flowers, with violets, primroses and bluebells joined by early purple orchid and rarer gems, such as lady orchid, white helleborine and fly orchid. In summer wild columbine, nettle-leaved bellflower and deadly nightshade can be found.
In the dappled shade on the edge of one wood, where it transforms into grassland, a fine population of meadow clary grows. It’s been know here for over 300 years, being first recorded in 1699, and thanks to some careful conservation work the beautiful royal purple flower spikes are now increasing in number and spreading into the fields.
Small patches of chalk grassland at Ranscombe host colourful communities of plants, with common rockrose, wild thyme and lady’s bedstraw joined by dwarf thistle, harebell and horseshoe vetch. Rarer flowers include rough mallow, man orchid, bee orchid, clustered bellflower (which is rare in Kent) and burnet rose.
With all this floral and habitat diversity it’s not surprising that Ranscombe is rich in other wildlife, especially invertebrates. Thirty butterfly species have been recorded, of which white admiral, dingy skipper, purple emperor and small heath are notable. Pollinating bees and other insects are abundant, including sharp-collared furrow bee and the rare red bartsia bee.
Ranscombe Farm Reserve is owned and managed by Plantlife.
Image: Ranscombe Farm © Plantlife
Ranscombe Farm Reserve
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