Queendown Warren

Location: Near Chatham, Kent

Grid Reference: TQ 830 630

EarlySpiderOrchid1180x300-c-iStockGoldfinch4Ever.jpg

Queendown Warren offers a wonderful feast for visitors, including many species of orchid.

The name says a lot about this North Downs reserve. It was once owned by Queen Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291), wife of King Henry III of England, and in medieval times it was a rabbit farm before the animals escaped and went wild. In 1536, the land was leased to a local family, who bought the freehold in 1876; 700 years of history only add to this site’s importance.

Our land consists of two chalk banks, facing southwards in a dry valley. The Main Bank is the richest, with most grassland and least scrub, and is the best site for meadow clary and early spider-orchid (pictured above). The West Bank hosts more rabbits, with many plants restricted to areas with least grazing.

Orchid fame

Queendown Warren is renowned throughout Kent for its orchids. Ten species are regularly recorded, including fly, bee and butterfly orchids. In June, the reserve is carpeted with fragrant orchid; pyramidal and man orchids are common here too. But the early spider-orchid is the star of them all – a very local, short-lived plant, it is declining, legally-protected and found only in species-rich chalk grassland in southern England.

Other special chalk down species include horseshoe vetch, chalk milkwort and squinancywort – a bedstraw named after its former use as a remedy for quinsy or squinancy. More typical downland species include wild thyme, yellow-wort, sainfoin, cowslip, bird’s-foot-trefoil and common rock-rose. The insect life is also rich, with characteristic species including the Adonis blue butterfly and Rufous grasshopper.

Grazing for glory

As with many of our other meadow reserves, Queendown Warren is grazed by cattle and ponies in autumn and early winter to maintain the short sward. The animals are usually moved in December to avoid damaging the emerging orchids. Scrub and regenerated woodland have been cleared to link up isolated areas of grassland.

The site is managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust, as part of the wider Queendown Warren reserve. Purchase was made possible by Unilever(Timotei) and the National Lottery through the Heritage Memorial Fund