Fragrant summer arrives at Yoesden

Among the grassy banks, close to beech hanger woodland, islands of pink and purple have appeared. They’re reminiscent of the night lights on airport runways. But unlike airports, whose purpose is to take us somewhere else (or was – it seems so long ago now), these pink and purple indicators encourage us to linger. These are the orchids of Yoesden nature reserve, near Bledlow Ridge just outside High Wycombe.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), who manage the site, note that “Yoesden has changed little over the centuries”: sheep grazing in medieval times, bodgers (local craftsmen specialising in wood) in Victorian times. BBOWT bought this site in 2014, raising enough money from a public appeal to acquire three plots of land adjacent to the initial purchase.

Yoesden’s south-westerly aspect, descending steeply from the woods, enables plenty of sun to warm the slopes. The stars of the many plants which take advantage of these conditions are the orchids which appear in June. The common-spotted, the chalk fragrant- and the pyramidal orchid are all here, basking in the afternoon sun and gentle breeze. In addition to orchids, you may also spot the Chiltern gentian, kidney vetch and horseshoe vetch.

The last-named is significant as a foodplant for caterpillars of the Adonis blue, one of the scarcest of the 28 species of butterflies which inhabit Yoesden and probably the most spectacular. We didn’t see its brilliant blue wings on this visit, nor the paler small blue and chalkhill blue, but the marbled white, the comma and the tortoiseshell all flitted around us, along with several meadow browns, their single “eyes” seeming to wink.

By autumn the orchids and butterflies will have gone. But there’s plenty more to see in autumn, or the following spring, whether on the slope or in the woodland beneath the beech, whitebeam and yew trees. It’s a tranquil place to be: a reminder, after recent months, that not all of nature is out to get us.

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How do you make a hedgehog blue?

Also, what flavour of food do they dislike?  These were a couple of the questions to which we heard the answers on a trip to Tiggywinkles, the world’s leading wildlife hospital.

Tiggywinkles – named after the Beatrix Potter character – became famous for its treatment of injured hedgehogs, and there were over 300 in for treatment on the day we visited. But clearly the organisation has expanded in recent years.  There is now a badger sett, for example. Just as each person in a hospital for humans has their own problems, the same applies to badgers. Rachel has fractures in both front legs, so she cannot dig and therefore can’t return to the wild), while Stevie is blind and Logan was found starving after the human family which used to feed him moved away. Christmas, meanwhile, is thus named for being found on 24 December, not for being white (but not albino)!  There is also a new Red Kite education centre and aviary, along with a hide for observing muntjac, Chinese water deer, roe deer and fallow deer in a paddock.

Having said that, Tiggywinkles is still closely associated with hedgehogs.  Its museum covers almost everything you can think of, including military formations, Royal Navy memorabilia… but not the “hedgehog sandwich” sketch from Not the Nine O’clock News.  The hedgehog talk revealed that hedgehogs typically have 5,000 spines and like cat food or dog food, as long as it isn’t tuna or other flavours of fish.  One resident of Tiggywinkles apparently enjoyed eating crisps, while another was known as Blue because – he fell into an open tin of blue paint.  As well as the talks, you can view, through a window, baby hedgehogs and other animals and birds as staff feed them.  You’d have to have a heart of stone not to say “aaaah”…