Orchid Walk 20th June – Close Sartfield

We are spoiled with so many prolific wildflowers on this island, but none more so than in June at the Manx Wildlife Trust’s Close Sartfield Nature Reserve. Apparently, it has been estimated that there are at least 100,000 orchids on this reserve, a figure I can well believe from what I saw yesterday – or was that just one field? Um, I’m not sure now. Either way, it’s a heck of a lot.

This reserve is in the north of the island, located in fields behind the Curraghs Wildlife Park, so you could easily combine this short walk with a visit to our local animal park. In both locations you may be lucky enough to spot the itinerant wallabies, who can now be seen lolloping around most of the countryside at some time or other. Much as they are appealing I believe they can also be a nuisance, as was explained to us by Tricia Sayle who manages the reserves. Whenever they spot a nice piece of grass they will find a way to reach it by grubbing up fences, which then make it possible for sheep to escape much to the consternation of the farmers. Apparently, the wallabies are too lazy to jump over fences! But much as with Covid -19, we have to learn to live with them.As it happens we didn’t see any today. We were pleasantly surprised to have a warm sunny day, given that the forecast had been for dull or even rainy weather. As it was, sunhats were in order.

Immediately on arriving at the reserve we were delighted to see so many orchids tossing about in the light wind, protected by grasses only just slightly taller than themselves. Tricia explained that all the fields have manx names to reflect their previous occupation or describing the nature of the fields; and how it had taken much painstaking work to remove the gorse that seems unwilling to give up its habitat. In places, we could see where a birch woodland had been allowed to develop and how very quickly it establishes itself if left very much to its own devices.

There are often six species of orchid to be seen but I think we only saw four. Tricia explained that although they often look the same, there are subtle differences in the structure of the leaf, and how many have hydridised. These hybrids tend to stand tall and erect, being proud of themselves. I guess in time, without management, the whole field would eventually be taken over by the hybrids. But that’s why Tricia and her Midweek Muckers are there regularly tending the reserve, to make sure all flowers have the maximum opportunity to fulfil their potential.

It is a short, flat walk of about a mile if you include a visit to the hide. In the summer, the gates are unlocked and the paths are open, but out of season you cannot walk around the reserve other than to go to the hide. It is a lovely way to spend a quiet few minutes in the countryside. The best time to view the orchids is probably mid-June. How grand the display is depends to a large extent on the weather during the winter and spring, and this year has certainly produced a bumper crop.

I haven’t been out ‘proper walking’ for a while as my health isn’t what I should like it to be, but we are sorting that out and hopefully once I am back from England – I am going to see my children who I haven’t seen for more than 18 months and see my new grandchild who is now 7 months old, who is coming to visit from El Salvador (with his dad of course) -, I shall be back to my old self, clambering up hills and finding hidden nooks and crannies that keep me amused for hours. But you never know, I may manage something tomorrow to celebrate my birthday – or I may indulge in box sets, wine and a healthy meal instead. Who knows, but I will be back soon 🙂

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