Friday, 11 September 2015

Oakley Hill

When I was growing up, the cement works at Chinnor were a large industrial landmark in the otherwise tranquil Chilterns. There used to be a large complex of buildings, with tall chimneys, massive quarries and flooded pits where chalk had been dug out of the hillside to use in the production of cement. About 15 years ago the business was closed down and gradually over the years the buildings were demolished to be replaced with houses and the quarry pits left to flood and fill up as lakes. At some point a piece of land running behind of the chalk pits, including chalk grassland and beech woods, was given to BBOWT to look after. This is now called the Oakley Hill nature reserve.

I grew up in Chinnor so I was very familiar with the hills around the cement works, but it's years since I've been up there and I hadn't visited this area since it became a reserve. The sun was shining and the dog needed a walk so Mum and I decided to take a look around there this morning.

The reserve is lovely and peaceful. We didn't make it up into the beech woods today, but stayed on the long stretch of chalk grassland that runs along the edge of one of the cement works pits.

At points you could see over the hedge to the flooded pit.

The site's securely fenced, presumably so people and dogs don't fall into the pit. It was good to see several tunnels to let small mammals move through the fence though.

The site was full of chalk grassland flowers. most noticeably large amounts of rare Chiltern Gentian. It's such a pretty purple star shaped flower and a real treat to see.
 There were plenty of other chalk grassland gems as well though ...




Scarlet pimpernel

Wild basil
Wild marjoram
There seemed to be lots of butterflies around, particularly speckled woods. We also saw a comma, a red admiral, small whites, small heaths, meadow browns and a brimstone. Not bad for a September morning!
A comma enjoying a juicy blackberry

Red admiral

Speckled wood

Speckled wood
There seemed to be lots of dragonflies flying around, far more than we usually see when we're walking in the hills.

Some of the chalk was piled into heaps, so we had a quick look through it to see if we could find any fossils. We found several pieces of fossilized shell and what looks like a fossilized skull. It has teeth, a jaw line and an eye socket and is the consistency of chalk.

Fossilised shells

Looks like a skull to us!
It's a lovely reserve, very quiet and peaceful and we didn't see anyone else while we were there. We didn't walk through the woods, but we'll have a look there next time. There are supposed to be bird's nest orchids in the darkest part of the woodland, so we'll definitely go back there next spring to look for them.

Beautiful butterflies, fabulous flowers, stunning views and a little bit of fossil hunting. That's my sort of morning!

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