It’s a big claim to be the UK’s finest lowland meadow and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s huge for a start, 126 Ha in total including the ponds and a large part of that area is a series of very good meadows each one slightly different from it’s neighbour.
The star of the show is the Burnt orchid (Neotinea ustulata). Burgundy buds unfold to show a white lip shaped like a clown suit with burgundy polka dots, it’s stunning. Some populations are found on dry chalk downland, but these are in a wet meadow alongside Great burnet and Saw-wort. It has a reputation for growing only on the longest established grasslands.
There are other plant superstars at Clattinger. The spring offers fields of Snakeshead fritillary and Green winged orchids. We saw the Green winged, now in bud.
On my visit, on a very hot day in June, there was an abundance of Common spotted orchids and Southern marsh, including an unusual colour variant. The Early marsh had nearly finished and only a few faded flowers were left. There was Pyramidal and Heath spotted. Above the grasses bobbed the heads of Great burnet and there was Salad burnet and the clotted cream yellow of Pepper saxifrage. Hundreds of thousands of bright turquoise damsel flies were using the hedgerows as a corridor to the pools. In a mad dash to mate, many of them were locked together in pairs as they flew towards the water. Well worth a visit at any time of year.
In Britain you can only find the Loose-flowered orchid (Anacamptis laxiflora) in Jersey and Guernsey and once you’re there they are not hard to find. There is the wetlands centre on the west coast Le Noir Pre, known as The Orchid Fields, where there are several wet meadows and an estimate of 50,000 plants. There is another Jersey National Trust field across the island with another few thousand plants. The intense purple and the sheer numbers are impressive. One of these fields was used as a dump until 1960, which is possibly what saved it from being drained and ploughed up to grow Jersey Royal potatoes, like so many other fields. The Loose-flowered orchid was a common sight on the Channel Islands 100 years ago, found in all the wet places growing so densely it was impossible not to trample them. Now thanks to development, drainage and agriculture they are confined to these two sites.
The flower is similar to the Early purple, but the leaf is unspotted and the stem is elongated with flowers well spread out – that’s what’s meant by ‘loose flowered’. They are mostly around 25cm but can grow up to 50cm making a very imposing plant.
They are much more common further south and around the Mediterranean, but maybe climate change will persuade them further north and onto the UK mainland.
There were a few very pretty pale pink variants and some Southern marsh orchid, Heath spotted orchid and Common spotted orchids scattered in smaller numbers. The BSBI records show Lizard orchid nearby, but we didn’t find those.
The wetlands centre includes a large pond, reedbeds, the wet meadows and some areas of dune. It is a well known place to see Marsh harriers, which were there constantly soaring above our heads and diving into the reeds. The nearby Blanches banques SSSI has many rare plant species including the Lizard orchid and a good population of Nottingham catchfly as well as some interesting standing stones.