Go wild – for 30 days at least

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THE Chiltern Hills with stun­ning views from the high points, de­light­ful val­leys with pic­ture-book vil­lages, beech woods and chalk streams of­fer the op­por­tu­nity for us to en­joy some of the best coun­try­side in Eng­land.

For me this time of year, the end of May into June when the leaves on beech trees are still a soft ver­dant green, the oaks are spread­ing ma­jes­ti­cally, and mead­ows of wild flow­ers are at­tract­ing but­ter­flies, is just perfect – and I’m not alone!

Sum­mer: an anthology for the chang­ing sea­sons, pub­lished by El­liott and Thomp­son last week in­cludes a chap­ter writ­ten by John Tyler from Lacey Green about glow-worms, which just hap­pen to be prob­a­bly the most amaz­ing in­sects you can see dur­ing the sum­mer months!

Go­ing on a glow-worm hunt is one of the Ran­dom Acts of Wild­ness peo­ple can do dur­ing 30 Days Wild – the month-long chal­lenge from The Wildlife Trusts dur­ing June, which hundreds of peo­ple are sign­ing up to do.

James Lowen is an­other au­thor who adores this time of year, and cel­e­brates his love of sum­mer in a su­perb book, which is my es­sen­tial guide to 100 great days out watch­ing wildlife.

A Sum­mer of Bri­tish Wildlife, pub­lished by Bradt, is a day by day guide to the best places to see wildlife. For May 29 James rec­om­mends vis­it­ing the Chilterns to seek out the amaz­ing mil­i­tary or­chids in Home­field Wood near Mar­low. The dis­play of flow­ers will be on show for a few weeks, so there’s no need to stam­pede there this week­end.

For sev­eral decades this lo­ca­tion was top se­cret, for fear of orchid col­lec­tors pulling up the plants and de­priv­ing this lovely Wildlife Trust na­ture re­serve of its beau­ties. Open ac­cess to Home­field Wood to see these ex­tra­or­di­nary flow­ers is recog­nised by James as ‘a trea­sured priv­i­lege’.

The ‘bat­tal­ion’ of cream and dark pink mil­i­tary or­chids, whose ‘two-armed, two­legged’ flow­ers topped with a ‘hel­met’ give the plant its name, may be the main at­trac­tion here; but do take more time to wan­der through the wood­land and spot the almost lu­mi­nous pale cream of the greater but­ter­fly orchid and the spindly lime-green flow­ers of com­mon tway­blade.

Once you get your eye in on these ex­otic flow­ers you will soon spot the strange-look­ing fly orchid whose dark red­dish-brown flow­ers mimic fe­male dig­ger wasps. The flow­ers emit a pheromone that at­tracts male dig­ger wasps to visit and be cov­ered in pollen be­fore at­tempt­ing to cop­u­late with an­other orchid flower mas­querad­ing as a fe­male wasp!

Many of these beau­ti­ful flow­ers love grow­ing in the dap­pled sun­light of dense wood­land, which means cap­tur­ing the colours and ex­quis­ite del­i­cacy of the plants in pho­to­graphs can be quite a chal­lenge!

Step for­ward Andrew Mar­shall, one of the UK’s top na­ture pho­tog­ra­phers, whose book Pho­tograph­ing Wildlife in the UK gives good ad­vice and tips for be­gin­ners, as well as field craft tech­niques to help achieve the best sharply-fo­cused images.

All our lives are bet­ter when we’re con­nected to na­ture, so why not take a few min­utes to check out which na­ture re­serves you would like to visit in June as part of the 30 Days Wild Chal­lenge. Then pack your cam­era, and a smart­phone for tweet­ing and get out there to en­joy the first weeks of sum­mer!

Perfect view: Day-dream­ing on Chin­nor Hill CREDIT SUE CROXFORD

Ex­otic: Fly orchid CREDIT: PHILIP PRECEY

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