Society Walk at Sewell Railway Cutting, Beds – 23rd May 2023

Photo of Corn Bunting © Martine Harvey

This was a visit to the nearest area of chalk grassland to Milton Keynes, the Sewell Railway Cutting. A short-lived railway line operated here, between Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable. One of our late members, Wally Lancaster, had been a train driver here in the 1950s and he always enjoyed revisiting the site to enjoy its flora and fauna. Wally and his wife Joan, who passed away very recently, were stalwarts of the Society for many years so it was nice to remember them.

It was a clear, sunny night and a good number turned out. A short walk from French’s Avenue brought us to the start of the railway cutting and immediately we could see a variety of chalk grassland flora including Common Twayblade (abundant), Chalk Milkwort and Kidney Vetch. One plant which we had not seen in the past was Star-of-Bethlehem, but we found numerous clumps low down on the banks. It was interesting to note that those in shade were already closing whilst those flowers in full sun remained open. On previous visits, we had noted how scrubby the embankments were but happily, work has been undertaken to remove much of the scrub creating much more open, sunny areas for flora and insect life. However, it was probably a bird that stole the show. A male Corn Bunting was holding a territory in a hedge and gave great views as he sang his jingling song! Sadly, turtle doves, which we heard here in the past, were not heard and are now probably absent from this area but we were able to enjoy Swallows and Swifts soaring overhead. A female Kestrel perched up on our return leg.

Male Corn Bunting singing © Julian Lambley

We eventually made our way to the ‘bottom’ of the nature reserve where it intersects with part of the Icknield Way. Here we were able to look across to the chalk cliffs of Totternhoe Quarry. We watched rabbits enjoying the evening sunshine and a Roe Deer was spotted. Invertebrates were a little disappointing as the temperature dropped quickly, but Green Carpet moths were emerging and Tim Arnold captured a specimen of Agonopterix heracliana .  Towards the end of the walk, Martin Kincaid managed to pot a specimen of the iridescent ‘long-horned moth’ Adela reaumurella. This was a female – the antennae of the male are about two and half times its body length! The only other insect of note was a Greater Bloody-nosed Beetle. When handled, this beetle did indeed have a ‘nose bleed’, or to be more accurate, emitted reflex blood from its mouth, a defence strategy which provokes most predators to drop it. A single Red Admiral was the only butterfly.

We returned to our meeting point at around 9pm and a few of us then went on to The White Lion, Chalk Hill, just down the road from some refreshment.

Martin Kincaid