Picture of the week: 30/08/21

OUR picture spotlight this week is not an individual artist or photographer, but a very special and unusual place.

Stoke Common is a remarkable patch of ancient heathland that comes to life in the summer and autumn when the heather and gorse are in full bloom.

There may be times of the year on a drizzly day when this landscape can seem a little bleak, but when the butterflies are dancing and the blackberry blossom is blooming, it’s a very different story.

Yes, there may be a rumble of distant traffic from the motorway if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, or the roar of boy racers testing out the surrounding back roads, but for many this 200-acre oasis is a reminder of what much of Buckinghamshire might have looked like in centuries past.

Owned and run by the City of London Corporation, with the help of volunteers and supporters like the Friends of Stoke Common, the common is a perfect retreat for walkers and runners trying to get away from it all.

Since many of the plant and insect species recorded here are rare, visitors need to stay on the signposted paths, which means youngsters wanting to explore and build dens are better advised to head for nearby Black Park or Burnham Beeches.

But for those who enjoy the chance to escape the crowds, there are few better places to “get back to nature” among the spiders and stonechats, cinnabar moths and butterflies.

After last month’s explosion of ragwort, now it’s time for the common to start looking more like a Scottish heath than somewhere a stone’s throw from Slough, as reflected in our Beyonder blog entry last summer.

It’s also the perfect place for dramatic sunsets and fascinating cloud formations, as we reflected in another summer postcard a year ago.

There’s even the faint chance of spotting an elusive adder, though a lot more likely that a dusk rustle in the gorse is actually one of the score of burnished brown Sussex cattle that do their bit to protect the heathland by grazing the common, and look very smooth, velvety and healthy on their prickly diet.

Created by a combination of poor, acidic soils and careful land management, the heathland is designated as an important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Its beauty may not always be immediately obvious to the casual visitor, but catch the sunlight on the heather at this time of year, or the cloud formations at dusk against a spectacular sky, and you could be in a far distant land.