Can you tell by the increased frequency of blogs that term has finished and I’m slowly claiming my life back? Yesterday afternoon I finally made it to one of the (new to me) local nature reserves I intend to visit for #30 Days Wild. Raisby Hill Grassland SSI is just a few miles from home and adjacent to the Raisby Hill Quarry site near Coxhoe. We reached the reserve by walking along the tree lined avenue which once led to Coxhoe Hall, birthplace of the village’s most famous resident, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Though she spent only her first three years here, the village has always been keen to claim her as their own; the local microbrewery is called the Sonnet 43 Brewhouse, though I’m not sure it was beer Barrett Browning was talking about when she said, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”! Coxhoe Hall was home to Barrett Browning’s family until they moved to Hertfordshire in 1809 and was then owned by a variety people in the coal mining sector before being requisitioned during WWII, first of all for British troops and, later, for German and Italian prisoners of war. Afterwards the building fell into disrepair and was finally demolished by the coal board in 1956.
The reserve itself is, in part, an abandoned area of the adjacent Raisby Hill limestone quarry, much like nearby reserves at Bishop Middleham and Wingate, but is unique in also having primary magnesian limestone grassland on the undisturbed part of the hill. We enter the site down the old Kelloe Waggonway, which once carried coal from collieries at East and West Hetton to the coast at Hartlepool. A stile on the right leads us onto another, parallel track through the grassland itself.
There are plenty of typical limestone plants to see on the grassy areas beside the track.
Left to right and top to bottom: Perforate St John’s-wort, Common spotted orchid, Meadow vetchling, Hoary plantain, Agrimony, Meadowsweet, Tufted vetch, Greater burnet-saxifrage and Greater knapweed.
However the most striking thing is the number and diversity of butterflies and moths in flight on this sunny afternoon – blue, hairstreak, ringlet, heath and fritillary butterflies and gaudy Six-spot burnet moths.
Left to right: Common blue, White letter hairstreak, Small heath and Ringlet butterflies.
Most don’t want to stay still long enough for me to photograph them with my compact camera so I’m keen to go back with a telephoto lens and just sit in the grass until they come to me – there are worse ways of spending a sunny afternoon!
The Burnet moths are much less nervous, or maybe half drunk on the nectar from the Greater knapweed. I’ve noticed before that they are easy to photograph.
Six-spot burnet moths on Greater Knapweed at Raisby Hill and on Hawkweed near Craster, Northumberland
Perhaps the biggest surprise looking at my photos was to spot this aphid, happily doing what aphids do best, to a Meadow vetchling plant.
I feel we only scratched the surface of the SSSI so am keen to go back soon for another look, particularly at the primary grassland and the quarry itself, which should be a haven for a rich variety of orchids at this time of year. Next time I’ll be visiting by bike – I hadn’t realised that the Kelloe Waggonway is a cycle path which links neatly to my usual running route around Crow Trees nature reserve (see Limestone LinX).
More on the hidden gem that is Raisby Hill Grassland to come!