It’s a long time since I’ve written two blogs in two days! Like last year, I decided to start the year by participating in the annual BSBI New Year Plant Hunt, but with an additional, personal motive. This year, instead of following an individual tree through the year, I’ve decided to walk the same route once a month and record what I find in flower. Today’s finds will be my ‘baseline’. I walked in a five mile or so loop from home, up through Heugh Hall to Crowtrees Local Nature Reserve, through the middle of the reserve to Coxhoe and then back along the road to Bowburn.
Crowtrees LNR, showing the quarried Magnesian limestone escarpment in the background
This, I thought, should provide a good range of habitats; roadside verges, some seeded with ‘wild flower mix’, damp areas round the old mine ponds, calcareous grassland and woodland. Today there was little to be seen in flower – daisies, dandelions and white dead-nettle, some yarrow and one sorry looking red dead-nettle as well as the inevitable gorse. The old saying that ‘When kissing’s out of fashion, gorse is out of bloom’ wasn’t in dispute today!
Left: White dead-nettle (Lamium album). Top right: Daisy (Bellis perennis), Bottom right: Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.)
The path I usually take around the ponds was impassibly muddy without wellies today – too mild for the ground to be frozen – so I skirted round the back on paths made by the Exmoor ponies resident over the winter. They have an important role in preventing grasses and shrubs from outcompeting other, less vigorous species.
In summer, the area round the ponds is abundant with marsh, fragrant and common spotted orchids and grazing helps these thrive. For now, though, there is no evidence of them. In fact, its hard to believe that anything can survive the ponies’ trampling!
Northern marsh orchid, Dactylorhiza purpurella
Past the ponds, the path wends uphill through woodland. This, too, provides a patchwork of habitats – piles of mine and quarry rubble don’t support enough soil for plants of any size and, consequently, support a diversity of smaller species. I know that one such patch, looking very uninspiring at the moment, will be a mass of colour in the summer.
In fact the clues are there already when you look closely – tiny leaves of thyme, mouse-ear hawkweed, sedge and salad burnet cover the ground and last year’s carline thistles and yellow-wort are easy to spot.
My route climbs through patchy woodland to the main path, then descends to Coxhoe through more open grassland, also full of orchids in the summer. Native hedges have been planted alongside the path and are being ‘laid’ in the traditional manner. Even parts of the final stretch home along the road have species-rich verges. I’m beginning to wonder if I may have bitten off more than I can chew – I suspect the five mile walk will take me half a day or more in the summer months if I record everything in flower! Something to look forward to for sure. For now, here is my January list of plants in flower.
|White dead-nettle||Lamium album|
|Red dead-nettle||Lamium purpureum|