It has been a lot of fun walking the same route through the nature reserve on my doorstep every month for the past year. So, what have I learned? I’ve recorded a total of 182 species in flower, though I know I missed plenty, particularly grasses and trees. I recorded over 100 different species in flower in July and August and almost as many in June.
Number of species found month by month
By far the largest number of species belong to the daisy or Asteraceae family; unsurprising, as this family makes up around 10% of flowering plants globally and contains over 23 000 species. My 32 species recorded looks rather puny by comparison! The cosmopolitan daisies are thought to have originated some 130 million years ago, from a now-extinct family known as the Calyceraceae, which spread throughout Gondwanaland before this broke into pieces and dispersed them even more widely by continental drift.
The Brassicaceae (cabbages), Rosaceae and Fabaceae (pea and bean family) are also fairly abundant – the latter not surprising, perhaps, given the thin soils over much of the old quarry and mine waste heaps. I know there were many more grasses (Poaceae) than I spotted – one of my resolutions for 2019 is to get to grips with more of this key family.
Number of species recorded in each plant family
Some species came and went quickly and some, such as Woodruff and Blackthorn, I never spotted in flower at all. The only species I found flowering every month of the year was Bellis perennis, the common daisy, though I spotted two other Asteraceae (Dandelions and Common groundsel) and White dead-nettles ten or eleven times and may just have missed them on the other month(s). Gorse didn’t quite live up to its reputation for flowering all year round though it did brighten most of the winter months.
As always, the biggest pleasure of walking the same route regularly was noticing things I’ve never seen here before, though in the summer months this meant the five mile route was taking me almost as many hours! Taking the BSBI/FSC’s Identiplant course also gave me the incentive to go out and look for new species – Celery-leaved buttercup and Water plantain were new to me and I learned to distinguish between several different docks and sow-thistles for the first time.
Water-plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica (left ) and Celery-leaved buttercup, Ranunculus sceleratus (right)
Watching for seasonal changes in the flora means there are always pleasures to be anticipated and also helps with identification; getting to grips with the carrot family is easier once you realise that Upright hedge-parsley doesn’t flower until July, following on from the Cow-parsley which dominates hedgerows in May. It’s also good to know that even the best botanists sometimes have to wait for seeds to form to be confident on identifications!
Seeds of Wild carrot Daucus carota ssp. carota (left) and Wild angelica, Angelica sylvestris (right)
In the early part of the year, my walks were accompanied by the noise of quarry machinery tearing chunks out of the limestone escarpment above the reserve but by the end of the year this had ceased and most of the heavy plant has moved elsewhere.
Tarmac quarry site, February 2018
Topsoil has been spread over part, at least, of the discarded spoil though I’ll be waiting with interest to see what appears in it next summer – this year it looked like lots of weedy brassicas rather than the previously diverse flora.
Top soil on the quarry waste with rich growth of brassicas, August 2018
Wild thyme, Carline thistles and Common twayblade on older quarry spoil, without topsoil
The other development I’m afraid I can’t work up much enthusiasm for is the new ‘Hampton Green’ housing estate on former agricultural land between Bowburn and Coxhoe. Maybe I sound too much like a NIMBY and the people who live there will really appreciate the beauty on their doorsteps!
‘Hampton Green’, April and October 2018
All that remains for this year is to settle on next year’s botanical challenge. Possibly Raisby Hill grassland? It’s just a few miles from home but has a wider range of limestone grassland species and enough moths and butterflies to tempt me away from the purely botanical. Watch this space!