Raisby Hill Grassland SSSI, February 2019

Having been cooped up over the weekend by a mixture of weather and commitments, yesterday morning seemed like the perfect opportunity to bunk off for a couple of hours and head back to Raisby Hill. I learned on Sunday that the Wildlife Trust are bringing in an excavator on Wednesday to strip off topsoil as part of a project to restore the fenland area adjacent to Raisby Beck, so it was good to go along and take some ‘before’ photos as the site will look quite different next time I visit.

I noticed the much of the scrubby vegetation in the valley bottom had been cut back when I visited in January but now much more has been removed, to provide access for the excavator.


The other excitement since my last visit is a notice to say that the trust have had to ‘detain’ under the Control of Horses Act 2015, or at least move to somewhere more suitable, a pony left grazing on the site.  Maybe it’s been taken to join the Exmoor ponies which graze other reserves in the area. It’s certainly left plenty of evidence of its presence!

Elsewhere on the reserve, piles of cut brushwood have been stacked to provide habitats for smaller residents.

Today I find only one plant in flower, and that is stretching the point a little; you can just about see the anthers of male hazel protruding from catkins growing in the sunniest spots.  Birch and alder catkins, at least those I can reach, remain stubbornly closed and I can no longer find the Angelica and White dead-nettles which were in flower last month.

Hazel catkins, Corylus avellana

After last week’s wind, though, it’s a great time to enjoy the silhouettes of trees completely devoid of leaves – the colour of the year’s new growth shines through.

Mature Beech, Fagus sylvatica (left) and Birch, Betula pendula, (right) trees

The bare branches also show off their lichens at this time of year – there is plenty of yellow Xanthoria parietina on display, especially on the Elder branches.  In damper spots branches carry tiny moss gardens too, showing succession in action.  The lichens trap just enough moisture and organic material to give the mosses a foothold.

More new leaves are showing amongst leaf litter on the ground – plenty of violets and strawberries, but no sign of any flowers for the moment.  Perhaps the most beautiful things I notice this time are the skeletal bracts left behind when Selfheal has shed its last seeds.

Leafy bracts of Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris

The sparkler-like remains of hogweed seed heads come a close second…..


and maybe red-tinged ivy leaves protecting their chlorophyll from too much direct sunlight at this time of year come third.

Next time I visit, in March, the fenland restoration should be well under way.  What will be in flower?


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