Raisby Hill Grassland SSSI, May 2019

It’s getting to that lovely time of year when the number of species in flower seems to increase almost daily.  There was plenty to see on my Bank Holiday Monday visit to Raisby Hill.  The Lesser celandine which dominated the first meadow last month is nearly over now, replaced by a carpet of Dog violets, Crosswort, Bugle, strawberries and Ribwort plantain amidst larger patches of Water avens and Cowslip.  There are butterflies now too – cool, damp weather made a dopey Orange tip sluggish enough to photograph easily. 

Left; Cowslips, Primula veris, amongst strawberries and Crosswort, Cruciata laevipes: Right; Orange tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines, on Water avens, Geum rivale

Walking up the hill, the blackthorn has nearly finished flowering whilst the Wayfaring tree, Viburnum lantana, is just beginning.  I find some tiny Alchemilla and lots more violets and strawberries amidst the cowslips here. I see my first flowering Sanicle of the year at the edge of the woods and there is Bush vetch along the fence.  Sanicle definitely falls into the category of ‘umbellifers which don’t really look like umbellifers’, though its tiny flowers are grouped in umbels when you look closely.  In traditional herbal medicine, Sanicle is supposed to heal wounds; ‘sanus’ is Latin for healthy and presumably also the root of words like ‘sane’.  Geoffrey Grigson’s The Englishman’s flora cites one fifteenth Century herbal with a recipe for a wound drink made of Sanicle, Yarrow and Bugle – Bugle to hold the wound open, Yarrow to cleanse it and Sanicle to heal it.  It would be interesting to know whether any research has been done into putative active ingredients.

Left to right: Alchemilla vulgaris, agg., Sanicula europaea, Vicia sepium

The scree slopes are now clothed in green, some of it the kind of shubby gorse, willow, birch and hawthorn which will need to be kept in check if the smaller species, for which the reserve is special, are to continue to thrive.  The first Bird’s-foot trefoil flowers are out and I find a rosette of Common spotted orchid leaves, but no hint yet of the Dark red helleborines which are the site’s greatest claim to fame.

On the sheltered slopes of the quarry beyond I find many more violets (all Common dog violets this time, I think), strawberries and the first Mouse-ear hawkweed I’ve seen this year, with its lemon ray florets striped red beneath. 

Left to right: Viola riviniana, Fragaria vesca and Pilosella officinarum

Because today is a bank holiday I don’t, for once, have the place to myself and meet a couple of boys enjoying the steep slopes in the woods on their mountain bikes.  One is complaining that his front brakes don’t work; a bit alarming given some of the gradients they are careening down!  The cuckoo pint in the woods is in flower now and, with so much of it, there is scope for plenty of colour variation in the spathe (bracts) and spadix (spike of florets) – the flowers themselves lie at the base of the spadix, hidden by the cup-shaped spathe.

Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum – the plant on the left is the more common colour form

This is a plant with many, many common names, most of which refer to its likeness to male and female genitalia and copulation, but its Latin specific refers to the often-spotted leaves.  The spike of bright red berries which follow the flowers are as dangerous as they look, packed with oxalate crystals which irritate the skin, mouth, tongue and throat causing swelling and breathing difficulties.  The effect is usually quick enough to stop enough being accidentally eaten to cause serious harm, fortunately.  

Walking back to my bike, where the bank above the fen was cleared in February, there are now swathes of strawberries and violets alongside some Common sedge, Carex nigra, quick to capitalise on the extra sunlight now available.

The meadow areas above the fen should be full of butterflies by the time I visit in June – we saw Speckled woods, Common blues, Meadow browns, Ringlets and Green fritillaries here last June.  The Wych elms are good for White-letter hairstreak butterflies too. For now we wait, knowing that there will be more Orange tips to come, at least; there is plenty of their favoured food plant, Garlic mustard, in flower by the bridleway.

In flower in May:

Lesser celandine Ficaria verna
Common dog-violet Viola riviniana
Garlic mustard Alliaria petiolate  
Cowslip Primula veris
Lady’s mantle Alchemilla vulgaris agg.  
Wild strawberry   Fragaria vesca
Water avens Geum rivale  
Barren strawberry Potentilla sterilis
Blackthorn Prunus spinosa  
Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus  
Bush vetch Vicia sepium  
Gorse Ulex europaeus
Sanicle Sanicula europaea  
Bugle Ajuga reptans  
White dead-nettle Lamium album
Ribwort plantain   Plantago lanceoltata
Crosswort Cruciata laevipes  
Wayfaring-tree Viburnum lantana  
Butterbur Petasites hybridus  
Mouse-ear hawkweed Pilosella officinarum  
Dandelion Taraxacum agg.
Lords-and-ladies Arum maculatum
Common sedge Carex nigra  


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