Habitat restoration at Quarrington Quarry, May 2019

As usual, the month has raced past far too fast and I just have time to fit in an early morning visit to Quarrington Hill to see how things have developed before our next trip away, this time to my godson’s wedding near Florence.  A hard life, I hear you say!  As predicted, the past month has revealed much about the revegetation of the quarry spoil and not always what I expected. The yellows have it everywhere at this time of year but particularly where Charlock in flower dominates the landscape.

The patches of Fumitory so apparent last month are still in flower, but largely hidden by their larger neighbours.  What I hadn’t predicted was that the other large rosettes I’ve been watching belong to another brassica; the beautifully-scented Dame’s violet, Hesperis matronalis. Originally from the Mediterranean region but naturalised here for at least 500 years, the generic name Hesperis comes from the Greek word for evening, hesperius; the time of day when the flowers’ fragrance is strongest. Even on a rather damp morning though, with few pollinators around, its scent is strong. The only explanation I can find for the specific name ‘matronalis’ is a vague and rather unsatisfying reference to the Roman festival of women.  In parts of the US, Hesperis is regarded as an invasive weed and you can see why from its flourishing on this disturbed soil.  Here it is still enjoyed as a fragrant garden plant and seen as an important food source for several moth and butterfly species, including the Orange tips which seem to be everywhere this year.

Weld and Welted thistle also tower above the Charlock.  Cultivated as a dye plant for hundreds of years, Weld is rich in the bright yellow flavonoid, luteolin, which was combined with blue dye from Woad (Isatis tinctoria) to give the Lincoln green colour so strongly associated with Robin Hood.  

Left to right: Dame’s violet, Hesperis matronalis; Weld, Reseda luteola and Welted thistle, Carduus crispus

The Welted thistle is the only one of these species I’ve seen in the area before, making me wonder again about the origins of the sticky topsoil with this particular seed load. The contrast between its assemblage of plants and the flora of the older spoil immediately adjacent is even more apparent now with more species in flower.  Look at the table below (p indicates a species presence).

    Disturbed ground ‘Original’ vegetation on older spoil
Common fumitory Fumaria officinalis p  
Dame’s violet Hesperis matronalis   p  
Charlock Sinapis arvensis   p  
Cowslip Primula veris   p
Weld Reseda luteola   p  
Cotoneaster Cotoneaster horizontalis     p
Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna     p
Wild strawberry   Fragaria vesca   p
Wood avens Geum urbanum     p
Blackberry Rubus fruticosus agg.     p
Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus     p
Bush vetch Vicia sepium     p
Gorse Ulex europaeus   p
Herb Robert Geranium robertianum     p
Eyebright Euphrasia sp.     p
Germander speedwell Veronica chamaedrys   p
Welted thistle Carduus crispus   p  
Hawkweed Hieracium     p
Mouse-ear hawkweed Pilosella officinarum     p
Quaking grass Briza maxima   p
Spring sedge Carex caryophyllea     p

Not only is the older flora much more diverse, it is also much more typical of the thin calcareous soils in the area.

Left to right: Euphrasia sp., Geum urbanum andPilosella officinarum

I wonder about the rules and regulations covering the movement of topsoil from one part of the country to another, if this is what has happened here.  Soils are complex and need to be treated with care to maintain fertility, especially if they have been stripped off and stored to allow either extraction of underlying rock or building work on a site. Perhaps, instead of stockpiling topsoil during the work, contractors sometimes sell it and buy in new when it is required for restoration to help ease cash flow? Since 2011 the Environment agency has permitted the transfer of clean topsoil, subsoil and natural excavated soil from construction sites to receiving sites.  It wouldn’t make economic sense to bring large quantities of soil from further away than necessary but it could be from an area with quite different underlying geology though hopefully not carrying pests and diseases, alongside the alien seeds. I imagine Tarmac had to agree to cover the new quarry waste they have produced with topsoil to get permission to extract sand here but it doesn’t look as though they were limited to the soil they themselves must have removed before starting extraction, more’s the pity.


  1. That looks great Heather. I like your nature connected spirit. Those flowers look great.

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