Raisby Hill Grassland SSSI, June 2019

It’s closer to home for my next blog, my monthly trip to Raisby Hill.  What a difference a month makes!  The first meadow I walk through is still a mass of Cowslips and Water avens but now there are pink and purple orchid spikes amongst them – mostly Heath-spotted and Northern marsh-orchids, I think, though it is not always easy to tell and I know they hybridise…

In theory, at least, the Heath-spotted orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata, can be distinguished from its relatives by its conical, becoming cylindrical, flower spikes and the fact that its lip is only slightly lobed, with the central lobe shorter and narrower than the side lobes.  This lip is covered in streak- and loop-like markings.  The Northern marsh-orchid, D. purpurella, as its name suggests, has a somewhat shorter spike of deep purple flowers covered in crimson streaks and this time the middle lobe of the lip is longer than the side ones.  Both species are largely pollinated by bumblebees but don’t provide a nectar reward for the bees – instead they rely on the their conspicuously-coloured flowers to attract pollinators.

Left: Dactylorhiza maculata, Right, D. purpurella

These orchids are easy to spot from a distance but the third type I find when I have a wander round the meadow is Common twayblade, Neottia ovata, with its much less conspicuous flowers.  Their names come from the large pair of egg-shaped basal leaves which are often much easier to spot than the green flower spikes. Neottia are one of the most common European orchids, partly because they are fairly promiscuous in their relationships with both pollinators and the mycorrhizal fungi necessary to support germination and seedling growth (Jacquemyn et al., 2015).

The flowers are pollinated by parasitic wasps, sawflies and beetles.  A wide range of species can collect the pollinia, which lie free on top of the rostellum.  When an insect touches the rostellum, the pollinia are glued to its body by a sticky liquid ejected from the rostellum and can then be transferred between flowers.

Orchids have really tiny, dust-like seeds without the endosperm on which a developing seedling normally depends, so most rely on a fungal partner to supply water and nutrients from the earliest stages of growth. 

In contrast, the Water avens in the meadow produce large achenes when they set seed, with long hooks derived from the remains of the style.  These aid dispersal when they catch in animal fur or feathers.  These plants spread themselves around in more ways than one, though – Water and wood avens (Geum rivale and G. urbanum) hybridise freely to produce a range of intermediates called G. x intermedium which often have yellow petals but the drooping growth form of Water avens.

Geum rivale flower and fruit, G. urbanum and G. x intermedium

Climbing up the hill from the meadow to the drier slopes above I find my fourth orchid of the day, the Common-spotted, Dactylorhiza fuchsii but, more excitingly, my first wild Columbines.  These statuesque plants look far too showy to be wild flowers and it’s a surprise to find that they are members of the buttercup family but they are one of the things for which Raisby Hill grassland has SSSI status.

Left, Dactylorhiza fuchsii; right, Aquilegia vulgaris

The scree slopes are now transformed with a yellow haze of Bird’s-foot trefoil, Hawkweeds and Rock roses, amidst the scrubby willow now shedding its fluffy seeds.

There are occasional blue or purple patches of Milkwort or Wild thyme and some white Bladder campion.    

Left; Milkwort, Polygala vulgaris: Right; Wild thyme, Thymus polytrichus

Around the quarry itself I find my first spiny Burnet rose of the year amongst the violets still in flower and in the woods the Arum maculatum which was so dominant last month has all but disappeared; it will no doubt become visible again, when its berries turn scarlet. The Hawthorn hedges are finally in bloom (rather late for ‘May’ blossom!).

Walking back alongside the fen area I noticed the damp areas are quickly being colonised by Creeping buttercups – a feast for the eyes.  Intriguingly, the Milkwort on this side of the beck is lilac coloured rather than blue. 

Here is the list of plants in flower for June, with the usual proviso that it’s far from complete, especially with respect to grasses and sedges!

Meadow buttercup Ranunculus acris
Creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens  
Common mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum  
Bladder campion Silene vulgaris  
Common rock-rose   Helianthemum nummularium
Common dog-violet Viola riviniana
Cowslip Primula veris
Lady’s mantle Alchemilla vulgaris agg.  
Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna  
Wild strawberry   Fragaria vesca
Water x wood avens hybrid Geum x intermedium  
Water avens Geum rivale  
Wood avens Geum urbanum  
Tormentil Potentilla erects  
Burnet rose Rosa spinosissima  
Bramble Rubus fruticosus agg.
Salad burnet Sanguisorba minor ssp. minor  
Meadow vetchling Lathyrus pratensis  
Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus  
Black medick Medicago lupulina  
Red clover Trifolium pratense  
Common vetch Vicia sativa  
Bush vetch Vicia sepium  
Gorse Ulex europaeus
Common milkwort Polygala vulgaris  
Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum  
Cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris  
Hogweed Hieracium sphondylium  
Sanicle Sanicula europaea  
Bugle Ajuga reptans  
White dead-nettle Lamium album
Wild thyme Thymus polytrichus  
Ribwort plantain   Plantago lanceolata
Yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor  
Germander speedwell Veronica chamaedrys  
Heath speedwell Veronica officinalis  
Crosswort Cruciata laevipes  
Common daisy Bellis perennis  
Hawkweed Hieracium agg.  
Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata  
Oxeye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare  
Mouse-ear hawkweed Pilosella officinarum  
Dandelion Taraxacum agg.
Common spotted-orchid   Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Heath spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza maculata  
Northern marsh-orchid   Dactylorhiza purpurella
Common twayblade   Neottia ovata
Quaking grass   Briza maxima
Crested dog’s-tail Cynosurus cristatus
Common sedge Carex nigra  
Cock’s-foot Dactylis glomerate  

Jacquemyn, H. et al. (2015). Mycorrhizal diversity, seed germination and long-term changes in population size across nine populations of the terrestrial orchid, Neottia ovata.


  1. Some more beautiful photos Heather I love the spotted orchid! Thank you for sharing.Pat. XSent from my Huawei tablet

  2. […] Opportunistic annual plants are generally the first to become established in thin soils which dry out quickly but they are soon followed by a range of small perennials, as long as there is not too much competition from vigorous grasses.  I was amazed last year to see the diversity of vegetation on some of the thinnest soils in the adjacent Crowtrees nature reserve and the same is true of the scree slopes at nearby Raisby Hill grassland. […]

  3. […] The site is at its most spectacular in June and July, with Marsh, Spotted and Fragrant orchids and Common twayblade in the meadow and Wild columbine on the hill. The largest colony of Dark-red helleborines in County Durham steals the show, though, along with a real wildflower meadow of Betony and Harebells, Agrimony, Centaury, Fairy flax and Ladies’ bedstraw. By September the meadows have been cut, the ponies are back and the cycle starts again. My imaginatively named blog has more details of what I found each month in 2019 – June was one of the highlights: Raisby Hill Grassland SSSI, June 2019 – heatherkellyblog – travel with me and wonder at what you… […]

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