Habitat restoration at Quarrington Quarry, June 2019

Well I was in for a surprise when I cycled up for my monthly look at the vegetation on the newly colonised ground by Quarrington Quarry on Sunday – the whole area has been mowed, to within an inch of its life.  May’s mass of Dame’s violet, Charlock, thistles and Fumitory has been replaced by an arid-looking, grassy plain.

A careful hunt revealed there are, of course, plants in flower which have survived the cut – tiny Charlock and Scarlet pimpernel and Creeping buttercups, as well as some larger plants such as Sow thistle, Welted thistle, Weld and Rough chervil which are doing their best, despite having been knocked flat.  Unsurprisingly, there are more of these larger plants around the margins of the mown area.

Left; Scarlet pimpernel, Anagallis arvensis: Right; Weld, Reseda luteola

As last month, there are more species in flower on the older spoil, which has remained undisturbed for many years.

    Disturbed ground ‘Original’ vegetation on older spoil
Creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens p  
Slender St John’s-wort Hypericum pulchrum   p  
Dame’s violet Hesperis matronalis   p  
Charlock Sinapis arvensis   p  
Weld Reseda luteola   p  
Scarlet pimpernel Anagallis arvensis   p  
Dog rose Rosa canina     p
Blackberry Rubus fruticosus agg.     p
Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus     p
Black medick   Medicago lupulinus   p
Zigzag clover Trifolium medium     p
Red clover Trifolium pratense   p  
Bush vetch Vicia sepium     p
American willowherb Epilobium ciliatum   p
Rough chervil   Chaerophyllum temulum p  
Eyebright Euphrasia sp.     p
Germander speedwell Veronica chamaedrys   p
Crosswort   Cruciata laevipes   p
Welted thistle Carduus crispus   p  
Marsh hawk’s beard Crepis paludosa     p
Hawkweed Hieracium agg.     p
Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata     p
Common ragwort Jacobaea vulgaris     p
Mouse-ear hawkweed Pilosella officinarum     p
Prickly sow-thistle Sonchus asper     p
Smooth Sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus   p  
Common spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsia     p
Northern marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella     p
Quaking grass Briza maxima   p
Spring sedge Carex caryophyllea     p
Tufted hair-grass Deschampsia cespitosa     p
Red fescue   Festuca rubra   p
Yorkshire fog   Holcus lanatus   p

At first glance, the yellow Bird’s-foot trefoil and Hawkweeds still have it but on closer inspection I find several new species in flower; Slender St John’s wort, Common-spotted orchids, Ragwort, Black medick and several grasses, which I am more confident about identifying after a day learning with Steve Gater from Durham Wildlife trust.  The dog roses are flowering too.

Top: Diverse vegetation on thin limestone soil of old spoil material
Bottom, left to right: Common-spotted orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii;  Slender St John’s-wort, Hypericum pulchrum; Tufted hair-grass, Deschampsia cespitosa

The edge of this ground too, particularly adjacent to the woodland at the top of the hill, has taller, more lush vegetation.  Greater knapweed, Crosswort and Northern marsh-orchids flourish in the damp soil and partial shade.

Left: Greater knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa; Right: Crosswort, Cruciata laevipes

Although it was a shock to find the newly-vegetated ground mowed this week, seemingly flying in the face of the current trend to mow less and encourage biodiversity in grassland and road verges, it may be a good thing here.  The topsoil used to cover the quarry spoil was obviously full of seeds, from its place of origin.  Cutting these plants back before they have a chance to add another generation of seeds to the soil, leaving patchily-bare ground, should allow seeds from the local area to drift in on the wind or be carried in by birds.  Some of these, at least, will be the seeds which “fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty”, to use Biblical imagery.  It will be interesting to monitor this site in the longer term to see whether the more typical limestone flora of the area will be able to re-establish itself.  Sowing some semi-parasitic Yellow-rattle, Rhinanthus minor, to limit the growth of grasses might help.  Maybe I should be testing soil pH too next month to see what other factors might be at play…

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