It’s back home for my next blog, my monthly trip to Raisby Hill. Actually three trips, as two of my friends were keen to visit the site too, so some of the plants I’ve listed were flowering early in the month but not by the time of my final visit, in the middle of this week’s hot spell. With temperatures forecast to rise to the high 20s in the afternoon, I set off early to enjoy the cool of the morning. The first meadow has changed appearance completely since last month – the Cowslips and Water avens are long gone and Meadowsweet and Marsh thistles dominate.
Last month’s spotted and marsh-orchids (and their hybrids) still hung on at the start of the month but were gradually replaced by tall Fragrant orchids – mostly Marsh fragrant-orchid, Gymnadenia densiflora, with a few Common Marsh-orchid, G. conopsea, thrown in for good measure. There are still plenty of tall Twayblades hiding in plain sight too.
Fragrant orchids in the UK all used to be lumped together as a single species but have more recently been separated into three different ones, on the basis of the shape of the flowers (though this is notoriously variable), flowering period and habitat. Both the species I’ve found like limey soils so its perhaps no surprise to find them at Raisby Hill. The obvious physical characteristic which links the three species is a long, nectar-bearing spur behind the flower itself. The nectar can only be reached by butterflies and moths with a long proboscis, so these are the main pollinators. As the insect approaches to suck the nectar, the flower’s pollinia stick on to the proboscis and are then transported to the next flower visited. It’s not a great photo, but you can see that this Burnet moth on knapweed has already picked up plenty of club-shaped orchid pollinia.
The number and diversity of butterflies and moths on the site yesterday probably explains these orchids’ good seed set and abundance here.
Climbing the hill onto more open ground, Betony and Harebells are suddenly abundant and there is plenty of Agrimony, Centaury and Ladies’ bedstraw amongst the grasses; a proper wildflower meadow rather than an artificial ‘pictorial meadow’ of the type often created by councils using artificial seed mixes . There are many more Fragrant orchids too and a few Bee orchids in a patch of shorter grass at the top and one of my favourite, tiny flowers – Fairy flax, Linum catharticum.
Beyond the fence the scree slopes have changed again, though still have a yellow tinge. The Rock roses are largely finished but now there is plenty of Yellow-wort amongst the Hawkweeds and what I was previously calling Cat’s ear but now know to be Rough hawkbit. A session with Sue at South Gare last week taught me that I need to look more carefully at the involucre bracts behind the yellow flower to distinguish between the two; Cat’s ear has a distinct ‘cockscomb’ at the tip of each bract and the outer ring of florets are grey beneath whilst Rough hawkbit is covered in hairs and the florets are yellow underneath .
The real stars of the scree this month, though, are the Dark-red helleborines – the largest colony of these in County Durham. Wandering back and forward across the screes you see many of different sizes and colours. Next week I’ll be returning to the reserve with Wildlife Trust volunteers to count the flower spikes as part of their site monitoring.
The old quarry at the far end of the site was, again, fertile hunting ground. Golden Carline thistles stud the short grass and I find aromatic wild basil amongst longer vegetation around the edges, as well as Pyramidal orchids to add to the tally.
On my way back to my bike I could see that the fen area cleared in February is already being recolonised, mostly by opportunists such as willowherbs and bracken – the latter will need watching. There are lovely stands of Perforate St John’s-wort, Valerian and Meadowsweet higher up the banks, though, and wild strawberries provide a tasty snack.
By this stage the peace of the morning was being shattered by the sound of several strimmers wielded by Trust volunteers hard at work, clearing paths through the reserve. Necessary as this is, I was glad to have more or less completed my visit before they started! The list below of 80 or so species in flower includes many I haven’t mentioned for lack of space, so here is a collage of just a few of them to give a flavour of the diversity on display.
|Meadow buttercup||Ranunculus acris|
|Creeping buttercup||Ranunculus repens|
|Common mouse-ear||Cerastium fontanum|
|Bladder campion||Silene vulgaris|
|Wood dock||Rumex sanguineus|
|Perforate St John’s-wort||Hypericum perforatum|
|Slender St John’s-wort||Hypericum pulchrum|
|Square-stalked St John’s-wort||Hypericum tetrapterum|
|Common rock-rose||Helianthemum nummularium|
|Smooth lady’s mantle||Alchemilla glabra|
|Wood avens||Geum urbanum|
|Creeping cinquefoil||Potentilla reptans|
|Bramble||Rubus fruticosus agg.|
|Meadow vetchling||Lathyrus pratensis|
|Black medick||Medicago lupulina|
|Lucerne||Medicago sativa ssp. sativa|
|Zigzag clover||Trifolium medium|
|Red clover||Trifolium pratense|
|White clover||Trifolium repens|
|Bush vetch||Vicia sepium|
|Tufted vetch||Vicia cracca|
|Rosebay willowherb||Chamerion angustifolium|
|Great willowherb||Epilobium hirsutum|
|Broad-leaved willowherb||Epilobium montanum|
|Fairy flax||Linum catharticum|
|Common milkwort||Polygala vulgaris|
|Meadow crane’s-bill||Geranium pratense|
|Upright hedge-parsley||Torilis japonica|
|Common centaury||Centaurium erythraea|
|Viper’s bugloss||Echium vulgare|
|Wild basil||Clinopodium vulgare|
|White dead-nettle||Lamium album|
|Hedge woundwort||Stachys sylvatica|
|Wild thyme||Thymus polytrichus|
|Ribwort plantain||Plantago lanceolata|
|Hoary plantain||Plantago media|
|Red bartsia||Odontites vernus|
|Germander speedwell||Veronica chamaedrys|
|Lady’s bedstraw||Galium verum|
|Common valerian||Valeriana officinalis|
|Field scabious||Knautia arvensis|
|Carline thistle||Carlina vulgaris|
|Common knapweed||Centaurea nigra|
|Greater knapweed||Centaurea scabiosa|
|Marsh thistle||Cirsium palustre|
|Spear thistle||Cirsium vulgare|
|Common ragwort||Jacobea vulgaris|
|Rough hawkbit||Leontodon hispidus|
|Oxeye daisy||Leucanthemum vulgare|
|Mouse-ear hawkweed||Pilosella officinarum|
|Pyramidal orchid||Anacamptis pyramidalis|
|Common spotted-orchid||Dactylorhiza fuchsii|
|Dark-red helleborine||Epipactis atrorubens|
|Common fragrant-orchid||Gymnadenia conopsea|
|Marsh fragrant-orchid||Gymnadenia densiflora|
|Common twayblade||Neottia ovata|
|Bee orchid||Ophrys apifera|
|Meadow foxtail||Alopecurus pratensis|
|Quaking grass||Briza maxima|
|Crested dog’s-tail||Cynosurus cristatus|
|Tufted hair-grass||Deschampsia cespitosa|
|Red fescue||Festuca rubra|
|Yorkshire fog||Holcus lanatus|
|Annual meadow-grass||Poa annua|