More local botanising – Kingswood LNR

Another week, another nature reserve, this one much closer to home. Kingswood is 39 hectares of broadleaved woodland, just the other side of Quarrington Hill from Littlewood LNR, which I visited in March. It’s a relatively new woodland, planted on old arable land in 2003, with the idea of providing a wildlife corridor along with Littlewood and Crowtrees LNRs as well as some much needed native woodland cover for insects, birds and mammals.  A mixture of species such as hazel, rowan, birch and elder were planted, along with dog roses, guelder rose and hawthorn.  The woodland has grown well over the last 17 years, providing dense cover for birds and mammals as well as some more open grassland areas. 

Alongside the path there is lots of soggy-looking Cat’s-ear and Bush vetch in flower, some playing host to equally damp looking invertebrates.  Hedgerow geranium was a new species to me, though not an uncommon one.

Left to right: Cat’s-ear, Hypochaeris radicata; Hedgerow Crane’s-bill, Geranium pyrenaicum; Bush vetch, Viccia sepium, with Small skipper butterfly; Hogweed, Heracium spondylium

And there are orchids; Northern marsh (Dactylorhiza purpurella), Common spotted (D. fuchsii) and a range of intermediate hybrids.  I know they are not rare on these limestone soils but they are always a pleasure to see. The genus Dactylorhiza are a confusing bunch to separate out but generally the spotted orchids flowers are paler and the marsh orchids have more strongly coloured, deeply marked flowers. Common spotted orchid flowers are arranged in a conical spike and the lip, or labellum, of each flower is deeply split into three lobes, whilst Northern marsh orchids form more cylindrical spikes of flowers with shield-shaped lips.

Left to right: Dactylorhiza fuchsii, D. fuchsii x D. purpurella hybrid; D. purpurella

I walked round the edge of the woodland rather than through the middle, as it had rained much of the day and everything was very wet and muddy.  This led me round a sodden field on heavy clay soil behind Kelloe village, with a lot of standing water and an attractive cover crop of Fodder radish and Crimson clover – not a combination I’ve seen before.  The radish roots break up and aerate the soil whilst the clover adds fixed nitrogen, so it makes perfect sense.

Cover crop – Raphanus sativus and Trifolium incarnatum ssp. incarnatum

Normally the crop would have been ploughed in by now, to improve the soil, but a hot dry May followed by two weeks of rain may have made that difficult, according to one farmer I’ve spoken to.  Effectively the field will have to lie fallow this season.

The other, less obvious plants flowering everywhere at the moment are grasses.  I know that, because my hayfever has kicked in with a vengeance.  Crops such as oilseed rape and trees such as elder, also in flower at the moment, tend to get the blame for hayfever because their flowers are so conspicuous.  But, in reality, wild grasses and cereal crops (cultivated grasses) are much more likely to be the culprits.  Relying on wind for pollination, rather than insects which can transfer pollen from one flower to another relatively efficiently, they have to produce masses of very light pollen which can travel long distances in the air to improve the chances of it landing on another flower of the same species.  I rest my case!

Left to right: Festuca rubra; Holcus lanatus (Yorkshire fog); and two un-named grasses amongst the radish/clover cover crop. The right hand one may be awned wheat.

This last picture is a bit of a cheat as it was not from the reserve at all but spotted on my bike ride home. I was delighted to find this single spike of bee orchid growing near to where a colony grew last year, in an area which has since ended up under tarmac.  As it mostly self pollinates in our part of the world, hopefully there will be more plants again next year.

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