And finally… Cassop NNR, December 2021

My final trip of the year up to Cassop, before being grounded by contracting Covid myself, was to what is now known as Cassop NNR, on the west side of the road up to Quarrington Hill (marked out in in blue on the map below).

I hadn’t realised that I can see the site of the reserve almost from home, dropping down towards Bowburn from the crest of the limestone escarpment.  The view down to Durham and the Cathedral in the distance, alone, makes it worth the steep climb up the hill. 

I wish I’d known how significant this part of the original reserve was earlier in the year.  There is a good mixture of habitats for such a small area – limestone grassland, an abandoned quarry with a distinct, presumably alkaline, wet flush at the bottom and a small area of deciduous woodland. 

Cows are on-site now, keeping the grass in check and trampling the ground to create a range of micro-habitats. Even a cursory look at the leaves and seed heads still visible at the end of December tells me that Natural England are doing a good job here of managing the Magnesian limestone habitat here – the list of obvious species is similar to that at nearby Crowtrees, Raisby Hill and Thrislington reserves; Carline thistles, Orchids, Scabious, Knapweed, Yellow rattle, Fairy flax, Wild thyme and Strawberries, Mouse-ear hawkweed, Salad burnet and so on. I’m sure there will be much more to see when I visit next year and I wonder if the wet flush at the bottom of the quarry might be home to the Bird’s eye primrose and Butterwort which County Recorder John Durkin found on the reserve in 2011.

A sample of Cassop seed heads. Clockwise from top left: Carline thistle, Orchid, Selfheal, Scabious Yellow rattle, Betony.

Feeling somewhat embarrassed for having missed out this part of the original reserve in my perambulations around Cassop this year, I am looking forward to visiting in the coming year and finding out what else it has to offer.

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