Ptyxis Ecology - Our Botany Blog

Sunday, 24 June 2007

... and more meadows ...

Highlights from last week's meadow surveys. Surveyed 10 meadows on a farm in Westgate, Weardale and Alchemilla acutiloba was abundant in 8 of them! The leaf lobes didn't look as distinctive as I expected so I actually recorded it as Alchemilla xanthochlora in the first field and only realised what it was half way through the second field.

Recorded Euphrasia rostkoviana in 2 fields near Wynch Bridge in Teesdale where Margaret Bradshaw's Upper Teesdale Botany Group also found it a couple of weeks ago. In one of the fields it was quite abundant throughout the field.

The absolute highlight of the week was visiting a meadow near Garrigil in South Tynedale with a very large and varied and very species-rich bank in the middle. I didn't have my camera with me so no photos I'm afraid. Linda Robinson discovered the site last year and introduced us to it. We saw 2 spikes of small white orchid which is a very nice plant (for an orchid), also a few Gymnadenia conopsea ssp. borealis. The bank also has Crepis mollis which wasn't flowering and we couldn't find it. We also could not find Alchemilla glomerulans where it was growing last year at the edge of the meadow. Most bizarrely of all was the Vulpia bromoides growing along the top of the bank, probably many miles away from its next nearest site.

Here are some pictures,

A typical MG3 community growing on a strem bank within a SSSI meadow in Allendale

Meadow foxtail flowering


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Sunday, 17 June 2007

Cow-wheat and whin grassland

Bad week for meadow surveys this week because of the weather and the forecast is bad for next week too. Rain has been torential here at times this week. We went for a walk on the other side of the Tyne during the week and came across a spectacular display of common cow-wheat. Took some photos of it in dull weather on Saturday.

Today I went searching for some of the county's rare plants to help with a new 'county rare plant register' for Northumberland. I didn't find anything that I was looking for but came across some extensive areas of whin grassland near Hadrian's Wall at Walltown. Whin grassland grows on thin soils on outcrops of whin. It is found only in Northumberland. The grasslands I saw today were becoming parched and were dominated mainly by slender parsley-piert and early hair-grass. This is a good habitat for winter ephemerals so its best to see them early in the year and very occasionally it has some real rarities like maiden pink and chives.


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Sunday, 10 June 2007

More meadows

Another week of hay meadow surveys - covered about 40 this week. Not as exciting as last week but I did find a new site for Equisetum pratense in Teesdale.

The vast majority of the interesting habitat in these meadows is in uncut sections of the meadows on steep banks or in very wet areas. These areas also presumably escape from the fertiliser spreading.

The main cut section of the fields on the same farm as the Equisetum pratense bank were a sea of soft brome. The fields were species-poor and had about 95% cover of soft brome, yet these fields have been recieving £250/ha (from the taxpayer) under the Pennine Dales ESA (agri-environment) scheme for several years for maintaining them as they are.

an expensive sea of brome!

The project I work on is about restoring upland hay meadows and I survey lots of meadows in order to select which have most potential for restoration or as seed sources. Then I coordinate harvesting seed in 'green hay' from the species-rich fields and transferring this hay to nearby fields that have been prepared and are ready for restoration. We do this in 2 stages. In the first stage we introduce yellow rattle and red clover in order to encourage a change in the soil conditions to make it more suitable for other species to get established. The second stage is to introduce a very species-rich mixture after yellow rattle and red clover are already well established.

Last week I visited several of the fields we worked on last year. The results after 1 year were variable. On the most sucessful field the yellow rattle was abundant but occured in very obvious strips showing where the spreading machine had been. This looked a bit odd but I guess it will soon spread out from the strips.

On monday I revisited one of the best fields I found last year near Wolsingham in Weardale. This was very herb rich throughout the field and had abundant great burnet. Floristically it matches MG4 almost exactly but the habitat is very different to the typical MG4 alluvial flood meadows. So it is probably MG3 but with a few species missing!



Friday, 8 June 2007

NEW county record for South Northumberland v.c.67!

John is not one to shout about things, but I think his find of Alchemilla subcrenata new to Northumberland deserves its own blog spot!

Until last week, Alchemilla subcrenata (it doesn't have a common name) was only known in the British Isles from a few sites in Teesdale and Weardale. For a distribution map, see the new flora of the North-East website which is the most uptodate resource for plant records in our area, having had John's record added already!

Finding a native plant new to a vice county is one of those botanical meccas; something we all secretly want to do once in our life! It's not easy as most new county records are for non-natives (or aliens). And to find a species of considerable conservation significance like Alchemilla subcrenata (listed as 'endangered' in the new Red List) is doubly exciting.

Who says that the British flora is all done and dusted?! There are still things to discover and the conservation sector pretty much relies totally on amateur botanists to get out there and record a county's plants.

Alchemillas (or Lady's-mantles) are a group of plants that reproduce asexually and as a result there are subtle differences between the recognised species. Alchemillas can be tricky to identify, so John got this plant confirmed by the BSBI Alchemilla referee, Margaret Bradshaw. Margaret is thrilled with this find, but not surprised, as there was no particular reason why this Durham species should not occur over the county boundary - it was just a matter of someone knowing what to look out for. But we've had to wait 56 years for it to be discovered in Northumberland, as Margaret first found this species, new to Britain, in Teesdale back in 1951!

I hope this find inspires you all to get out and botanise this summer, as you never know what you could turn up!



Sunday, 3 June 2007

meadows and moorland

Some pictures from this week's meadow surveys below. The survey season is in full swing now. Highlights from this week include:
finding Alchemilla subcrenata new to Northumberland, and a very nice patch of herby M26 mire in a field on the same farm; finding a new site for Euphrasia rostkoviana subsp. montana; and surveying the meadows at Widdybank Farm. The meadows there are well know for their rarities including several arctic alpines. I managed to spot several of these but seeing these plants is still not as exciting as finding a special plant in an unexpected (and unknown) place.

Primula farinosa by a stream through a meadow in Upper Teesdale

Geum rivale in a damp meadow at Widdybank Farm, Upper Teesdale

Teeswater sheep on a farm in Lunedale

A stand of Trollius europaeus in a meadow in Upper Teesdale

Briza media flower just coming out, on a species-rich bank near Alston, South Tynedale.

I just spent the weekend in Perthshire helping Clare with a moorland NVC survey. Lots of cloudberry flowering in M19 and H22 vegetation. Apparently H22 is a good place to search for Cornus suecica. Maybe Clare will find it next week! It was about an hour and a half walk in to the site she was surveying and we did spot some Trientalis europaea alongside the track on the way in. Neither of us had seen this plant before. It looks like it would be very easy to miss among the Vaccinium if it was not in flower.
Trientalis europaea under bilberry in Perthshire


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