This was the ninth year of the New Year Plant Hunt organised by the BSBI, in which almost 1,500 volunteers took part in a national search for flowers in the middle of winter. The idea is to build up a picture of how our wild or naturalised plants are responding to changes in weather patterns.
Harrogate Naturalists of course took part with 12 members turning up, accompanied by one reporter from a national newspaper, who was writing an article about the event. Kevin Walker’s family also came along which made the occasion very enjoyable. It is always reassuring to explore nature with children since their knowledge is our future.
After warming up with food and drink, we began our search in the environs of Muff and Jack Upsall’s house which is located beside the nature reserve. We then progressed into the reserve itself. Despite the previous wet weather, in three hours we found a total of 14 species. These included Ulex europaeus, Gorse and Corylus avellana, Hazel. Interestingly, although Bellis perennis, Daisy was the commonest plant found nationally, we did not find it ourselves. We did however, find some lovely bright coloured plants-as well as the yellow Gorse we also found Lamium purpureum, Red Dead-nettle and blue Veronica persica, Common Field-speedwell.
It would appear that our results paled in comparison with those in some other parts of the country. There is a participant from Swanage who records over 100 species each year. And one lady even submitted her records on her way home from the London new year fireworks! It is important to mention however that even if there were some volunteers who perhaps hunted for three hours in some areas and found nothing, these nil records are equally important. They will also contribute to the picture of our changing weather.
To date, 769 lists have been received and 623 species have been recorded. If you want to see the results in full and comparisons with other years, then please look at the BSBI website: https://bsbi.org/new-year-plant-hunt
See you next January!
As we shivered in the car park at the AWRP site, the 12 members of HDNS were thinking that indoor field trips were a very good idea in winter! In fact this trip was the most popular we have ever organised, fully booked the day after the newsletter came out! Clearly, household rubbish is more alluring than wildlife…
The reams of paperwork with rules, restrictions and warnings had led us to expect a Fort Knox like institution, but we had an informal welcome into the smart new visitor centre, with free drinks on offer, and were treated to an informative and well-illustrated description of the plant’s main processes. Quite a lot of this was new to most of us, for instance the high-tech sorting facilities which diverted various metals, paper, different coloured plastics etc to other downstream processes. Only the completely non-recyclable material is actually burned. The organic material is fermented in a huge anaerobic digester which produces methane used on the site.
One of the good things about the visit was that we were encouraged to ask questions – and we had plenty. After this introduction we set off on our tour of the plant, where we discovered that simply watching household rubbish moving up a conveyor belt is completely fascinating. … We were struck by the size and complexity of the engineering, occupying vast halls several storeys high. A monstrous claw operated from behind a glass screen as it scooped tonnes of rubbish and added them to a huge pile, ready for the incinerator which could be seen glowing in the background. Like our guide, the operators of the machinery were very ready to talk about the job. Allerton Park employs about 90 staff, but we saw few of them as the jobs we saw were highly automated. There is however a stage of hand-picking at the end of the sorting process, but we did not see this except on video.
Last stage was the control room, and again the staff were happy to chat, showed us their screens on which the gases from the incinerator are constantly displayed, and many other statistics involved in monitoring the process.
We all felt we had learnt a lot, and on the whole were more favourably disposed to what we had previously considered to be just a blot on the landscape. Very different from the usual field trip, but fascinating and relevant nonetheless.
True to tradition, our Christmas winter walk this year was led by Colin Slator.
Ten of us travelled initially by car from Ripon along hitherto unexplored back roads, stopping here and there to scan the expansive vistas. Snippets of history and geology coloured the views with tales of ownership and family fall-outs and, here and there, we found birds – some Scandinavian Thrushes, a flock of Linnet and also a mixed flock searching the mast from autumn leaf litter – eking out an existence from the depleted landscape.
‘Mindful management and conservation of the land’ was certainly a theme which continued upon our arrival at Bellflask at East Tanfield where we met with Brian Morland. His passionate custodianship of this place was evident. He reiterated what we, as naturalists, readily understand: if we sanitise the countryside imposing neatness and order upon nettles, thistles, ragwort and other ‘perceived weeds’, then we remove the food source for our bird populations. For example, he showed us the micro moth larvae safely bedded down within a teasel seed head, which act as vital store cupboards for future meals.
We felt privileged to be guided round his ‘patch’ where his intimate knowledge was such that he can even identify the many individual Bittern that he has encountered there.
On the day of our visit any sensible birds were hunkered down. However, we still managed a reasonable tally of duck (including Wigeon, Goldeneye, Teal, Tufted Duck and Mallard) and multiple Little Grebe as well as a Great Crested Grebe. As well as the standard Mute swans we also encountered two Whooper swans. The bushes held some mobile mixed flocks which included Gold Crests and Tree Creepers.
I don’t think I need to mention the weather as the accompanying pictures adequately convey the conditions. Suffice it to say our lovely Christmas Dinner at the Black Bull was well earned.
Many thanks to Muff for organising this and Colin for his expert guidance.
Leader: June Atkinson
This popular venue attracted 14 members and it was a perfect day for the visit. After stopping at The Bluebell car park to pick up a Wheatear and some Sandwich Terns over the sea, reports of a White Rumped Sandpiper made YWT Kilnsea Wetlands the next stop of the day. After sifting through many Dunlin and Redshank we saw this tiny wader make a run for open ground and this was our first sighting of it. There were subsequent views as it fed around the lagoon edge. While we scanned the wetland a Greenshank, a single Avocet and several Pintail and Wigeon added interest, with Curlew seen feeding in the adjacent grassland.
Our next target bird was the reported Barred Warbler at the Warren, and we eventually found it flitting around with a Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler.
The sea watch was fairly uneventful but the wonderfully colourful flower meadow attracted Whinchats in double figures, a Stonechat, Yellow Wagtails, hoards of Goldfinches and Linnets and a few Greenfinches.
Canal Scrape hosted a Common Snipe but the Little Stint was reported later in the day.
The high tide wader roost was pretty spectacular with a supporting cast of a close-in Whimbrel and some stunning Grey Plovers, most in breeding plumage.
Thanks to June for a truly memorable trip.
Nine HDNS members braved the UCI road closures to drive successfully to Swinsty Reservoir for the Harrogate Autumn Fungi Show. What’s more, we all managed to arrive at the correct car park, where we met three members from the Mid Yorkshire Fungus Group, led by Andy Woodall.
At a guess, it took at least an hour before we left the car park due to the astonishing variety of fungi so close by. In the first few minutes we had come across Stinking Parasol, Dyer’s Mazegill, Fly Agaric, Poison Pie and Weeping Widow (with gills which ‘weep’ when moist). We were grateful to Andy’s friend Joyce who has such boundless energy and never seemed to stop searching for different specimens along the way. Together we found well over fifty species of fungi, covering a whole range of genera including Amanita, Coprinus (inkcaps), Hygrocybe (waxcaps), Hypholoma, Lactarius (milkcaps) and Russula (brittlegills).
Eventually we managed to leave the car park and progressed along one of the paths. Andy soon spotted Ergot, Claviceps purpurea, which forms in the inflorescences of grasses. It is violet-black in colour and deadly poisonous. This poisoning has been recorded since the Middle Ages and many superstitions have grown up around it. Apparently, the link between ergotism and infected grain was only fully established in the 20th century.
We continued to find an astonishing array of fungi, such as Bloody and Common Brittlegills, Plums and Custard (with very yellow gills), Blusher, Sulphur Tuft and Birch Bracket. Both the Deceiver and the Amethyst Deceiver (fantastic purple gills) were present. These are common but very variable in appearance, hence their name. Another fungus found soon afterwards was the Coconut-scented Milkcap, which involved much sniffing. The rusts also featured during the day. Who would have thought there is a Coltsfoot Rust?
At lunch time the sun decided to become really hot. After a well-deserved break, we followed the path and came upon the home (I should say mansion) of Gareth Southgate close to the reservoir. We then crossed the Swinsty Embankment and turned right into the grassy fields. Here we came upon Slippery Jack and Ballerina Waxcaps. This latter fungus is a dusky pink colour and looks a little like a ballerina’s tutu. I myself was not convinced about this, but the idea is so pretty that it would be shameful to dispute it.
Although this fungus outing was sadly the last of our HDNS summer field trips for 2019, the day proved to be a perfect one. Gorgeous autumn weather, in a gorgeous autumn setting with an astonishing showcase of fungi. Thank you to Andy Woodall for leading, Joyce and Mike from the MYFG, Muff Upsall for organising and to the HDNS members for coming along and contributing to such a fascinating and uplifting day.
Members may well want to read this report from Nidderdale AONB on birds of prey and their persecution
Operation Owl is running a national campaign to raise awareness of raptor persecution, with a particular emphasis on the weekend of 21st and 22nd September 2019.
See this article for further details.
August is a busy month for holidays, so just 9 members gathered to spend Yorkshire Day ‘botanizing at Brockadale’. Brockadale is a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve in West Yorkshire. It lies 10 miles north of Doncaster, just east of the A1, between the villages of Wentbridge and the Smeatons. The name derives from ‘broken dale’, referring to the numerous craggy outcrops of Magnesian limestone along this section of the valley of the River Went. Here the river meanders along the valley, edged either by carr-type woodlands, cliffs, or alluvial meadows. The steepness of the valley sides has prevented any cultivation and the slopes are still covered by undisturbed species rich Magnesian Limestone grasslands or ancient woodland.
Muff Upsall and Richard Campbell planned a route for us as, thankfully, these 2 members had visited this extensive reserve previously. However, as per normal, exploring the car park area kept us busy for at least the first 45 minutes. Easy to spot were the numerous tall blue spikes of Clustered Bellflower, scattered in the meadow alongside. We then lost time puzzling over a single, enchanting seed head, which Muff later identified as the seed head for Dropwort. We set off, exploring different habitats along the way, usually in single file and having to relay information along our line. The patches of purples, blues and yellows that stood out often proved to be patches of Greater and Lesser Knapweed, Wild Basil, Betony, Field and Small Scabious, Lady’s Bedstraw, Agrimony and the lovely, creamy coloured Wild Mignonette dotted in between. A sunny lunchtime was spent enjoying the view across the slightly damp, alluvial meadow. We all heard the green woodpecker in the nearby willows, but only Richard spotted the kingfisher fly up the river.
In the afternoon we began to explore part of the woodland. At first, at each side dense, tall clumps of Tor-grass, or Chalk False-Brome, were definitely decreasing the plant diversity. Within the shadier wood it was enjoyable to see Old Man’s Beard in full flower and clambering to seek out sunlit spots. Stinking Hellebore was found, and then, catching the light, an old, brown, dried plant of Common Gromwell with a very shiny, very white seed in each stem leaf axil.
Emerging from the wood we rejoined Jack and Erin who had spent the morning adventuring. They were already enjoying the most wonderful wide open meadow that we will all remember as memorable for the abundance of butterflies. Erin compiled a list of butterflies seen as follows; Large White, Small White, Painted Lady, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone, Brown Argus, Red Admiral, Gatekeeper, Small Skipper, Comma, 6-Spot Burnet, and 2 members enjoyed a brief sighting of a Silver-washed Fritillary. This last sighting was unexpected as Brockadale is a known location for the Dark Green Fritillary but we were unlucky that day. Just before leaving this meadow Richard pointed out a Liquorice plant, a plant that was new to most of us. The flowers had finished but large seed pods were developing like chunky pea pods.
The trip was a most enjoyable way to mark Yorkshire Day. A plant list is attached.
Many thanks to Muff for organizing the day, and to Nick for taking the stunning photos.
Just a week after National Meadows Day a lovely warm day greeted 13 members at Farnham Gravel Pit for a botanical field trip. We were fortunate to have Kevin Walker, Head of Science for BSBI with us again to guide us around the fine details of the different species found in this SINC designated site.
As we started in the car park Kevin showed us some familiar Common Centaury, Dovesfoot and Cut-leaved Cranesbill, Hoary and Common Ragwort, and getting less familiar, Knotted Pearlwort, perfect for beginners like me! Crossing the access road through the gate in the otter fence, we explored the north lake southern shoreline where there was a wonderful display of Zigzag Clover, a moderately scarce plant in this area. Also there was a stand of Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchids. The Rush family was well represented in this area, much to Sonia’s delight. Kevin then introduced us to the least showy members of the Dandelion family ….. this is when you definitely need an expert with a hand lens to separate the Catsears (Hypochaeris) from the Hawkbits (Leontodon). (See plant list for which species were revealed). The Umbellifers in flower included Upright Hedge Parsley and Hogweed. Kevin showed us an imported aquatic called Sweet Flag which is now naturalised throughout our area.
Back over the road we paused in the top car park for lunch, having added Blue Fleabane, Mouse-eared Hawkweed and Weld to our ever increasing plant list.
The afternoon was warming up as we walked down the shady west side path around the south lake where there was easy access to the shoreline and Kevin explored the aquatic plants. Some of these plants have been introduced from overseas but there seems to be an equilibrium in the south lake, except of course for the Crassula which is rampant all around the sandy shores and in the pond area.
By the time we arrived at the pond area the afternoon heat had built up, our notebooks were full of notes, sketches and pressed leaves, and we said goodbye and thank you to Kevin. It was a wonderful day when we all learned so much from him as he shared so generously his extensive botanical knowledge, as the full plant list made up by Kerry, will show.
Thanks also to June Atkinson and the Management Team for maintaining the site.
It was hard to believe that Meadows Day 2019 was upon us, when last year’s seemed only a short while ago. We celebrated the occasion with some guided walks on bees, dragonflies and botany and it was a real pleasure to see some new members visiting the reserve, and even more so to meet the children and grandchildren who came along. Farnham gravel pit is there for all of us to use and when the sun is shining and insects are on the wing, this spot certainly takes some beating.
The morning began with a guided bee and dragonfly walk led by Bill Hall and David Holmes. It was easy to spot some of the bumble bees on the flowering Betony plants in area 2, which included the Common Carder and the Buff-tailed and Red-tailed bumblebees. Honeybees were also present
Only a few yards away David Aldred was viewing dragonfly activity on the lake. We joined him to see Common Darters, Four-spotted Chasers and Emperor dragonflies. A Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue and Emerald damselflies were also present including a number of newly emerged ones. Then, at the pond, a Black-tailed Skimmer was spotted, whilst under our feet in the grass we were finding tiny frogs and toads.
Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Small Skipper butterflies all obliged with appearances, with a stoat adding to the records list just before we had lunch.
The afternoon session was a guided botanical walk led by Kevin and Claire Walker and their children. Farnham Gravel Pit is home to well over 400 plants. So despite the fact that we were stopping every few minutes to look at them, the group managed to get round the South Lake and we had a very relaxed and enjoyable afternoon. It was particularly good to be accompanied by children who were playing happily alongside the water and spotting all sorts of wildlife including the fish and a Moorhen’s nest.
Kevin even managed a grand tree finale by pointing out three types of Alder – Native, Italian and Grey. He then made a nature table to show us four species of Willow – Crack, Osier, Goat and Grey.
This year’s Meadows Day showcased Farnham Gravel Pit at its very best. It served as a reminder of how lucky we are to have this resource available to us on our doorsteps. So remember the adage – use it or lose it. Our thanks to Kerry and Muff for organising, and to all our leaders for their guidance.