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Mid-week Botany Group

The Society’s Mid-week Botany Group is a friendly group of members who go out regularly on Wednesdays during the summer to look at plants. We visit a variety of habitats and landscapes across the North East and enjoy studying and identifying the plants we find.

Flowering Rush © John Buxton

If you are registered with our group then you can click here to access the mid-week Botany website.

Whether you are a beginner with an interest in plants or a more experienced botanist you will be very welcome to join us on our outings. The groups organiser is Janet Angel. For further details please contact the Society office.

What have we been getting up to recently?

2014-15

The Group has had another very active year enjoying Wednesday field trips and taking part in a number of botanical projects.

The first two trips in August 2014 were recording outings to quite different monads (1X1 km squares).  Callerhues Crags north of Bellingham was a remote moorland site with a relatively low number of species, whereas at Greenhaugh we walked through species-rich pasture, hay meadow and stream-side habitats. The following excursion was to the Simonside Hills where we climbed on forest tracks passing Chickweed Wintergreen Trientalis europaea, Adder’s-tongue Ophioglossum vulgatum and clubmosses.  At the base of the crags was a beautiful display of Dwarf Cornel Cornus suecica in fruit, the highlight of the day. The last trip of the month was to record in a monad at Batey Shield near Halton-Lea-Gate where the habitat was mainly moorland and improved pasture.

September started with an outing to the coast at Buston Links where we looked at sand dunes and saltmarsh. We spent some time studying the difficult genus of Atriplex of which the most interesting were Early Orache Atriplex praecox and Babington’s Orache A. Glabriuscula. We also saw a beautiful stand of White Bryony Bryonia dioica sprawling over a large area of gorse. The following Wednesday we visited Minsteracres Monastery where we were very fortunate to be shown round the grounds by expert botanist Gordon Simpson who knows the estate well.  He pointed out the late-season plants (including Royal Fern Osmunda regalis) and showed us many different Fungi. In complete contrast, the next walk was along the River Tyne from Gateshead Quayside to the Metro Centre.  There were many urban weeds to see and we were able to compare two species of Fleabane, Canadian Conyza canadensis and Guernsey C. sumatrensis, which are becoming more common in the area.  Where the river bank had been eroded there was a gap where the highest tides had flooded onto the roadside creating a small area of salt marsh.  It was very surprising to see a good display of Sea Aster Aster tripolium very close to the Metro Centre!

Midweek Botany Group

Spring of 2015 started with a visit to Hareshaw Linn near Bellingham where we looked at the ferns on the side of the gorge and also found a large patch of Herb Paris Paris quadrifolia growing amongst the many other woodland plants. The next week we were in Howburn Woods in Morpeth where the native Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta were in their prime and provided a beautiful display.

On 13 May we went to the Colwell Whinstone, a complex series of whin cliffs and grasslands.  We had good sightings of Heath Dog Violet Viola canina and many plants of Maiden Pink Dianthus deltoides. In the afternoon we very much enjoyed visiting John and Sheila Richards’ beautiful garden in Hexham.

Next we were in Upper Teesdale and appreciated the usual lovely display of Bird’s-eye Primrose Primula farinosa, Globe Flower Trollius europaea and Spring Gentian Gentiana verna. At the beginning of June we assisted Alnwick Wildlife Group by conducting a baseline survey for a Local Wildlife Site for Alnwick Town Council.  Cawledge Burn, a semi-natural ancient woodland site had a most unusual Dutch Elm survivor – a c.20 year-old Small-leaved Elm Ulmus minor, and the nearby railway line had a good population of Small Toadflax  Chaenorhinum minus. The following week we were once again very grateful to Gordon Simpson for sharing his great knowledge with us, this time in Kielder Forest.  He demonstrated the work being done to encourage the spread of Heath Cudweed Gnaphalium sylvaticum. In 2011 only one plant was found but this year the population has risen to about 40 plants.  We were also shown the moss Dicranodontium asperulum at its only known English site.

On the next outing we were very fortunate to be accompanied by Professor Brian Whitton who told us about the algae to be found on the mine and spoil areas at Nenthead and how they cope with the high levels of heavy metals in the soil and water. The afternoon walk from Alston to Blagill Bridge was along the very flowery banks of the River Nent, through grassland and woodland, with showy drifts of Mountain Pansy Viola lutea.

On 1 July the group visited Hudspeth Farm near Elsdon at the request of Natural England to survey a variety of habitats for the Higher Level Scheme farm plan. 125 species were recorded in species-rich pasture, valley fen and calcareous flushes and included 17 species of sedge and 4 species of orchid. The farmer was delighted with our findings.

Another rewarding trip was to the Wansbeck Estuary and Sandy Bay.  Within the estuary is the southernmost proper salt marsh in Northumberland and there were abundant Annual Sea-blite Suaeda maritima, Sand Spurrey Spergularia rubra and Sea Purslane Atriplex portulacoides. Sandy Bay had several interesting plants, in particular plentiful Lesser Meadow-rue Thalictrum minus.

MW Botany Group 2015

Midweek Botany Group

The following week we went to Fontburn Reservoir where we were met by Stuart Pudney from Northumbrian Water. He very kindly showed us round the Nature Reserve and prevented us from sinking into the dredged silt which had been excavated from the reservoir! This has formed a rich artificial habitat where we found a great number of different plants including Grass of Parnassus Parnassia palustris and Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia conopsea.  A walk round the reservoir in the afternoon increased the list and provided the archaeological interest of a large stone with cup and ring markings.

Next was an energetic trip to Kilhope Law near Allenheads where we climbed the hill and looked at a range of sedges and club-mosses. A special site in Hexhamshire provided us with wonderful sightings of the rare and very small Bog Orchid Hammarbya paludosa and Lesser Twayblade Neottia cordata and a walk in the afternoon also provided lots of botanical interest.

We are very grateful to all those within the group who led our outings and especially to our visiting leaders Gordon Simpson, Brian Whitton and Stuart Pudney who gave up their time and shared their expertise with us.

Throughout the year group members have recorded a huge number of plants which are submitted to our local Vice-county Recorders. These will contribute towards the new County Floras which are being prepared. Several members have also have assisted the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by monitoring restored hay meadows and surveying flower-rich banks for their Nectarworks project, which aims to increase the flowers to provide nectar for bees.

During the winter some of the group have been working on restoring the Society’s herbarium which is stored in the Discovery Museum.  This has involved repairing, remounting and photographing thousands of dried plants, some of which date back to the 19th century and were collected by the founder members of our Society.

2013-14

The group has been very active this year, enjoying Wednesday outings and participating in many botanical projects in the northeast.

At the beginning of August 2013 we visited Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Whitelee Moor Reserve.  We followed the Coomsden Burn across very rough ground through interesting moorland vegetation.

The following week went to another Wildlife Trust site at Mill Burn near Elsdon. This involved crossing and recrossing the burn several times as we scrambled up through limestone grassland and calcareous flushes.  A large variety of sedges and other interesting species were recorded and this will help towards management planning for the reserve.

The next outing was to survey a monad (1x1Km square) at Angerton Lake.  This is partly on private land but we had the landowner’s permission to visit the shoreline of the lake which contributed to the very large number (185) of species that we found. At the edge of arable fields we found the very common Scentless Mayweed Tripleurospermum inodorum and also the much rarer Scented Mayweed Matricaria recutita and it was interesting to note the differences between them.

Midweek Botany Group, Angryhaugh © Brenda Astley

At the end of August we went to the coast just south of Berwick at Cocklawburn and Cheswick Links.  We were pleased to note that the Scots Lovage  Ligusticum scoticum appeared to be increasing near the southern end of its British range.  We were also glad to find Marsh Pennywort Hydrocotyle vulgaris with its minute flowers hard to spot amongst it circular leaves.

The last excursion of 2013 was to Wallington Hall where the National Trust’s Head Gardener John Ellis gave us a fascinating insight into some of the more unusual plants in the woods and gardens of the estate.

At the beginning of March 2014 we were taken to Sidwood in Kielder Forest by one of our members, Bill Burlton.  Bill is a forester and used his great knowledge to teach us about the trees growing there and, with the aid of a printed guide, he enabled us all to become much more confident in the identification of coniferous trees.

Spring started with an exciting excursion to Arnecliff Wood at Glaisdale in Northeast Yorkshire where we were very fortunate to be guided by the Vice County Recorder Vincent Jones. We walked through an ancient woodland dripping with wonderful mosses, ferns and wild flowers. Tunbridge Filmy Fern Hymenophyllum tunbrigense and Killarney Fern Trichomanes speciosum growing in crevices under moss-covered boulders were the highlights of the day.

At the end of April we were much closer to home at Longacre Wood in Gateshead and saw beautiful carpets of Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scriptus and other spring flowers.

In May we carried out a survey for the Wildlife Trust, this time at Juliet’s Wood near Slayley.  In the older oak woodland we found several Ancient Woodland indicators including Goldilocks Buttercup Ranunculus auricomus and Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina.  Later in the day we moved on to Healey where we looked at a recently felled conifer plantation which is showing signs of reverting to heathland, with Heather Calluna vulgaris, Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and Gorse Ulex europaeus growing in the sandy soil.

At the end of the month we visited Warkworth where we saw several interesting annuals in the dunes and found Curved Hard-grass Parapholis incurva doing well in its usual site at the edge of the saltmarsh.

The beginning of June saw us at Greencroft Wood near Anfield Plain.  Much of the site is a restored coal pit heap and was very rich with lots of botanical interest, including plentiful Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsia.

The group holiday in June this year was to the New Forest, an area very different to the Northeast, both in topography and climate.  We were very privileged to be guided by Martin Rand (Vice County Recorder for South Hampshire) and local botanists, David and Christine Hughes.  We were taken to many wonderful places and saw lots of species which most of us had never seen before.  The open forest, heaths, bogs and grassy lawns provided an enormous range of special plants, many of them extremely small!  We spent much of our time on damp knees looking with a lens at plants such as Coral Necklace Illecebrum verticillatum, Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile and Chaffweed Centunculus minimus.  Larger special species included the Wild Gladiolus Gladiolus illyricus (not quite in flower), Meadow Thistle Cirsium dissectum, Yellow Centaury Cicendia filiformis, and the New forest endemics Hampshire Purslane Ludwigia palustris and New Forest Water-crowfoot Ranunculus novae-forestae.

Back in the North East, we visited Ashes Quarry at Stanhope and compiled a species list to contribute to the North Pennines AONB Wildwatch project.  We found several plants which are suited to a limestone habitat including Carline Thistle Carlina vulgaris, Fairy Flax Linum catharticum and Marjoram Origanum vulgare.

The following Wednesday we had a trip to the Lake District to walk along Borrowdale  through spectacular scenery.  In boggy areas we saw Bog Pimpernel Anagallis tenella and White Beak-sedge Rhynchospora alba and scrambled up scree to the base of a crag to see the uncommon Forked Spleenwort Asplenium septentrionale.

At the start of July the group visited Holy Island on a beautiful day and saw fantastic carpets of Orchids and Helleborines as well as other lovely flowers.

The next week we went to East Crindledykes Quarry just south of the Roman Wall near Housesteads.  It is a small but interesting limestone site owned by the Wildlife Trust and, again, we provided them with a species list.  As we had time to spare, after lunch we went just along the road to Muckle Moss, a large mire, where we found a good range of bog plants.

At the request of Natural England’s North Tyne Conservation Officer the group surveyed the haymeadow at East Kielder Farm.  The meadow proved to be of very high quality and the most notable record was of a substantial patch of Globe Flower Trollius europaeus, possibly the largest in the county.

The next trip was also to help survey for Natural England, but this time in Teesdale at Cetry Bank.  We spent the day successfully searching for some of the Teesdale specialities, including Alpine Bartsia Bartsia alpina , False Sedge Kobresia simpliciuscula and Birds-eye Primrose Primula farinosa.

At Stonecroft Mine south of Hadrians Wall we had a great day looking at Helleborines and John Richards showed us the differences between Broad-leaved, Young’s and Green-flowered Helleborines  Epipactis helleborine, E.helleborine var youngiana and E.phyllanthes.

 Throughout the year the group has contributed to the collection of records which will go to the new county Floras being produced by our local Vice County Recorders.  We have also helped Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by surveying some of their sites.

Several members have also volunteered with the North Pennines AONB monitoring restored haymeadows and working on their Nectarworks project which aims to increase the flowers which provide nectar for bees.

During the winter months many of the group have been involved with cataloguing and repairing the Society’s collections of dried plants in the herbarium at the Discovery Museum.  This has proved to be fascinating as some of the local specimens were collected by John, Albany and Mary Hancock and other eminent botanists from the 19th century and involve species which are no longer found in the region.

 

2012-13

The group had a very successful year, enjoying Wednesday outings and contributing to many botanical projects in the North East.

In August 2012 we made a trip to Powhill Country Park by the Derwent Reservoir where we saw many plants characteristic of boggy areas, including good numbers of Lesser Skullcap Scutellaria minor.  Two weeks later we went to survey a monad (1x1Km square) at Lordenshaw near Rothbury where we found a surprising number of species for a moorland site.  At the end of the month we had an exciting excursion to a very remote area north of Gilsland.  We walked over very wet and rough ground to Spy Crags where we saw the rare Tunbridge Filmy Fern Hymenophyllum tunbrigense.  Our last outing in 2012 was a fascinating visit to Cragside where we were shown round the gardens by the Conservation Officer for the National Trust.

The weather during the spring of 2013 was very cold and wintry and our first visit to Ousbrough Wood near Beamish gave us no flowers, only bare branches and tiny leaves. Two weeks later in the woods near Blackhall Mill it was a different story, with many of the spring flowers beginning to bloom, including a beautiful show of Sweet Violet Viola odorata. A walk from Swalwell along the Derwent Valley proved rich in common flowers. The weather was so unpleasant on a visit to Upper Coquetdale that we changed our plans and paid a visit to Mill Burn Nature Reserve. This is a delightful place, even in torrential rain, and as we crossed the burn it was lovely to see the early-flowering Blue Moor Grass Sesleria caerulea in full bloom. The next Wednesday we parked in Wark and walked along the banks of the North Tyne until we could paddle the short distance across to Gold Island.  Here we were met by a beautiful display of Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scriptus, a brilliant blue haze under the fresh green of coppiced Hazel Corylus avellana in sunshine.

At the end of May several of the group went to North Waleson a botanical holiday led by Chris and Hazel Metherell.  They have great knowledge of the area and its plants and they took us to several very interesting places. At Cwm Idwal in Snowdonia we scrambled up to the natural rock gardens covered in ferns, mosses and mountain flowers such as Mountain Sorrel Oxyria digyna, and Saxifrages including Starry, Mossy, and Alpine Saxifraga stellaris, S. hypnoides and S. nivalis. At the Great Orme, a peninsula jutting into the sea from Llandudno, large amounts of the rare Hoary Rockrose Helianthemum oelandicum were in full flower.  Other special plants seen here included Spotted Cats-ear Hypochaeris maculata, Ivy Broomrape Orobanche hederae and the Great Orme endemic, Wild Cotoneaster Cotoneaster cambricus. The last day in Wales was spent on the island of Anglesey where we visited a calcareous fen, Cors Erddreiniog, and saw many sedges and other wetland plants. Later we moved on to the dunes at Aberffraw where we found several low-growing species such as Lesser Clubmoss Selaginella selaginoides, Wild Thyme Thymus polytrichus, Spring Squill Scilla verna, and the minute Early Sand Grass Mibora minima which is thought to be the smallest grass in the world!

 

In June we visited Augill Pasture (a Plantlife Reserve near Brough) and Waitby Greenriggs (a Cumbria Wildlife Trust Reserve near Kirkby Stephen) where one of the highlights was the Fly Orchids Ophrys insectifera in perfect bloom. Geenleighton Moor proved to be an interesting moorland monad with Chickweed Wintergreen Trientalis europaea, Cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccus and Bog Rosemary Andromeda polifolia. Also in June we conducted surveys of Eglingham Churchyard and Branton Ponds to assist in their conservation. Hobcarton Crag, near Whinlatter Pass, Cumbria gave us an exciting day.  The local farmer has been monitoring the colony of Red Alpine Catchfly Silene suecica at its only English site and she very kindly ferried us by Landrover to a spot nearer the crags.  From there we climbed up to where the plant grows and had close views of this very rare and beautiful plant.

In July we visited a semi-urban area of reclaimed land at Seghill Pit and Cramlington Pond, which proved astonishingly species-rich. In total contrast, the next week we surveyed a remote moorland monad in KielderForest. Whilst surveying Holystone Burn Wildlife Trust Reserve we were delighted to find Lesser Twayblade Neottia cordata, a new plant for several of us. Deepdale Wood near Barnard Castle is owned by John Durkin, BSBI Recorder for Durham, who kindly showed us round this special place, where we were privileged to see several White-clawed Crayfish. Thimbleby Hill near Stanhope was another monad which proved interesting as it had a wide range of habitats, including limestone quarries, moorland and pasture.

Throughout the year the group has contributed to the collection of records which go towards the new County Floras being produced by our local Vice County Recorders. Several members have also volunteered with the North Pennines AONB, monitoring restored hay-meadows and working on the new Nectarworks Project improving habitats for bees.

2011-12

The 2011 programme continued in August with trips to Tanfield Lea and Upper Teesdale, followed by a recording meeting at Shaftoe Crags.  In September the long climb through Kielder Forest to Deadwater Fell was rewarded by re-finding the Dwarf Willow Salix herbacea at its only Northumberland site, growing in the sandstone fissures at the summit.  The season finished with a fascinating visit to Durham Botanic Garden where we were very fortunate to be shown round by Dr Phil Gates whose expertise and long association with the garden greatly contributed to our enjoyment.

The main theme of 2012 has been water, both from the sky and on the ground!  In spite of this we have had a good season and, on the whole, both the plants and the botanists have ignored the rain and continued to flourish!  The first outing of the year in April was to the Bowes Valley Railway where we walked through an interesting industrial landscape down to the river Team.  The next trip was to Weardale to walk round Tunstall Reservoir and through Backstone Wood where there was an abundance of spring flowers.

In May we held a recording outing at Bellister Woods on the banks of the South Tyne.  As well as many common woodland plants, the shingle at the edge of the river gave us several species that are tolerant of heavy metal contamination, such as Alpine Penny-cress Noccaea caerulescens and Thrift Armeria maritima.  The next trip was to Walltown to look at the woods as part of the Northumberland National Park’s audit of the site.  Northumberland Wildlife Trust has recently acquired a new reserve at Broadoak Quarry near Ebchester and we were able to assist in a botanical survey of the site.  As well as a rich flora, we were interested to see “newt fences”, designed to keep Great Crested Newts safe in their newly-created ponds and away from the dangerous parts of the quarry which are still working.

At the end of May many members of the group went on holiday to the Breckland of Norfolk to see a very different flora to the one we have in the North East.  We were very fortunate, as the weather lived up to the Breckland’s reputation of being one of the warmest and driest parts of the country.  This was doubly lucky, as many of the fascinating plants were only a few centimetres high and involved crawling on the ground with hand lenses to see them.  At least our knees were only bruised and not muddy as well!  The trip also included a visit to Devil’s Dyke at Newmarket where we were at exactly the right time to see the beautiful Pasque Flower Anemone pulsatilla.

The beginning of June saw us at Howdiemont Sands for a good range of coastal plants, including Henbane Hyoscyamus niger, followed by a recording meeting at Havannah Nature Reserve near Dinnington. This is a restored industrial site where we were pleasantly surprised to find a very wide range of interesting species.  On an outing to the banks of the Tweed near Kelso, we were concerned to note that much of the vegetation consisted of the invasive alien species Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera and Russian Comfrey Symphytum x uplandicum. At Choppington Nature Reserve we carried out a botanical survey for Northumberland County Council in torrential rain.

The first Wednesday of July the weather was predicted to be very wet again and few members made the trip to Cocklawburn Dunes, but those who ignored the forecast were rewarded by a fine day and lovely coastal flowers.  Dirt Pot, also known as Bell’s Grooves, near Allenheads is due to be scheduled as a Local Wildlife Site and we were shown round by two local volunteer botanists who have known the site since childhood.  It is a beautiful place with carpets of Mountain Pansies Viola lutea in shades of yellow through to dark purple and hundreds of Common Twayblades Neottia ovata.  The banks of the River Tees and Harwood Beck near Forest-in-Teesdale were also covered in lovely flowers including Common Rockrose Helianthemum nummularium and Alpine Bistort Persicaria vivipara.  July was concluded by walking through the lanes, fields and limestone outcrops near Stagshaw above Corbridge where we discovered a wide range of interesting plants including Hoary Plantain Plantago media, Fairy Flax Linum catharticum, Field Madder Sherardia arvensis and Fern-grass Catapodium rigidum.

In 2012 the group has continued to contribute to the new floras being produced by our Vice County Recorders.  This has involved visiting a pre-selected 1×1 or 2×2 Kilometre square and recording and estimating the abundance of each species growing in it.  Individual members have also worked hard on these enjoyable projects.  Several members have continued to volunteer with the North Pennines AONB, both with the Hay Time project, monitoring the successful restoration of hay meadows, and with the Wildwatch scheme surveying potential Local Wildlife Sites.

 2010-11

The group has continued to participate in a wide range of botanical events throughout 2010/11. The 2010 summer season finished with visits to the Magnesian Limestone coastal cliffs at Seaham, The College Valley in the Cheviot Hills and the woods and valleys south of Sunniside, all of which provided much interest. In the middle of September 2010 we were very fortunate to be joined by Andy McLay for a Fungus Foray near Blanchland. His expertise was much appreciated as we found a large number of woodland and pasture species. The year ended with a tour of the NHSN stores at the Discovery Museum.

During 2011 several of our outings have concentrated on recording all the species found in a pre-selected monad (1Km square) or Tetrad (2X2 Km square) in order to contribute to the new Floras being produced by our Vice County Recorders. Individual members have also worked hard collecting and submitting records to these projects.

At the beginning of the 2011 botanical season the weather was warm and sunny, and as a result our walks in April and May were beautiful, with many species in full flower earlier than usual. The first two outings were in the Tyne Valley at Riding Mill and Oakwood, both of which were South Northumberland Flora monads. The next three trips had a riverside theme. The riverbanks of the River North Tyne from Chipchase Mill proved exceptionally interesting with many less common species such as Downy Currant (Ribes spicatum) and the most attractive Globe Flower (Trollius europaeus). At the end of May we carried out a survey for a local farmer in Whorlton in Teesdale, who was interested in finding out what grew on his land next to the River Tees. We found an amazingly rich variety of plants, including masses of the small shrub Spurge-laurel (Daphne laureola) and several plants of Green Hellebore (Helleborus viridis).

June started with an outing to a nature reserve near Kirkby Stephen where we saw many rarities including Herb Paris (Paris Quadrifolia) and Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepis comosa). This was followed by an interesting urban reserve at Shibdon Pond in Blaydon. Later in June several members of the group went on holiday to the North-west and North coast of Scotland. Amongst the amazing scenery, geology and archaeology of the areas we found much of great interest, especially the Arctic-Alpine plants that are restricted to higher altitudes and latitudes than are found at home

Back in Northumberland we surveyed the SSSI at Holburn Moss to add to the records for the new flora, and a Local Nature Reserve at Cramlington for the County Council. The next two outings were to the coast; to Cumbria to walk along the cliff tops at St Bees Head and to County Durham’s Blackhall Rocks.

The following excursion was to a very boggy and isolated moor near Bellingham where we walked through thick mist and rain to see Deergrasses and Sedges. In the afternoon the weather improved and we had a very pleasant walk along an open forest track where we found a large colony of Heath Cudweed (Gnaphalium sylvaticum). This was followed by a survey of a wildlife garden planted at Powburn and a walk along the disused railway where we looked at woodland grasses.

Several of our members have continued to help with the North Pennines AONB Hay Time project, monitoring the successful restoration of hay meadows.