© Andrew Moon

Following a somewhat damp week Sunday 26th was a dry, warm day, perfect for the walk to look at the wild flowers around the Reserve. A small, group met on the causeway. I talked briefly about the type of plants to expect to see growing on unimproved neutral soil.

The loss of unimproved grasslands means that many grassland wild flowers are becoming increasingly rare. The problem with soil enrichment is that grassland flowers are adapted to relatively low soil fertility. They are unable to make use of extra nutrients to increase their growth rate and are therefore displaced by species that can. The smaller the plant, the more quickly it is likely to disappear. Species diversity is inversely proportionate to infertility of the soil. Other main reasons for loss of grassland species is the cessation of grazing. After just a few years without grazing or cutting, grass will revert to scrub and then woodland.

On the causeway we saw:  dittander, comfrey, common speedwell, creeping cinquefoil, mugwort (not yet flowering) hedge and cut-leaved crane’s bill, creeping buttercups, greater and ribwort plantain, white clover, smooth sow thistle and the common daisy. The daisy is Britain’s commonest wild flower, known rurally as ‘Innocents’, and is invariably overlooked. It blooms throughout the year, but is at its most abundant during late June and July, when lush pastures and waysides are spangled with the star-like specks of daisies half-hidden amongst a knotted tangle of grass blades. The plant has a fleshy rootstock, several cm in length from which spoon-shaped leaves are produced. They are held close to the ground to prevent cattle eating them. Flower stems rise through the centre, to a height of 4cm bearing a conical platform composed of some two hundred and fifty yellow florets, crowded tightly together and surrounded by a multitude of thin, white petals. The flowers are able to measure light and during inclement weather or after dark, close their petals. This ‘weather eye’ earned the plant its name daisy, being a contraction of ‘day’s eye’. It was also known as ‘dog’s daisy’, because it was once believed that if the plant was boiled in milk and given to puppies to drink, it kept them small. Similarly, it was assumed that if a young animal nibbled the leaves, the creature’s growth would be stunted.

There were also plenty of creeping thistles and nettles, known as the ‘thugs’ of the hedgerow as they quickly overwhelm the smaller species.

The meadow near the Heronry was lush with grasses: Yorkshire fog, cock’s foot and false oat grass. Here, amongst the grasses we saw meadow crane’s-bill, the yellow flowers of meadow vetchling, fleabane, not yet in flower, creeping cinquefoil, silver weed, more clover and buttercups; hemp agrimony, nipplewort, herb Robert, ox-eyed daisies, hedge bedstraw, various docks, cleavers, red bartsia (not yet in flower) as well as greater willowherb. I was sad to find that the viper’s bugloss I found growing here in 2014 were nowhere to be found again.

Alongside the river we found hemp agrimony, hedge woundwort, wood avens, hedgerow crane’s-bill, mugwort, herb Robert, nipplewort and several clumps of water figwort. Here also were dog roses blooming. The dog rose is the largest and most common of the wild roses in Britain. Stout bushes ramble abundantly in hedgerow and copse, sprawling their tall, arching stems over the surrounding vegetation. Each shoot is equipped with prickles that turn menacingly backwards upon themselves; thus assisting the process of climbing as well as presenting a formidable defence. One theory suggests that the plant’s old name ‘Dagge Rose’ was taken from the word dagger, a reference to its vicious thorns which are said to stab and pierce the flesh as easily as a weapon. Blooms are displayed throughout mid-June and July, flushing pink upon stems crowded with sharply toothed leaflets. The flowers have five heart-shaped petals which vary in tint from deepest pink to near-white. In autumn blooms are succeeded by scarlet, bottle-shaped fruits known as hips which become fully ripe during December, when they are attractive to mice and birds, particularly those of the Thrush family.

Roses have been regarded as a symbol of everlasting love since antiquity, and were thought to belong to Harpocrates, the god of silence. This is why the sweet briar was so well loved in rural areas and often planted as a tribute on the grave of a loved one. Many charming tales have been told of lovers who lie side by side, and upon whose graves wild roses bushes have sprung up, growing towards each other, having become entwined as a proof of undying fidelity.

Other plants seen on the walk were: Knapweed, broadleaved helleborine, yellow flags and water lilies, water forget-me-not, spear thistle, dove’s foot crane’s-bill, common ragwort, self-heal, goat’s beard, goat’s rue, hogweed, hemlock water-dropwort, tufted vetch, butter bur, black horehound, white briony, germander speedwell, field rose, convolvulus, black medick, bird’s-foot-trefoil, agrimony, horse-tail, perennial sow-thistle, burdock, brambles and ground ivy.

There is usually meadow sweet growing in the meadow by the Heronry, but it was not in flower. However, there was a small clump by the scrape, near Stocker’s House.

On the canal-side we found a colony of balsam, which is an invasive plant not welcome on the Reserve. It quickly colonises via its efficient seed-dispersal method of ‘firing’ seeds far and wide. I think it is the sub-species small balsam which likes shady, damp riversides.

The small group managed the entire walk and after providing some reference book details and addresses to obtain recommended hand-lens, we bade each other good bye. It did rain a little in the evening, but once again we were lucky during our walk. 

Sue Sanderson