Thursday, 9 April 2015

Pen y Ghent and Saxifraga oppositifolia

Pen y Ghent from the south-west
A tough day's walking but so rewarding not just for achieving the 694 m top of Pen y Ghent in North Yorkshire for the first time.  We walked up the steep way from Horton in Ribblesdale with quite a scramble from the south of the final push. Everywhere is very dry and it was surprising to see flowering heads of Hare's-tail Cottongrass, Eriophorum vaginatum, in what seemed to be quite a dry patch of ground.

Saxifraga oppositifolia
The icing on the cake was seeing Saxifraga oppositifolia [Purple Saxifrage] just at its best on the limestone cliffs below the summit on our way down.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Back in Preston

Some fine spring weather tempted us out into the Lancashire countryside and we started at the golf club at Hurst Green.  We walked up the drive towards Stonyhurst College, which looked extremely imposing - and surely quite frightening for a young boy [or girl] arriving there for the first time!

We went wrong almost straight away but were grateful that our mistake took us into the village of Hurst Green and past St Peter's Club where a warming cup of coffee speeded us on our way again.

Dean's Brook with the path edged with  Fringecups
We walked along Dean's Brook which runs into the river Hodder near the School.  It was a charming scene, I thought somewhat marred by the carpets of the naturalised alien Fringecups, Tellima grandiflora, along the banks of the brook.
Wood anemone with Golden-saxifrage
The newly-flowering Great Wood-rush

The Spring flowers are just beginning to show, with Great Wood-rush, Luzula sylvatica just coming into flower and sheets of Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage, Chrysosplenium oppositifolium beside abundant wood anemones  

Merioneth Nats in Tywyn

We were six botanists who met in Tywyn, to record in a square with surprisingly few records.  SN59 is a tiny hectad in Merioneth, not much more than a single tetrad, about 4% in area, but it has a fine number of older records, with over 300 species needing updating before the new Atlas appears in 2020.

Sadly for us that day, it seems to be a very late spring, with the recent frosts holding back the new season's growth.  Even with the help of Poland's Vegetative Key to the British Flora, we only made around 50 records, but consoled ourselves with the thought that, unlike last year, there should still be plenty to see later in the summer.

We spent some time looking at some dead heads of putative Centaurea debeauxii, Chalk Knapweed, One of the defining characters is the shape of the centre of the distal  part of the phyllaries.  In C nigra it is quite broad, whereas in C debeauxii it is narrow.  In our specimen it was extremely narrow, however, the swollen part of the stem just below the capitulum was really markedly swollen.  I suspect that Stace isn't convinced by the split either! [see diagram in Stace, 2010 p. 699]

Meirionnydd Nats at Tywyn on a cool and blustery March day
On a blustery, cool day we walked from near Neptune Hall over the heavily-grazed meadows which looked promising for a later expedition,  The area is damp and slightly brackish, with drainage ditches dissecting the raised beach, and with low dunes protecting the land from the waves. We were glad to get out of the wind for our lunch and were delighted to see a large flock of Golden Plover roosting just in front of us apparently not at all disturbed by our munching.  Even when we walked on they sat tight, until they blended with the background and we could no longer see them.
Mediaeval peat-cutting on Tywyn Beach

The dunes were disappointing with almost none of the expected early ephemerals to be seen.  Only the vivid green of the Sea Mayweed, Tripleurospermum maritimum, broke the monotony of Marram Grass, Ammophila maritima, bare sand and the litter left by earlier visitors.  However, we were enchanted by the "drowned forest" in the intertidal zone just south of  Tywyn and the peat beds with the mediaeval cutting marks clearly showing. I've been reading it all up on a very illuminating report: [Smith, 2004] which explains the time scale over which the sea level rose and fell after the ice sheet had gone.

Stace, C A, 2010 New Flora of the British Isles, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Smith, G. 2004, Tywyn Coastal Protection Scheme, Archaeological Assessment, Report No 555, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust.  Accessed on line 06 04 2015

Sunday, 5 April 2015

March in France

Snowdrops by the river Sioule
Although our French 'chateau' is almost 700 miles south of Preston, it is fairly high up there, and spring is only a little earlier than in North Wales.  We had a lovely spread of snowdrops in the woods by the River Sioule and the Wood Anemones, Anemone nemorosa, looked lovely.  Pulmonaria longifolia, Narrow-leaved Lungwort, was abundant in the garden, as elsewhere in woods and hedgebanks, but this time we only saw a couple of plants of the attractive Bird-in-a-bush, Corydalis solida, which was abundant here last year.

Euphorbia amygdaloides 
The lovely damson-coloured leaf-rosettes of Euphorbia amygdaloides, Wood Spurge, were already showing above the leaf-litter and there were dramatic spikes of Helleborus foetidus dotted through the woods

It was a hard-working stay this time.  We still have cement mixers in the garden but the end is in sight of applying the enduit, the vernacular rendering that protects the soft local limestone used for building. And we finished the holiday by laying around fifty paving slabs each with an estimated weight of 17 kg, to make a dry walkway from the campervan to the house.

Our  smart new gates adorn John's finished wall
laying several hundred kg of slabs!