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notes by Gill Smith [Species lists below]
A dozen members attended this very interesting meeting in Sleightholmedale which was led by Mrs Rosanna James from Sleightholmedale Lodge. Unfortunately the weather was not kind it was cool and windy with showers, much more like April than mid-June! We met at the end of the Avenue, walked down through the woods and then back through the meadows. Rosanna set the scene for us by explaining that when she lived here as a child she and her sister used to go exploring in the woods and fields, and became fascinated by the wealth of wildflowers growing there. This is an area of ancient woodland on steep slopes cutting through bands of limestone and some sandstone, giving a great variety of soils and therefore niches for different plants. There are several unusual plants in these woods, such as columbine and stone bramble (see detail of flower left). In the flat valley bottom is an area of old meadows that are lightly grazed by cattle, a form of management that has not changed in several hundred years. In 1986 some 80 acres of this valuable habitat was made into an SSSI, including the meadows and some of the woodland. On the west bank of the river is a heronry.
Along the track there are numerous wild roses, including this one of the Rosa mollis group, with deep pink flowers, bluish foliage, thin straight prickles and numerous glandular hairs on the sepals. Just by the gate from the meadow back into the woods there is a run of fine old lime trees (the native species Tilia cordata with relatively delicate foliage and the flower clusters held above the leaves). Along this stretch of path Rosanna remembers there used to be a few plants of wintergreen Pyrola minor. Several of us searched the woods quite thoroughly but sadly failed to find it. Pauline is familiar with this species and reckons it would be easier to spot in late autumn or winter when other plants have died down as its name suggests Pyrola remains green and therefore stands out against the brown of dead leaves so it is probably worth another search later in the year. It would certainly be great to find this unusual plant still growing here on one of its known old sites. We did find both columbine and lily of the valley (leaves only, the flowers had finished), but the highlight for many of us was a good colony of stone bramble. This is a small relative of blackberries and raspberries that grows on steep rocky slopes, in or near old woods, at least here in Ryedale. It is difficult to identify unless it is in flower or fruit: here you can see the characteristic flowers with small, narrow, pure white petals standing upright from the five sepals that open out into a 5-pointed star as the flowers fade. The fruits, which dont form very often, are red and shiny, with fewer segments than a bramble.
|Three views of the stone bramble Rubus saxatilis, showing the slightly shiny, rather thin, grass-green leaves, on a plant with thin stems lacking spines and growing no more than a foot tall; the few-flowered inflorescence; and a detail of the characterstic flowers with upright, narrow petals that never open right back.|
The party stopped for lunch in the meadow, surrounded by buttercups and other flowers. Across the river we could see the heronry with at least one bird perched in the trees, probably on a nest. There are apparently fewer nests this year, perhaps down to three. After lunch most of the party took the sensible route along the bottom of the woods to Sleightholmedale Lodge, but the more adventurous took the Four Bridges Trail This involved crossing the river four times on bridges made from large tree-trunks by a local craftsman; the first of them is like something out of an adventure playgound, with several separate sections suspended from chains and swinging as you walk across them pleasantly scary! (This part of the walk is private, not on the public footpath; thanks to Rosanna for allowing us to use it.)
We spotted nest boxes on some of the riverside trees and were delighted to hear that one pair of pied flycatchers have successfully nested this year. The meadows along the river contain an interesting variety of plants including pignut, speedwells and perhaps more surprisingly great burnet, as well as this magnificent oak tree which must be many hundreds of years old spot the person for scale!
The group met up again in Rosannas fantastic garden. Sadly at this point the weather broke and we had to shelter from a cold shower in a summerhouse. We had an interesting discussion on gardening, including such questions as why you couldnt re-plant the same species in the same place once the first generation had died: this is well known as a problem with roses, but it also applies to e.g. cherries or apples. Rosanna discovered this the hard way when some of the older trees in what had been a cherry avenue began to die. When the rain more or less stopped we were shown some of the new experimental areas where garden plants are encouraged to grow in native grassland (which is thus low maintenance as it only needs chopping down once a year). This seems to be very successful, especially in the area where beautiful yellow Pyrenean lilies are thriving, and another area which has species gladioli and various large-flowered cranesbills. Finally we saw the damage caused by the two or three severe May frosts we had this year, although many plants are already bouncing back.
The gardens at Sleightholmedale Lodge are sometimes open to the public, and if you get the chance I would strongly recommend a visit. Even the best kept gardens sometimes suffer from pests, and we spotted one mullein plant with a serious caterpillar problem! These (see below right) are the larvae of the mullein moth Cucullia verbasci. Tom thanked Rosanna (and Poppy the dog) on our behalf for showing us round this very special corner of Ryedale, both in the wild and in her beautiful garden.
I recorded 130 plants on the day, and added a few species later (thanks to Bill Thompson for identifying the Hawkweeds). Birds and other species are listed below.
List created with PlantFinder.
** Bill Thompson identified Hieracium pellucidum (good colony), H. argillaceum (few), H. sabaudum (few), H. consociatum (singleton) and
H. vulgatum (singleton) all along the same short stretch of wooded track.
On an earlier visit in May we also saw Yellow archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon, Early purple orchid Orchis mascula and spindle Euonymus europaeus (and the bluebells were fully out). This is an impressive list with almost 140 species, and Im sure I will have missed some. There was also one plant of the alien American skunk cabbage Lysichiton americanus on the west bank of the river which has presumably washed down from the old ornamental gardens at the top of Bransdale. This is a potentially invasive plant and should be monitored carefully.
Probably because of the time of year we didnt see or hear many birds (they would be busy feeding young, and hidden in the thick foliage of the woods). Tom Denney recorded songthrush, blackbird, wren, robin, bullfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, heron, kestrel, jackdaw and rook. Rosanna tells us that the heronry is still there but only a few nests this year (3?). At least one pair of pied flycatcher nested down by the Hodge south of the Lodge, and a pair of spotted flycatcher nesting in the Lodge gardens.
We saw one hare in the meadow, a clouded magpie (see left) and a couple of chimney sweeper moths and one or two white butterflies, but the insect count was disappointingly low.
|Text © Ryedale Natural History Society 2010; photos © Gill Smith, Nan Sykes and Ryenats 2010||Back to the Home page|