Crowtrees revisted (A lot!)

This summer’s new favourite spot for plant hunting is Crowtrees LNR, just half an hour’s walk from our house.  I first had a proper explore one morning in January when the paths were too icy for my normal run (see ‘Too icy to run’).  Now it’s in full bloom with plenty of orchids.

Orchid collage 1Left to right – Northern marsh (Dactylorhiza purpurella), Fragrant (Gymnadenia conopsea), Common twayblade (Listera ovata) and Common spotted orchids (D. fuchsii)

The reserve is on the site of an old quarry and colliery and, like so many places around Durham, is a far from natural landscape.  One of the positive things about this is the resultant diversity of habitats within a relatively small area.  In some of the long-standing, level areas of Magnesian limestone grassland, the longer meadow grass is kept in check by abundant, semi-parasitic yellow rattle.  Here there are large spikes of Heath spotted orchid, D. maculata amongst the plethora of Common spotted orchids.

Heath spotted orchid collage
Heath spotted orchid spike and detail of flower

On steeper slopes, only a thin topsoil has been able to develop on top of the quarry rubble. Even these areas, though, are covered by wild Thyme and Mouse-ear hawkweed with the occasional Carline thistle and Twayblade for variety.  This year there is no sign of the lovely bee orchids I’ve seen in the reserve in previous years but I suspect they are here – I just haven’t spent enough time searching!

rubble collageLeft to right – Thyme (Thymus polytrichus), Carline thistle (Carlina vulgaris) and Common Twayblade

The mine settling ponds provide another type of habitat – Martyn has written about the diatoms and other algae in the ponds in Pleasures in my own backyard’, but my attention is caught more by the damselflies, both Common blue and Variable, attracted by the water.

Damselfly collage
Variable (left) and Common blue damselflies (the female is brown)

There are plenty of nitrogen-fixing legumes amongst the vegetation, busy improving the nutrient content of the soil – Hop trefoil, Red and Zig-zag clovers, Ribbed melilot and Tufted vetch.

Legume collageLeft to right – Hop trefoil (Trifolium campestre), Zig-zag clover (T. medium) and Ribbed melilot (Melilotus officinalis)

The vetch, in particular, is abuzz with pollinating insects – both Carder and White-tailed bees and Common blue butterflies.

Vetch pollinator collage
Common blue butterfly and White-tailed bumblebee supping nectar from Tufted vetch (Vicia cracca)

I feel so priviledged to have all this on my doorstep, for reasons I’ve explained in ‘The value of green. Even reluctant teenagers might find they are enjoying themselves, especially where there are wild strawberries!

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