Despite the lingering post-Christmas cold, I finally got out this afternoon and participated in the annual BSBI New Year Plant Hunt. The idea is for people across the UK to get out and see what they can find in flower in their neighbourhood for a three hour period some time between January 1st and 4th. It’s a great bit of ‘citizen science’ – BSBI provide an easy-to-use app to let you record your findings and you can take photos and have an expert identify the plant for you if you are unsure.
I decided to go to Thristlington NNR, one of my regular summer haunts, to see what I could find at this time of year. The site is special for its colonies of Dark-red helleborines (Epipactis atrorubens), and Blue moor grass (Sesleria caerulea), (see More Thrislington Orchids for 30 Days wild) but also has a wide range of other plants of calcareous grassland – cowslips, rock roses, flax and other orchids.
Perhaps the biggest surprise today was finding one field full of cattle and another full of sheep and ponies.
These animals are here to manage the reserve – without their grazing, succession would naturally lead to scrub such as dog roses and hawthorn encroaching and outcompeting many of the special grassland plants. We saw the effects of lack of this sort of control all too clearly in the Valley of Flowers this summer.
In the event, there were few plants to be seen in flower – hazel trees and white dead nettle were the only things I spotted.
Male Hazel catkins (Corylus avellana) and White dead-nettle (Lamium album)
However my visit to Thrislington was far from a wasted trip. Of course something not being present is every bit as valid an observation as something being present but, much more than that, there were plenty of other interesting things to see. It’s not that likely that I would have ventured out to spend a couple of hours exploring the reserve on a cold January afternoon without a bit of a nudge. Many seed heads bear a closer look and are as beautiful as the flowers they follow.
Umbellifer, Compositae and Rock rose seed heads, left to right
I saw a spider abseiling from one seed head and the vibrant remains of a half-eaten rose hip on a cushion of feather moss, illustrating perfectly how appealing hips are to birds.
There were lichens aplenty on bare wood, especially hawthorn branches, as well as free-living Trentepohlia, the bright orange algal symbiont found in many lichens.
Xanthoria ucrainica, Trentepohlia and Cladonia sp., left to right
There was also plenty of evidence of new life emerging from beneath last autumn’s leaves and in nooks and crannies in the reserve’s rocky outcrops.
However the prize for most exquisite find of the day goes to these delicate fungi, no bigger than a finger nail, starting to grow on a piece of fallen birch wood.
It does go to show the value of being outdoors even when there isn’t much green around!