Swallows and spring flora at Milkwellburn Wood

Steve Gater DWT Botany Group, News

What a lovely Sunday morning, blue sky, sun shining, still and temperature around 18°C, first swallows and sand martins hawking over the glistening River Derwent – brilliant. And where better to be than in Milkwellburn Wood, looking for plants, in flower or not. Things were certainly looking good, with plenty of Danish Scurvy grass, Cochlearia danica, on the roadside as we drove to the site, and flowering garden escapes brightening the approach to the wood – honesty, Lunaria annua, and arkanet, Pentaglossis sempervirens.

Sweet violet,Viola odorata

The small group of relatively new botanists was keen to show its emerging talents. Last year we had the privilege of being escorted around the wood by Vice County recorder, John Durkin and we tried to follow his trail (thank you, John). This time our unexpected guide was Alan, a local resident, very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about this reserve. The wood is classified as a PAWS site (plantation on ancient woodland site) and is a fairly recent acquisition by Durham Wildlife Trust. The management plan aims to restore the site to native deciduous woodland, through regular commercial felling and removal of timber, then planting a range of native species. It will take years for the wood to return to its former glory, but we were encouraged by many of our finds today, showing that there is biodiversity to build on. Click here for details of this reserve.

Polypody, Polypodium vulgare

So, a small team with much to find, and how better to approach that task than by taking individual roles; Steph recording (Latin names no bother), Bill taking the excellent pictures you see here, Keith giving a guide on features and work done (great commentary), Carole on keys (simply a breeze), Gaynor our expert on Bryophytes identification (confirmed after fuller examination at home) and everyone on spotting and naming. It truly was a great team effort, with 81 vascular plants identified plus bryophytes – see lists. We only dipped on one specimen, a tree seedling with 2 fleshy cotyledons – your comments are welcomed.

Great scented liverwort, Conocephalum conicum,

The 3 hours allotted were quickly spent, but not before our final task, a condition assessment of a PAWS compartment – a 20 x 20M square (quadrat). We walked repeatedly along the plot to record everything we could see, then assessed relative frequency on the DAFOR scale (Dominant, Abundant, Frequent, Occasional, Rare). It looked bleak, and the data confirmed that view. Spruce, Picea sitchensis, was dominant, the remaining 15 species were estimated as occasional or rare. Things can only get better with active management and time – well, let’s hope so.

Keith against Sitka spruce, Picea sitchensis


Dotted thyme-moss, Rhizomnium punctatum 

A great morning and we’ll be back!

Click here for a full species list.

Steve Gater
Chair at Durham Wildlife Trust

Steve has a life-long interest in wildlife and a passion for flora. As an active member of the Durham Wildlife Trust Botany Group Steve enjoys exploring Vice County 66, the area covered by Durham Wildlife Trust, with its many specialities and wide range of common species. Inspired by Albrecht Dürer, Steve is a strong advocate for enjoying, protecting and conserving habitats and the wildlife they support - a fundamental priority for us all!