Ian Thomas, a DWT Botany Group member, takes us on a botanical journey through Derwent Gorge and Muggleswick Wood in this report from one of DWT Botany Group’s most recent outings (Details on how you can get involved are included at the end of this report).
On Saturday 20th May the Durham Wildlife Trust Botany Group visited Derwent Gorge and Muggleswick Wood, a site designated as a National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its fine ancient oak woodlands, some unique semi-natural grasslands and a regionally important lichen assemblage.
This was my first outing with the Durham Wildlife Trust Botany Group and so I was unsure what to expect. I’d met some of the group before through volunteering and other Wildlife Trust events and knew them to be experienced botanists. Another member of the group was the tutor on a series of wildflower identification training days I did three years ago so I knew I was among very knowledgeable people. Would I be expected to recognise all the species we found and know their scientific names?
Our first stop was the woodland around South Horsleyhope Burn, a tributary of the River Derwent. Once through the gate, the group spread out, looking carefully all around and recording every plant to be seen. Some were easily recognised and quickly identified, even those that were not yet in flower. Others had people kneeling on the ground to get a really close look with a hand lens. Some, such as Mycelis muralis (wall lettuce), required a bit of discussion and consultation of the various ID guides until a positive identification could be made. As well as wildflowers, grasses, sedges, rushes, ferns, mosses and lichens all came under scrutiny. Highlights in the first section included ancient woodland indicators Galium odoratum (woodruff) and Lysimachia nemorum (yellow pimpernel).
After over an hour of exploring the woodland and streamside, some of the group crossed the burn to a more open area, gaining a brief glimpse of a dipper on the burn as we waited to cross the ford. On the other side we found both Fragaria vesca and Potentilla sterilis (wild and barren strawberry) as well as Saxifraga granulata (meadow saxifrage).
Returning to the cars, we drove to a point where a public footpath descends into the gorge to cross the River Derwent at Leadmill Bridge. Following the path down the gorge and up the other side, we came across several interesting species including Melampyrum pratense (common cow-wheat) and Sanicula europaea (sanicle) – also ancient woodland indicators. Despite threatening clouds, the rain showers quickly passed and we were able to explore an area of pasture. Some of us were also fortunate enough to hear a cuckoo calling nearby.
After a picnic lunch, our final activity was a quick dash on to Muggleswick Common in wind and rain to see Genista anglica (petty whin) almost hidden amongst the heather and in flower.
It was a fascinating day, a great walk and I learned a lot. Everyone was friendly and approachable and more than willing to answer questions and help with plant identification using common as well as scientific names. Even the most experienced botanists in the group talked about the plants they found most difficult to identify and the training they would like to do to improve their own knowledge. For anyone with an interest in botany at any level, DWT Botany Group is a great place to learn more.
This report was kindly penned by Ian Thomas, with photographs taken by Lesley Hodgson and Keith Robson who also provided the detailed species list – click here to download. Thanks also go to Martin Furness of Natural England for permitting our access and providing helpful guidance.
If you are interested in learning about and enjoying the wonderful wild plants within the Durham Wildlife Trust area please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. You would be most welcome to join an event of your choice.