On Sunday 23rd April eight members of the DWT Botany Group were out on the banks of the Tees again, this time upon the kind invitation of the Darlington and Teesdale Naturalists’ Field Club, DTNFC. Once again the weather was warm and sunny, the river was looking good and spring flora was in abundance. So too was the fauna, which on this occasion was being spotted and identified by DTNFC members. This really was a visit where everything living was being enthusiastically observed by some twenty keen naturalists.
The walk started in Barnard Castle, crossing the metal footbridge at the bottom of the bank, then along the path and road to Eggleston Abbey where we enjoyed lunch amongst the ruins (such a shame to see such destruction, but that’s the history bit done). Then over the bridge and a walk deep into the wood on the north side of the Tees, heading East. That took some time because the wood was so sublime! Back along the path to Barnard Castle, picking up 7 specimens of our now familiar spring delight Gagea lutea, yellow star of Bethlehem – this time ‘gone over’ and looking a little sorry for itself.
As usual on these trips, the walk tends to be at a leisurely pace – even more so on this one with so many species to see along the way. It was great to see Doronicum paradalianches, Leopard’s bane, after only a short while – a new species for a few of us and looking splendid with its strong yellow flower. It’s an introduced species but well worth finding. Also along the first stretch of the tees were plenty of Petasites hybridus, butterbur – still in flower and another first sighting this spring for some. As ever it was competing with, and losing to the quick and massively growing Heraculum mantegazzianum, Giant hogweed and a giant pest. A more pleasing member of the cabbage family, the Brassicaceae, to see in flower was the common Anthriscus syvestris, cow parsley, with its umbels of tiny white flowers showing over its wide green pinnate leaves. And a more pleasing Brassica to smell was nearby – Myrrhis odorata, sweet cicely – the smell of aniseed and white markings on some of the upper leaves served as quick clues to aid identification.
The wood turned out to be a particular delight and for almost all of us relatively familiar with this route, a revelation, a hidden gem. The walk along is part of the Teesdale Way, steep sided and potentially treacherous with a strongly flowing river down below. But the blue carpet of Hyacynthoides non-scripta, bluebell, was serene. This common spring flower is under threat from garden escapes and hybridization, which made the show so rewarding. Flowering Arum maculatum, Lords and Ladies, was a good find, as was Sanicua europea, sanicle, almost out in flower. Both female and male plants of Mercurialis perennis, dog’s mercury, were on show, along with another dioecious plant, Silene dioica, red campion. Dioecy is where a species has separate female and male plants to encourage cross-pollination to widen the gene pool. They are well worth looking out for, but beware of that common example, Urtica dioica, stinging nettle!
There was anther chance to see the dainty Adoxa moschatellina, moschatel, in flower – the ‘town hall’ plant. That gave rise to a discussion of what family it belongs to – time for a bit of research? We were also looking for violets and found two; Viola reichenbachiana, V. riviniana (early dog-violet and common dog-violet respectively). A study of the Violaceae, violet family, is a focus for the botany group over the summer – please be in touch with any records. You can read about the efforts of DWT volunteers to plant Viola palustris, marsh violet, to feed the scare and beautiful small pearl bordered butterfly – click here for the story. And there was much more to see!
The walk was friendly, informed and rewarding, a great way to spend a spring afternoon and we are most grateful to Elizabeth Elliot of DTNFC for inviting us and for leading the way. We now look forward to more opportunities to link with this excellent group and maybe we’ll take a lead the next time. Click here for a botanical species list that may be updated in due course by one also recording fauna.
We’ll be visiting the Tees again this summer on 9th July, when the temperature has risen enough for the unique flora of Upper Teesdale to be on display.