DWT Botany Group visits Blackhall Rocks

DWT Botany Group DWT Botany Group, News


The day was planned to survey parts of the Durham coast which are recovering from many years of industrial spoilage from the now defunct local coal mines. Durham Wildlife Trust manages Blackhall Rocks and Cross Gill nature reserve, the Trust and its volunteers are working to improve biodiversity of the site in the long term. We visited four plots to see what we could find. I am most grateful to Anne Quigley, who volunteers to help manage the site, for her insightful and engaging report;

On 30th May a group of 13 botanists and would-be botanists assembled at Blackhall Rocks car park for a foray. As well as the usual experts, not-so-experts [that’s me] and identiplant students, it was nice to see that we had Louise, a visitor from Margaret Bradshaw’s Upper Teesdale Botany Group with us. We will be visiting Upper Teesdale next month so hope to see more of the group then. We enjoyed another joint visit earlier with the Darlington and Teesdale Naturalists Field Group on one of their field trips to Barnard Castle. Among those joining us was the botanist, geologist and county walk leader John Burgess, and his wife Lena, as well as Ruth, one of the little tern wardens at Crimdon.

Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris

The Blackhall site boasts a rich array of flora on its cliffs and coastal grasslands, with the wet gullies hosting locally rare plants such as butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris, birds-eye primrose, Primula farinosa and grass of Parnassus, Parnassia paulstris. Could we find them?

First we went down onto the beach and wandered along the dune edge, finding plenty of colour and variety, including the vibrant bloody cranesbill, Geranium sanguineum, thrift, Armeria maritima, kidney vetch, Anthyllis vulneraria, and common spotted and early marsh-orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii and Dactylorhiza incarnata . There was common milkwort, Polygala vulgaris, and hay rattle, Rhinanthus minor and rock-rose, Helianthemum nummularium, a-plenty, though sadly no argus butterflies on the rock-rose. There were so many species I lost count. Species list for Blackhall Rocks.

Common spotted orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii

We ventured up a steep gillside to find round-leaved wintergreen [new to me] and plenty of butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris, marsh valerian, Valeriana dioica, and common twayblade, Neottia ovata. Bird’s-eye primrose, Primula farinosa, must have been hiding. The surroundings were delightful so we paused for lunch with a fine sea view. The Durham Heritage coast has a fine outdoor coastal festival on the go in the week of our visit called’ Reach for the Beach’ and we could see their rock-pool event from afar but no-one offered to venture over to see what they
had discovered as we were all too comfortable.

Common rock rose, Helianthemum nummularium

Further along the beach, we took steep steps up the south side of Blue House Gill, hoping to locate the grass of Parnassus, Parnassia palustris, nearby, but it was not to be. It was noted that there was quite a lot of creeping willow, Salix repens, over the site, which may have hidden other species from view. Also seen nearby was hemp agrimony, Eupatorium cannabinum, and sea buckthorn, Elaeagnus rhamnoides, both locally invasive, which as task-force volunteers Carole and I have both had occasion to remove, in and around Blue House Gill. Not to mention the
gorse on the north Crimdon site. A lot of work goes into keeping the plant-life diverse !

Hairy tare, Vicia hirsuta, and mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris

From the top of Bluehouse Gill we walked back along the cliff top path along the meadow, finding yet more species including ones I didn’t recognise, hairy tare, Vicia hirsuta, and mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. Carole pointed out a patch of lucerne, Medicago sativa, new to some of us.

Overall it was a very enjoyable day, and the lack of grass of Parnassus and birds-eye primrose are the ideal excuse to go back again. There was enthusiasm for the lovely site and weather, and
mini-lessons on the hop trefoil/ lesser trefoil/ black medick dilemma. Many thanks to those who shared their knowledge; it was a pleasure to be there. On driving away, I saw a goldfinch…a perfect end to a good day.

Thank you to Anne for her report that is informed by pictures and species list from Keith Robson. Thank you also to Mark Dinning for background information and to everyone for making this visit such a special day.

DWT Botany Group

Established in 2015, the DWT Botany Group aims to ignite and encourage an interest in the world of plants. The group is based at Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve and organises talks, botanical walks and field trips throughout the Durham Wildlife Trust area. Please click here for information on our upcoming events.

For more information or to register your interest in getting involved then please email Steve Gater on botany@durhamwt.co.uk or telephone 0191 584 3112