Annual count of dark red helleborine

DWT Botany Group DWT Botany Group, News

Raisby Quarry and spoil site are great places to see that wonderful County Durham speciality, the dark red helleborine, Epipactis atrorubens.

By Monday 24th July most of the plants had ‘gone over’, developing fruit from their distinctive dark red flowers. However, the spikes were still easy to see, well, with a trained eye, that is. Look for the characteristic leaf shape, long green / purple spike and small dark red flowers arranged along it. So now was the time to carry out our annual count, to see how this beauty has fared since last year.

Dark red helleborine plants

The small and enthusiastic survey team set to work by finding the post markers that guided long tape measures down the slope to act as transects. Seven compartments are spaced along the length of the spoil heap, heading towards the smaller quarry. Once the tape is in place the eager volunteers aligned themselves in a row and steadily walked down, or up the slope, counting every plant at either side of them. You really have to ‘get your eye in’, and once done the exercise becomes a challenge to ensure that every DRH is found. Noticing one plant is often the key to finding a small cluster others, not immediately obvious, but they are there! Even rabbit-chewed leaf remains are picked up with patience and it is a real treat to see larger plants still in their floral prime.

Not surprisingly, this is quite a time-consuming exercise, but enjoyable and rewarding once the numbers are counted. So, this year we managed a total count of 830 plants – well done and thank you to Angi, Barbara, Heather and Keith. This is broadly the same count as in 2016 and follows a pleasing trend of increased numbers from the total of 417 plants recorded in 2010.

Barbara volunteers on this site over the winter when invasive scrub is removed to give the helleborines light and space for the following spring. In spite of considerable hard work by her and fellow volunteers, there was still too much competition from willow, birch and other more rank vegetation. So, thank you for the task force effort last year, and more please this winter!

Being on magnesian limestone means seeing other lovely plants, some in flower still, others gone over. The delightful finds included Blackstonia perfoliata (yellow-wort), Gymnadenia conopsea (fragrant orchid), Campanula rotundifolia (harebell), Centaurium erythraea (common centaury),  Helianthemum nummularia (rockrose), Carlina vulgaris (carline thistle) and lots more.

But the survey is not yet complete and your help is very much welcomed. The team ran out of time to survey the adjacent quarry, a smaller site but equally important. So, if you could kindly offer a couple of hours to help in the next week, please email with your details and availability. Thank you in anticipation for your support.

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 or telephone 0191 584 3112