Upper Teesdale Treat

DWT Botany Group DWT Botany Group, News

Henrietta White, a new member tells of her first field trip with the DWT Botany Group. This field trip was to a place of special floral interest – Upper Teesdale.  On this occasion the group was accompanied by members from the Upper Teesdale Botany Group.

On the afternoon of Sunday 9th July we set off from Hanging Shaw car park, just below Forest-in-Teesdale Primary School, and walked down the hill towards Cronkley Bridge to begin our walk along this beautiful stretch of the River Tees.

The weather was fair, with the sun in and out of the clouds, a gentle breeze ruffled the waters of the Tees as it babbled its way coastwards.

Melancholy thistle (Cirsium heterophyllum)

We had the good fortune to have Margaret Bradshaw, MBE, PhD with us and under her expert guidance we carried out a detailed survey of the flowers, grasses, sedges and rushes that were all growing well in these optimum conditions. The delightful melancholy thistle, Cirsium heterophyllum, was one of the first special flowers to come across.


Alpine bistort (Polygonum viviparum)


Rough hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus)

There were many species to be found: the common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), the common fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea), the common twayblade (Neottia ovata), milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), sea plantain (Plantago maritima) with its creamy flowers borne on spikes pushing up through the grass and the white spikes of the rare alpine bistort (Polygonum viviparum). In sharp contrast to the yellow rough hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus) the deep red globular flowers of the great burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) stood out, making them easy to distinguish. This burnet is related to the salad burnet so often grown in herb gardens and belongs to the rose family (Rosacae).

Mountain pansy (Viola lutea) – yellow and purple forms


Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) with crested dog’s-tail (Cynosurus cristatus)


Mouse eared hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) with tell-tale red marks under the yellow ray florets

Margaret’s sharp eye soon picked out the lemon yellow flowers of the mouse eared hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) of which there were quite a few examples. There were a few mountain pansies (Viola lutea) growing on the edge of the hay meadow and a few examples of sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica). Margaret told us that this gets its common name because in the past it was dried and used as snuff. There were a few pignut plants (Conopodium majus) and again Margaret came out with an interesting fact. The old rhyme ‘here we go gathering nuts in May’ refers to this plant (after all there are no nuts in May, are there). The roots have a nut-like form – pigs love the taste of them.

Margaret explains the characteristics of a sedge

The diversity of grasses, sedges and rushes growing along this riverbank was truly amazing. We found sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), timothy-grass (Phleum pratense), quaking grass (Briza media), crested dog’s-tail (Cynosurus cristatus) and the flea sedge (Carex pulicaris).

Field gentian (Gentianella campestris)

Further along the river bank the ground becomes more rocky as a moraine slopes steeply up from the river. The deliciously candy pink flowers of the bird’s eye primrose (Primula farinosa) peeped out from between the rocks, along with the yellow rock roses (Helianthemum nummularium) and royal blue milkwort.

The culmination of our survey was the finding of not one, but several field gentians (Gentianella campestris). Margaret told us that they are biennial and only in the second year does that insignificant rosette of leaves produce the beautiful mauve flowers that botanists travel so far to see.

Small scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) within a patch of quaking grass (Briza media)

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable day. Please click here for a list of the 101 species seen.

Thank you to Henrietta for her detailed and enthusiastic report. It’s good to know that her first visit was such a success. Thank you also to Margaret Bradshaw for revealing these botanical treasures and for the wealth of information that she added to the trip. Thank you also to Keith Robson for his detailed species list.

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