The Whinnies, a new reserve for DWT

The DWT botany group met at the entrance to this local nature reserve that the Trust has recently acquired from Darlington Borough Council. It is just off the A67 north of Middleton St George. Read about the Whinnies by clicking here.

 

We were visiting in mid-October, with autumn in the air yet on a pleasantly mild day. As expected, most of the flowering was long gone, so identification was more reliant upon fruit and vegetative parts. However, that didn’t stop the plant list covering 125 species! Comparing with earlier surveys, we could have amassed a total of 185, so, we’ll be back in summer 2018 to see what we missed this time.

Erigeron acris (Blue Fleabane) at the Whinnies

 

You can often tell how good a site is for plants in the first 20 minutes. If, by then, you have managed to walk less than 50 yards it is going to be a good day – and this was definitely a good day. In fact, we only covered about half of the reserve in the 3 hours allotted to the visit. We ran out of time to do full justice to some of the ‘better parts’, missing orchids galore.

 

We started by noticing the variety of deciduous trees, identification helped by falling leaves, fruit and newly formed buds. It was useful to be able to compare Acer campestre (field maple), A. platanoides (Norway maple) and A. Pseudoplatanus (sycamore) as well as Betula pendula (silver birch) with B. pubsecens (downy birch). We checked the hawthorns very closely to look for the number of seeds in the fruit – only one, making the species Crataegus monogyna (common hawthorn). Have a look at hawthorns when you are out –  C. laevigata (midland hawthorn) has two seeds per fruit

 

We found a good range of rushes, not to everyone’s taste, but a good chance to compare and contrast. Juncus subnodulosus (blunt-flowered rush) was new to many, J. bufonius (toad rush) new to a few and J. inflexus (hard rush) was a good find. True sedges were well represented and I am correct in noting the find of Carex otrubae vulpina (false fox-sedge) but we couldn’t spot C. vulpina (otrubae (true fox-sedge) recorded years before. Sedges belong to the Cyperaceae family and the ones we were finding are grouped in the Carex genus and are generally referred to as ‘true’ sedges. Yes, its confusing and identification can be tricky. If you are looking for a good guide as a Christmas present you might start with the excellent BSBI handbook no 1, edition 3 – cllck here for information. Thank you again to Julia Quinonez for her earlier training on sedges and rushes, as well as the day on grasses – they were recorded too.

Dog Lichen Peltigera possibly P didactyla at the Whinnies

 

It being autumn, we were coming across plenty of fungi, but this is an area where the group struggles and could do with some training. Fortunately we’ll be out with the North East Fungus Study Group in Bearpark Wood to learn a little more. Thank you to Val Standen and the group for this opportunity. If you are interested in fungi, it is a great group to join – click here to learn more. As ever, Gaynor quickly disappeared into the trees to search out an abundance of bryophytes – mosses and liverworts, and seemed well pleased with her finds.

bryum capillare (capillary thread moss)

 

As you would expect on a site that is calcareous there were lime loving mosses, Fissidens Taxifolius (Lesser pocket moss) and Plagiomnium undulatum (Waved silk moss) growing on earth banks by the path. Mosses on trees Rhyncostegium confertum (Clustered feather moss) with spore containing capsules were found on basic bark of Wych Elm and Orthotrichum affine (Wood bristle moss) on bark of crack willow. A delicate leafy liverwort Lophocolea bidentata (Bifid crestwort) was found on dead wood keeping moist amongst the mosses. Acrocarpous mosses Bryum capillare (Capillary thread moss) and Grimmia pulvinata (Grey cushioned grimmia) were found growing by a stony path near the edge of the reserve. The straggling pleurocarpous moss Kindbergia praelongum (Common feather moss) and Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus (Springy turf moss) were found in a grassy glade. The much-branched networks of these mosses increase their surface area for the capture of dew and rain. (Mosses have no roots to take up water, an advantage that enables to grow on any material preparing the way for herbaceous plants to take root.) In total there were 16 species of bryophytes found in this short visit.

Bryophytes of The Whinnies Nature Reserve 19.10.2017

Dicranum scoparium
Broom Fork Moss
Orthotrichum anomalum
Anomalus bristle moss
Fissidens taxifolius
Lesser pocket moss
Plagiomnium undulatum
Waved silk moss
Rhychostegium confertum
Clustered feather moss
Bryum capillare
Capillary thread moss
Lophocolea bidentata
Bifid crestwort
Orthotrichum affine
Wood bristle moss
Hypnum cupressiforme
Cypress leaved plait moss
Hypnum andoi
Mammillate plait moss
Calliergonella cuspidata
Pointed spear moss
Pseudoscleropodium purum
Neat feather moss
Rhytidiadelphus suarrosus
Springy turf moss
Grimmia pulvinata
Grey cushioned moss
Barbula convoluta
Lesser birds claw moss

We had started to move a little more quickly by now, but not for long! We stumbled across a mound with cycle tracks cutting up and down it between the trees. As you’ll read about the site, it stands on a former ironworks on the original Stockton to Darlington railway line and the flora tells that the ballast was, and still is, magnesium limestone. So, now we started to see the typical indicator species, with lots of yellow-flowered  Blackstonia perfoliata (yellow-wort), Briza media (quaking grass), Campanula glomerata (clustered bellflower), Gentianella amarelle (autumn gentian), Gymnadenia canopsea (chalk fragrant orchid) and many more delightful species.

Cyperus longus Galingale at the Whinnies

 

However, we did come across some less welcome finds, in particular  Crassula helmsii (New Zealand pigmyweed), an invasive pest species growing in the pond. Removal of this and many other tasks will fall to the enthusiastic DWT volunteers and, hopefully locals, over the months to come – thank you in advance for your efforts. Thank you also to Barbara and Malcolm Shorney, DWT members and local residents, who arrived on site to tell the group something of the fascinating history of the site. It certainly is an asset for the Trust to manage.

Russula betularum at the Whinnies

 

Great support from the group as ever, with particular thanks to Gaynor for the Bryophytes records and to Keith for the species list and photographs. Species List for The Whinnies NR

 

If you are interested in wild plants of any description, why not find out more about the DWT botany group? A new programme is being devised for 2018 and you will be most welcome to come along. Before that, how about learning to identify trees? The next chance will be on Sunday 12th November, 1300 – 160-0 at Low Barns. For more details check the DWT website events page or email botany@durhamwt.co.uk.