DWT Botany Group – Delights of the Coast

The last survey of the year saw three keen botanists meet at Blackhall Picnic site to explore plant life on the coast. The weather was milder than of late and the sun came out several times. This was relevant and showed how lucky we were because later we were told that at the other end of Hartlepool it had been raining all morning. Weather can be very localised in Durham.


We walked towards the coast and Crimdon which was the opposite way from the area we had surveyed before. Our challenge was to find as many of the plants we saw in May when we surveyed the other side of the footpath and note any others. Looking at plants this time of year is quite difficult and possibly only for the experts. If you are lucky you may come across a plant in flower but often or not you are faced with a stalk of dead leaves with possibly an old seed head somewhere along it. Not daunted we carried on.


We started with plants well known to us all Urtica dioica (Common nettle) and Heracleum sphondylium (Hogweed). The latter belonging to the Apiaceae family,Umbllifer or carrot family was still in flower. Next we studied a Sonchus oleraceus (Smooth Sow-thistle) discussing how we knew it belonged to the Daisy or Asteraceae family. Members of the daisy family have small florets in dense heads, unstalked on a flat or rounded disc on the end of the stem.


Vetches caught our interest especially as few of them were still in flower. The flower of Vicia sativa (Common vetch) still had a few flowers open in bright pink/purple. We looked at and examined closely Vicia hirsuta (Hairy tare) but most of the flowers which are very tiny had gone.


Grasses caught our attention too, amongst them Arrhenatherum elatius (False Oat grass) and Phleum pratense (Timothy). At this point we stopped to watch and observe a small herd of Belted Galloways who are helping protect the countryside and allowing the best of the flowers to grow by devouring all the thistles , nettles and other species which can be rather invasive.These cattle are possibly a cross between the ancient Galloway and the Dutch belted cow- the Lakenvelder in the 17th/18th century. They are usually black with a wide white belt but can be red as we saw today. They are particularly hardy and are seen more and more in fields in Durham.


Next we found a fern, we had already seen bracken. Looking at this by using the charts we had when we studied ferns we knew we were looking at a Male Fern possibly a Scaly Male Fern – Dryopteris affinis. Of course our list by then was getting quite long seeing ones on the original list and others that weren’t but we think it best if you see the list. Species List


Having recently been on a fungi training day we keep an eye out for them but only saw one from the division Basidomycosta – a puff ball well past its best but still with a few spores escaping when we knocked it. The winner of the prettiest flowers were the Helianthemum nummularium (Common Rock-rose ) with many flowers still out on the cliff tops and a very splendid example of Linaria vulgaris (Common Toadflax) found by the railway.


We enjoyed our stroll in the Autumn sunshine, the magnificent views along the coast in either direction and the chance to learn more about botany.


Thanks to Steve for organising another successful trip and we look forward to next year’s programme starting with the New Year Plant Hunt. Contact botany@durhamwt.co.uk for more information on the Durham Wildlife Trust Botany Group and to join.


Carole Lloyd