Our heritage is changing very quickly. I mention quite a few points in this account that might seem extraneous to our flower walk but with the current increasing rate of change they may well be notable points of history in five years’ time. I record them so that we know they happened in May 2019.
Extinction Rebellion Activities (blocking bridges etc) has raised the profile of the environment so that at last the press and hence people and government is taking species extinctions and climate change more seriously.
May is a good time of year for Globeflowers so we decide to hold it at Colt Park (one mile south of Ribblehead). This is where Natural England’s Ingleborough National Nature Reserve has its office, equipment and workroom in a big barn.
Craven is near the NW SE divide for Globeflowers. But in Yorkshire Globeflowers have disappeared, within living memory, from former sites due to meadows being drained, fertilized and reseeded. It is an example of just one of many species becoming rarer due to human activity.
The main farmer of the land at Colt Park is called Rodney Beresford and he lives at the road to Hawes where Ribblesdale stops and Widdale starts. I go to Colt Park earlier in the day to plan the walk. Colin Newlands, the Senior Reserve Manager at Ingleborough National Nature Reserve, based at Colt Park Barn, is very helpful and prints out a report for me on an experiment carried out recently in the meadows on the effects of drought on vegetation. He arranges for me to use the barn in the evening with the group, which will be useful if the weather is bad.
I print some sheets with a list of lichen names and wildflower names and return to Colt Park Barn somewhat close to the deadline for the start of the walk (6.45pm). It is, as forecast, dry and cold. Sixteen people have arrived.
We walk down the gravel track through the cutting in the limestone pavement to the flat field below. It is full of Early-purple Orchids like rows of purple policemen.
Gently we walk up through the pavement beside the wood, separated from it only by the cliff that makes the wood inaccessible.
Colt Park Wood itself is a narrow strip of wood some 50m wide and 2km long, on a ledge of limestone pavement: inaccessible to sheep and humans. I first visited it 40 years ago taking a group from Malham Tarn Field Centre on a Wild Flowers Course. A couple of us then clambered up the cliff at the edge and looked in. The grykes (holes) are 50cm wide and over 2 m deep big enough to lose a sheep or a cow or a human, but now covered by spreading ferns and vegetation. I peered at this prehistoric, primeval magical landscape. This is what the vegetation must have looked like before humans came along with their sheep, I thought. The trees are limited almost entirely to Ash, Rowan and Bird Cherry. The ground flora consisted of Dog’s Mercury, various ferns, and Bluebells. Did I see Herb Paris and Wood Sanicle? And nettles. Was this the vegetation people saw in the days of Robin Hood? Or earlier? for by then this land was owned by the monasteries of Fountains and Furness, and would be sheep grazing land.
Anyway, it was and is magical and really totally inaccessible to ordinary mortals except perhaps in late winter and early spring when the vegetation has died down and it is possible to see where the grykes are.
We look at the woodland plants beside the track. Later we will have opportunity to look over the wall at the wood further along.
orty years ago, the government had just three reserves in this area: Colt Park, Scar Close and Ling Gill. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) had South House Pavement, and Salt Lake (by arrangement with the railway). Now Natural England (the government) has much more land on Ingleborough and the YWT has Southerscales, Brae Pasture and Ashes Pasture. Much of the area is classified as SSSI. There are schemes (which keep changing) to support farmers to some extent, as the money made by selling sheep and cattle alone does not pay for the land management.
The track up to Colt Park is an excellent way to show people plants. I stand on top of a clint (block of limestone) with most of the people down on the track and point with my walking pole to the plants that are at eye level to the people.
At the gate we stop to look as some lichen growing on the gate. The cows come to see too. There is the grey leafy lichen Parmelia saxatilis. With a hand lens or good short-sight, you can see white lines on top of ridges, and near the centre of the body of the lichen there are minute finger like projections known as isidia, which can get knocked off and thus spread the lichen. This lichen used to be used for a dye. I remember when I was young visiting my grandparents at the top of Weardale and using it to dye hard-boiled eggs for Easter. It is called Crottle or Stony Rag.
Lower down on the gate is the bright orange leafy lichen Xanthoria parietina. This grows where there are lots of nitrogenous nutrients such as bird droppings.
We enter the meadow. This had just been closed up the previous week so is full of daisies in flower. At the far end of the field are the “Colt Park Plots” These experimental plots were set up 29 years ago. Each c. 3m by 4m plot has had a certain treatment applied to it each year. Fertiliser, manure, red clover, and certain seeds added at one time. Researchers and students from various universities have come and made measurements and looked at different features: visits by insects, drought, carbon sequestration (i.e. how much carbon is stored in the soil when the roots and leaves die). This year, I am told, someone is going to study the amount of litter (dead grass leaves etc that form the top layer of soil and do not rot away immediately).
I had the job of recording the plant species on alternate years in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Deborah Millward of Thornton Rust did the recording over the first 20 years.
Half way across the field we stop and I show them Sweet Vernal-grass see video: https://youtu.be/BaZtikTKbNE and poem https://rainforest-save.blogspot.com/2010/04/anthoxanthum-odoratum-sweet-vernal.html
At the wall to the wood first we look at the lichens. The big white patches on top of the walls are Aspicilia calcarea. I suspect it grows well where there are extra bird droppings. It likes full sunlight. The occasional small dark orange-golden patch with a neat pleated edge is Caloplaca flavescens. Caloplaca means beautiful plaque. Then we looked into the wood. Bluebells! White-flowered Rowan and white-flowered Bird-cherry. The Bird-cherry was covered with the webs of the Bird-cherry Ermine Moth caterpillars (Yponomeuta evonymella). Soon all the leaves on the Bird-cherry will be gone for this year... and they only started coming out a month or so ago. See https://youtu.be/l1K31YtrWhQ
“Look up and enjoy the Ash” I say gloomily. The topmost twigs and branches of many of the trees have no leaves. “Virtually all the trees in the area are getting Ash Die-back” I point out. “So, all the big ash trees here may be leafless in five years.”
Next we walk up the field above the Barn. I might once have described it as ‘pasture’ because it is natural vegetation that has not been reseeded, (as probably had been the flat field below the barn), and it is not cut for hay. It is now managed as meadow in that the animals are kept out over summer. There is a wonderful selection of wildflowers.
I try to show some of the group the App. I have just discovered ‘Plantnet’ that enables people to identify wild plants. You just take a photo even an extremely bad photo with your mobile phone and set the App to ‘Leaf’ rather than ‘Flower’ and within seconds a choice of answers comes back and often the first one is correct! Will botanists be out of a job? Sometimes the correct answer is much lower down the choice list - maybe fifth or twelfth - it does take experience to recognise that. It’s all worked out by Artificial Intelligence. We soon discover that the lack of any phone or internet signal high up on Park Fell causes the App to fail. It means I am still needed.
It is a bit early for much of the purple Wood Cranesbill, but the yellow Globe flowers make a splendid splash of colour on the hillside that we are heading for. On the way up we see red Water-avens, fascinating green Wood Horsetail with branches on its branches, pink Marsh Valerian, paler pink Cuckoo-flower, deep blue Bugle, brown Ribwort Plantain, golden Goldilocks Buttercup, and yellow green Lady’s-mantle.
From the top of the slope we have splendid views over the drumlins of Ribblesdale and across to Whernside and Pen-y-ghent.
I play a tune on the tin whistle (to celebrate that we are at the summit of our walk). Then I walk down to the barn and put the kettle on, whilst the rest of the group meander down more slowly looking at the flowers.
Those who are able to stay appreciated the warmth of the room to chat in and the hot tea and coffee and biscuits. We discuss the plants we have seen.
The conversation falls to the difficulties of attracting young people to do wildlife activities. Many of us older ones had the freedom to explore the countryside by ourselves when we were children. Now parents are more protective.
Some members suggest that young people do everything by social media. I get the impression that young people want to do it their way and by the time us oldies have worked out what media they are using, they have moved onto something else. I say “Maybe I should just ask my friends who have children and grand-children near Settle if I can accompany them on a walk and show them some of the plants.”
Pink Shining Crane’s-bill. The Hawthorn is still in bud up here on 22 May
Someone spies a Yellow Pimpernel
Kingcups, also known as Marsh Marigolds