Bramham Park wildflowers

A glorious morning for a tranquil walk along the wildflower paths of 18th century Bramham Park, for a very small charge we were able to enjoy this peaceful garden awash with swathes of ramsons interspersed by leopards bane and the tilting heads of water avens.  Large groups of twayblade were coming into flower amongst sanicle, pignut, common dog violet and tormentil. Milkwort nestled in the short grass with green field speedwell and sticky mouse-ear.  Beautiful bugle sat amongst the barren and wild strawberry, while bulbous buttercup had still to reach its peak. In a few weeks time orchids will fill the unmown corners so a return visit would be worthwhile, a truly magical place to spend a morning.

water avens

water avens

Bramham Park

Bramham Park


Dawn Chorus and Bluebells

Sunday 6 May was International Dawn Chorus Day, a worldwide celebration of nature’s symphony. It is celebrated annually on the first Sunday of May, and is a great opportunity to get out early and listen to the sounds of birds as they sing to greet the rising sun.

Events took part all around the country, and on Saturday 5 May (albeit a day early) I joined members of the RSPB’s Wakefield District Local Group as they guided a walk around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The walk started at 7am and there were plenty of birds singing. As we wandered around the park we listened to and viewed many species, and learnt a great deal from Paul and Sarah our expert guides. We encountered blue tit, great tit, blackbird, song thrush, chaffinch, goldfinch, goldcrest (one for my year list), chiffchaff, blackcap, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, tree creeper and wren.

The park looked stunning in the morning sunlight. The trees were in full blossom and the sunshine made everything look more vibrant. The woodland was carpeted in a haze of blue.

Bluebells at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

All too soon the walk was over, and we headed to the cafe for a quick drink before heading home. I would encourage everyone to get out there and enjoy what nature has to offer. You don’t have to be an expert, get up too early or travel far to hear bird song – your back garden is a good start.

Stromatolites at South Elmsall

Following a fruitless trip to search for adders yesterday, three of us decided to visit a particularly interesting quarry at S Elmsall. The quarry is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of some shapes that can be seen in the wall of the quarry. These shapes are the remains of ancient structures called stromatolites. Stromatolites are of interest because they provide the earliest signs of life on Earth, with some of the traces in the fossil record being 3.5 billion years old.My knowlege of geology is superficial but what follows is my understanding of what can be seen in the quarry.

South Elmsall Quarry

Stromatolites develop very slowly in shallow and highly saline water and they look like boulders. They are created by mats of single-celled organisms, such as cyanobacteria or algae. Mineral particles trapped by the organisms gradually build up in layers to form the stromatolite. Follow this link if you would like to see modern stromatolites.

Click here to see modern stromatolites.

The following photograph shows a small piece of fossilised stromatolite and it has been polished to reveal the layers.

Fossilised stromatolite

In the wall of the quarry, there is a clear horizontal boundary. Below this line, there is a layer of grainstones. Above the line, there are the fossilised remains of a reef and within that zone.

Quarry wall

You can see domed shapes that are the fossilised remains of stromatolites. The remains date from the late Permian period, making them more than 250 million years old.




Hetchell Wood flower walk

Hetchell Wood was a delight in the spring sunshine with plenty of bluebells, lesser celandine interspersed by common dog violet and barren strawberry.  Amongst the dogs mercury and greater stitchwort, sanicle was almost in flower.   Taking the path across the meadow we stepped carefully to avoid the beautiful cowslips, common twayblade and wood anenomes continuing along the path flanked by shimmering white blackthorn bushes we scanned the bottom of the coppiced hazel looking for toothwort eventually finding this fine growth of the parasitic plant. The circular route took us past wonderful clumps of marsh marigolds with golden saxifrage clinging to the mud beneath.  Yellow archangel and green alkanet on the roadside verge were admired before we reached our cars.  A beautiful walk on a fine morning..






Spring Mushrooms

Note: Please do not eat any mushrooms that you collect from the wild as a result of anything that you read on this page. You should not eat wild-collected fungi unless they are identified for you by an expert.

Spring isn’t the time when most people would think of searching for mushrooms but there are one or two species to be found.

Common Morel (Morchella esculenta)

A real prize for foragers is to find morels. These are amongst the most delicious of all mushrooms but they are not at all common in Great Britain. They are ascomycetes, so they do not have quite the same structure as many of the more familiar mushrooms. They are said, by some, to prefer to grow alongside woodland rides and on woodland edges, on the drip-line of trees. These two were amongst a small group growing on the grassy edge of a wide path through woodland.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

Another one to watch for at this time of year is St George’s mushroom, which grows from about the time of St George’s day onwards, until around June. These resemble the edible mushrooms that you can buy in the supermarket (Agaricus bisporus) and the common field mushroom (Agaricus arvensis) but they belong to a different genus, Calocybe. An obvious difference is that they have white gills. Also, they have a distinctive mealy smell, similar to the smell of damp flour. They are popular for eating in some European countries.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

The ones that I found were on a reclaimed colliery site, growing beneath trees. The main part of fungi that grow on the ground is an underground network of very thin threads called the mycelium. Many fungi are mycorrhizal, which means that the mycelium has a relationship with the roots of a particular plant. You will find the fungus growing near only those trees or plants with which it can form this relationship. The St George’s mushroms that I found were growing in a ring and this indicates that this fungus is proabably not mycorrhizal. Instead, it is probably saprobic, which means that it feeds on dead organic material in the soil. The mycelium gradually spreads outwards, over the years, as it feeds.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

A Fitting Tribute

Richard Brook, for many years our Conservation Officer, died, aged 74, a year ago on 20 April, 2017. I showed some of his slides of local wetland habitats on members’ night, including this surprisingly open view of the top end of Newmillerdam, as it was in 1973.

In the 1980s, Richard ran a commercial nursery specialising in daffodils and developed the award-winning ‘Tripartite Narcissus’. It has three flowers on each stem and is still available globally. Last year it was exhibited at The North of England Horticultural Society’s Spring Flower Show at Harrogate.

Richard’s Tripartite Narcissus on the Order of Service from his funeral.

A friend of Richard’s from the Daffodil Society laid some on his coffin at the end of his funeral service.

Richard’s cousin, Philippa Coultish, tells me that the family has now sold Richard’s house at Crigglestone and cut back the jungle that had grown up around it over the past ten or twenty years: “All the daffs are coming up in the garden. The people who have bought it are excited to have the garden…I dont think they realise how fast it will all grow in the summer!”

By coincidence in yesterday’s Gardener’s World, on BBC2, Nick Bailey did a piece on daffodil breeding, interviewing Johnny Walkers, Honorary Vice-President of the Daffodil Society at Hever Castle, Kent, so, as I’d been in touch with him via Twitter, I told him of the coincidence of it being the anniversary of Richard’s death.

“I hope it was a fitting tribute,” he tweeted in reply.

Richard was a pioneer in habitat mapping; this method of recording habitats wasn’t adopted by Natural England (then the Nature Conservancy Council) until some years after he had first used it to record local wetlands.

Leventhorpe Lagoon, 1973

I’ve been making a start on archiving the colour slides taken by Richard Brook (1943-2017), for many years the Conservation Officer of the Society. He photographed the East Ash Lagoon at Leventhorpe from the lagoon’s northwest corner on Sunday, 2 September, 1973.

He could see the potential of these lagoons as nature reserves and he documented every one of them – along with subsidence flashes and sand quarries -within five or six miles radius of Wakefield, so his collection of slides form a unique record of post-industrial West Yorkshire. I’m putting together a small selection of his slides for members’ night.

Swan skirmish at Nostell Priory

Yesterday, Sunday 18 March, during another arctic blast I witnessed a male mute swan, known as a cob, chase off an unwelcome visitor to the lower lake at Nostell Priory.  The newcomer was no doubt seen as being too close to the resident pair’s nesting and feeding areas, possibly threatening their breeding success this year.  Male mute swans are fiercely territorial and this encounter was no exception.  With the female swan (called a pen) watching from nearby, the cob suddenly started to display a range of aggressive postures towards the pretender and the whole lake became a battleground with goosander, tufted duck and coots caught up in the cross fire desperately trying to find cover and safety. Eventually after nearly an hour the intruder flew away to find a new territory. Images of the encounter are attached.

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

Thornes Park in Winter

This week during the current Arctic weather I have been unable to reach my usual local wildlife watching countryside haunts. However, while travelling along Thornes Road, Wakefield I stopped briefly for a look at the lake at Thornes Park. There were the usual suspects such as Canada geese, mallard and quarrelling moorhens. Less obvious was a goosander busy diving although I am not sure if it was actually finding any fish to catch.

The park appears to support a good population of stock dove which are relatively common in the UK, but is often overlooked or just confused with various pigeon species although it is an attractive species in its own right. My final sighting was a rather flamboyant lone male mandarin duck not deterred by the larger bustling mallards. Mandarin ducks appear to have escaped from private collections and feral populations are now becoming established in various parts of the UK. Their natural home is north-east China and Japan.

My visit, albeit brief, highlighted that urban green space areas such as Thornes Park so close to city centres with their old trees and quieter areas are vital places for our own well being and offer massive potential for making contact with wildlife, although the difficulties associated with developing their future care and management are very much appreciated.

Images of a general view of the lake, goosander, stock dove and mandarin duck are attached.

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

Goosander Thornes Park Lake

Goosander Thornes Park Lake

Thornes Park lake

Thornes Park lake

Stock dove at Thornes park

Stock dove at Thornes park

Winter fungi

We are well into the winter but there are still some interesting fungi to be found.

Common candlesnuff (Xylaria hypoxylon)

Common candlesnuff is easy to spot on decaying treestumps and smaller pieces of dead wood. However, if you want more of a challenge, you can watch out for beechmast candlesnuff, which grows only on the seed cases of beech trees.

Beechmast candlesnuff (Xylaria carpophila)

To find beechmast candlesnuff, you may have to turn over the fallen leaves to get to the beechmast that is in the correct, damp condition for the fungus.

Another common winter fungus is velvet shank.

Velvet shank (Flammulina velutipes)

This fungus has a slimy cap and is often seen sprouting from logs.

A much less common fungus that appears about now is scarlet elfcup.

Scarlet elfcup (Sarcoscypha austriaca)

To find scarlet elfcup, look for mossy logs or smaller pieces of decaying wood on mossy ground.

Scarlet elfcup Sarcoscypha austriaca)

If you are lucky enough to find a red, cup-shaped fungus, you can’t be certain about the id without using a microscope because scarlet elfcup is almost identical to ruby elfcup. One feature used to tell the two apart is the microscopic hair on the underside of the cup. For scarlet elfcup this hair is twisted and tangled but it is straighter for ruby elfcup.

Microscopic hairs on scarlet elfcup

This microscope image shows the hairs on one of the specimens in one of the images above.