The faded and fallen blooms of summer, together with the current abundance of wayside seed and fruit suggests autumn is already upon us. However, on 4th September a visit to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Ledsham Bank revealed an impressive family gathering of a botanical nature adding to an amazing end of season floral spectacular.
Against a purple haze of devil’s bit scabious, the real stars of the show are the following three members of the gentian family. The Autumn gentian has eyelash like ribbons extending across the entrance to the narrow trumpet shaped flowers. Yellow Wort has bright yellow flowers and is a valuable source for pollinators as demonstrated in the image. Common centaury has small pink tubular flowers and a long history of use in traditional medicine. The beauty of these flowers is best seen close-up, see attached images.
Ledsham Bank nature reserve is an area of permanent pasture over a steep bank of magnesian limestone. A rich flora has developed on these grasslands through continuing traditional management and grazing regimes. Sadly, there are few remaining similar areas in this part of the County. Indeed, the Wildlife Trusts say the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s, with every county across the UK continuing to lose familiar and treasured wildflower species. The scale of the loss has left the remaining ancient wildflower rich meadows like Ledsham Bank fragmented, and the associated wildlife isolated at risk. This demonstrates the importance of the work being done at Ledsham Bank by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and other organisations in developing nature recovery networks to restore and conserve our wildlife.
Not deterred by the unsettled weather at the end of June, I planned to start the new month with a walk using footpaths around the village of West Bretton avoiding the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which remained closed due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Come the morning of 1st July with a forecast of grey skies and intermittent drizzle I was beginning to have second thoughts. However, the clouds started to thin, albeit slightly, allowing some weak sunshine to filter through coaxing the temperature to slowly lift. So I was soon more hopeful of seeing some wildlife and set off. The conditions underfoot, indeed almost up to waist level in the tall grass, was very wet. Nevertheless, in places there were clouds of ringlet butterflies fluttering carefully amongst a mass of raindrops delicately balanced on narrow leaves shimmering like precious gems. An ephemeral gift of heavy overnight rain.
Other butterflies included a small number of meadow brown, two small tortoiseshell, a single small skipper and good numbers of the caterpillars of peacock butterfly feeding on nettle. During a brief shower towards the end of the walk I shared the shelter of a tall hedgerow with a bumble bee attracted to the flower and pollen of a field rose (Rosa arvensis). So even on this occasion rain didn’t stop play.
field rose and bumble bee
I thought members might be interested to know that there is lots of viper’s bugloss growing and flowering at Fitzwilliam, where the City used to be, behind the remaining row of houses. Rubble from the demolished houses is now overgrown but it is still there and it must be quite alkaline because of the mortar. I saw musk thistle in flower there last year. These aren’t plants that I expect to see in Fitzwilliam. How do the seeds get there?
The first frogspawn of the year appeared in my pond at Hemsworth today. This date – 1st April – is the latest that the frogs have spawned in my garden as far back as I can remember. Usually, the frogspawn appears in late February or early March. Frogs have been active for some weeks but have disappeared each time the pond has frozen over. It will be interesting to see how much damage the frogspawn will suffer during the cold nights expected in the next few days.
frogspawn in Hemsworth