Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Widdybank Fell

Photo: Scottish Asphodel on Widdybank Fell.

Photo: Mountain Everlasting, a male plant.

Cronkley Fell and Widdybank Fell lie on opposite banks of the River Tees just a few miles west of Middleton-in-Teesdale at Upper Teesdale. These fells are blanketed by peat bog and are home to an array of flora and fauna associated with this type of habitat, and birds include golden plover, redshank, curlew, short-eared owls, merlin and black grouse. However where the rocks do break through those interested in the geology will find that it is a unique rock which is found nowhere else in Britain. Sugar limestone is a crystalline limestone formed by metamorphism of the rock and it is largely thanks to this that the area is renowned as one of the finest botanical sites in the UK and certainly the best in England.  Here a variety of limestone loving species such as the very rare and fabulous spring gentians can be found, in places growing abundantly in close proximity to typical acidic loving bog plants such as common cotton-grass and the rare Scottish asphodel. Similarly this area is no respecter of altitude with plants such as yellow mountain saxifrage and alpine bistort often growing alongside more typical lowland species such as sea plantain. This week I've been working just 3 miles from Widdybank Fell and the opportunity to spend lunch breaks and evenings in this wonderful area was just too good to be missed.

Photo: Blanket bog on Widdybank Fell.

Photo: Sugar limestone.

As the name implies, Scottish asphodel is a plant of upland Scotland. Upper Teesdale is the only place outside Scotland where it is found in the UK, and today I was delighted to find around 50 specimens growing along two calcareous streams which flow into Cow Green reservoir on the top of Widdybank Fell.

It's quite an unobtrusive plant even when in full flower, and only the leaves give it away. It's like a miniature bog asphodel.

I was particularly delighted to see it today because I've never seen this plant in full flower before, in the past it's either been in bud or nearly over.

This is a real beauty, not as rare as the asphodel, in fact mountain everlasting is quite common in the Scottish Highlands, but it gets rarer the further south you travel and in England I've only ever seen it at Upper Teesdale. As with the Scottish asphodel, it's a real pleasure to see the plant in full flower, something which I've very rarely seen before. Mountain everlasting is a dioecious plant, in other words it has male and female plants with different flowers. The specimen in the photo is a male plant. I often think of mountain everlasting as the UK's edelwiess since they look quite similar and both are members of the daisy family.

Northern bedstraw is another plant found in Upper Teesdale at one of it's very few sites outside Scotland.

Alpine bistort, again very rare outside Scotland.

Yellow mountain saxifrage.

And following on from alpine bistort and yellow mountain saxifrage it can only be....... sea plantain! What else?

Common Butterwort. The rosette on the left is bird's-eye primrose which is not in flower at this time of year. To see them and especially the spring gentians you need to be here on a sunny day in May or early June. Click here for a previous blog post of mine, reporting on a day in 2015 spent with gentians and primrose. It opens in a new window so you won't lose this page.

Lesser clubmoss, note the holly like leaves.

The scar on the land which is Cow Green Reservoir.

Down stream of Widdybank fell, where Harwood Beck meets the Tees the Pennine Way footpath goes past another grassy outcrop of sugar limestone. In spring there are plenty of gentians and bird's-eye primrose here growing on this bank.

Common rockrose grows here abundantly.

Of interest to me at least is the orange chevron at the base of each petal. I've seen this before on plants in Europe but I honestly don't recall seeing this on other plants in the UK. More usually the petal is just completely yellow in my experience or maybe I'm just not very observant.

Yellow rattle grows profusely in the meadows and is parasitic on grass. It taps into the grasses roots and diverts some of their nutrients for itself, and as such is a vital component of species rich grasslands because it keeps the rank grasses in control which allows small forbs to grow which would otherwise be overwhelmed.

Fragrant orchid grows in the grassy meadows and has a wonderful clover or vanilla scent.

Northern marsh orchid.

Common twayblade


Melancholy thistle growing on a roadside verge.

Monkey flower grows along some of the streams.

The River Tees.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Colin, you certainly put me to shame. We spent a few days at romaldkirk, during which we walked across the moors to Cow Green Reservoir. Can't recollect which month it was - but we certainly didn't see the array of beautiful flowers you did!
    On a sadder note, I've just been up to Axe Edge hoping to see the colony of Golden Plover that used to nest there. . . . . . Not a single one! Any idea when they stopped nesting there? A possible reason was a pretty well worn path running through the middle of where they used to be, shame.
    Have they moved epsewhere, or simply been lost?
    Well disappointed.
    Dave (One arm)


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