Saturday, 6 June 2015

Upper Teesdale revisited

Wow what a day! It had been three years since I last visited Moor House and Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve in the North Pennines, but I hadn't forgotton just what a great place it is and today I was finally lured back. I parked at Cow Green reservoir and walked to Cauldron Snout, then followed the Tees around Falcon Clints to Widdy Bank Farm and then back over Widdybank Fell.

Widdybank Fell, the name alone gives me goose bumps! Along with Cronkley Fell on the opposite side of the Tees, this is without doubt the most outstanding botanical area in England. From bryophytes to ferns to grasses to flowers, there are rarities and contradictions everywhere. Sea plantain grows with mountain aven, Scottish asphodel occurs here in it's only locality outside Scotland, that speciality of North Wales hoary rockrose is also here and incredibly, calcifugous lime hating species grow alongside calcicolous, lime loving species. It's all to do with the geology which is almost as interesting as the plants and of course is actually the reason for the incredible diversity. The rock here is sugar limestone which occurs nowhere else in the UK.

Widdybank fell is covered in ling, with lots Sphagnum capillifolium and common cottongrass and many more lime haters. Yet where streams have carved their way through the rock there are grassy banks with spectacular lime lovers such spring gentian and bird's-eye primrose.

Spring gentian, now there's a flower! The names Upper Teesdale and spring gentian are synonymous, this wonderful plant grows nowhere else in Britain and it was of course the reason for my visit. It needs full sunlight to open, but if you first find one as a cloud passes in front of the sun, wait a while for the cloud to pass and the transformation will take your breath away and make you wonder how any flower can be so electric blue! I had hoped to pop over to the Burren in Ireland again this year to see it in flower there, but circumstances conspired against me. Something for next year.

The birds aren't too bad here either. Lots of breeding waders, golden plover, redshank, snipe, common sandpiper, oystercatcher, curlew, lapwing.... plus short-eared owl, merlin, ring ouzel, dipper, black grouse, red grouse. I saw many of these today.

Staggering! Spring gentian.

Bird's-eye primrose.

This lovely specimen of bird's-eye primrose was growing under a mini waterfall!

Dog violet sp.

A bumblebee on a spring gentian. I think it's a northern carder bee, but I don't know enough about bees to be sure.

Near Widdy Bank farm I noticed what I thought at first were pheasants in a field, but they looked a bit dark and when I got closer I was amazed to see that they were black grouse, eight males feeding in a sheep grazed grassy field.

Common sandpiper.

Juvenile dipper.

Golden plover. The plaintive calls of golden plover are everywhere.

Short-eared owl. This photo was taken on Alston Moor which is just slighty north of Widdybank fell but part of the same area.

Sugar limestone, you can see how it gets it name. It looks like congealed sugar and it's very crumbly and falls to pieces with just a little pressure.

A stream carving its way through the rock on Widdybank fell.

Cauldron snout.

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