Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Limestone Cowboy #2

Headed out for the limestone pavements and upland hay meadows on the slopes of the mighty Ingleborough today, looking for some really cool limestone stuff around the National Nature Reserve and various YWT sites. There were major differences between the areas of pavement we looked at, from sites completely over-grazed by sheep, to those with a complete exclusion of grazing animals. The diverse areas without grazing really demonstrated what over-grazing is causing in our uplands.

Spot the difference!

Some real variation in pavement structure too, with areas of large smooth, stable slabs and other patches of shattered, wobbling clints in a gryke-riddled moonscape, all offering an ankle-snapping threat.

It is weird to think this was all the bed of a tropical shallow sea, millions of years ago.

Each gryke and depression contained a tiny ecosystem, with slight variations in depth and width of gryke creating different microclimates and hosting a range of plants, including some real specialist ferns, such as Limestone Oak Fern and Rigid Buckler Fern, along with Hard Shield Fern and the ubiquitous Hart's-tongue. Awesome plants abounded including Green Spleenwort, Saw-wort, Alpine Cinquefoil, Northern Bedstraw and Lesser Meadow Rue, all new for me.

A male Wheatear watched us botanise.

 Baneberry, with unripe green berries.

 Bloody Cranesbill
 Northern Bedstraw with distinctive whorls of four leaves around the stem.

 Hard Shield Fern
 Limestone Oak Fern.
Saw-wort - you can just see the saw-toothed leaf. The buds have a striking net pattern, and were more impressive than the open thistle-like flowers.

After a morning on the pavement, we headed on to check out how a local hardrock quarry was being reclaimed by nature, before heading into Ribblesdale to look for more plants. We nailed some stonking orchids; the diminutive and rather subtle Frog Orchids, hiding among the grass, and nearby, stunningly attractive Dark Red Helleborines, some of which were just coming into flower. Breathtaking!

 The tiny Frog Orchid

Dark Red Helleborine

Oh, and here is a Bulbous Buttercup, just because it is a nice pic, showing the reflexed sepals quite nicely!

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