Flowering Man Orchid
Our day in John Clare Countryside began with a visit to Barnack Hills and Holes NNR, an area of species-rich limestone grassland which is of European importance. Because of the very cold spring, and heavy winter sheep-grazing by Natural England, which is necessary to control the coarser grasses, the sward was less flowery than normal, but the lateness of the season meant that there were still good displays of Pasqueflower and Early Purple-orchid . Locally, there was also a good show of the surprisingly large flowers of Purple Milk-vetch, especially on south-facing slopes. Another south-facing slope allowed us our first views of Man Orchid with a small cluster of the tall yellowish-green flowering spikes just coming into bloom. Many of the more characteristic limestone flowers took a bit more hunting, but we eventually found flowers of Common Rock-rose, Horseshoe Vetch and Common Milkwort and viewed the leaf rosettes of many more! Brief spells of sunshine allowed us brief views of Green Hairstreak and several solitary bees.
After a comfort break we headed to Swaddywell NR and took advantage of a dry spell to get a closer view of flowering Man Orchid, and to appreciate the many annual plant that grow in this brownfield site, including Sticky Mouse-ear, Wall Speedwell, Common Cudweed and the charming and diminutive Changing Forget-me-not whose tiny flowers are initially creamy-yellow in colour, before changing to clear sky-blue. One of the most exciting botanical finds of the day was a small amount of Clustered Stonewort a Nationally Scarce species which was not previously known from the site. We sat on a fairly dry area of grassland for lunch, overlooking the reed bed which gave us good views of Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting.
Our final site of the day was Castor Hanglands NNR, a complex mix of ancient woodland, calcareous grassland, scrub, fen meadow and ponds. A woodland walk was followed by a short excursion onto Ailsworth Heath, though by this time it was raining heavily. We spent some time listening to a Nightingale, though the nasty weather seemed to be putting it off.
Fortunately, the worst of the rain was over by the time we reached the pond and surrounding fen meadow, and we were able to appreciate some of the special plant species including Water-soldier and Floating Bur-reed in the pond, where there were also large beds of Common Stonewort. High groundwater levels limited our access to the fen meadow, but we were still able to appreciate good shows of flowering Marsh-marigold, as well as the more subtle pinkish flowers of Marsh Valerian and the primeval spikes of Water Horsetail. Sadly, the cold spring meant that none of the spectacular hybrid swarm of Marsh-orchids were flowering, but we were able to see many heavily spotted and ringed leaf rosettes. We also found a couple of leaf rosettes of Twayblade as well as a number of fronds of Adder’s-tongue fern.
I think we were all glad to get back to the hotel, where Chris and I wrote up the species lists while the guests had hot drinks and showers before we all got together again for dinner.