Posted by: lensweb | June 25, 2013

Sence Valley & Donington le Heath – 2013

LENS Outdoor Meeting – Sence Valley & Donington le Heath Manor House (Choice of venues/meeting times) 15th June 2013.

1. Meet 10.30am in lower car park (free, toilets in upper car park) at Sence Valley, SK 401 114, for walk around lake(s) to see wild flowers (inc orchids), insects (inc butterflies) and birds.

2. From about 1.00pm we will go to Donington le Heath Manor House (car park free) (SK 420 126) to have lunch (or picnic) and from 2.00pm explore the physic garden and the incredible wild flower areas below the car park. Anyone wishing to explore the house (dating from 1280) has until 4.00pm to do so. Join us all day or for any part of the day.

Leader David Gibbons

Sence Valley was once part of a vast opencast coal mine, but has since been beautifully landscaped, including the planting of 98,000 trees. It is now managed by the Forestry Commission.

Yellow Flags - Stonebridge Pool, Sence Valley

Yellow Flags – Stonebridge Pool, Sence Valley

In the morning we walked around one of the three lakes, Stonebridge Pool. Although it was cloudy and the season late there was plenty to see.  Impossible to give more than the highlights: verges crowded with flowering grasses such as Yorkshire fog, cock’s foot and false oat; bright yellow lichen on the granite blocks on the bridge; the pretty and delightfully-named veronica beccabunga (brooklime); striking patches of red campion ranging from nearly white to deep pink; a lone broom plant, enjoying the acid soil,  in full bloom; a bank covered in common spotted orchids beginning to show colour, but not ready to display their full glory for a couple of weeks or so; a weasel running across the path; a male reed bunting, which sat in the top of a nearby shrub for ages; a pair of great-crested grebes with two chicks.

The guelder rose was in flower, rather resembling a lacy hydrangea. Our leader, David, told us the open flowers were sterile, whilst the ones which don’t open are the fertile ones. We also learnt that white dead-nettle has a square stem. He showed us a way of distinguishing soft from hard rush: the pith inside soft rush is a continuous long ‘stem’, whereas that in hard rush is more ladderlike, containing holes.

Broad-bodied Chaser, Sence Valley

Broad-bodied Chaser, Sence Valley

There was a large plantation of alder trees, which take nitrogen from the air and convert it into soil-enriching nitrates. The ground cover was an expanse of stinging nettles. David, commented that he couldn’t remember when he last saw caterpillars on stinging nettles although peacock, red admiral, small tortoiseshell and comma butterflies all lay their eggs on them. The decline in insect-life in general was striking. Apart from two female scorpion flies (which do not have the upturned abdomen resembling that of a scorpion of the males), there were few insects to be seen. Suddenly we saw what appeared to be a very large bee. As it perched on a dead stick right in front of us we saw it was in fact a yellow broad-bodied chaser dragonfly. Cameras clicked merrily as two more of the same species joined it. We guessed they had just hatched and were drying their wings – definitely the highlight of the morning for me!

LENS members, Sence Valley

LENS members, Sence Valley

After the morning walk a small group of us moved on to lunch at the nearby Donington-le Heath Manor House, parts of which date back to 1290, with its well-maintained physic garden, a common feature of the medieval manor house. The plants and herbs are labelled with Dr Culpepper’s recommendations for their medical uses to cure sore throats, headaches and much besides. As well as more commonly grown herbs there were plants such as horse-radish, tansy and sweet woodruff.

Ragged Robin

Ragged Robin

Below the car park is a little known wild flower meadow, which looked a picture. Swathes of ragged robin intermingled with meadow and creeping buttercups, common vetch, white campion  and meadow cranesbill, which was just beginning to show colour. Yellow rattle was growing on only one side of the path. As it is parasitic on grass roots the grass on that side was weaker and the flower display more striking. Had it not been raining by then many bees and butterflies would surely have been visiting the flowers.

Article & photographs © Joan Breakwell

Related Links;

Friends of Donington le Heath Monor House


  1. Thanks Joan for your delightful and informative article. It was an enjoyable day.


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