Posted by: lensweb | June 10, 2016

Rumble in the Jungle Part 2


Rumble in the Jungle Part 2

‘All along the backwater mid the rushes tall                                                                                  Ducks are a-dabbling, up tails all!’      Kenneth Grahame

Mon June 6,  Hilton Gravel Pits Wildlife Walk – established gravelpits with a variety of wildlife, we hope to see purple toothwort and some orchids.

Meet 5.30pm at Willowpit Lane entrance. Leave A50 at A516 (Derby) exit. At first roundabout take 3rd exit (to Derby), at second one (immediately after) take 1st exit into Willowpit Lane . Take first turning on left and go under overhead barrier (opposite Badger Farm buildings). Park in layby. Grid ref   SK 249 315       Postcode (nearby)  DE65 5FN  Leader:  Richard Spowage DWT Reserves Manager

This Derbyshire Wildlife Trust reserve is a Special Site of Scientific Interest,well hidden just off Willow Pit Lane, desperately needed signage from the road is ‘not allowed’. We are late and set out to search for our party past meadows,  birch woodland, mysterious pools and willow carr.

hil meme

Although there are many disused gravel pits and reservoirs in this part of the Trent valley, Hilton Gravel Pits is one of a very few designated wildfowl refuges. The numbers of wildfowl present vary according to disturbance at other sites in the area. There are, on average ten species of water-bird normally using this site. Locally for birds, Willington is more likely to be the site most visited but Hilton is a more interesting site due to the mosaic of habitats.

Willington’s blog on 21st May 2015 tells of newly emerged broad bodied chaser, orange tip butterfly and brimstone. No common terns on site. Rafts contain up to 17 pairs of black headed gull. Reed areas had 2 singing reed bunting and 5 singing reed warblers.  Breeding birds with young included moorhen with 2 young and coot with 4 young.

The grassland, on neutral to acidic soils, is  typical of what was once common on the Trent valley alluvial terraces. A number of species are present which were formerly much more widespread in the Trent Valley, such as adder’s-tongue Ophioglossum vulgatum,and common twayblade Listera ovata,growing in abundance among yellow meadow buttercups and yellow rattle. It is hard to believe that these rarely seen species have no protection in law. Hand scything is used to cut and maintain the meadow. Other areas of grassland are grazed by cattle so the fences and gates have to be kept in good order.

There is no path through the magnificent marsh, squish through a primeval landscape of ferns, marsh horsetail, soft rush, square stemmed St John’s wort, cyperus, oval and false fox sedge. Southern marsh orchid and common spotted orchids hybridise to form super hybrids, splendiferous flower spikes with spotted leaves. The plant community and the atmosphere constantly change in progression along the marsh.  Cardinal and  leaf beetles, click beetles and soldier beetles climb up the blades of grass to pose. Delicate moths, disturbed from undergrowth flutter up and settle on flat leaf surfaces;  the clouded border whose larvae feed on willows and poplars, and silver ground carpet moths, foodplant bedstraws, more natural flight time is at night.

Enchanters nightshade lines the path with brooklime in muddy sections. Huge white willows tower over us.  The name is derived from the white appearance of the undersides of the leaves. The bark is fissured and twisted with age, willows are not long lived, they lean and gracefully decline into the mud. White willow Salix alba is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers grow on separate trees. Catkins appear in early spring – after pollination by insects, the female catkins lengthen and develop small capsules, each containing minute seeds encased in white down, which scatter silver threads on the wind  like in the Chryselids. Cow parsley and hogweed are flowering towering over the willowherb and nettles. Angelica is yet to come. There is  a distinct brown centre to the flower head of the red campion flowers.  Microbotryum lychnidis-dioicae is a smut specific to campions. The fungus completely takes over the anthers of the host, which burst open to release the purple, powdery spores instead of pollen.  It is able to over-ride sex determination in the host plant. Campions are dioecious, but the smut causes anther-development in the female host-plants. Infected flowers  last longer than uninfected flowers.

Be careful where you tread! The purple flowers of the parasitic Lathraea clandestina, common name purple toothwort, mysteriously sprout from fallen willow and from underground roots in the Woodland Garden, Purple Toothwort is a recently established perennial that grows as a total parasite on the roots of willow trees in damp places. In Derbyshire it is known from only two localities: Hilton Gravel Pits and Eggington. A native of western or south-western Europe. It is grown in gardens as a curiosity and may be dispersed by floodwaters. The low parasitic plant is spectacular but somehow grotesquely twisting and sprawling, past it’s best. A subterranean, branched stem, whitish yellow forming tufts at the soil surface. Kidney shaped scale leaves   clasping the stem. Clusters of violet flowers   with a hooded corolla and mauve lower lip .  We are more familiar with the white toothwort which parasitizes hazel.

The old sand pits with depauperate soil are famous for their lichens, the poor soil encourages flowers, bird’s foot trefoil, scarlet pimpernel, centaury and sticky mouse-ear. A bit late in the day for butterflies a lone small copper clung to the top of a thistle.

One of the old ponds still has a good population of great crested newts with over 100 counted by torchlight. But a mitigation pond  dug in compensation for ponds lost in quarrying provides an on-going management headache as they are too shallow, infilling with greater and lesser reedmace, birch saplings constantly need pulling out by a dedicated team of volunteers. Willow is coppiced.  In ignorance the pool was filled with quarry water full of fish so the rescued great crested newts, whose tadpoles swim in open water, were eaten.The colourful waterside of yellow flag, marsh marigold and greater pond sedge was an impressionist canvas worked from a palette of pure colours, white lead, cadmium yellow, vermilion, madder, cobalt blue, chrome green.

rich meme

A small, sooty black moth with white fringes on wing tips swept across the top of the small meadow near to the car park, chimney sweeper,  often found on old hay meadows near it’s foodplant, pignut.  The burnet companion whose larvae feed on clover and trefoil gets its English name from the fact that it is often found in company with burnet moths (not tonight) keeping our photographers challenged in the low light of the evening. With the twilight came the exquisite whining of many mosquito’s wings circling and looking for a place to land and bite, which is where we came in.

Marion Bryce 10 June 2016


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