Posted by: lensweb | July 3, 2017

I Know a Bank Where the Wild Thyme Blows


26 June 2017 Flowers of Lead Spoil Heaps

Gang Mine Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve and National Stone Centre, Middleton by Wirksworth

Meet National Stone Centre car park off the B5035 Cromford-Carsington road DE4 4LS-SK285553

Leader Marion Bryce and Christine Carrier

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:

Spoken by Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1

On a gorgeous summer day we walked up from the car park of the National Stone Centre, to Gang Mine to find a small car park which we could have used. Never mind, the walk was good for us and we were able to see some broad leaved helleborine which was about to flower in the grass verge. Gang Mine is incognito but if you can find it, take the opportunity to have a look round. It is fabulous for wildflowers!


Our walk started in an area of unimproved neutral grassland with abundant buttercups, clover, meadow grasses, and herbs such as burnet saxifrage Pimpinella saxifraga, yarrow Achillea millefolium, lady’s bedstraw Galium verum, mouse-ear hawkweed Hieracium pilosella, bush vetch Vicia sepium, pignut Conopodium majus and yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor. We were particularly impressed by the hoary plantain Plantago media. Ringlets and meadow browns danced in the grass and a pair of chimney sweeper moths stayed low.

Continuing towards the northern and eastern parts of the site which have been colonised by scrub species including hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, blackthorn Prunus spinosa, and ash Fraxinus excelsior we saw our first common spotted orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii, valerian Valeriana officinalis, crosswort Cruciata laevipes and field scabious Knautia arvensis. Six spot burnets decorated the purple knapweed Centaurea nigra, tiny moths Micropterix calthella loved the buttercups and black tipped soldiers, orchid beetles and a hairy click beetle showed some of the vibrant insect life.


Dog’s mercury Mercurialis perennis and ivy Hedera helix grew under the hawthorn hedge, then we turned down a gooseberry lined track towards Steeple Grange Quarry, to search a small meadow which is a translocation site, saving pyramidal orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis from the working quarry level ahead of the works. Here we found our only betony Stachys officinalis.


We now passed through a gate and chased red admirals and commas round a mysterious old building on a mound and found ourselves on another planet. Low growing plants, flowering to burst, all the colours of the rainbow and butterflies, small copper, small heath and common blue flying from flower to flower.

In 1652 Gang Mine was recorded as being an ancient lead mine. The associated ‘gangue’ minerals of calcite, fluorite and baryte were deposited as waste dumps around the shafts and it is these spoil heaps with their high levels of lead and cadmium that support a unique assemblage of plants. The large area of mine workings and spoil heaps on limestone vary in slope, aspect and soil toxicity so every mound has different wildflowers. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust manages the 9Ha site which is, not only as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but also under European Law as a Special Area of Conservation.

The calcareous turf  on thin soil, is species rich and supports plants such as milkwort Polygala vulgaris, common eyebright Euphrasia officinalis, kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, common rockrose Helianthemum nummularium, small scabious Scabiosa columbaria, fairy flax Linum catharticum, glaucous sedge Carex flacca and rare limestone bedstraw Galium sterneri (mixed with a lot of heath bedstraw Galium saxatile).


Only a small number of plants are able to tolerate these spoil conditions, they flourish because of reduced competition. The open spoil areas support large populations of alpine penny-cress Thlaspi caerulescens. and spring sandwort Minuartia verna which is the most characteristic and frequently found metallophyte species. Two further plants associated with the spoil are, mountain pansy Viola lutea and a small fern, moonwort Botrychium lunaria which we were unable to find despite searching, so we will have to visit earlier next year. Altogether these spoil heaps are an outstanding and unique site and so beautiful that Helen was moved to poetry.

As we completed the circular walk we climbed over the gate to look at the restored Dew Pond, the original purpose of this small saucer shaped pond would have been to water livestock from the rainwater it collects.

In the afternoon we explored the National Stone Centre and that is a story for another day.


Marion Bryce 3 July 2017


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