Posted by: lensweb | July 31, 2017

West Hallam Screen

Monday 31 July 2017 West Hallam Screen- Bioblitz

Parking by kind permission of the Newdigate Arms DE7 6HW.

Leader Stuart Gilder

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Until the early 20th century West Hallam was a small rural village and the property of the Newdigate family, which parted with their interest as Lords of the Manor in 1914.

Most jobs were in agriculture, later there was mining work locally in the Erewash Valley coalfield. There was also a West Hallam railway station, now Station House, connected to the Great Northern Railway and Derby Friargate Station.

The later 20th Century saw rapid change with both the collieries and the railway disappearing during the 1960s. Stanley Colliery (known locally as ‘Nibby Pit’ on Station Road) was the last to close in 1959 and some buildings remain. The colliery spoil tips were removed and landscaped and after much opencast coal extraction the area regained its traditional rural appeal from the 1970s onward.

Stuart led us on a short circular walk around the area known as West Hallam Screen which used to be used to screen coal from the colliery. Screening, washes soil and rock from the coal, then crushes it into chunks that are sorted into different sizes or grades. The plant then stockpiles grades for transport. Although the pit was closed, there were various attempts to reopen the colliery as open cast and to recover buried coal, but because of the proximity of a large and vocal local population, Mr RJ Budge was unable to get planning permission. Head House Farm were keen to buy some of the site as grazing but at the insistence of the owner, they were forced to buy the whole site. How fortunate! Now the mosaic grassland site complete with infrastructure, roads, old buildings, industrial relics, an old rail trackway and part of the Nutbrook Canal is under management by the Owner and a consortium of Natural England, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation. New hedges have been planted and grazing is by the owner’s herd of Park Cattle.

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A gleaming metal Arla milk tanker met us on the lane as we started out. Sheltering behind concrete blocks we were keen to list all of the wildlife on our mini-bioblitz and the panoply of plants engaged us a while at the beginning, and among them was a short-winged conehead. We walked along the lane and came across an old traffic island, bursting with wildflowers. A heap of sand grew super-sized fat-hen.

Skipping from flower to flower along the verge bright orange gatekeeper butterflies contrasted with the sombre colour of the fading meadow brown butterflies. The gatekeeper is also known as the hedge brown and spends much of it’s time basking with wings open, when the sexes are easy to tell apart – only the male has the distinctive sex brands on the forewings. On the ground was egg without bacon, bird’sfoot trefoil, the sulphur yellow flowers of black medic seemed too yellow. Prickly leaves turned purple on the common hemp nettle, musk mallow oh so rose pompadour, and there were raised islands of pretty pink flower spikes of rosebay willowherb.  Bramble tendrils strayed across the track.

 

 

It must be difficult for plants to grow on the acidic black coally substrate, wavy hair grass was common here,  and the ragwort was a riot of yellow. Some change in the air must have vanquished the insects, we only saw one black tipped soldier beetle where there would have been hundreds the week before. Was that the briefest summer ever? The sun disappeared behind a cloud and a common blue butterfly clung to a grass stem sulking, with wings folded.

Water-mint crushed underfoot, marsh cudweed and purple loosestrife signalled a damp flush and Stuart allowed us time to photograph green marsh leafhoppers with their strange blue nymphs, a slender ground-hopper and to chase various grasshoppers which no doubt we will be able to identify by this time next week. Great Pond Sedge, and False Fox Sedge competed with hard, soft and compact rush for space. Sedges and rushes are often confused with grasses, a handy mnemonic:

Sedges have edges,
Rushes are round,

Grasses are hollow
Right up from the ground

Like a mini-sputnik the white larval cases of a micro-moth, (Coleophora alticolella is the most common), protrude from the seed head of compact rush. The larvae initially feed inside the rush, but when larger, they feed externally and construct distinctive protective silken cases.

 

John Langford got the prize though, a large burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides, with black and orange patterning on the elytra. More normally found under dead birds and mammals, these beetles perform an important service in getting rid of carrion (dead animals and birds) by digging beneath the bodies to provide a food supply for their larvae. So what was it doing on top of a grass stem? She didn’t stay long, John was quite surprised that a beetle could move so fast from a standing start.

We strayed into a grey moonscape then the sun burst out as we followed a return route along the old Nutbrook Canal. A large splash could have been a water vole?  Hemp agrimony, Himalayan balsam and wild angelica, it’s developing umbels partially enclosed in inflated purple sheaths looked quite exotic. Hoverflies and sawflies fed on the flowers and licked honeydew from the leaves. Chocolate-brown with creamy-yellow eye spots speckled wood butterflies basked in the dappled shade under the oak, willow and birch. In a burst of sunshine, green veined white butterflies chased each other, with some success.

 

This delightful interlude was followed by lights out, the sun disappeared completely and a heavy shower of rain sent us back to the warmth of the Newdigate Inn.

Marion Bryce, 31 July 2017.


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