WFS Meeting in Upper Teesdale 2005

Dryopteris affinis(Scaly Male-fern)

Thalictrum alpinum(Alpine Meadow-rue)

Juncus triglumis (Three-flowered Rush)

Helianthemum sp (Possible hybrid Rock-rose)

Botrychium lunaria (Moonwort)

Gentiana verna (Spring Gentian Burren 2005)

Euphrasia confusa (Eyebright)

Draba incana(Hoary Whilowgrass)

Helinathemum oelandicum ssp levigatum (Hoary Rock-rose)

Galium sterneri(Limestone Bedstraw)

Viola lutea(Mountain Pansy)

Primula farinosa(Bird's-eye Primrose)

June 22nd pm: Cronkley Fell Summit

Nearing the summit of Cronkly fell we started to look for Thalictrum alpinum (Alpine Meadow-rue) in a small beck by the side of the path. There were over a dozen botanists hunting but it took more than twenty minutes to spot one minute flower stalk which had a few floral remants. Normally Thalictrum alpinum is a small delicate plant but the flowers are usually quite obvious with drooping florets and clusters of anthers dangling from the flowerheads. This flower stalk was a few centimetres tall and the minute flowerheads could only be discerned by crouching in Botanist Prayer mode with magnifying glass in one hand and bottom in the air.

Nearby a very small Euphrasia embedded in the grass was identified by our expert leader as Euphrasia confusa (Eyebright)

Eventually we reached the summit where a few plants of Juncus triglumis (Three-flowered Rush) were found just before lunchtime. Although the clouds had begun to disappear, the wind was still uncomfortably strong so we found a sheltered spot under some rocks where there was scarcely a breeze. Sandwiches always taste ultra delicious at the top of a hill and we admired the one or two plants of Cryptogramma crispa (Parsley fern) in the rocks nearby.

We then moved to the protected areas where the special plants grow. The acidic habitat now gives way again to basic one because the top of Cronkly Fell surprisingly is topped with Sugar Limestone. This is a particularly crumbly rock created when intruding igneous rock baked the existing limestone into a type of marble which then weathered into what we now know as sugar limestone. If you hadn't seen this rock before You still might guess its name correctly because small bits of rock crumble easily into grains looking exactly like sugar.

Hopping or struggling over the fence into the protected areas we immediately saw patches of Helianthemum numularium (Common Rock-rose) and even larger patches of Helianthemum oelandicum ssp levigatum (Hoary Rock-rose). This is the only site for this very special English endemic species. At first glance this Hoary Rock-rose doesn't look much different from the H. oelendicum ssp piloselloides growing on the limestone pavement of the Burren although its lack of hoariness distinguishes both of these sub species from the main ssp incanum plants which grow on some of the limestone rocks in North Wales such as The Great Orme. The leaves of ssp levigatum are said to be shorter and stubbier and the flower stems will typically have one, two or three flowers on them while the other sub species have four, five or more. Without expert help an ordinary botanist would struggle to find the differences which are supposed to separate these sub species.

Inside the enclosure the flowers were only beginning to open in the sun which has just started to shine strongly. In the same enclosure we find Minuartia verna (Spring sandwort), Galium sterneri (Limestone Bedstraw) and Thymus polytrichus (Thyme). We spent some time debating whether an intermediate looking plant was a hybrid between H numularium and H. oelandicum ssp levigatum but the features we could see even with a hand lens were inconclusive and further study perhaps at a genetic level would be needed.

In a second enclosure the H. oelandicum ssp levigatum flowers were fully out and we saw this special plant in its full glory. Draba incana (Hoary Whitlowgrass) was present in good numbers and we found the dead heads of quite a few Gentiana verna (Spring Gentian) so even at this height these plants had finished flowering sometime ago. Two plants of Botrychium lunaria (Moonwort) were a surprising find in the second enclosure.

At this height on basic soils you would expect to find Viola lutea (Mountain violet). The flower of this violet is all yellow on the spoil heaps of Derbyshire and all blue in the Corrie on Ben Lawers but on Cronkly fell it is bicoloured blue and yellow looking a little like a large version of one of the common colour varieties of Viola tricolor ssp curtisii (Dune Pansy).

As usual, the descent takes a much shorter time than the ascent and we have to thank Vincent Jones for an informative, well organised and inspiring couple of days in one of the best botanical areas on these Islands.

Because they flowered earlier we missed the best of the Primula farinosa (Bird's-eye Primrose) and the Gentiana verna (Spring Gentian) was in fruit. Photographs of these plants are included at the end for completeness and just to remind us what a special site Upper Teesdale is for rare and superb looking plants.