Bradford Botany Group

Ribblesdale Visit

6th July 2013



With high pressure centred on the UK, the forecast was unequivocal – hot and sunny. Fourteen members gathered at the initial rendezvous at Settle swimming pool, our number depleted by the absence of several participants in the BBG annual holiday, from which we had returned only 2½ days earlier. We continued in four cars, mindful of the limited parking space in upper Ribblesdale, proceeding up through Stainforth and Horton to Brae Pasture, sloping limestone grassland leading up to limestone pavement on the edge of a wooded valley, not far below Sulber, which we had visited a year earlier.


With Geoffrey back in customary pose wielding his red clipboard, we bombarded him with the usual grassland species. There was evidence of recent wet summers, with the occasional incursion of marsh thistle and surprisingly large areas of marsh foxtail. We soon arrived at the first limestone outcrop and set about rooting out (not literally) every last species. Alpine bistort stood proud on the small cliff. There was blue moor-grass, at home among the rocks. We puzzled over the basal rosettes of toothed leaves, until Geoffrey provided the solution – saw-wort! Nearby were several heath fragrant orchids and Neil talked us through their salient characteristics.


We took the contour SE along the pavement and came upon an unusual hawkweed, with long spreading stem hairs and clusters of small hawk’s-beard-like capitula. It was clearly distinct from other hawkweeds we saw on the day. We took photographs and a grid reference and agreed to seek further information from experts. Otherwise, it will be the customary ‘Hieracium agg.’ again on the species list! Mike pointed out a red currant in the pavement and we saw the leaves of lily-of-the-valley just prior to settling down on the rocks for lunch, with magnificent views east towards Pen-y-ghent.

Ashes Pasture with Pen-y-ghent

We next descended the slope towards the small wooded valley. The flushes here revealed acid influence, with species such as mat-grass and a good selection of sedges and rushes, creating a mosaic of vegetation types. Marsh valerian was still in flower here. After a substantial boost to the species count, we were away northwards, parking up on the west side of a railway bridge just south of Ribblehead station, before walking back to Ashes Pasture, another YWT reserve on the east side of the B6479.

Small White Orchid

This was altogether a much wetter habitat, with large areas of sedge and rush and a truly impressive display of marsh hawk’s-beard. I took the opportunity to reacquaint myself with some of the sedges we had seen in Scotland, including pale and flea sedges, in addition to the more common tawny, carnation, star and pill sedges. We made our way to the northern slope, less acid and better drained than the upper part of the site. Neil had offered an unspecified prize for the first person to spot a small white orchid and my powers of observation had been sharpened by the sight of Dave consuming a cream cake, his prize for winning the morning challenge. I duly reported not one but two small whites and Susan added a third, making a total of seven, including the four Neil had identified on his recce. Our ‘prizes’ turned out to be IOUs but the sight of these beautiful tiny orchids more than made up for any disappointment.


We completed a circuit by climbing back to the wetter, acidic areas where several marsh orchids and their hybrids were seen among the ubiquitous rushes. On the walk back to the cars, northern dock was observed at the roadside. We had seen two contrasting YWT reserves at their peak in perfect weather in the Dales and our thanks go to Mike for organising and leading his first trip for the Group. May there be many more to come.