Bradford Botany Group

Skipwith Common

31st August 2013


Exmoor Ponies

Skipwith Common is the largest lowland wet heath in the North of England, but it wasn't very wet as eighteen of us set off with Michael, our leader for the day. He led us along the track towards the WW2 bomber airfield, with wide expanses of heather and on either side, dotted with saplings of silver birch, Scots pine and pedunculate oak. In the distance a small herd of grazing Exmoor ponies was doing its best to keep down the scrub, but showed no interest in us.


As we progressed along a narrow path into the wood, overhead we were deafened by a large skein of greylag geese as we admired a yellow russula fungus. Later we saw many other fungi, identified by Steve, including numerous birch brackets and a few fairy’s bonnets. Leaving the wood we had a discussion as we looked at a prostrate patch of St. John's wort. The initial conclusion was that it was trailing, but half a dozen members disagreed and when we got back to the track they returned to check, and it was finally agreed that it was the much rarer and hairier marsh St. John's wort, which usually grows in water, but today was left stranded in the mud.

While they were away, the rest of us declared that it was lunchtime and promptly sat down on the track side, only to be immediately surrounded by the ponies, for which the scrub no longer seemed very appetising. Several of us were in danger of having our sandwiches snatched away. Kay found a lovely oak eggar moth caterpillar whilst Steve and I saw two red-thoraxed hornets seeking prey around the gorse bushes. They are gradually moving north with climate change.

Piri Piri Burr

In the mud of the ditch bottom at the side of the track were marsh cudweed, marsh pennywort, redshank and lesser spearwort, whilst in the short grass on the other side we found lesser hawkbit, the lovely common centaury and a few bristly piri piri burrs, which were new to some of us and caused quite a lot of interest. Our enthusiasm was dimmed as we progressed further and found that it was rapidly invading everywhere, both in the open and under the trees. This is yet another antipodean invader, set to cause almost as much mayhem as its fellow from 'down under', the dreadful New Zealand pigmyweed, of which, thankfully, there was no sign here. Further on there was the unusual sight of a clump of hard rush, usually associated with more limestone regions but happy here, presumably because of the proximity of limestone in the path.

Marsh Gentium

Michael had indicated that we might see the rare marsh gentian and he led us unerringly to the spot where there were seven or eight solitary specimens, two of which had obligingly opened in the afternoon sun. There was just time to see procumbent pearlwort and white stonecrop before we set off to search the woods around the old WW2 bomb bays for broad-leaved helleborine, which had been seen here in the past by Neil and Phyl, but we were unlucky.


By now we were tiring and there was just time to see the magnificent royal fern in an enclosure of woven willow, a skull-cap and lemon-scented fern before we got back to the car park and gave our thanks to Michael for an excellent walk and Andrew for his recording. It was an excellent day out in late summer sun and I'm sure everyone enjoyed it greatly. I learned a lot and others probably did too.