Bradford Botany Group

Sprotborough Flash

May 10th 2014



What a turnout – around half of the Group membership took part in the walk and/or meal at Sprotbrough, on the river Don two miles west of Doncaster. We set off from the car park at the Boat Inn in warm early afternoon sunshine, punctuated by the occasional light shower. Within 100 metres we came upon spring beauty, just visible through lush vegetation at the side of a building. This small annual is characterised by its opposite paired leaves, which are fused at the base, completely surrounding the stem.


As we made our way southwest along a narrow lane, views of Sprotbrough Flash opened up to the left below us. It was clear that the initial phase of spring was over, with lesser celandine leaves dying back, ground ivy now being evident in its place. Several summer-flowering perennials, such as weld and nipplewort were now identifiable, though not yet in flower. A discussion of the differences between oil-seed rape and wild turnip at a patch of the latter delayed the already pedestrian pace, as the recorder tried valiantly to note the numerous species on show.


We turned right up a slope recently cleared of trees and climbed into woodland. Along with healthy populations of wild strawberry, violets, dog mercury and bluebells, the fronds of various ferns were unfurling and we spotted a small shrub, which may or may not have been spurge-laurel. Nobody could fathom why it had apparently died in the midst of healthy vegetation. Just before we emerged from the woodland, a splinter group reported several dried spikes of bird’s-nest orchid from the previous summer. There was no sign of this year’s spikes.

Dingy Skipper

Limestone grassland offered the prospect of more species for the list. Apart from cowslips, few of the plants here had yet flowered but we identified wild carrot and both hairy and perfoliate St. John’s-wort, carline thistle and the usual selection of leguminous plants, clovers, vetches and trefoils, including common bird’s-foot trefoil, the food plant of the larvae of the dingy skipper butterfly, which some of the party were lucky enough to see and photograph. Downy oat-grass was just starting to appear but tor-grass had to be identified from last year’s dried culms.

Everald and Robert offered us a detour to a small pond. In contrast with the habitats we had already visited, this area appeared to bear witness to a relatively late spring, although water-mint had begun to appear. The immature cone-bearing stems of horsetails sparked a lively debate as to their identity. The deeper water held a large population of bulrush (reedmace) and some grey club-rush, just beginning to flower.

Early Purple Orchid

Retracing our steps, we turned south to the edge of a wood, within which areas of yellow archangel alternated with bluebells and the occasional early purple orchid. The path ran along the wood’s edge, alongside a field of oil-seed rape. This was surprisingly free of the usual arable weeds but Jesse spotted the highlight of the day, small-flowered winter-cress, a new taxon to many of the group. Emerging from the wood, we descended along a field edge towards the Don, coming across what may have been Des Etangs’ St. John’s-wort, the hybrid between perforate and imperforate St. John’s-wort. In the absence of flowers or buds it was impossible to tell.


The final section of the walk took us along the north bank of the Don between the river and Sprotbrough Flash. Close to the water, the perennial herbs were growing strongly, among them water figwort, hemlock water-dropwort and soapwort, none of them yet in bloom. There were patches of garden yellow archangel, with its characteristic silver-blotched leaves. Among the willows were one or two hybrids. It was refreshing to note the absence of Indian balsam. Someone spotted the three-nerved sandwort at the base of a large hybrid black poplar, the latter’s identity confirmed by the tiny hairs along the edge of the leaf blade. Some of the hawthorns on the stretch were huge and, as the alternative name ‘mayflower’ might dictate, in full bloom.

  Apparently, over 400 species of plant have been recorded in the area covered by the walk and, as we approached the Boat Inn, we had probably seen about half of them, a most satisfying sample so early in the season. Thanks go to Everald and Robert for leading the hordes around this species-rich part of South Yorkshire and to all who turned out on this pleasant day of sunshine and showers to make the day so enjoyable.