Bradford Botany Group

Staveley YWT reserve Visit

20th July 2013



This Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve has been created out of restored sand and gravel workings in the flood plain of the River Tutt, although the area has been known as botanically rewarding for many years. After a spell of unpleasantly high temperatures we anticipated the need for copious amounts of sunblock and bottled water, but in the event clouds appeared, and the weather for the visit became much more comfortable than we could have reasonably expected. An excellent turnout of 21 members was given an account of the history of the site by long-standing reserve volunteer Bob Evison, who accompanied us for the morning.


The first part of the tour was along the edge of a fenced off area of rough grassland containing White Park Cattle and then through secondary woodland, grown up on the edge of the extraction area, featuring mainly willow, Wych Elm and Silver Birch, with one bush of Purging Buckthorn, never a common plant, and always nice to see. There was much Himalayan Balsam, which Bob said was regularly pulled to control, more in hope than practical effect, but this concealed an unexpected treasure. It was mentioned that the area had long been known for its Broad-leaved Helleborines, along the path side and amongst the Balsam, but when one of the plants was spotted it was apparently not this species but the very much rarer Drooping Helleborine. It will be necessary to visit again in a couple of weeks to see just how many are present in addition to the commoner species.

Marsh Helleborine

The woodland gave way to species-rich areas of neutral grassland, with the restored East Lagoon to the right, which contained a population of the very attractive Water Violet, and a conspicuous stand of Mare’s-tail. The grasslands had much Greater Burnet-saxifrage, with many Common Spotted Orchids, now going over, and relict fenland species such as Blunt–flowered Rush, Common Meadow-rue, and a much photographed population of Marsh Helleborine. A small pond contained a single plant of Lesser Water-plantain, which when not in fruit, can be overlooked for the much more frequent Common Water-plantain, but here its buttercup like seed clusters, which give the plant its Latin species name, were clearly visible. Bob was given a bit of a fright when it was suggested that there was the dreaded invasive aquatic nearby, but grappling a piece with Neil’s trusty walking pole confirmed that the plant was a charophyte or stonewort, probably the commonest species of the genus. This is reputed to have a foul smell giving rise to its old name of C. foetida, but in practice it can be impossible to tell this from the smell of the water it is growing in, as was the case here.


After lunch, rather than retrace our footsteps, we crossed the bridge over the river, through a large patch of Tall Fescue, and walked along the bank to re-enter the reserve further west. Unfortunately there was little of interest on this section, the river being shaded and largely inaccessible behind burdock, willow-herbs, nettles and brambles. The diversion provided a brief moment of panic as it was realised that the bridge shown on the reserve map did not exist, having been moved further west. The path associated with the new bridge was only sparsely vegetated; however, it soon re-joined the old path which skirted the West Lagoon, and although the lagoon area itself was not particularly rich (we were advised by the warden) and was not visited, the edges of the path showed evidence of an older reclamation scheme, and was not without interest, having some fine planted Grey Poplar and an alien Field Maple. We circled a copse on a side track from the main path, which proved to be another plantation with, amongst other things, some uncertain Populus and Prunus and a striking purple Norway maple.


The last area we looked at was known as the Hay Meadow Field, which seemed misnamed, as it was covered in a suite of agricultural weeds typical of bare ground with no evidence at all of a hay meadow flora, but probably this is a work in progress. Notable here were Corn Mint and what appeared to be Wild Pansy as well as the usual Field Pansy. The two can be close and were at one time regarded as a single species, but tricolor is a rapidly declining plant, while arvense continues to be abundant despite modern herbicides. The field would have been spectacular earlier in the year; there were many Common Poppies, still in flower, but uncountable numbers of seed heads.

  We had been given permission for one or two people from the group to look at the South Pastures, adjacent to the car park, which is where the cattle with their intimidating long horns were grazing; but this was not taken up. I like to think this was because the day was getting late and not for any other reason!