It’s a pleasure to drive along the Burley by-pass at present and admire the cowslips dotting the roadside hanks with colour. Of course, these were seeded in vhen the new road was made. Cowslips are rare in this part of the dale.
In fact, our WNS Botany Recorder recently asked members to help with in update of our Primrose and Cowslip Survey.
Started nearly 20 years ago, this is an attempt to record every site in our area for primroses, cowslips and false oxlip, the hybrid between them, a sturdy plant, with branched flower-head like the cowslip but facing upward, not nodding to one side.
Fired with enthusiasm, we rapidly consulted the OS map, selected a promising spot with south-facing slopes and set off.
An icy wind raked the sheep-bitten pastures, a few gnarled hawthorns marked the line of long-gone ancient hedgerows.
There was nothing to catch the eye but a few dejected lambs and a wheeling curlew. Not a flower to be seen. Then a vicious hailstorm struck and we scuttled for shelter to a small wood following the line of a steep gill.
Under the shelter of the trees – a very different scene. The ground was thickly carpeted with bluebell leaves through which narrow worn pathways led to a badger sett in the slope above the stream. In the damper spots, celandines took over from the bluebells and the stream edges were bright with lime-green clumps of golden saxifrage.
Then – in a sheltered hollow just above the water – a bank of primroses in full flower. It was such an out-of-the-way spot that we felt confident that we had discovered a new site for primroses. No sign of cowslip or hybrids, though – not really the right habitat. If you want to see an example of natural plant hybridisation, take a walk through Strid Woods in the next few weeks.
In damp spots beside the path, look out for a medium-sized plant with brownish-pink drooping flowers -Water Avens. Then see if you can find its relative, Herb Bennett, its yellow-star-shaped flowers facing upward. Once you have got your eye in for these, you’ll start to notice a whole range of hybrids, flowers in differing shades of yellowy pink, flower heads with varying amounts of droop – a fascinating case-study of a natural process.
Any time now the swifts will be returning, dark crescent shapes high above our heads or, in noisy groups, screaming just above the house-tops. You can enter the date you first see them at bbc.co.uk/springwatch