Limestone grassland

Birds-eye primrose

Birds-eye primrose

The thin limestone soils of upper Wharfedale are low in nutrients and many interesting plants, which might otherwise get overgrown, can prosper. The old-established grazing of these well-drained fields keeps down the coarser plants which might out-compete smaller ones. The local population of twite, a bird whose British population is of European importance, feeds on the limestone grasslands in autumn. Other birds which uses these areas include redstart, green woodpecker, wheatear and lapwing, together with buzzard, which has recolonised upper Wharfedale in recent decades.

Bird’s-eye primrose, or ‘mealy’ primrose, from the dusty white stalk and under-leaves – “one of the dozen most exquisite natives of the British Isles”, according to Geoffrey Grigson- is a characteristic flower of the limestone grasslands. It is often found in damp depressions, often with the insectivorous butterwort. Its distribution is solely within the northern Pennines.

In the Malham-Arncliffe area the nationally scarce blue moor-grass is often found, with sheep’s-fescue and herbs such as limestone bedstraw, thyme, small scabious, salad burnet and common rock-rose. In areas of less intense grazing larger flowers grow, including bloody crane’s-bill and, just over the border of our area, the nationally rare Jacob’s-ladder. At Cool Pasture there is wild thyme, common milkwort, fairy flax, bird’s-foot trefoil, salad burnet, autumn gentian, harebell, eyebright and the nationally scarce limestone bedstraw. Moonwort, a tiny fern, occurs in varying abundance from year to year. Several mountain and northern speciescan be found, including alpine cinquefoil, which is also found in Scotland, mountain avens, which is here at its southernmost point in England and mountain everlasting, which has declined in its lowland sites and is now found in the uplands.

At Conistone Old Pasture there is extensive calcareous grassland, with blue moor-grass and sheep’s fescue, together with rockrose, dropwort and limestone bedstraw. The bird’s-eye primrose and grass-of-Parnassus can be found in flushed areas.

In more open parts of Grass Wood a limestone grassland flora has developed in which blue moor-grass is accompanied by herbs such as common rockrose, bloody crane’s- bill, salad burnet and betony. At Hawkswick Wood there is an area of limestone grassland containing rockrose, thyme and purging flax. Areas of seepage have purple moor-grass and butterwort. On the steep upper slopes of Scoska Wood grassland is characterised by the presence of blue moor-grass and a range of calcareous herbs including salad burnet and fairy flax. In Pen-y-Ghent Gill blue moor-grass dominates, with herbs such as salad burnet and fairy flax.

In upper Wharfedale the thin daleside soils have blue moor-grass and limestone bedstraw, both characteristic species of a community confined to the Carboniferous Limestone of Northern England, with frequent common rock-rose, wild thyme and autumn gentian. Locally dropwort and kidney vetch may be found, both species rare in the Dales.

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