A recent visit up to the River Nent in Cumbria was in stark contrast to the snowy bleakness of April. Now an array of wild flowers has burst onto the scene. The long cold winter seems to have given them increased vigour this year and, with the late spring, many flowers in bloom together when usually they would be weeks apart. On the metal contaminated silts by the river two of the specialist plants were putting on a good show. The diminutive spring sandwort (Minuartia verna) is a little white star flower growing in clumps on ground that others struggle to cope with. Nearby were the brash purple patches of mountain pansy (Viola lutea). The scientific name suggests a yellow flower, which does occur, but here it is almost exclusively a violet colour.
The metal contamination comes from past mining activity in the area. The silt washing from the mine spoil heaps is high in zinc and lead but does provide some unique habitat for plants that struggle where other plants, and grasses in particular, out complete them. The most pragmatic approach is to attempt to stabilise these silts and keep them where they are thus reducing their impact on the river system.