Today was a chance to have a look around Holystone Burn, near Rothbury, with a group of expert botanists. This site is well-known for its junipers and is probably the best site in Northumberland for bog myrtle but it’s been a few years since a more comprehensive review of the plants has been carried out. The wet flushes were somewhat dry although the plants clearly showed where they were. The diversity was disappointing, particularly the lack of sedges though the list crept up from just black sedge (Carex nigra) to include a few more by lunch time. Perhaps the most exciting find was a rather small and insignificant orchid; lesser twayblade (Listera cordata). This is normally nestled under heather but for some reason the little group of three was perched on the top of a hummock of sphagnum moss.
Colour was provided by the first flowers of bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum), curiously confined to just one wet flush. This plant of acid ground was thought to cause brittle bones in grazing livestock – hence the second part of the scientific name – but it was actually the calcium poor conditions that caused the problem.
It wasn’t all plants; a grasshopper warbler demonstrated its jarring but distinctive song as we looked through sedges and rushes. There were large numbers of ringlet butterflies to be seen and rather too many cleggs (horse flies) to be avoided; midges too caused some irritation when we stopped out of the breeze. The most striking insect of the site are the wood ants which seemed to be wandering over everything. Unlike the blood sucking flies the ants weren’t interested in us being more concerned with farming aphids or searching for other food and building materials.