Posted by: Ross Gardner | August 23, 2021

Force of Nature

I have been fortunate enough to have spent several weeks of the summer holidays travelling in the north of England and South West Scotland. There is plenty I have seen to draw me back to these pages, yet it is not the surging upland rivers, unspoilt Scottish coastlines or empty Galloway hills that initial bring me to the keyboard (although they may well do at some point), but a car park. Now the car park in question is not your average one, but in the context of the wild and wonderful country that extends around it, it definitely falls into the ‘nature’s full of surprises’ category, something which is a recurring theme on the this blog.

High Force, County Durham

We had stopped at High Force, a 21 metre high Pennine waterfall, not far from Barnard Castle. The fall itself is impressive and well worth the couple of quid entrance fee, but to one with an eye for the wilder side of things, such as myself, the visitor car park offered a wider distraction. As I have already mentioned, this large car park is not a typical one set as it is in the hills and edged with woodland, but all the same it harboured a remarkable variety of wildlife around its fringes. The flora was amazingly diverse. The last of the summer’s common spotted orchid stood among abundant lady’s bedstraw, meadowsweet and lesser knapweed. There was lady’s mantle, ragged-robin, meadow vetchling, melancholy thistle and sneezewort. Splashes of harebell blue were dotted about the place and white eyebright glinted among the rabbit-grazed turf. And the rabbits! I’m not sure I have ever seen so many around a car park that emerged in the early evening after the crowds had departed. We were only half surprised to see a stoat nosing about optimistically on the trail of strong scents.

Melancholy Thistle (Cirsium heterophyllum) – a plant grasslands

Yet it was a far more run-of-the-mill plant that completed this remarkable scene. A swathe of creeping thistle spread across an area of many tens of square metres, to the extent that its unobtrusive and not unpleasant scent could easily be detected. It was a fabulous nectar source, so much so that a purple hairstreak was drawn away from the honeydew-coated high oak canopy from where these butterflies more typically take their sustenance and down to the bounteous mauve blooms below. Hoverflies were everywhere including one northerly species (Eristalis rupium) hitherto unseen by a southerner such as myself. Bumblebees teemed amongst the others, although it was the little eyebright flowers that drew the rare moss carder bee (Bombus muscorum) for the first time before this observer’s gaze.

So my advice for any naturalists visiting this part of the the Pennines in the summer: visit waterfall and its woods and enjoy a pint or a bite to eat at the hotel, but leave plenty of time to explore the less expected wild fringe. Such advice, come to think of it, would be to some extent applicable wherever you happened to find yourself.

Eristalis rupium is a largely a hoverfly of Northern Britain; the various species of Eristalis can be difficult to tell apart, but the pronounced wing-cloud on this species is a good place to start.

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