Whilst a traditional flower guide sets out each part of a species for easy identification, nature has a different agenda and it's reproduction. When the flora of Scout Scar escarpment is a mass of yellows I like the challenge of recognising each distinct species before I'm close enough to be sure- from jizz which brings into play everything I've learnt along the way. At the same time, I've been looking for the perfect image to show a flower for what it is.
The early purple orchids are faded and wizened. Early, and for some time the only orchid. Tway-blades are budding and today I saw the first green-white buds of butterfly orchid. There are lesser redpoll calling, often in flight. They seem restless birds and I hear but do not see them. During the last week there were two splendid days when the sun was bright and the escarpment flora reflected it. Rock roses full-open to the sun, translucent. Now the day is cool and fresh, rain in the air. How will the flowers respond?
At this season the Scout Scar escarpment looks stunning. The limestone flora of the cliff-face has been blossoming for several weeks and now the flowers are fresh and abundant. The cliff face is rich with hoary rock rose, the pale yellow flowers opening to the bright sun. There are dense clumps of flowers right on the cliff edge, mingling with tall stems of blue moor grass. Close to the cliff-edge is common rock rose, slightly later to flower and today shot through with sunlight. I found a patch of kidney vetch and there’s horseshoe-vetch too.
I was taking every opportunity to put together a photographic archive of the flora of the verge at Ghyll Brow. I was enjoying the discovery of fresh flowers and their beauty, the sharp contrasts of colour, the intricacy of structure. In the cold and windy weather I'm always looking out for butterflies and bees, for our essential pollinators. This morning I was struck by the sheer abundance of forget-me-not , and all the emergent flowers amongst them.. If only I had taken one last photograph.
Two days ago, an item on radio 4 raised awareness of the importance of the roadside verge across the UK. Biodiversity is here in this precious resource for flora and pollinators. Ghyll Brow is a microcosm and the threat to biodiversity is echoed across the country. The threat was closer to home, more imminent than I realised when I set out for Scout Scar at 8.00 am as the sun shone on a wondrous haze of forget-me-not . When I returned that way the lot had gone. A brutal swathe had been taken out, rough-cut across the verge, leaving only a handful of flowers protected within the dense shrubs that grow on the steepest part of the bank. Forget-me-nots aren't tall flowers, they did not over hang bank or road. The cut was crude, wide and haphazard.
Whoever did it was not interested in making the way safe for pedestrians because dead brambles reaching out into the road on the stretch by the Ghyll Brow houses had not been touched. There had been no attempt to clear up litter exposed by the cut. Keith Dunn who walks here daily was angry too. We locals who come this way often talk about the flowers.
I rang The Highways Agency, Cumbria County Council. David Huck spoke to his contractors who assured him this was not their work. We had a long chat about conservation of roadside verges and the constraints the Highways Agency must work with. Roads are colour coded and this stretch of Brigsteer Road should not be cut until September, giving seed time to set. The type of cut specified is appropriate to the ecology of the verge here, and it is more sensitive and considered.
So a maverick cut. Useless to speculate, the damage is done. But we’ve made our point and I’ve made a further contact. I’m asking how we can raise awareness, how we might try to protect the resource of the verge at Ghyll Brow.
Earlier this year I wrote a blog An Elegy for Ghyll Brow which you may find in the archive. But I didn’t see this coming. Several years ago the verge was subjected to a ferocious slashing that left jagged spikes of saplings jutting from the bank.
It is dispiriting. Cumbria County Council has a policy in place and it’s well thought through. But someone has ignored it and taken out the flora of the verge.
I have been posting images of the Ghyll Brow flora as they appeared, one by one. Later in the year I mean to show the diversity and beauty of what we've lost this summer.
The exciting aspect of macro-photography is not knowing what I've caught until I download images onto my computer and zoom-in on them. Then they reveal pattern and detail I cannot see when I'm taking the picture. On a day like today, with a blustery wind and sunlight blotted out by clouds just as I'm thinking how to show a flower I have to concentrate on the overview and, when the sun appears, on keeping my shadow out of the image and catching the shadows it creates within the flower..
The dramatic profile of Pen-Y-Ghent and the heather fell of Plover Hill dominated our day. The wind was cold and blustery and cloud scudded over the fells, casting them in shadow until the sun spotlit the moors. A flock of Dale Bred ewes and lambs mistook us for the farmer come to feed them. But as we prepared to set out he arrived on his quad bike with his sheepdog running after and the flock following. Marsh marigolds gave a splash of colour in wet pastures, and lapwing were rising and calling in tumbling flight.
Forget taxonomy and a naming of parts. Let’s look and be curious. Let’s look into things. Today’s the day. The sun sheds light on flowers and suddenly it’s all happening. I’ve watched the flower-stem of an Ox-eye daisy shoot up from amongst the forget-me-nots, the flower-bud swelling. And this morning the flower opens fresh and new. The great things about a local patch is the overnight surprises that nature springs. I suppose keen gardeners are seeing this all the time. It’s a kind of stewardship in the wild. Keeping an eye on things.
Early June, and the Ghyll Brow flora takes on a distinctive note. All through the winter it's a seed-bank, with potential for spring and summer and I'm eager to be reacquainted. My fresh blog archive(coming July) is rather like a seed-bank, linking past and future through wildlife discovery. I hope I shall easily renew my gallery images too. I'm gathering the Ghyll Brow flowers and plan to display a range of them through the seasons.
It is 2nd June and meadow saxifrage flowers thick in the Ghyll Brow pastures.
Jan Wiltshire is a writer and naturalist living in Cumbria. She take photographs.