Barnack Hills and Holes

The changeable weather brought a grey cold day for the RNHS visit to the Hills and Holes at Barnack, but a good number,14 in all, joined together  for a walk around the reserve, an important SSRI. Immediately noticeable from the start were the Cowslips, in groups or scattered singly all around. Also very numerous were the small yellow brown flowers of False Fox Sedge, like little lumps of butter all around.

We followed the marked path across the reserve towards the distant wall and wood. The nearer holes are roped off to protect the important plants and there were many Pasque flowers here, looking a bit sorry for themselves in the cold. Further on there are many growing on the slopes where you can approach them easily to photograph them.  Here too we found many Early Purple Orchids, some fully grown, some still in infancy.  Pasque flowers grow on limestone grassland in Cambridgeshire and over in the Cotswolds. According to Grigson* they are called Dane’s blood or Dane’s flower, possibly because they are found on Devil’s Dyke to the east of Cambridge, where they could have sprung from the blood of Danish soldiers.

Further on, as we reached the trees we found Dog’s Mercury, with male and female plants clearly identified by their different flowers. Along the wall  towards the corner of the reserve there were Garlic Mustard, Black Bryony, Ground Ivy, Bluebells and several clumps of False Oxlip, a hybrid of Cowslip and Primrose which looks very similar to Cowslip. A week before , we found Orangetip, Brimstone and Peacock butterflies but there were none today.  Phil identified the song of a Mistlethrush, a little like a blackbird but often described as melancholy. We continued along the path back to the carpark, but didn’t come across any more Pasque flowers. They seem to be congregated on the west side of the reserve.

We had an interesting  and successful walk, but the site is worth returning to a little later in the spring for there will probably be more orchids, man and frog orchids, and yellow rockroses too.

J S Rodgers