Upper Teesdale in Spring

A short account of a spring visit to the botanical paradise that is Upper Teesdale.

As part of an ongoing course I’m leading for the Natural History Society of Northumbria, this past Saturday I had the pleasure of visiting the botanical paradise that is Upper Teesdale. Stopping first at Cow Green reservoir and travelling later to Bowlees for a walk upstream at Low Force, there was a great deal to see. Not least a great many fascinating plants! Highlights of our trip are captured below though this is far from exhaustive. Indeed, one of the few problems associated with visiting Teesdale is that there is always way too much to take in…

Cow Green first and having met attendees in the car park, we soon set off along the natural trail stopping every few meters to admire the flora of the sugar limestone here. Spring Gentians (Gentiana verna), perhaps the most sought-after of Teesdale’s plants, were numerous along the track sides and we paused too to admire Mountain Pansy (Viola lutea), Blue Moor Grass (Sesleria caerulea) and many Common Dog-violets (Viola riviniana) which try as we might, we could not transform into the fabled Teesdale Violet (Viola rupestris).

Further along the trail, our next stop was the series of sykes (wet flushes) that spill out over the track. Here we noted many blooming Bird’s-eye Primrose (Primula farinosa), another must-see plant, alongside the diminutive Variegated Horsetail (Equisetum variegatum), several examples of Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) and a curious sedge retrospectively identified as Rare Spring-sedge (Carex ericetorum). We might have found far more here but alas, we did need to keep to schedule!

Grassland and exposed rocky areas beside the trail here also held an interesting mix of relic Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), Spring Sandwort (Minuartia verna) and Knotted Pearlwort (Sagina nodosa) as well as commoner plants in Thrift (Armeria maritima), Sea Plantain (Plantago maritima) and Common Whitlowgrass (Erophila verna).

Heading back to our cars, our attention was drawn to a striking, blonde bumblebee basking on a tussock – a queen Moss Carder Bee (Bombus muscorum)! This isn’t a species I see often at all and it was nice to finally spot one in typical upland habitat. A stop at a rocky outcrop along the roadside here also provided a few interesting ferns, most notably Green Spleenwort (Asplenium viride), but there were also examples of Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes subsp. trichomanes). In the car park, a rather colourful beetle was revealed to be Carabus nitens – perhaps the most colourful of the UK’s ground beetles.

Following Cow Green, the decision was taken to relocate to Bowlees and following a spot of lunch at the superb visitor centre, we set off towards Low Force. Though not before stopping to admire a good-sized patch of Good-King-Henry (Blitum bonus-henricus) flowering at the roadside. At Low Force itself, insects breifly took over and we all enjoyed the sight of a huge nesting aggregation of Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria), as well as its associated cuckoo, Lathbury’s Nomad Bee (Nomada lathburiana). Here too there were Sandpit Mining Bee (Andrena barbilabris) and a few Clarke’s Mining Bee (Andrena clarkella) foraging on willow. Not to mention the whopping Violet Oil Beetle (Meloe violaceus) shown below.

The plants at Low Force were interesting also with Bitter Vetch (Lathyrus linifolius), Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) and Tea-leaved Willow (Salix phylicifolia) noted.

Refocusing our efforts on the plants growing along the Tees, we were amazed by the diversity of the riverside flora pausing every few yards to admire something new. Globeflower (Trollius europaeus) was a highlight for many but we also observed Pyrenean Scurvygrass (Cochlearia pyrenaica), False Oxlip (Primula × polyantha), and Wood Horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum).

We never did make it as far as High Force, the intended end point of the day’s outing – botanists seldom move at a brisk pace. We did, however, reach the mid-point where we were pleased to encounter Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa), Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale) and Stone Bramble (Rubus saxatilis) growing in the fissured rock lining the banks of the Tees.

All in all, we had a fantastic day in Teesdale. For several people, this marked their first experience of this wonderful part of the world and I’d like to think that many will be back in the future to explore the area further. I certainly will – even with three visits this year alone, I fear I am only just scratching the surface.

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