Botany at East Chevington

A not so quick account of a brilliant two days spent botanising Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s East Chevington reserve.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust‘s reserve at East Chevington has to be one of my favourite places. Not only does it support an incredible diversity of insect and bird life – we saw a Hobby, woo – but also an incredible array of wildflowers. Sympathetic management by the Trust made a huge difference and alongside a mix of habitats ranging from sandy shores and dunes to wetland, woodland and calcareous meadows, has created a veritable goldmine for passing botanists. You can imagine my delight then at being able to visit not once but twice this week as part of an NHSN course I’m leading. I’ll be combining two trips into one with this post but hopefully will give a flavour of what a fantastic place this is in high summer.

East Chevington’s calcareous grasslands are perhaps some of the best in Northumberland. Visiting these first, we were immediately struck by the abundance of Bloody Crane’s-bill (Geranium sanguineum) and Burnet Rose (Rosa spinosissima), two species characteristic of the coast here. Looking closer, there was much more to see with Lesser Meadow-rue (Thalictrum minus), Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), Quaking Grass (Briza media) and plenty of delightful Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea). All species I don’t see too often living where I do in the city.

When walking here, it is easy to get drawn in by the more vibrant species growing on site. To counteract this, at least some of our time was spent exploring the less showy species found on site. Grasses were interesting with Yellow Oat-grass (Trisetum flavescens) and Heath-grass (Danthonia decumbens) both noted and several sedges were observed including Carnation Sedge (Carex panicea) and Sand Sedge (Carex arenaria). Far more obvious that these, the devilsome yellow composites were blooming en masse and a little searching revealed Smooth Hawk’s-beard (Crepis capillaris), Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus) and Mouse-ear-hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum). These failed to hold our attention long, however, and soon it was back to the more blousy things.

Orchids turned out to be a real ‘flavour of the day’ during our visit. In drier areas of the grassland, dozens of Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) were seen while Common Spotted-orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) were present in abundance. More interesting perhaps was a fantastic example of a Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), the only one noted during both visits. This species is numerous elsewhere along the county’s coastline but is strangely lacking from South Northumberland.

Topping off our grassland explorations nicely, one of our attendees was quick to draw attention to an ‘attractive bindweed’ growing on an area of exposed sand – Sea Bindweed (Calystegia soldanella)! This species is only known from two sites in VC67, East Chevington being one of them. That said, it appears not to have been recorded on site since 1988 and thus, was a very exciting find.

Departing the grassland, our next point of call was the mouth of the Chevington Burn where a small area of beach is notable for the abundance of shoreline species. Sure enough, we observed Sea Sandwort (Honckenya peploides) and Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima), as well as an abundance of Frosted Orache (Atriplex laciniata) glistening in the sun. While this was clearly the dominant atriplex, it was nice to note and compare Spear-leaved Orache (Atriplex prostrata) in addition. Perhaps the most interesting plant here was the curious-looking Prickly Saltwort (Salsola kali) shown below. A Rare Plant Register species in South Northumberland, I was surprised to see so much of it.

Not travelling far from the burn, a poke about the margins of a pond in the dunes turned up Sea Club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus), Hop Trefoil (Trifolium campestre) and Northern Marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella) among other more common species.

Having explored the coastal areas of the site, all that remained was a walk along the coast path which bisects the reserve. Towards the South of the site, the pools came up trumps with the delightful flowers of Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre), yet more Common Spotted-orchids and several examples of the hybrid between this and Northern Marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza x venusta). There was also the opportunity to compare Hemlock (Conium maculatum) with its namesake Hemlock Water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata). They may look quite different but both are rather toxic.

Veering off slightly to explore a particularly exciting damp flush, the group were pleased to see the delicate flowers of Celery-leaved Buttercup (Ranunculus sceleratus) growing where the cattle used for conservation grazing had kindly disturbed the ground. Here too, one of the day’s target species was found in the form of several blooming Marsh Helleborines (Epipactis palustris). East Chevington appears to be the last bastion of this orchid in the vice-county though even here, it is far from numerous.

Having had our fill of the flush, it was back to the path for dash to a secluded corner of the reserve and something a little special, though not before pausing to admire the abundance of Zigzag Clover (Trifolium medium) and Dyer’s Greenweed (Genista tinctoria) growing in ranker areas. The latter is a particularly scarce plant locally and a real beauty.

Reaching our destination, everyone present was soon elated with the sight of the seventh and final orchid of the outing – the Lesser Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera bifolia). This species has declined horribly across much of the UK and is now present at only a handful of sites locally. Here, however, it is doing well, thanks in no small part to targeted management by the Trust.

And there we have it, a not-so-short round-up of a great series of trips to East Chevington. Of course, there was plenty more plantlife to see and enjoy, some of the more interesting of which I have included below for reference. All that remains to be said here is that East Chevington is a wonderful site for a whole manner of interesting plants. I wonder what else will pop up in the near future?

Additional species

Slender St. John’s-wort (Hypericum pulchrum), Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum), Long-headed Poppy (Papaver dubium), False Fox-sedge (Carex otrubae), Lesser Pond-sedge (Carex acutiformis), Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca), Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), Curly Waterweed (Lagarosiphon major), Common Restharrow (Ononis repens), Goat’s-beard (Tragopogon pratensis), Wild Thyme (Thymus drucei), Jointed Rush (Juncus articulatus), Ampthbious Bistort (Persicaria amphibia) & Marsh Bedstraw (Galium palustre).

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