Country Diary: Fast-declining species found at Raincliffe

Snakes Head Fritillary
Snakes Head Fritillary

The highlight of recent hectic days simply had to be a treasure discovered by Martin Bishop, in Raincliffe Woods. His superb photographs revealed the dainty Snake’s Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) with nodding, bell-shaped flowers of dull purple chequered with darker patches. A second variety was all white, named Alba or Aphrodite. This short perennial is inconspicuous when not in bloom, as its leaves are grass-like. Flowering during April and May they’re unmistakeable.

Sadly, it’s a fast-declining species of unploughed, damp lowland meadows in South and Central England. In the early 20th century they were common in wet meadows, but draining, ploughing and fertilisers have greatly reduced the sites where they could be seen. They require a site with free-draining, and one which receives some sunshine during the day. Raincliffe Wood has natural springs, and tree-felling over recent years, has certainly provided increased illumination to its ground flora.

We used to find them below Scarborough’s railed Esplanade between the Spa and Holbeck’s Clock Tower, but haven’t returned this year. Do go and search, but please do not pick!

We seem to have a midnight visitor, leaving footprints across our lavender border and lawn in a quest for bulbs in Christine and Ron’s adjacent border. Digging quite deep holes to reach their objective, the fox or badger is undeterred by netting and barriers to exclude them. However, they may have found the answer with, ‘Silent Roar’. It’s the gardener’s friend – a packet of pellets which when soaked resemble pebbles, but give off the odour of lion dung. That seems to scare off the uninvited visitors!

Recent hot weather certainly brought forth a flurry of blossom, and ‘candles’ on horsechestnut trees. Wild flowers in profusion carpet woodland floors and river banks.

It’s moments when you’ve time to stop, that you notice things. A wasp alighted on the garden trellis, and began rasping away at the wood. This would be mixed with its saliva to make a pulp, and then moulded into paper-like cells of its ball-shaped nest. Wasp nests are so attractive in shades of brown and fawn, depending on the wood selected.

Examine your rustic table or chairs, and where wasps have worked, you’ll find fine lines where wood was filed away.

We called at Forge Valley’s Old Man’s Mouth car park overlooking the River Derwent. This beautiful, unspoilt river supports an abundance of wildlife (as shown on the interpretation board near the footbridge), and is an excellent example of a lime-rich, clear water river.

Sitting briefly in the shade, overlooking the rush and tumble of rippling waters, I observed a grey wagtail. Perched on a boulder, it flew out after passing insects, beneath overhanging trees.

Its long tail accentuates the vertical wagging motion each time it stops.