(This page contain the text relating to plants from the booklet The Countryside of Warsop Parish – Birds, hedgerows and plants in around the Hills and Holes that was published by Warsop Footpaths and Countryside Group in 2001. Most of the text appears elsewhere in this site, linked to areas on the map. Further information about plants can be found in the More Information and the Images sections)
Around 1400 different species of flowering plants that are considered native grow in the British Isles. The number of plants is considerably lower than that found in continental Europe because of the effects of the Ice Age and the difficulties for plants of re-colonizing our islands. The plants we do have evolved to grow in a variety of environments from seashore to mountaintop and from the extreme southwest of the Scilly Isles to the outermost of the Orkneys, so it is impossible to see all of the different types of plants within any single small geographical area.
In the best places to see plants, you can only hope to see a wide variety of those plants that are found within the environmental conditions that exist in that area. This booklet covers one such area.
The Hills and Holes is an area protected as part of a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ or SSSI because of the wonderful variety of plants that grow there. The Hills and Holes, and other islands of diversity elsewhere are important as they safeguard the existence of species that can no longer exist elsewhere. While sites such as this provide a haven for wildlife they are of benefit to people as well. They provide places where we can recharge our personal batteries, take time out from the pace of modern life and simply relax and enjoy our surroundings.
It is up to us all, and not just governments, landowners and farmers to ensure that these places are valued and treated with care. Picking flowers, digging up plants and other activities that threaten the area are illegal. Follow the country code and keep the area safe for future generations.
The lanes, hedges and field boundaries adjacent to the Hills and Holes are ancient in origin and character, they provide a buffer around the site and add to its attraction. It is equally important that they are protected and managed accordingly.
The following section highlights some of the important species and areas that visitors from near and far may wish to see. It doesn’t identify every important area because not everyone reading this will have a sympathetic or caring attitude. We need to protect against them as well!
Sookholme Lane contains many typical hedgerow plants that are often found elsewhere. Cleavers or Goosegrass with its sticky seeds and sticky spindly stems, beloved of children, climbs throughout the hedges, but also look out for Black Bryony with its shiny, leathery looking, deeply veined, heart-shaped, pointed leaves and clusters of small white flowers that give way to berries looking like bunches of orange grapes in late autumn.
Hedge Parsley and Fool’s Parsley collectively known as ‘Gypsy Bread’ die away in summer but the similar flowers that appear later are likely to be Upright Hedge Parsley. In fact there is a whole family of similar plants that occur in sequence from spring through summer. They are very difficult to identify without using a magnifying glass to study their seeds. The largest of the native family, Hogweed, is easily recognisable though. A bristly sturdy plant with rough leaves. The ridged stems make good peashooters.
Textbooks often state that Red and White Campion grow in different conditions. Well, both are often found growing right next to each other on Sookholme Lane. Both often flower early in spring and again in late summer. A third member of the family is found but only in particular places. Bladder Campion has white flowers but a lime-green colour on the sepals (leaf-like, petal shaped structures behind the petals). It develops a bladder-like seed head that can be popped on the back of the hand scattering the seeds. All these campions have five petals with a tube behind the flower.
Ground Ivy has a minty smell when a stem or leaf is crushed. The ivy-shaped leaves and purple flowers are found tucked right under the bottom of the hedge close to the ground. This plant will grow in more open areas but then usually it has purple or redder leaves. It was used with other herbs to flavour ale and mead up to and including Medieval times before hops were used to make bitter.
As Sookholme Lane widens beyond Hammerwater Bridge, the grass verge contains many wildflowers that are also found on the Hills and Holes. In particular look out for Crosswort south of the railway bridge. This member of the bedstraw family has leaves in distinct whorls of four “honey-scented” yellow flowers that can be confused with the more delicate Lady’s Bedstraw of the same family.
Also note the tongue shaped delicately fern-like leaves of Yarrow here. The flower heads are flat and contain many hundreds of individual florets that can range in colour from white to delicate pink.
Further along Sookholme Lane, the bank has a woodland character. Foxglove, Bluebell, the delicate seeding heads of Wood Melick, Wood Millet, Dog’s Mercury, Hedge Woundwort and Yellow Archangel (Yellow Dead Nettle) and the tufted seed heads of Barren Brome grass can all be found under the trees.
You can see the naturally velcro-like seeds of Wood Avens that follow the unremarkable yellow flowers, sticking to clothing and animals alike with multiple hooks that look wicked when viewed with a magnifying glass.
Looked at closely, Yellow Archangel flowers are similar to traditional images of an angel – hence the name. This plant is becoming scarce as ancient woodland disappears. In some places it is being replaced by a non-native variegated variety that has escaped out of gardens. The usurper can colonise more quickly and out-compete the native. Thankfully that has not happened here.
The woundworts, as the name implies, were used for healing wounds. Thank goodness the plants were used externally as, despite the beautiful, finely-marked individual flowers on each spike of hedge Woundwort, the plant has an awful smell and taste!
Along Spring Lane look out for scattered Bluebell in the areas of densest shade often growing among the more common Dog’s Mercury. Easily overlooked is Three-nerved Sandwort of the Chickweed family. The three veins running from one end of each leaf to the other help to identify this low-growing shade lover. Greater Stitchwort is another member of the same family but is very different in character. The bluey-green, point-ended, rough-edged leaves are not dissimilar to those of a carnation and can be seen growing in distinct patches. All members of the chickweed family have small white flowers with five petals divided at their centre to a greater or lesser extent. Greater Stitchwort can be confused with Lesser Stitchwort which is usually found in more open areas.
Sookholme Moor has different character to the rest of the Hills and Holes. It is more open, and the soil is generally acidic or neutral allowing different species to grow. In places the soil is peaty, because it is often waterlogged. The water slows down the decomposition of the vegetation, which builds up in thickness. Acidic soils limit the amount of nutrients available to plants, providing another form of environmental stress that allows slower growing plants to compete with faster growing plants.
Many different grasses, sedges and rushes are found here. Where they grow is often determined by small changes in the acidity of the soil, the amount of water in the soil and the depth of the soil. From Warsop Vale to Sookholme Brook changes can be seen in the type of plants that grow in this area.
The north-eastern side has suffered ‘improvement’. That is it has been fertilised or reseeded or both at some time in the past to improve the yield of fodder for livestock. This has reduced the number of species growing there because traditional meadow and pasture plant species have evolved to grow in low-competition situations. Adding nutrients allows faster growing species to out-compete the slower growing ones.
The western and central section is richer in plants. The diversity is maintained by grazing and cutting hay at appropriate times. Wildflower meadows and pastures develop over a long period of time because the traditional cycle of farming remains unchanged. Changing the timing of hay cuts or rotating types of livestock within a field can alter the make-up of the wildflower community that occur.
Sedges are often tough-leaved and seemingly hardy plants. But each species only grows in a particular set of environmental conditions. Those found on Sookholme Moor include Carnation, Glaucous, False Fox, Common, Long-stalked Yellow, Tawny and Dioecious. Rushes include Hard, Toad, Blunt-flowered, Soft and Jointed.
Closer to the Brook, plants have to be more tolerant of water and acidity, as well as the concentrated trampling and soil disturbance by livestock coming to drink. Tufts of Hard Rush shelter more tender plants such as Celery-leaved Buttercup, Saw-wort, Bog Pimpernel and Lesser Spearwort. The latter can be recognised by its flowers which are characteristic of the buttercup family of which it is a member.
The Rhein o’Thorns is part of the Hills and Holes SSSI because of its wildflowers, but has not been actively managed for some time. Much Hawthorn and other shrubs including Buckthorn are spreading across the area and the value of the site is in danger of being lost. This small area is like a snapshot of the Hills and Holes containing many of the wild plants though in a much smaller area.
Around the settling pond, look out for a large, very robust plant with purplish or red blotched, rough stems. It may grow up to nine feet (almost 3 metres) in height. This is Giant Hogweed and is the largest wild herb growing in Europe. It is not native to the UK; it was introduced from the Caucasus. It was probably introduced to this location during an earlier restoration project. Beware, the plant is poisonous and the sap can cause very severe blistering of the skin. Be especially careful with children who might be tempted to use the stems for peashooters.
The triangular section of the Hills and Holes covers a range of environmental conditions. Though the soils are thin, sandy and well drained, there are areas that hold standing water throughout the year. These areas contain some water-loving plants including Meadowsweet – a typical plant of mineral-rich water-laden ground.
This section is not grazed, so the occasional fires that appear to thoroughly devastate it serve to prevent the ranker-growing grasses such as Tor grass and shrubs such as Gorse from taking over. However, over time, the impact of unmanaged repeated fires may be to reduce the overall plant diversity of the area.
The dry soils mean that most plants finish flowering early and then the grasses can take over. The range of grasses is superb; you can easily find around thirty different species simply by identifying the different seeding and flowering heads. The late summer flowers to observe include a number of yellow-flowered members of the daisy family such as Carline Thistle, hawkbits, hawksbeards, hawkweeds and cat’s-ears
Several orchid species can be found including Early Purple Orchid and Bee Orchid. The former are seen most prominently when they grow up after a winter fire. Bee Orchids are difficult to spot among the grasses so be careful where you walk to avoid treading on them.
As summer progresses, along Sookholme Brook, dense barriers of plants grow up hiding the running water in many places. These waterside plants all look similar but are in fact several different species including: Watercress, Fool’s Watercress and Lesser Water Parsnip. All three have similar leaves and can be difficult to separate. The latter two have leaves that smell of parsnips when crushed – both are poisonous. Watercress is edible but it is safer not to risk it where there is any doubt on identification.
In a few rocky areas, near the water table, water stands throughout the winter and often into spring. Here you can see Lesser Spearwort and Creeping Jenny. Both yellow wildflowers combine to provide a luscious carpet that belies the soggy ground underneath.
The low-lying area south of the River Meden was the site of a marsh until the 1970s. Filled in and drained, its loss provides a lesson to us all. The wildflowers, birds, and amphibians that have been lost to the area are not suitably compensated for by the rather species poor grassland that can be seen now. This area is now being managed to increase its value as a grassland by carefully grazing and taking hay cuts at the appropriate time to reduce the nutrient levels in the soil and create an open grass sward into which new plants gain a foothold. It will take time and will probably never be of equivalent value to what has been lost.
On damper meadow areas in early spring, the delightful Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo Flower can be seen. When held petals downmost, the flower-head’s four pale mauve petals form the shape of a lady’s smock dress – hence the name. Elsewhere you will see the architecturally beautiful foliage of Hemlock rising above the surrounding grasses. However, look but don’t touch. This plant is deadly poisonous. It was a popular poison used by murderers in days gone by. If in doubt, look for the purple spots on its stems.
In damper shady areas, you will find Ramsons or Wild Garlic. The wide, flat leaves disappear during high summer, but not before they provide a magnificent spectacle of drifts of white flowers. Sometimes you can smell the plants before you can see them. If bruised, the leaves give off a pungent, garlic smell. They taste strongly of garlic too. A more delicate taste can be found from Garlic Mustard. The leaves release a mild taste of garlic after being chewed; very tasty on egg sandwiches. Growing at woodland edges and hedgerows throughout the area, the broad leaves often have a yellow-green colour.
Throughout the area of the Hills and Holes, there are patches of dense shade under trees and hedgerows. Within these areas shade-loving plants are able to thrive. The type of plants you can see depends on the time of year that you visit.
Most true woodland plants flower during spring; those more typical of the woodland edge can usually be found later in summer. Perhaps the most common wild flower found under trees is Herb Robert a member of the Crane’s-bill or Geranium family. This pretty flower with five pink petals, reddish hairy stems, and delicately cut leaves has seeds with a longer beak that resemble the head and bill of a Stork.
Nowhere within the area are true woodland plants abundant. This is because the area has been managed as grassland over long period of time. Where woodland exists it may be the remaining pieces of the original woodland that covered the area. Woodland plant species that do not easily move naturally from one area to another help to indicate areas that have been wooded for longer periods. Therefore where Bluebell, Wood Anemone, Wood Melick and Yellow Archangel occur they are helping to indicate lengthy coverage by trees.
In early spring look out for violets carpeting the ground. They occur in a variety of colours from white to dark blue and purple. There are several different species of violet including Common and Early Dog-violets, Hairy Violet and Sweet Violet.
The thin soils on the tops and side of the hillocks are well-drained and baked dry in summer. This causes stress to the plants growing there. No single species is able to dominate the grassland and a very large variety of wildflowers can be found. In the ‘holes’ between the ‘hills’ moisture is retained and lusher growth of sometimes single species can be seen The best time to view the flowers is in late spring and midsummer.
In late spring cowslips are sprinkled throughout the grassland. Later on they are joined by Pignut, a member of the carrot family that has an edible nut-like bulb deep underground that was once eaten by countryfolk.
Early-Purple Orchids are found in small patches, as are Fragrant Orchid. Their beauty and unusual form are a delight to see however please do not be tempted to pick the flowers. It is worth getting down to ground level to look at the beautiful colouring of the individual flowers on the flower spikes.
During summer the Hills and Holes comes into its own. You will see why it is considered to be one of the premier limestone grasslands within the East Midlands (outside the Peak District). The ground is covered with drifts of different wild flowers in a carpet of grasses.
Look out for: Restharrow, Kidney Vetch, Bird’s-foot-Trefoil, knapweeds, Field Scabious, Daisy, Thyme, Lady’s Bedstraw, Common-spotted Orchid, at least three species of buttercups; Creeping, Bulbous and Meadow, three plantains; Hoary, Ribwort and Broad-leaved, Salad Burnet, Selfheal, St. John’s Worts, Yellow-wort, Clover (White, Red, Zigzag and Hare’s foot), Wild Onion, Dyer’s Greenweed, Hoary Ragwort, Ox-eye Daisy, Doves-foot Cranes-bill, Milkwort, Mouse-ears, Biting Stonecrop, and many more. No single species dominates because the environmental conditions do not allow it.
Dozens of different grasses provide the canvas within which the flowers grow. Species to look out for include: Quaking Grass, so named because the seeding head held on thin stalks ‘quake’ in the slightest breeze, Tor Grass, with its broad, rough, yellow-green leaves, and Crested Dog’s tail with its flattened seeding head with the seeds lined up it two parallel rows opposite each other either side of the stalk.
The large variety of wildflowers and grasses attract many insects including a large number of butterflies some of which will only lay their eggs on particular plants on which their caterpillars feed. The insects in turn provide protein for birds feeding their young.
There are a few areas of bare rock. Here it is possible to see how colonisation takes place by looking at the order in which the plants grow out from a bare area: Rue-leaved Saxifrage, Biting Stonecrop, Dove’s-foot Cranes-bill, Wild Thyme, fine leaved grasses, and so on. The true colonisers are plants that can cope with baking, arid conditions with no shade, no soil, and no moisture for long periods. They create the conditions that allow other, less tolerant plants to grow. Each wave of colonisation changes the local environment creating less harsh conditions.
Providing there are plants in the vicinity to colonise, creating new patches of bare rock will ensure that these pioneer plants have a niche in which to grow.
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