Sunday, 9 December 2012

Rustyback in Sheffield

After recently noticing a single clump of the rare wall-inhabiting fern Rustyback (Asplenium ceterach) by the entrance to Walkley Library, I was alerted to the fact that the nearby gennel connecting Walkley Road to Parsonage Street held a very sizeable population, estimated to hold more than 80 plants. Since then I have found two more very small populations of Rustyback in Walkley, one at the corner of Greenhow and Camm Streets, and one plant in another gennel connecting Fern Road to Walkley Bank Road. It seems likely that the large 80+ population is acting as a source for these three more recent colonisations.
Rustyback is only known from a handful of sites in the Sheffield conurbation, including a good population on the wall next to the entrance of Norfolk Park on Norfolk Park Road, so its pleasing to see that it is apparently spreading, and highlights the especial importance of protecting sites with large populations that can act as sources for the colonisation of new territory. Ferns on walls are great for winter identification, and a good key is available freely at
Don’t forget that photos of wall ferns uploaded to the Sorby Flora flickr group ( will also contribute to an updated Sheffield Flora.

Rustyback (Asplenium ceterach) at Walkley Library, Sheffield

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Sheffield's Ancient Woodland and SSSIs: Open data

Here are some data I retrieved a couple of years ago from the UK government's MAGIC site. Unfortunately, this site only provides downloads in proprietary GIS formats, ArcGIS and MapInfo I think. Given that the government's recent open data initiative is encouraging people to use public data in new ways, I guess it's ok to change the data into formats that make it more usable for the average person.

The files from MAGIC were edited in QGIS (a miracle of open source programming) to restrict the data to the Sheffield area. (EDIT: I should point out that this means the data are arbitrarily cropped to particular OS gridlines. This was done to reduce the file size for posting to the internet. If your local wood is not shown as 'ancient', it may simply be outside of the area that I cropped to. As I say above, the full national dataset is available through the MAGIC link above).

Then I followed the protocol that I posted earlier to turn them into KMZ files. So, the first map is Ancient Woodland, the second is Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The data can be downloaded for home use in Google Earth here and here, for the moment at least. Clicking the 'View larger map' link below each map will link-out to Google Maps, where, at least for the woodland dataset, the names of each land parcel are shown. [Also, choose the 'View larger map' link if the sites (which should be in red) do not appear automatically -- sometimes the site outlines do not seem to be retrieved from the hosting website.] Alternatively, if you zoom in on the map below and click on a woodland boundary, the name will be displayed. Obviously the original data are from MAGIC, and users should take heed of the license agreements imposed by the government, which restricts usage to non-commercial activities.

Ancient Woodland in the Sheffield Area

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SSSIs in the Sheffield Area

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Sorby Botanical Outing to Derwent Reservoir

Four members met at the Fairholmes car-park on one of the few sunny days in September to enjoy a mild ramble across the Derwent Reservoir towards Dovestones Clough and Mill Brook on the eastern side of the water. As well as appreciating the botanical bounty of the many Raspberry and Blackberry plants lining our path, we also took the time to identify many plants, many of which had finishing flowering and so were tackled vegetatively. 

Several plant groups were looked at in detail, including the Vetches (Vicia species). In particular, we compared the presence of extra-floral nectaries on the stipules of Bush Vetch with their absence on Tufted Vetch. Nectaries outside of flowers are not uncommon amongst plants, in fact, they seem to have evolved on numerous occasions; for example, the common fern Bracken also has them. Their function is seemingly to attract ants that, in turn, will attack insect herbivores, providing a benefit to the plant. Interestingly, some research has found this effect to be weak, and scientists have suggested that some plant herbivores may have themselves evolved to overcome this ant-protection system! 

After this overlap between plant identification and plant-animal mutualisms, we progressed up a sunken lane with a typical acid grassland flora at head-height, for easy inspection. We were able to pick out all of the common acid grassland grasses, including Heath-grass (Danthonia decumbens), a handsome grass with large florets that make it relatively easy to spot, even though it is often at low abundance within the sward. This is also one of only three native British grasses with a ring of hairs at the junction of the leaf-sheath and blade, making confirmation relatively straightforward (for a grass!) Finally, we arrived at the junction of Mill Brook and Dovestones Clough, where a number of typical plants of upland streams and acid-neutral flushes were found and enjoyed. Lemon-scented Fern, Star Sedge, and Creeping Forget-me-not were all identified and enjoyed.

 Botanists wanting to find out more about the cloughs around the Derwent Reservoirs are strongly recommended to purchase a copy of Sorby Record No. 40 (see the Sorby website), featuring John and Valerie Middleton's thorough survey of these splendid and exciting landscapes.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Sorby Botanical Meeting to Leash Fen, Derbyshire

Six wellie-clad members braved the ominous black clouds of the weather forecasts to explore the northern corner of Leash Fen. Leash Fen is a mosaic of acid grassland, heath and mire, and most of the hard work at this meeting was navigating the treacherous and tussocky mires around the Bar Brook, and not in finding the plants, of which there were a huge variety. I am happy to report that, apart from cranberry, all of the targeted mire plants were found. 

We were particularly lucky to see the locally Red-Listed Marsh Cinquefoil in flower; blooming Bog Bean escaped us, but we at least saw its large trifoliate leaves, somewhat reminiscent of an overgrown clover. In no particular order, Marsh Violet, Marsh Pennywort, Southern Marsh Orchid, Bottle Sedge, Greater Tussock Sedge, Common Sedge, Ragged Robin, Water Mint, Bugle and Narrow-leaved Buckler Fern were all seen and appreciated. We were also able to compare Marsh and Heath Bedstraw, discovering that the latter could do a good impression of the former in marginal wetter areas, quite different from its typical, prostrate acid grassland habit. Short-fruited Willowherb was also tentatively identified using the Vegetative Flora of the British Isles (Poland & Clement, 2009).

If you fancy tagging along next time, see for membership details. 

Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre)

Monday, 23 April 2012

Sorby Botanical Meeting to Greno and Hall Woods, Sheffield

Six Sorby members gathered to explore these ancient woodlands near Grenoside. We were lucky to have a member of the Grenoside Conservation Society to fill us in on the history of the site and on recent management implemented by the new owners, Sheffield Wildlife Trust. This large site is quite varied, consisting of conifer plantation, heathland, open Oak-Birch woodland and Beech plantation, allowing us to note the differences in the plant communities found in the different areas.

After observing the differences between the Lodgepole, Corsican and Scotch Pines that make up the majority of the conifer cover, and appreciating the sunken pathways that put the Bilberry at head height and allowed a particularly effortless view of the flowers, we proceeded to the old quarry area, where we were informed of the recent history of Cowberry at the site. Apparently one patch had emerged after the fires of the long, hot summer of 1976, and had spread to some size, before subsequently declining. Our group could only find one remaining Cowberry plant, leaving some doubt over its future at the site. The book Comparative Plant Ecology (Grime et al., 2007) suggests that germination of Cowberry seed requires high temperatures, which, with its apparent reappearance after the 1976 fire, suggests that burning may be a management tool to be experimented with.

We also enjoyed the spectacle of several teeming Wood Ant nests, and recalled that at least two plant species that we had seen in the woods (Common Cow-wheat and Hairy Wood-rush) had ant-dispersed seeds with special oil-bodies (“elaiosomes”) that ants find particularly nutritious.

After lunch we headed to Hall Wood, and investigated the stream running close to the wood boundary: we were amply rewarded for our trouble with an excellent suite of woodland plants in flower (or spore!), including Wood Anemone, Wood Sorrel, Dog’s Mercury, Three-nerved Sandwort, Lesser Celandine, Sweet Woodruff and Lady Fern. A flushed area at the bottom of a slope also yielded two Sphagna for the bryophyte enthusiasts, these being fallax and palustre, two bog-mosses typical of moderately nutrient rich woods. Other interesting finds included Blinks (Montia fontana), in a wet depression, and seedlings of Buddleia and a Tree Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster cf. xwatereri), which we hoped were not about to establish a novel role as colonisers of heathland and woodland. Overall, everybody was glad that they had ignored the widespread mis-forecasting of rain, and so been able to enjoy the immense pleasure of the spring-flowering of the woods.