Thursday, 21 June 2018

Leicestershire botanists don hard hats to visit gypsum plant

Callum uses a hand-lens to examine a specimen
Image: L. Marsh
BSBI botanists are visiting all sorts of sites in pursuit of records for Atlas 2020: from sand dunes on the Kent coast to the draw-down zone of a Yorkshire lake; from moors and quarries to road verges, from Welsh woodlands to a suburban nature reserve just outside Dublin

Not to be outdone, eleven Leicestershire botanists donned hard hats, hi-vis jackets, steel toe-capped boots and safety goggles last Saturday to record the plants at British Gypsum's Barrow Works.

The introductory Health & Safety talk - essential when touring an active industrial site - was considerably sweetened by the Kit-Kats handed out by our host, Luke Menzel, the plant's Environmental Co-ordinator. 

Steve (joint County Recorder) points out the
diagnostic characters on a tricky Dandelion lookalike
Image: L Marsh
Luke informed us that Kit-Kats contain food-grade gypsum - we're still not entirely sure if he was pulling our legs! 

Once kitted up, we headed out to start recording and - typical botanists - it took us almost an hour to get more than 100m from the car park! 

The first two verges we came to were very rich, with plants typical of old mesotrophic and calcareous grassland.

These included Lathyrus nissolia (Grass vetchling), Catapodium rigidum (Fern-grass), Leontodon hispidus (Rough Hawkbit), Centaurium erythraea (Common centaury), Bromus secalinus (Rye brome), Hordeum secalinum (Meadow Barley), Centaurea scabiosa (Greater knapweed), Knautia arvensis (Field scabious), Pilosella officinarum (Mouse-ear hawkweed), Plantago media (Hoary plantain), Arenaria serpyllifolia (Thyme-leaved sandwort), Trisetum flavescens (Yellow oat-grass)...

Botanising in the shadow of the plaster plant
Image: R Mabbutt
This was not what we'd expected! 

An adjacent ditch yielded a charophyte (probably Chara vulgata but the specimen is still being checked) and a rose with conspicuous gland-tipped red hairs which keyed out as Rosa micrantha using Roger Maskew's key. 

Luke borrowed a hand-lens to examine those hairs and had to admit that yes, they were pretty impressive! 

Another notable find was Sison amomum (Stone parsley), an unassuming little plant but scarce enough in Leicestershire and Rutland (VC55) to be listed on the county’s Rare Plant Register

Dactylorhiza x grandis
Image: S. Barrell
Our next verge yielded Dactylorhiza praetermissa (Southern Marsh Orchid), D. fuchsii (Common Spotted Orchid) and a magnificent 'swarm' of D. x grandis, the hybrid between them. 

A specimen was taken on the same verge of what appeared to be Crepis biennis (Rough hawk's-beard), another RPR species so this one is also being checked.

Then on to a pond and another ditch where it was time to get the grapnels out for Apium nodiflorum (Fool's water-cress) growing - as though ironically -  next to Nasturtium officinale (genuine Water-cress)! 

Botanists in hard hats admiring the hybrid orchids
Image: S. Barrell
A sandy area at the rear of the Works yielded Linum bienne (Pale Flax), Sherardia arvensis (Field Madder), Vulpia myuros (Rat's-tail fescue), Filago vulgaris (Common cudweed) and Anthyllis vulneraria (Kidney vetch).

All these plants are unusual enough in VC55 to elicit a few squeals of delight whenever you see them!

We also found what we think is Euphorbia stricta (Upright Spurge). It would be the first 21st century record for this plant in Leicestershire so again, it's being checked carefully.

Linum bienne (Pale Flax)
Photographed at the Barrow Works
by Dave Nicholls for NatureSpot
More than 200 species were recorded across the site and there were enough surprises on the list to ensure that the visit to British Gypsum's Barrow Works enters the annals of VC55 field excursions under the heading 'a Grand Day Out'. 

Huge thanks to British Gypsum for hosting us and especially to Luke who looked after us so well all day. 

But back to those Kit-Kats - do they really contain gypsum? 

Answers on a postcard please....  

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