• DWT Botany Group

Pine Plantation at Long Edge, Burnhope

From time to time over the last few years I’ve cycled a route which takes me onto Long Edge, a minor road near Burnhope. I pass two plantations of Scots Pine and Corsican Pine adjacent to the road which in the past have always looked dark and impenetrable, with a closed canopy and sparse ground flora. A couple of years ago I noticed the plantations had been clear-felled, leaving only a few deciduous trees, mainly oak, birch, rowan and holly. The heavy shade cast by the conifers was consequently a thing of the past and I was curious to know what plants had taken advantage of the well-lit conditions now prevalent in this open habitat. So I spent an enjoyable sunny morning towards the end of June trying to discover what now grows here.

All the plants that I saw are ones that are tolerant of the acid soils which overly the Coal Measures at this location. Those that have done particularly well since the pines were felled include Foxglove, Yorkshire Fog, Creeping Soft-grass, Sweet Vernal-grass and Wavy Hair-grass. Growing alongside are Sheep’s Sorrel, Tormentil, Bilberry, Wood-sorrel, Heath Bedstraw and Cat’s-ear. Greater Stitchwort and Lesser Stitchwort are present as well, giving a chance to compare the two species. Others featuring in these drier areas include Mat-grass, Tufted Hair-grass, Purple Moor-grass, Sheep’s Fescue and Heath Wood-rush.

Broad Buckler-fern is common, and may have coped well in the shade before the pines were felled; there are smaller patches of Bracken, Male-fern, Lady-fern and Hard-fern here too.

Forestry operations have compacted the soil and impeded the drainage in places, generating pools and other wetter places that Marsh Thistle and Bog Stitchwort find to their liking, together with Floating Sweet-grass, Marsh Foxtail and Creeping Bent. Several rushes flourish here, the commonest being Soft Rush and Compact Rush, and sedges are represented by Oval Sedge, Common Sedge and Common Yellow Sedge.

The most impressive sights were the large numbers of Foxgloves, giving a striking display, complemented by some lovely drifts of Wavy Hair-grass. An interesting breeding bird community has established itself in the new habitat and I saw a good range of butterflies. A couple of species of damselflies were breeding in the pools, and the site appeared to be very insect-rich, with a Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle being nice to find here.

All in all a lovely environment in which to spend some time, to look and learn.

– Richard Hockin

26th June 2020

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