Saturday 17 March 2018

Newsletter Spring 2018 - the first blog!!

With great excitement we announce a new chapter in the life of the Shropshire Botanical Society as the newsletter enters the digital world in blog form.  For subscribers who still enjoy a paper copy, the Spring 2018 edition will have landed on your doormat this morning.  But for digital readers we kick off with an account of one of last season's field visits:

Benign neglect - Shropshire Botanical Society visit to Maddock's Hill Quarry, by Penny Wysome

On one of the hottest days of 2017, June 17th, seven intrepid members of the society headed into unknown territory. Maddock’s Hill Quarry, part of the Ercall, between Wellington and Little Wenlock, had been excavated for aggregates in the past. Our geological member enlightened us as to the constituents of this, one being camptonite. However all workings had ceased some decades ago and as the land was privately owned the quarry was left to recover in secret. Access is by scrambling over banks or penetrating forest and had been deterred by rumours of the owner’s habit of using the quarry for rough shooting.

Being unable to get permission to visit I took comfort from an advertisement from an agent selling the quarry which invited visitors. I optimistically did not put risk of being shot on the risk assessment so we forayed in. The sides of the quarry are largely wooded with much birch and hawthorn though some outcrops provide habitat for flowers more typical of limestone areas. The floor is mainly grassland which is a short cropped sward clearly grazed by deer and there is a small stream running from the quarry into the Ercall woods providing a wetland habitat and some quite muddy areas. I had done a brief recce and thought there would be enough botanical interest to make a reasonable visit but our main purpose was to record the plants as no recent records had been made.

The particular group of members happened to have excellent id skills and the combined haul of species was far more extensive than I had anticipated. 113 plants were recorded. This is a higher count than for the other Ercall quarries which have been monitored for some years. The first nice surprise was encountered on the walk up to the quarry.  Large Bitter-cress Cardamine amara covers some of the wet ditch sides, unfortunately we were too late to see the purple stamens characteristic of this pretty plant, but it was good to see such a good number of specimens established here. Once over the earth bank we encountered positive grassland indicators such as Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil  Lotus corniculatus, Oxeye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare, Cowslip Primula veris and Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra. Moving on through a clump of Alnus and Salix we emerged into a wider grassy area which extended up the sides of the quarry. Wild Strawberry  Fragaria vesca, Mouse-ear-hawkweed  Pilosella officinarum, Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata, Yellow-wort  Blackstonia perfoliata and the occasional Common Spotted-orchid  Dactylorhiza fuchsii.  Grasses included  Crested dog’s-tail Cynosurus cristatus, Red fescue Festuca rubra and interestingly Wood Meadow-grass Poa nemoralis identified after some discussion.

What is perhaps more interesting is what we did not find. Despite the lack of any management there were very few of the negative condition indicators such as brambles, nettles, thistles, coarse grasses  or large umbellifers. The wet areas yielded a selection of sedges with  eight  species of Carex, notably C. panicea, C. remota, C. spicata and C. otrubae as well as C. flacca, C. hirsuta, C. sylvatica and C.leporina. The common rushes Soft-rush Juncus effusus and  Hard Rush J. inflexus were present as well as Jointed Rush Juncus articulatus. Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica was found near the stream edges; again there was no domination by larger species.

Having endured high temperatures and the threat of being dehydrated the group completed the recording soon after lunch. Those unfamiliar with this area of Telford accepted an invitation to explore the shady Ercall woodlands and look at the other quarries before going home.
The contrasts between the hidden and the exposed quarries were stark,  it seems that the deer are doing an excellent job of managing Maddock’s Hill Quarry. At the time of the visit the quarry was on the market at a guide price of £100,000, but has now been sold.