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Ellerburn Bank 17th June 2015

led by Ken Hutchinson

Species lists below

RNHS members on the reserve
RNHS members on the reserve

On what proved to be a delightful summer’s evening, 17 members turned out to take a look at this gem of a nature reserve situated on the eastern boundary of the Society’s recording area. At just under three hectares this remnant of limestone grassland has a rich diversity of plant life that is at its best in the months of June and July.

Ellerburn Bank was awarded SSSI status in 1983 for its species-rich calcareous grassland flora and is managed as a nature reserve by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Management is generally limited to a late Autumn graze with Hebridean sheep in order to keep an open sward and prevent the spread of tor grass and scrub; though work tasks are occasionally organised to remove the patches of scrub that do not get grazed sufficiently by the sheep.

Other features of the site include an ancient earthwork running along the western boundary that is thought to be late Bronze Age and forms the bank and ditch structure that is a prominent feature on this side of the reserve. On the north side the remains of a rabbit warren pit trap can be seen, with the hole through the dry-stone wall still in place, but the stone lined pit, that originally would have had a wooden trap door, is now filled in with rubble – another victim of health and safety, no doubt. The rabbit warren industry was big business in the 19th and early 20th century with the pelts being sought after for top hats; the traps ensuring the fur was not damaged as would be the case if the rabbits had been shot.

A list of plants and birds that were recorded on the event are included below, but of note during a delightful amble around the reserve were Common Spotted, Northern Marsh, Fly and Greater Butterfly orchids; the later being confined to just a single specimen in the north-east corner that had been surrounded with a wire cage to keep out the numerous rabbits that graze on the reserve. Also a solitary and rather poor specimen of Common Twayblade was seen at the southern end of the reserve. Many other limestone specialists were seen such as Rockrose, Carline Thistle, Hoary Plantain and Dropwort. We also saw a fine spcimen of Burnet Rose (the aptly named Rosa spinosissima growing on the earthwork, as well as a fine fly orchid.

Burnet rose Rosa spinosissima

Burnet Rose

Commom Rockrose Helianthemum nummularium


Carline thistle Carlina vulgaris

Carline thistle (seedheads from last year)

Hoary plantain Plantago media

Hoary plantain

The Common Spotted and Northern Marsh orchids belong to the genus Dactylorhiza in which there is a good deal of variation within species, and also considerable hybridisation between species. We saw a few specimens that were very dark for Common Spotted and which may well be a hybrid with a marsh orchid.

Common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Common spotted orchid (typical pale pink/mauve form)

Greater butterfly orchid Platanthera chlorantha

Greater butterfly orchid

Spotted orchid Dactylorhiza sp. hybrid

Spotted orchid (probable hybrid between a spotted and an marsh orchid)

Northern marsh orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella

Northern marsh orchid, showing the darker colour and undivided lip
(note that marsh orchids do not require marhsy conditions!)

To the relief of some, no adders were seen on this occasion though the eastern slope of the reserve is noted for them where they can often be seen during the summer months basking in the warmth of the sun. A good view of a slow-worm was observed by a few members when a large stone by the northern boundary wall was lifted revealing an unusually docile specimen. Often mistaken for a snake, the slow-worm is, in fact, a legless lizard.

Outside the reserve, along Pexton Bank, Columbine (wild Aquilegia) was noted while on the return a good display of Welsh Poppies were seen behind the toll booth. No butterflies were recorded, which was to be expected at this time of day, but interesting specimens of Common Swift and Green Carpet moth were recorded; these being netted enabling members to study them at close quarters. And for a lucky few, a fleeting glimpse of a Goshawk at the start of the walk.

Columbine Aquilegia vulgaris

Columbine (the wild plant has blue flowers)

Fly orchid Ophrys insectifera

Fly orchid

The event ended just before 10pm back at Haygate car park as the sun was setting. A couple of members thought they heard a woodcock roding but the bird was not seen. All agreed it had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening and Ken was thanked for leading it.

Species lists


[Ed. GS] I did not record all plant species, for instance many grasses and ferns; my thanks to Margaret Reynolds for her list to add to mine.

Latin nameEnglish name
Agrimonia eupatoriaCommon agrimony
Ajuga reptansBugle
Anthriscus sylvestrisCow parsley
Anthyllis vulnerariaKidney vetch
Aquilegia vulgarisColumbine
Bellis perennisDaisy
Briza mediaQuaking grass
Carex flaccaGlaucous sedge
Carex sylvaticaWood sedge
Carlina vulgarisCarline thistle
Centaurea nigraCommon knapweed
Centaurea scabiosaGreater knapweed (leaves only, id uncertain)
Cerastium fontanumCommon mouse-ear
Cirsium eriophorumWoolly thistle
Cirsium palustreMarsh thistle
Crataegus monogynaHawthorn
Cruciata laevipesCrosswort
Dactylorhiza fuchsiiCommon spotted orchid
Dactylorhiza purpurellaNorthern marsh orchid
Dactylorhiza sp.Spotted orchid hybrid
Deschampsia flexuosaWavy hair grass
Dryopteris dilatataCommon buckler fern
Dryopteris filix-masMale fern
Filipendula vulgarisDropwort
Fragaria vescaWild strawberry
Fumaria officinalisCommon fumitory
Galium aparineCleavers
Galium saxatileHeath bedstraw
Galium verumLady’s bedstraw
Geranium robertianumHerb Robert
Geum urbanumWood avens
Helianthemum nummulariumRockrose
Helictotrichon pratense (Avenula pratensis)Meadow oat (id uncertain)
Heracleum sphondyliumHogweed
Holcus mollisCreeping soft grass
Hyacinthoides non-scriptaBluebell
Linum catharticumFairy flax
Listera ovata = Neottia ovataTwayblade
Lotus corniculatusCommon birdsfoot trefoil
Lotus pedunculatusGreater birdsfoot trefoil
Lysimachia nemorumYellow pimpernel
Meconopsis cambricaWelsh poppy
Medicago lupulinaBlack medick
Myosotis sp.Forgetmenot (probably field forgetmenot)
Neottia nidus-avisOrchid
Oenanthe crocataHemlock water dropwort
Ophrys insectiferaFly orchid
Origanum vulgareMarjoram
Plantago lanceolataRibwort plantain
Plantago mediaHoary plantain
Platanthera chloranthaGreater butterfly orchid
Polygala vulgarisCommon milkwort
Potentilla anserinaSilverweed
Potentilla erectaTormentil
Ranunculus acrisMeadow buttercup
Ranunculus repensCreeping buttercup
Reseda luteaMignonette
Rhinanthus minorYellow rattle
Rosa caninaDog rose
Rosa mollisDowny rose
Rosa pimpinellifolia = R. spinosissimaBurnet rose
Sambucus nigraElder
Sanguisorba minor = Poterium sanguisorbaSalad burnet
Sanicula europaeaSanicle
Scabiosa columbariaSmall scabious
Silene dioicaRed campion
Silene vulgarisBladder campion
Sinapis arvensisCharlock
Thymus polytrichusThyme
Trifolium pratenseRed clover
Trifolium repensWhite clover
Trisetum flavescensYellow oat
Ulex europaeusGorse
Veronica chamaedrysGermander speedwell
Veronica officinalisHeath speedwell
Viburnum opulusGuelder rose
Vicia sepiumBush vetch


Chaffinch, Willow Warbler, Blackbird, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wren, Song Thrush, Yellowhamer, Wood Pigeon, Linnet, Robin, Swift, Goshawk, Woodcock(?).


Common Swift Moth
Green Carpet Moth

© Ryedale Natural History Society 2015, Photos © Gill Smith 2015 Back to the Home page