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Forge Valley May 31st 2008

led by Janet Denney

About 14 members and guests joined Janet for a gentle walk along the riverside in Forge Valley (species lists below). Forge Valley Woods is a National Nature Reserve and “flanks the steep east and west facing slopes of the River Derwent valley. It is one of the best examples of mixed deciduous woodland in north east England.”. More information is available from English Nature’s website. The valley was cut rapidly by meltwater and the early Derwent at the end of the last Ice Age, when its previous outlet to the sea was blocked by ice (this is why the river gets to within about 4 miles of the sea at Scarborough but then goes all the way to the Humber south-east of York). Forge valley has steep sides which expose the geological strata, both sand- and limestones along with softer shale bands which often form a spring-line.

Forge Valley Woods
Some of the members debating the finer points of identification

We started from the car park towards the northern edge of the reserve amd walked first south along the riverbank, and then later retraced our steps and walked north to the edge of the woodland. This stretch of the valley is damp, more or less following the spring-line, but there is a boardwalk so access is very easy.

The birders were immediately attracted by a family of grey wagtails just by the bridge: well-grown youngsters were perched on a log in the water, being fed by their parents. This, and the sighting of a singing male redstart, were probably the highlights, although it was also very rewarding to see female blackcaps (who are, of course, “brownheads” – one could almost call them “redheads”) and a “willow-chiff” catching insects and bringing them to the (hidden) nest site. The consensus was that this bird was in fact a chiffchaff. I was also pleased to see a garden warbler, a very elusive little bird. We hoped to catch a glimpse of a kingfisher, dipper, or especially the lesser spotted woodpecker that is known to breed in these woods, but they were all hiding; I guess if one were to visit early in the morning before the many visitors who come here one would stand a better chance.

From a botanical point of view it was a very productive afternoon with plenty of variety from trees and shrubs through to ferns and water-plants such as the water crowfoot. I’m sure I missed one or two things, but still recorded almost 90 different species in a couple of hours. We were in the low-lying wetland with willow-alder carr for the most part, so did not see some of the limestone specialists which grow a little further up the slopes, such as herb paris and spurge laurel.

One of the things that surprised me in such a rich area was the species that were missing. There were almost no standard oaks, though there were several saplings: I suspect this is because the older oaks have been selectively felled – and this might explain the presence of numerous sycamores that shouldn’t really be in an ancient woodland, if they came in to fill the gaps when oaks were felled. I also saw no limes, which one might have expected. Much more surprisingly, I did not see a single birch. And under the trees, despite the damp ground, we saw no mint, nor marsh valerian, and only a little brooklime and one milkmaid/cuckoo flower. I also saw no St. Johns Worts though that might be because we were too early; no primroses or cowslips but we were probably too late and too low on the slopes; and no orchids – again we should probably have been a little higher on the dryer ground.

After a very enjoyable afternoon we thanked Janet for leading such a successful trip. Forge Valley is certainly well worth a visit for anyone interested in wildlife.

Forge Valley Woods
A typical view of the riverside woods

Species seen / heard


Latin nameEnglish name
Acer campestreMaple, field
Acer pseudoplatanusSycamore
Ajuga reptansBugle
Allium ursinumRamsons
Alnus glutinosaAlder
Alopecurus pratensisFoxtail, Meadow
Anemone nemorosaWood anemone
Angelica sylvestrisAngelica
Anthriscus sylvestrisCow parsley
Athyrium filix-feminaLady Fern
Bellis perennisDaisy
Caltha palustrisMarsh marigold
Cardamine amaraBittercress, large
Cardamine flexuosaBittercress, wavy
Cardamine pratensisCuckoo flower or Milkmaid
Carex pendulaDrooping sedge
Carex ripariaGreat Pond sedge
Carex sylvaticaWood sedge
Chamaenerion angustifoliumWillowherb, rosebay or Fireweed
Chrysosplenium oppositifolium Golden saxifrage, opposite leaved
Cirsium palustreThistle, marsh
Conopodium majusPignut
Corylus avellanaHazel
Crataegus monogynaHawthorn
Crepis paludosaHawksbeard, marsh
Cruciata laevipesCrosswort
Dactylis glomerataCocksfoot
Dryopteris affinisGolden Scale Fern
Dryopteris dilatataCommon Buckler Fern
Dryopteris filix-masMale Fern
Epilobium hirsutumWillowherb, great
Equisetum palustreMarsh Horsetail
Equisetum telmateiaGreat or Giant Horsetail
Eupatorium cannabinumHemp agrimony
Festuca giganteaFescue, Giant
Fraxinus excelsiorAsh
Galium aparineCleavers
Galium odoratumWoodruff
Geranium robertianumHerb Robert
Geum rivaleAvens, water
Geum sp. (G. intermedium)Avens, hybrid
Geum urbanumAvens, wood
Glechoma hederaceaGround ivy
Hedera helixIvy
Heracleum sphondyliumHogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scriptaBluebell
Iris pseudacorusYellow iris or Flag
Lathrea squamariaToothwort
Lonicera periclymenumHoneysuckle
Luzula sylvaticaWoodrush, great
Lysimachia nemorumYellow pimpernel
Melica unifloraMelick, Wood
Mercurialis perennisDogs mercury
Myosotis sylvaticaForgetmenot, wood
Oxalis acetosellaWood sorrel
Petasites hybridusButterbur
Phyllitis scolopendriumHartstongue
Poa annuaMeadow Grass, Annual
Poa nemorosaMeadow Grass, Wood
Polystichum setiferumSoft shield fern
Prunus spinosaBlackthorn
Quercus sp.Oak
Ranunculus pseudofluitans*Water crowfoot
Ranunculus repensButtercup, creeping
Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticumWatercress, common
Rosa caninaRose, dog
Rubus fruticosusBramble
Rubus idaeusRaspberry
Rumex acetosaSorrel, common
Rumex obtusifoliusDock, broad leaved
Salix capreaWillow, goat
Salix cinereaWillow, grey
Sambucus nigraElder
Sanicula europaeaSanicle
Silene dioicaCampion, red
Stellaria holosteaStitchwort, greater
Stellaria uliginosaStitchwort, bog
Symphoricarpos albusSnowberry
Taraxacum sp.Dandelion
Teucrium scorodoniaWood sage
Ulex europaeusGorse
Ulmus glabraWych Elm
Urtica dioicaNettle, common
Valeriana officinalisValerian, common
Veronica beccabungaSpeedwell, brooklime
Veronica chamaedrysSpeedwell, germander
Veronica montanaSpeedwell, wood
Viburnum opulusGuelder rose
Vicia sepiumVetch, bush
Viola rivinianaViolet, common dog**

90 spp.
* This is the closest id I can get for the water crowfoot, growing in quite fast-flowing water in the river.
** I am not sure this violet wasn’t a hybrid as it had a thin, purplish spur only slightly notched.


Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Grey Wagtail, Robin, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Blackcap, Wren, Rook, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Swift, Nuthatch, Garden Warbler, Great Tit, Redstart, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Stock Dove and Woodpigeon. [Thanks to Jim Pewtress for the bird list.]


Brimstone (1), Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Large White and Small White Butterflies, and one of the Cardinal Beetles Pyrochroa serroticornis. Also many mayflies and other insects over the water.

Andrew Grayson (our insect recorder) also sent this list
Gonepteryx rhamni (Brimstone), Anthocharis cardamines (Orange Tip), Inachis io (Peacock).

Rhagio scolopaceus, Empis rufiventris, Dolichopus popularis, Melanostoma scalare, Platycheirus clypeatus [s.s.], Platycheirus manicatus, Cheilosia albitarsis [s.s.], Cheilosia illustrata, Rhingia campestris, Brachyopa scutellaris, Melanogaster hirtella, Neoascia obliqua, Helophilus pendulus, Syritta pipiens.

Bombus lucorum, Bombus pascuorum.

Calopteryx virgo, Enallagma cyathigerum.

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Text and photos © Gill Smith 2008