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blubell detail

Riccaldale Woods May 9th 2009

led by Janet Denney, notes by Gill Smith [species lists at the bottom]

For our second trip of the season I am delighted to say we had another good turn-out – and the sun shone; 18 members and guests met at Carlton where Janet explained what we were going to do and see. Then we took the cars down along the forest road into Riccal Woods where we parked. Before we set off to walk along the track and explore the flora and fauna we examined the skull of a roebuck, with horns, that had been found in Beadale Wood. The consensus was that this was probably a young male, since some of the teeth were not fully through, and none of them showed any wear. Several of us were surprised by how small it was, as one tends to think of deer as large animals. Roe deer are, of course, very much smaller than either red or fallow deer.

We then walked along the forest track, the group rapidly splitting with the botanists lagging at the back, down on their hands and knees examining small green things, and everyone else sensibly going ahead at normal walking speed, listening for birds, spotting the numerous wood ants crossing the road, and generally taking in the beautiful surroundings. [This always happens!]

As the track dropped down towards the river we came to the end of the conifer plantation to our right and the whole hillside was carpeted in blue: this must be one of the best bluebell woods I have ever seen, and we had hit on exactly the right day, with the flowers absolutely at their best – a feast not only for the eyes since the honey-scent was also strong. Everyone was impressed, and it certainly lived up to expectations. Closer examination showed that there was a scattering of pure white individuals in the sea of blue, which is not uncommon in Ryedale. The other notable plant here was bird cherry, also at its peak; I don’t think I have ever seen so many large bird cherries growing together – this is a very special place.

blubell wood
Bluebells under the trees – notice the bird cherry to the right

We then dropped down to the river, and paused at the footbridge. Tom pointed out the position of a dipper’s nest on the far bank, but as there was another party pic-nicking on the bridge the birds were sensibly staying away. We walked a little further upstream and stopped for our own lunch. A bit of exploring at the edge of the woods found a truly enormous old coppice lime: all the ‘trees’ you can see in the picture (and then some!) are from the same coppice stool, which must be many hundreds of years old. We thought it might be the native small-leaved lime Tilia cordata, but without the flowers it is almost impossible to tell, and they won’t be out for another few weeks. Close examination of the shoots revealed that the leaf-stalks were hairy, as were the veins on top of the leaf and almost the whole of the underside, with thick white tufts of hair in the vein axils. It is impossible to be sure on such young leaves, but I think this rules out small-leaved. [Later: in fact this tree is small-leaved: Mags checked it out on 15th July and it showed the typical erect inflorescences, and tufts of buff hairs in the leaf axils. So, the message is you cannot identify limes from very young shoots!]

huge lime coppice
Huge lime coppice – all the trees you can see are from the same stool

There were also some very old oaks in this part of the wood, and one area with large coppiced alders which had each grown back into a circle of about 5 quite large trunks, each almost a tree in its own right.

After lunch some of us went back to the dipper’s nest – the other party had now moved on – and a few were lucky enough to see the parent bird arriving to feed the young, and several others at least spotted a dipper flying down the river. Dippers are one of my favourite birds and it is good to see them doing well. I also saw a fish jump, probably a brown trout.

looking for mayfly larvae

We then went a little further up-river and those with wellies went for a paddle and re-visited our childhood, happily turning over stones and poking about with a dipping net. We fished out several freshwater shrimps and numerous mayfly larvae of various sizes each with three long ‘tails’ – one was quite a monster at least an inch long – plus some pinkish jelly-like eggs (fish?). I also managed to get a shot of this mayfly (note only two ‘tails’) basking on the dead branch at the water’s edge. (I thought it was a stonefly but I’ve been put right: it’s Palingenia longicauda, one of the largest mayflies in Europe – thanks to Stuart for the id.) Sadly we didn’t manage to find any bullheads: either they aren’t as common as they were when we were children or we’ve lost the knack! Gordon saw otter footprints along the riverside, but no spraints.

Mayfly, about an inch long excluding the tails

After admiring our catches they were all released back into the river and we moved on, picking up the footpath back up to the track and then returning to the cars. On the recce on the Thursday evening Tom & Janet saw what they believe to be lampreys spawning. There were four of them. When first disturbed, (by trying to catch one in the net) they half buried themselves in sand or fine river-bottom debris, lying absolutely straight to appear stick-like. Tom & Janet then left the river and concentrated on finding where the dippers were feeding young. After spotting the dipper nest, they went back to the river and watched the lampreys suckering on to pebbles to move them aside, making a small area of exposed sandy bottom. Then one lamprey suckered itself to a larger pebble, a second seemed to sucker itself to the back of the first lamprey’s head/neck – a lot of writhing went on and the water became cloudy with sand. Presumably there were also eggs in the cloudiness. Tom was getting concerned they might be disturbing the dippers as the lamprey activity was quite close to the nest site, so they left. Sadly for us there was no sign of the lampreys, but I do wonder if those eggs might have been theirs.

Back at the cars we thanked Janet for a most successful day. I think this piece of woodland was a revelation to most of us – you’d never suspect the riches hidden here deep in the forest. And special thanks to Tom for carrying his telescope all the way round so we could get a close view of those dippers!

Species lists

I listed over 120 plants, which is impressive, especially as later in the summer I know there will be many species that were not yet showing. The large number reflects the variety of habitats, wood and meadow, trackside and river-bank, limy and more acid soil conditions. Old, coppice woodlands are one of the richest ecosystems we have in Ryedale: our equivalent of the rainforest.

Thanks to Bob Coursey for the bird list – 22 is a good haul, although I must admit I’m surprised there is no woodpecker recorded. I certainly noticed a lot of chiff-chaffs and blackcaps singing as we walked along.

Insects seemed to be thin on the ground, probably because of the cold winds over the past few days. I only saw three butterflies, probably all green-veined whites. There were plenty of wood ants, and the stonefly and mayfly larvae down at the river, but little else.

As for other animals, Gordon reported otter footprints, and I noticed some footprints that might have been made by deer, and saw one fish jumping in the river. I’m sure there are many more mammals in these woods and meadows, but they are very elusive. Perhaps I just didn’t look hard enough because I was transfixed by the sight of those bluebells....


Latin nameEnglish name
Acer campestreMaple, field (planted)
Acer pseudoplatanusSycamore
Aesculus hippocastanumChestnut, horse (planted)
Ajuga reptansBugle
Alchemilla filicaulis ssp. vestitaLady’s mantle, hairy
Alchemilla glabraLady’s mantle, hairless
Alchemilla xanthochloraLady’s mantle, common or pale
Allium ursinumRamsons or Wild garlic
Alnus glutinosaAlder
Anemone nemorosaWood anemone
Angelica sylvestrisAngelica
Anthoxanthum odoratumSweet vernal grass
Anthriscus sylvestrisCow parsley
Arctium minusBurdock
Athyrium filix-feminaLady Fern
Bellis perennisDaisy
Betula pendulaBirch, silver
Betula pubescensBirch, downy
Betula × aurataBirch, hybrid
Blechnum spicantHard Fern
Brachypodium sylvaticumSlender False Brome
Caltha palustrisMarsh marigold
Cardamine amaraBittercress, large
Cardamine flexuosaBittercress, wavy
Cardamine pratensisCuckoo flower or Milkmaid
Carex flaccaGlaucous sedge
Carex pendulaDrooping sedge
Carex sylvaticaWood sedge
Centaurea nigraKnapweed, common
Cerastium fontanumMouse ear, common
Ceratocapnos claviculataCorydalis, climbing
Chamaenerion angustifoliumWillowherb, rosebay or Fireweed
Chrysosplenium oppositifolium Golden saxifrage, opposite leaved
Cirsium arvenseThistle, creeping
Cirsium palustreThistle, marsh
Conopodium majusPignut
Corylus avellanaHazel
Crepis paludosaHawksbeard, marsh
Dactylis glomerataCocksfoot
Dactylorhiza fuchsiiSpotted orchid (leaves only)
Deschampsia caespitosaHair Grass, Tufted
Digitalis purpureaFoxglove
Dryopteris affinisGolden Scale Fern (?)
Dryopteris dilatataCommon Buckler Fern
Dryopteris filix-masMale Fern
Filipendula ulmariaMeadowsweet
Fragaria vescaStrawberry, wild
Fraxinus excelsiorAsh
Galium aparineCleavers
Galium palustreMarsh bedstraw (? – leaves only)
Geum rivaleAvens, water
Geum urbanumAvens, wood
Heracleum sphondyliumHogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scriptaBluebell
Hypericum hirsutumSt Johnswort, hairy
Hypericum tetrapterumSt Johnswort, square stalked
Ilex aquifoliumHolly
Juncus effususSoft Rush
Juncus inflexusHard Rush
Laburnum sp.Laburnum (planted)
Larix sp. Larch (planted)
Lathyrus linifoliusVetch, bitter
Lonicera periclymenumHoneysuckle
Luzula campestrisWoodrush, field (?)
Luzula multifloraWoodrush, heath
Luzula pilosaWoodrush, hairy
Luzula sylvaticaWoodrush, great
Lysimachia nemorumYellow pimpernel
Malus sylvestrisCrab apple
Mentha sp.Mint (probably corn/water hybrid Mentha×verticillata
Mercurialis perennisDog’s mercury
Myosotis sylvaticaForgetmenot, wood
Oreopteris limbospermaLemon-scented or Mountain Fern
Oxalis acetosellaWood sorrel
Plantago majorPlantain, greater
Potentilla anserinaSilverweed
Potentilla erectaTormentil
Potentilla reptansCinquefoil, creeping
Potentilla sterilisStrawberry, barren
Primula vulgarisPrimrose, common
Prunus aviumWild cherry (planted)
Prunus padusBird cherry
Pteridium aquilinumBracken
Quercus petraeaOak, sessile
Quercus roburOak, pedunculate
Ranunculus ficariaCelandine, lesser
Ranunculus repensButtercup, creeping
Rubus fruticosus agg.Bramble
Rubus idaeusRaspberry
Rumex obtusifoliusDock, broad leaved
Salix auritaWillow, eared (possibly hybrid)
Salix capreaWillow, goat
Sambucus nigraElder
Sanicula europaeaSanicle
Scrophularia nodosaFigwort, common
Senecio jacobeaRagwort, common
Sorbus aucupariaRowan
Stachys officinalisBetony
Stachys sylvaticaWoundwort, hedge
Stellaria holosteaStitchwort, greater
Stellaria mediaChickweed, common
Stellaria uliginosaStitchwort, bog
Succisa pratensisScabious, devilsbit
Taraxacum sp.Dandelion
Teucrium scorodoniaWood sage
Tilia cordataSnmall-leaved Lime
Trifolium dubiumTrefoil, lesser
Trifolium repensClover, white
Tussilago farfaraColtsfoot
Ulex europaeusGorse
Urtica dioicaNettle, common
Vaccinium myrtillusBilberry
Veronica beccabungaSpeedwell, brooklime
Veronica chamaedrysSpeedwell, germander
Veronica filiformisSpeedwell, slender
Veronica montanaSpeedwell, wood
Veronica officinalisSpeedwell, heath
Veronica serpyllifoliaSpeedwell, thyme leaved
Viburnum opulusGuelder rose
Vicia sepiumVetch, bush
Viola palustrisViolet, marsh
Viola rivinianaViolet, common dog
Viola × bavaricaViolet, hybrid (reichenbachiana × riviniana)

[122 incl. hybrids]

Also at least two willowherbs in leaf, almost certainly broad-leafed (E. montanum and either American (E. ciliatum) or square-stalked (E. tetragonum), and possibly Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

bird cherry Prunus padus
Bird cherry; photo by Mike Gray

Looking for bullheads
Tom after bullheads; photo by Mike Gray


(including Carlton – but not counting an unidentified gull!)

SparrowhawkAccipiter nisus
PheasantPhasianus colchicus
SwiftApus apus
Barn SwallowHirundo rustica
House MartinDelichon urbica
Pied WagtailMotacilla alba yarrellii
DipperCinclus cinclus
WrenTroglodytes troglodytes
RobinErithacus rubecula
BlackbirdTurdus merula
Mistle ThrushTurdus viscivorus
BlackcapSylvia atricapilla
ChiffchaffPhylloscopus collybita
Willow WarblerPhylloscopus trochilus
Blue TitParus caeruleus
Great TitParus major
JackdawCorvus monedula
Carrion CrowCorvus corone corone
StarlingSturnus vulgaris
House SparrowPasser domesticus
ChaffinchFringilla coelebs
GoldfinchCarduelis carduelis

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© Ryedale Natural History Society 2009; Photos © Gill Smith and Mike Gray 2009