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Rievaulx Terrace and Ashberry May 22nd 2010

led by Nick Fraser & Nan Sykes, notes by Gill Smith
photos by Gill Smith and Nan Sykes (species lists at the end)

Rievaulx Terrace

baneberry Actaea spicata

This was a most enjoyable and successful Ryenats trip, on a lovely sunny day. 20 people came, including two very welcome guests from Teesdale – it is always a pleasure to welcome fellow naturalists from other clubs and societies and share their enthusiasm and expertise (which is often different from ours, so everyone learns something new).

We met at the National Trust car park where Nick Fraser greeted us, sorted out the parking and then gave us an introductory talk before leading us through the visitor centre, into the woods and to the temples. The site is mostly old woodland modified by ornamental plantings in the 18th and 19th centuries when the aim was to create multiple layers of shrubs, undershrubs and interesting foliage plants as well as colourful flowers. There is a fine mixture of mature trees, mainly oak but with beech, ash and lime as well, and many shrubs including a good deal of mountain currant which does occur sparingly as a native plant (or at least one planted by the birds!) in our woodlands. There is also quite a bit of dead wood which is left for the invertebrates; a practice that is so successful that this is an SSSI. Some of the dead wood also supports fantastic fungi, such as these large Dryad’s saddles Polyporus squamosus. There were a few freshly emerged speckled wood butterflies basking in the patches of sunshine filtering through the trees, and the eagle-eyed also spotted some red damselflies – Nan even managed to get a photo of one....

Dryad's saddle Polyporus squamosus
speckled wood Pararge aegeria

Speckled Wood butterfly
Pararge aegeria

large red damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula

Large red damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula
Pyrrhosoma nymphula

Probably the botanical highlight was a patch of baneberry (also known as Herb Christopher) Actaea spicata in full flower (see photo top left; click on the picture for a larger version). Despite appearances this curious plant is a member of the buttercup family, and those feathery white flowers produce small black berries later in the summer; it is very poisonous. This is a plant with a very restricted, and odd, distribution in the UK: essentially it only grows in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland/Westmorland as it is restricted to a narrow north-south band but also only grows on limestone (so it will be in trouble if climate change gathers pace, because it won’t be able to move north easily since it would run off the limestone – just imagine what would happen here as the acid moors occur immediately to the north and this plant doesn’t have seeds that travel far).

gall Eriophyes padi on bird cherry Prunus padus

First of all we walked along the top of the wood, and then emerged at the temple, set at one end of a wide, grassy terrace. Some members of the party returned to the visitor centre along the grass, while the more intrepid of us were allowed access onto the steep slope that is not open to the public, through old woodland that has vistas cut through it to give fantastic views of the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey (see photo below).

There was a good deal of bird cherry, and we noticed that most of the leaves had little red galls on the upperside (Eriophyes padi), caused by a gall wasp. These were similar to those commonly seen on limes. The wasp lays its egg in the emerging leaf, and programmes the plant – probably using chemical instructions that hi-jack the plant’s normal development path – to produce these protective chambers for the developing grubs, one per gall. Thanks to Stuart Dunlop for the id.

View of the abbey ruins through the trees with early purple orchids and cowslips

View of Rievaulx Abbey

This stretch had typical old-woodland flora including bluebells, wild garlic and various ferns, and two small patches of wild columbines which, unfortunately for us, were clearly very palatable to the local deer, who had bitten off most of the flowering stems. We then climbed back up through the trees and emerged at the far end of the grass, by the other temple.

Group at Temple

Nick kindly invited us into his garden to eat our lunch – and then things got even better: Rita offered us home-made biscuits and elderflower cordial, which was delicious and very welcome on a hot day. Many thanks to both of them!


After lunch we went on to Ashberry (sharing cars as the parking is limited nearby) where Nan was our guide. Starting at the farm we walked up the road to the bottom gate of the reserve, and then spent the afternoon happily plant-hunting, being careful where we put our feet as there are so many special things here. I think there was less interest for the birders, especially in mid-afternoon when they were quiet: but it was a nice afternoon for a siesta in the sun on the grassy bank above the beck!

Group at Temple

I have never known the reserve so dry, but even so we did manage to find a few early marsh orchids, and the birdseye primroses were fully out – not so the globeflower which was only in bud. Janet spotted a sport milkmaid with double flowers which would have graced any garden – in fact this is how many of our cottage garden plants were created, by an observant gardener who then propagated the unusual specimens.

early marsh orchid Dactylorchis incarnata double form of milkmaid Cardamine pratensis

Unusual double form of milkmaid (cuckoo flower or lady’s smock) Cardamine pratensis and early marsh orchid Dactylorchis incarnata (left), showing the characteristic almost waxy yellowish leaves and flesh-pink flowers.

We thanked Nan, who had to leave at this point.

As a final treat a small group went to the SW corner of the reserve to see the meadow saxifrage, which was at its best, and I was delighted to see it more prolific than any previous year. We also had the chance to compare the two golden saxifrage species which grow together there near the plank bridge. It is not easy to identify these plants from the books, but seeing them side by side shows they do in fact have quite different “jizzes”. even now, when they are past their best. And I couldn’t resist a picture of this kingcup growing right on the edge of the footbridge!

kingcup or marsh marigold Caltha palustris

Kingcup Caltha palustris and meadow saxifrage Saxifraga granulata (right)

meadow saxifrage Saxifraga granulata

We then returned to pick up our cars from the Terrace, and Tom thanked Nick on our behalf for a fascinating day.

Species lists

I made a reasonably comprehensive plant list but it is not complete, for instance I didn’t record all the trees at Ashberry, and I’m sure I will have missed several sedges and particularly grasses, since most of them weren’t in flower and I can’t identify them from just the leaves! I made no attempt to record mosses or liverworts. I have split the list for the two sites; Ashberry is below. Thanks to Tom for the bird list.


Blackcap; rook; jackdaw; robin; blackbird; wren; chaffinch; blue tit; wood pigeon; pheasant; sparrow hawk; bullfinch; stock dove; chiffchaff; greater spotted woodpecker; swallow; tree sparrow; house sparrow; starling; goldfinch; marsh tit; house martin; carrion crow; grey wagtail; nuthatch.

Insects, Spiders, Amphibians

There weren’t very many butterflies about other than fresh speckled woods Pararge aegeria but I did spot a couple of green veined whites Pieris napi and some male orange tips Anthocharis cardamines. As the Latin name suggests the foodplant of this species is usually a Cardamine species, most commonly milkmaids (also known as cuckoo flower or lady’s smock). The females lay their eggs on the flower stalks and the caterpillars eat the developing seedpods. The females are hard to distinguish from other white butterflies as they lack the orange tips – although they do share the moss-green camouflage pattern of the males on the underwing but that isn’t easy to see! Other insects included red damselflies at Rievaulx and blue ones at Ashberry, small black-and-white hoverflies on the wild garlic – which Andrew Grayson has since id’d as Portevinia maculata for me, and soldier beetles. Wolf spiders, freshwater shrimps and caddis fly larvae were also seen, plus a couple of small frogs an inch or so long, probably last year’s tadpoles.

Plants, Rievaulx Terrace

As well as those in the list below there were a number of cultivated shrubs including lilac, a philadelphus, possible holm oak and a dogwood cultivar. The Solomon’s seal was probably the hybrid rather than the species P. multiflorum

Latin nameEnglish name
Acer campestreField maple
Acer pseudoplatanusSycamore
Actaea spicataBaneberry or Herb Christopher
Ajuga reptansBugle
Alchemilla sp.Lady's mantle (probably A. glabra)
Alliaria petiolataHedge garlic or Garlic mustard
Allium ursinumRamsons
Anthriscus sylvestrisCow parsley
Aquilegia vulgarisColumbine
Arctium minusBurdock
Arum maculatumCuckoo pint
Betula sp.Birch
Brachypodium sylvaticumSlender false brome
Campanula rotundifoliaHarebell
Carex sylvaticaWood sedge
Carpinus betulusHornbeam
Circaea lutetianaEnchanterís nightshade
Conopodium majusPignut
Cornus sanguineaDogwood
Corylus avellanaHazel
Crataegus monogynaHawthorn
Dryopteris affinisGolden-scaled male fern
Dryopteris dilatataCommon buckler fern
Dryopteris filix-masMale fern
Eranthis hyemalisWinter aconite
Fagus sylvaticaBeech
Filipendula ulmariaMeadowsweet
Fragaria vescaWild strawberry
Galium aparineCleavers
Galium odoratumWoodruff
Galium verumLadyís bedstraw
Geranium robertianumHerb Robert
Geum urbanumWood avens
Glechoma hederaceaGround ivy
Helleborus viridisGreen hellebore
Heracleum sphondyliumHogweed
Hieracium speciesHawkweed
Hyacinthoides non-scriptaBluebell
Hypericum hirsutumHairy St Johnswort
Ilex aquifoliumHolly
Lonicera periclymenumHoneysuckle
Luzula sylvaticaGreater woodrush
Lysimachia nemorumYellow pimpernel
Melica unifloraWood melick
Mentha spicataSpearmint
Mercurialis perennisDog's mercury
Moehringia trinervaThree-nerved sandwort
Myosotis sylvaticaWood forgetmenot
Orchis masculaEarly purple orchid
Oxalis acetosellaWood sorrel
Pinus sylvestrisScots pine
Poa nemorosaWood meadow grass
Polygonatum sp.Solomon’s seal
Polystichum aculeatumHard shield fern
Potentilla anserinaSilverweed
Potentilla sterilisBarren strawberry
Primula vulgarisPrimrose
Prunus padusBird cherry
Prunus spinosaBlackthorn
Quercus sp.Oak
Ranunculus auricomusGoldilocks
Ranunculus ficaria =Ficaria vernaLesser celandine
Ribes alpinumMountain currant
Rosa sp.Rose
Rubus caesiusDewberry
Rubus fruticosusBramble
Rubus idaeusRaspberry
Rumex obtusifoliusBroad-leaved dock
Ruscus aculeatusButcherís broom
Sambucus nigraElder
Scrophularia nodosaCommon figwort
Silene dioicaRed campion
Sorbus aria agg.Whitebeam
Sorbus aucupariaRowan
Stachys sylvaticaHedge woundwort
Symphoricarpos albusSnowberry
Taraxacum sp.Dandelion
Taxus baccataYew
Tilia sp.Lime, probably small-laaved, T. cordata
Tussilago farfaraColtsfoot
Ulmus glabraWych elm
Urtica dioicaNettle
Veronica chamaedrysGermander speedwell
Veronica montanaWood speedwell
Viburnum opulusGuelder rose
Viola rivinianaDog violet


Latin nameEnglish name
Ajuga reptansBugle
Allium ursinumRamsons
Alopecurus pratensisMeadow foxtail
Anemone nemorosaWood anemone
Angelica sylvestrisAngelica
Anthoxanthum odoratumSweet vernal grass
Anthriscus sylvestrisCow parsley
Apium nodiflorumFoolís watercress
Athyrium filix-feminaLady fern
Bellis perennisDaisy
Betula pendulaSilver birch
Caltha palustrisKingcup or Marsh marigold
Cardamine flexuosaWavy bittercress
Cardamine pratensisMilkmaid, cuckoo-flower or lady's smock
Carex acutiformisPond sedge
Carex flaccaGlaucous sedge
Carex hostianaTawny sedge
Carex paniceaCarnation sedge
Carex viridula = C. demissaYellow sedge
Cerastium fontanumCommon mouse-ear
Chamaenerion angustifoliumFireweed or Rosebay Willowherb
Chrysosplenium alternifoliumAlternate-leaved golden saxifrage
Chrysosplenium oppositifoliumOpposite-leaved golden saxifrage
Cirsium dissectumMeadow thistle
Conopodium majusPignut
Corylus avellanaHazel
Crepis paludosaMarsh hawksbeard
Cruciata laevipesCrosswort
Dactylis glomerataCocksfoot
Dactylorhiza fuchsiiCommon spotted orchid
Dactylorhiza incarnataEarly marsh orchid
Daphne laureolaSpurge laurel
Epilobium parviflorumHoary willowherb
Equisetum arvenseField horsetail
Eupatorium cannabinumHemp agrimony
Filipendula ulmariaMeadowsweet
Galium aparineCleavers
Geum rivaleWater avens
Heracleum sphondyliumHogweed
Hyacinthoides non-scriptaBluebell
Juncus articulatusJointed rush
Juncus inflexusHard rush
Luzula multifloraHeath woodrush
Luzula sylvaticaGreater woodrush
Lysimachia nemorumYellow pimpernel
Melica unifloraWood melick
Mentha aquaticaWater mint
Mercurialis perennisDog's mercury
Myosotis sylvaticaWood forgetmenot
Origanum vulgareMarjoram
Oxalis acetosellaWood sorrel
Pedicularis palustrisMarsh lousewort
Petasites hybridusButterbur
Pinguicula vulgarisButterwort
Plantago lanceolataRibwort plantain
Potentilla erectaTormentil
Potentilla sterilisBarren strawberry
Primula farinosaBirdseye primrose
Primula verisCowslip
Primula ◊ polyanthaFalse oxlip
Ranunculus acrisMeadow buttercup
Ranunculus ficaria = Ficaria vernaLesser celandine
Ranunculus repensCreeping buttercup
Ribes uva-crispaGooseberry
Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum = Nasturtium officinaleWatercress
Rubus caesiusDewberry
Rubus idaeusRaspberry
Rumex acetosaCommon sorrel
Salix sp.Willow
Sanguisorba minor = Poterium sanguisorbaSalad burnet
Saxifraga granulataMeadow saxifrage
Schoenus nigricansBlack bog rush
Stachys officinalis = Betonica officinalisBetony
Triglochin palustris = T. palustreMarsh arrowgrass
Trollius europaeusGlobeflower
Tussilago farfaraColtsfoot
Valeriana dioicaMarsh valerian
Veronica beccabungaBrooklime
Veronica chamaedrysGermander speedwell
Veronica montanaWood speedwell
Vicia sepiumBush vetch
Viola rivinianaDog violet

Lists created with “PlantFinder”.

Text © Ryedale Natural History Society 2010; photos © Gill Smith and Nan Sykes 2010 Back to the Home page