The Green Heart of Poringland


Ground-Ivy Establishing Well – posted 17 April 2020

Now that much of the copse has been thinned out, a whole variety of ground plants are swiftly establishing themselves, no more so than ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea).

Ground-ivy, which is found throughout the UK, is a perennial broad-leaf weed which is common in shaded areas and is native in woodlands.

It is often found in disturbed areas around rabbit warrens of which there are many at Poringland Lakes but the plant is generally avoided by rabbits. The flowers, which are insect pollinated, appear between March and July and usually seed in June. Before the introduction of hops, the plant was used extensively in brewing.

Unseasonal Flower

Unseasonal weather is a topical discussion among meteorologists and public alike.  In recent weeks the Met Office has issued scores of weather warnings across the UK leading scientists to suggest that climate change is changing the seasons.

Marsh-marigolds (Caltha palustris) are early flowering British native spring perennials that that usually flower between March and June but are uncharacteristically in full bloom in November at the lakes.

Also known as 'kingcup', the marsh-marigold is one of our most ancient plants. It is thought it was growing in the UK long before the last Ice Age.  Marsh-marigold is a member of the buttercup family, a large, almost luxuriant version of its smaller cousin with bright yellow flowers and dark, shiny leaves.  Like all buttercups the marsh-marigold is poisonous and can irritate the skin. 

Naked Lady Spotted at Poringland Lakes

A naked lady has been seen at Poringland Lakes.

Observant conservationist Peter Aspinall spotted the Colchicum autumnale, often known as the autumn crocus, meadow saffron or the better-known naked lady, in lakeside banks.

The autumn-blooming flowering plant gets its naked lady title from the fact that the flowers emerge from the ground long before the leaves appear.

Despite its delicate appearance, the naked lady is highly toxic.  It is deadly poisonous, its symptoms resembling the effects of arsenic and no antidote is known.

Ingestion of the plant in mistake for wild garlic has caused deaths.  Following ingestion, initial gastrointestinal symptoms during the first 24 hours are followed by more severe effects including convulsions, cardiovascular collapse, multi-organ failure and blood clots, leading to a slow, agonising death.

Ragwort in Pollinator Top Ten

Another plant that is growing in profusion at Poringland Lakes is common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea).

Ragwort is quite a controversial plant, some advocating eradication as soon as it appears.  This is especially true on pasture land where horses or cattle graze as it is poisonous but this does not do the plant justice as it is excellent for all sorts of pollinators from butterflies to bees, hoverflies and beetles.

It provides a great deal of nectar for pollinators, in fact it was rated in the top ten of all plants for most nectar production in a survey conducted last year by the UK Insect Pollinators Initiative.

In the UK where the plant is native, ragwort provides a home and food source to at least 77 insect species.  It is an exclusive for source for ten rare or threatened insect species, including the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) which can often be seen at Poringland Lakes.

The cinnabar is a United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan species, its status described as "common and widespread but rapidly declining" which gives yet more evidence of ragwort's important role in maintaining the country's biodiversity and a vitally important component of native flora.

So the next time you visit the lakes, take a moment to look closely at this magnificent plant and wonder at the variety of insect life it houses.

Nettles Important Wildlife Role

At this time of year Poringland Lakes abounds with nettles.  The stinging nettle is one of the most important native plants for wildlife in the UK.  It supports over 40 species of insect including some of our most colourful butterflies.

This may seem strange given the stinging power of the nettle but it is the presence of the stings that has allowed the relationship with numerous insect species to develop.  The most notable nettle patch inhabitants are the small tortoiseshell and peacock butterfly larvae which feed in large groups hidden in silken tents at the top of the nettle stems.

Many nettle patches hold overwintering aphids which swarm around the fresh spring growth and provide an early food source for ladybirds. These same aphids are eaten in large numbers by blue tits and other woodland birds agile enough to dart around the stems.  In late summer the huge quantity of seed produced provide a food source for many of our seed eating birds.

So it can be seen that the nettle plays a very important wildlife role, indeed some of the insect species such as the nettle weevil live only in the nettle patch. Hopefully we can start to look at the nettle patch in a different light, pause a while to admire its effective survival strategy and welcome its presence at Poringland Lakes.

Eyebright Reward 

Poringland Lakes’ warden Peter Aspinall was pleased to see that all his hard work is paying dividends when he spotted a small but beautiful flower hiding among the grasses in the plain between the lakes. 

Earlier in the year Peter planted several wildflowers across the site and was delighted to spot the dainty white flower peeping through the grasses.

Eyebright (Euphrasia Nemorosa ) is a low-growing annual plant found in all kinds of short grasslands.  It is semi-parasitic, feeding off the nutrients from the roots of nearby grasses. For this reason, they are quite useful plants in terms of keeping vigorous grasses at bay in order that wildflowers can thrive. 

Its flowers appear between May and September and it is widespread throughout the UK. 

The common name, Eyebright, refers to the plant's use in treating eye infections, eye strain, and conjunctivitis.