Smardale Gill

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Smardale Gill viaduct pictured above near Kirkby Stephen forms part of the walk along the valley.  Smardale is an SSSI site and a National nature Reserve offering a range of  limestone, woodland and marsh habitats. A few highlights are described below.

The Geums were interesting, both urbanum, rivale and their crosses present, including this attractive double flowered variety.

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Greater butterfly orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) was growing by the footpath, distinquished from the lesser Butterfly orchid by its divergent pollinia (pollen masses).

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Appearing on the opposite side of the walkway was Common wintergreen (Pyrola minor), pale pink flowers held in a spike. Bitter vetch (Lathyrus linifolius) was growing behind while Fragrant orchid was coming into flower nearby.

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I mistook this Common twayblade (Neotttia ovata) for a Frog orchid. Frog orchid does grow here but is much smaller without the basal paired leaves.

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Bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanquineum) was frequent in its red form but this pink flowered Cumbrian form was unfamiliar.

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For comparison the red form is pictured below amid Birdsfoot trefoil, Rock rose (Helianthemum nummularium) and Heath wood rush (Luzula multiflora).

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Some plants are difficult to identify to species level, such as this Hieracium below. I thought it might be H anglicum agg.

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Fortunately, someone spotted this Horseshoe vetch (Hippocrepis comosa). Although superficially similar to Bird’s-foot trefoil the colour is stronger, leaf form different, and it is never suffused with red.

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The site is noted for butterflies, the Northern Brown Argus was flying; the Scotch Argus flies later in the year.

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Other butterflies seen: Painted lady, Common blue, Small heath but none in large numbers. Speckled wood was more numerous. This Large Skipper posed long enoughfor a photo.

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A common lizard basking on a tree stump among the dried heads of Blue moor grass. Small but fascinating, the common lizard is unusual among reptiles as it incubates its eggs inside its body and ‘gives birth’ to live young rather than laying eggs. Adults emerge from hibernation in spring, mating in April and May, and producing three to eleven young in July.

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Birds noticed: Buzzard, Ravens, Red Start, Curlew.

Other plants noted:  Limestone bedstraw, Common milkwort,  Sharp- flowered rush, Common valerian, Enchanter’s nightshade, Dog’s Mercury, Brachipodium sylvaticum, Stone bramble, Common figwort, Plantago media (Hoary plantain), Cirsium Heterophylum (Melancholy thistle), Salad burnet, Rough Chervil, Hairy St John’s wort, Wood sedge, Guelder rose, Wild Thyme, Oregano, Pale ladies mantle (Alchemilla xanthochrora), Betony, Tormentil, Sweet woodruff, Wood sorrel, Lady Fern (Athyrium
filix-femina).

Reference: https://designatedsites.naturalengland.org.uk/PDFsForWeb/Citation/1002478.pdf

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