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Big Butterfly Count

The big butterfly count is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. Over 60,000 people took part in 2017, submitting 62,500 counts of butterflies and day-flying moths from across the UK

It continues until the end of August and what better place to conduct your own 15 minute survey than on Barnack Hills and Holes.

Full details and survey submission form on

Hills and Holes on Gardeners’ World

BBC Gardeners World this week (broadcast on 22nd June) features an item recorded by Adam Frost on the Hills and Holes which shows what a special place we have on our doorstep. It broadens the value of the reserve as not just for those interested in wildlife, particularly wild flowers, but as a source of inspiration in garden design. It is also well documented that open spaces and contact with nature is good for our mental health. Therefore with ever increasing visitor pressure on the reserve it is more and more important that we look after the site this summer if we are to retain and even enhance its beauty (Orchids are just starting to establish in the vicinity of the area cleared of trees and scrub in the early 2000s). You can help by keeping to the established footpaths, not leaving behind any litter and taking care not to damage any flowers or plants that appear adjacent to the footpaths. There has been significant improvement, since waste bins were introduced, with the problem of dog fouling but it has not been eliminated so please remember if you do bring along a dog to pick up and deposit in the bins provided all dog waste. If you want to participate actively in preserving the reserve for future enjoyment then donations following the instructions on the signs at the entrances or consider joining in with the organised working parties to keep the scrub at bay. Your assistance in ensuring this reserve maintains its status as an outstanding National Nature Reserve (with 8 red list species) and does not become just a “great place to walk the dogs”, is very much appreciated. 

FBHH Notice of AGM

The first Annual General Meeting of the Friends will be on 6th November 2014 at 7.30pm, Barnack Village Hall.

The AGM will be followed by a short talk from Chris Gardiner of Natural England, “The Ups and Downs of Hills and Holes”. He will tell us all about managing a National Nature Reserve, which should be very interesting and relevant.

Light refreshments will be available to welcome you to the meeting. We will also have a display of photographs and reports and statistics from the reserve.

At the AGM the current Steering Committee will step down, and it will be up to the members to vote for officers and committee members. While some of the original committee are happy to stand for re-election, we do have a vacancy for Secretary at present. Please consider whether you would be willing to join the committee in any capacity; you are welcome to contact me for more information. I need nominations (you can nominate yourself!) as soon as possible please.


Autumn on the Hills and Holes

With Autumn comes the sheep, who keep the coarse grasses and weeds growing on the nature reserve in check. And that means another hazard to avoid – sheep poo! Happily, sheep poo is not offensive (unlike the dog mess left behind by some irresponsible dog owners). Sheep only digest about 50% of the plant material that they eat, so their poo is mostly cellulose. Did you know that it can be used to make paper? A firm in Wales sells it – I don’t intend to try making it myself though!

Many of the plants that grow on the Hills and Holes have now produced seed, and are dying down for the winter. Why not see how many different kinds of seed head you can spot? Other plants overwinter as flat rosettes, which allows them to avoid getting eaten by the aforementioned sheep.

Woody plants are also closing down for winter and trees will be losing their leaves. The silver birch leaves often turn a rich yellow before they fall. This is due to the breakdown of the green pigment chlorophyll, which is triggered by the change in day length. Once the chlorophyll has been withdrawn, other pigments in the leaves can be seen – carotene is the one that gives the yellow shades.

Trees and shrubs may also produce fruit. Elder is a common plant on the reserve, and elderberries are eagerly taken by small birds. That’s why our cars get purple splotches on them! Blackberries can also have this effect. Rowan berries are bright orange and are loved by blackbirds. There are apples on the reserve, both native crab apples and trees that are derived from cultivated varieties.

In the scrubby parts of the reserve you might see long strings of red berries draped over the vegetation – these are probably the fruits of a Bryony, either White Bryony or Black Bryony. Don’t eat them, they are poisonous.

spindle-04555Along the western boundary you might find the fruits of the Spindle, which are striking in pink and orange. Over in the wooded section, there is a walnut tree, and you may be able to find a hazel bearing its distinctive nuts in green wrappers – quite rare on the reserve, although common in hedgerows in the area. These are very popular with squirrels and other small mammals.

Funnel-04550Autumn is the season for spotting fungi. We have very little information on the fungi present on the reserve, so if you do see any while visiting, please let us know through the Contacts page or on Facebook.

I hope you can come and enjoy the autumn at Barnack Hills and Holes very soon – there is always something to see!

The Red List

How special is the flora of Barnack Hills and Holes National Nature Reserve?

The Holy Grail for a botanist is a red listed plant. Finding one is very satisfying, and it doesn’t often happen. So what are Red Lists and what is their relevance to Barnack Hills and Holes?

Red Lists are lists of plants or animals that are in danger of extinction in a particular area or country. There is a standard scientific method for selecting these species, laid down by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Assessments are based on specified thresholds of population reduction, decreasing geographical range and small population size. A plant may be widespread, but if it is being lost from many of its sites it may qualify for red listing. There are three categories of threat: Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable, which are allotted to species according to the degree of danger that they face. The term Near Threatened is applied to species that are close to qualifying for a Red List. Species that cannot be classified because of insufficient information are Data Deficient. Least Concern is the term used for the rest of the species, which are regarded as currently safe from the threat of extinction.

DSC01798-1We have two national Red Lists of flowering plants and ferns that are applicable to the Barnack area. One is the British Red List, which was originally produced in 1977 and is revised regularly by the statutory conservation bodies, including Natural England. The other is the Red List for England, first published in September 2014 by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. As might be expected, the two lists are not identical because they are based on different geographical perspectives. A plant that is common in Scotland is unlikely to qualify for the British Red List, but that same species may be included in the Red List for England because it is rarer and more threatened in southerly, lowland situations.

The following table gives the nationally red listed and Near Threatened flowering plants that currently occur at Barnack Hills and Holes. Seven species are on both British and English Red Lists and an eighth – Mountain Everlasting – is only on the Red List for England, being an example of a plant with a predominantly upland distribution. A further four species are Near Threatened in England, whereas in Britain as a whole they are classified as Least Concern.

Natural England and the Friends of Barnack Hills and Holes are very keen to gather further information about the plants growing on this ancient limestone quarry site. Records, including the date and details of the recorder, can be submitted to

The occurrence of eight nationally red listed plants in an area of only about 20 hectares is very unusual. This, and the presence of one of the strongest populations of Pasque Flower in the country, indicate that the flora of Barnack Hills and Holes is outstanding. Its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a National Nature Reserve is fully justified and it is vital that the site is managed for the benefit of its threatened grassland flora. To be able to find six red listed plants during a single visit in summer is extraordinary: there are very few places in Britain where this is possible.
Margaret Palmer
4th October 2014

red list

This table can be opened in a separate window or downloaded as a pdf file – click here

The sheep are back

Sheep-04409The sheep arrived back on site Tuesday 9th September to carry out the essential grazing management that helps to keep the wild flower grassland in good shape.

If you take your dogs onto the reserve PLEASE keep them on a lead where there are sheep and under close control at all times.

Last year for the first time in several years we avoided any sheep fatalities caused by dogs, and are keen for this to continue. 

As always visitors’ vigilance and co-operation are appreciated in keeping an eye out for any problems. Let the Reserve Manager know by email, or for less urgent matters via the contact form, if you see any of the following:

  • Sick or injured sheep
  • Stray sheep
  • Damaged fences or signs, open gates
  • Loose or uncontrolled dogs
  • Leaking or dry troughs

The additional ‘eyes and ears’ that you provide can assist us greatly in managing the grazing season without incident. The grazing will start in paddock 4 (South-East corner near the Cricket Club) and continue over the rest of the Reserve for 6-8 weeks.

Chris Gardiner

Senior Reserve Manager

August – late summer purples and yellows

In keeping with the drowsy heat of a humid August, the Hills and Holes are now painted in their late summer palette of bright purples and yellows set against the pale brown canvas of the drying grasses. harebellThe purple knapweed is particularly prolific, much to the delight of feeding insects, accompanied by good numbers of field scabious, clustered bellflower, harebells and, in places, thick banks of richly scented wild marjoram. Scattered amongst them are the bright yellow flower heads of the much-maligned ragwort (now greatly reduced thanks to the efforts of the volunteer ragwort-pullers) and the paler clusters of the wild parsnips. Most of the orchids are gone, leaving only dried out husks, but, surprisingly, a few of the frog orchids are still making a brave show of it. While you are on your knees, look out for the froth of small white flowers of the parasitic common dodder clustered together in patches on the gentler slopes. As for the insects, the chalkhill blues are now coming into their own with large numbers rising in clouds from the grasses on the hot afternoons and plenty of the crimson and black 5-spot burnet moths competing for attention. In the right places, there is a scattering of whites, speckled woods, gatekeepers, small coppers and peacock butterflies to be seen. Down by your feet, the grass is alive with grasshoppers and crickets while, further up on the ragwort, there are quite a few of the yellow and black striped caterpillars of the cinnabar moth still munching away.

Ragwort Pulling

Ragwort-03788We have something a little different for you this time! On Wednesday 6th August there will be a great opportunity to participate in looking after our nature reserve. Ragwort is a pernicious weed which spreads very easily and can be a danger to animals, so we will spend time pulling up as much as possible and getting rid of it (at least for this year!). We will be working alongside our Summer Warden and also local Wildlife Trust volunteers, and if you think you don’t know what Ragwort looks like, someone will be very happy to show you.

Meet at 10 am in the car park on Wittering Road. The plan is to be finished by 3pm at the latest. Please wear sensible clothing – long trousers, long sleeves, suitable shoes or boots, a sunhat and don’t forget waterproofs just in case. You will need gardening gloves as well. Bring a packed lunch and plenty to drink.

Even if you can only spare an hour, this would still be helpful, so do come along and join the team.

Things you may not know about the ragwort

1.  Ecological Importance (source Wikipedia)

In the UK, where the plant is native, Ragwort provides a home and food source to at least 77 insect species. Thirty of these species of invertebrate use Ragwort exclusively as their food source  and there are another 22 species where Ragwort forms a significant part of their diet.

Drone fly on Ragwort

Furthermore, English Nature identify a further 117 species who use Ragwort as a nectar source whilst travelling between feeding and breeding sites, or between metapopulations. These consist mainly of solitary bees, hoverflies, moths, and butterflies such as the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).

Without doubt the most common of those species that are totally reliant on Ragwort for their survival is the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae). The Cinnabar is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Species, its status described ascommon 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 the native flora.

2.  Cushag

It is the unofficial national flower of the Isle of Man and, though controlled in the farmland areas, on the hills it is tolerated. The local Manx name for it is the cushag.

“The Cushag”
Josephine „Cushag‟ Kermode (1852–1937)
Now, the Cushag, we know,
Must never grow,
Where the farmer’s work is done.
But along the rills,
In the heart of the hills,
The Cushag may shine like the sun.
Where the golden flowers,
Have fairy powers,
To gladden our hearts with their grace.
And in Vannin Veg Veen,
In the valleys green,
The Cushags have still a place

3.  Poison (Wikipedia)

Ragwort contains many different alkaloids, making it poisonous to certain animals.

Ragwort is of concern to people who keep horses and cattle. In areas of the world where ragwort is a native plant, such as Britain and continental Europe, documented cases of proven poisoning are rare. Animals may also resort to the consumption of ragwort when there is shortage of food. In rare cases they can even become addicted to it. Sheep and goats suffer the same process of liver destruction but at a reduced rate to horses and pigs