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A Day Volunteering at Plantlife’s Deep Dale Nature Reserve

Find out what it’s like to volunteer at one of our nature reserves. Jim Whiteford describes a day working outdoors, protecting and restoring nature in Deep Dale, Derbyshire.

person smiling

I’m Jim, an Ecologist at the walking and cycling charity Sustrans. As Sustrans are committed to supporting sustainability across the UK, I’m encouraged to spend at least one day a year volunteering for a charity which is making a difference either by improving the environment or peoples’ lives.

The day starts with

I met up with Andy Kearsey and other members of the Plantlife Reserve Team to help-out at their fantastic Deepdale Reserve, in Derbyshire. After a useful and friendly introduction about what Plantlife do and the reserve itself, we cracked on with clearing areas of hawthorn, blackthorn and dog rose scrub using a selection of hand tools supplied by the team.

Andy explained how the area we were working in was managed using conservation grazing and that by cutting back the scrub this would help the cattle to do an ever-better job.

 

Lemon Drizzle

After working hard, I was then treated to some fantastic lemon drizzle cake and had an opportunity to find out more about the great work Plantlife are doing across all their reserves.

The day ends with

When we finished stacking away the scrub we had cleared, Andy and his colleagues  took me on a guided tour of the reserve.

It was great to learn about the rich archaeological history of the site and see firsthand the fantastic range of valuable habitats Plantlife are working hard to protect and improve.

It was fun to spend a day outside, with a gang of positive and friendly people helping to make a great place even better; I also appreciated the chance to beat my daily step count and get some exercise at the same time!

I hope to be able to get involved again over the summer at another reserve.

Deap Dale Nature Reserve

Deap Dale Nature Reserve

The reserve, located in the Peak District national Park is a special place if you visit at the right time of the year you would see colour spreading over the hill side.

Volunteer with us

Volunteer with us

Volunteer with Plantlife and help us in practical conservation work or by data entry and research, or even campaigning and advocacy work.

Stories
person holding a plant with white flowers

Stories

Read our other stories about plants and fungi conservation and the human behind them.

It is this blanket bog, one of the UK’s most unique landscapes, which is being proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Munsary Peatlands forms an integral part of the proposed site, which is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland World Heritage Site.

What is the Flow Country?

The Flow Country is the world’s the most intact and extensive blanket bog system in the world. As well as being hugely important for biodiversity, it is also an important carbon store, locking up around 400 million tonnes of carbon.

Plantlife manages Munsary, our nature reserve, for its peatland habitat and for its rare plants – including the threatened Marsh Saxifrage.

The proposed World Heritage Site is also an Important Plant Area, identified for its important habitat and rare species. Recognising the Flow Country by awarding it World Heritage Site status would further reinforce how important it is for nature and climate.

 

UNESCO World Heritage Site assessment

In August this year we were delighted to welcome assessors for UNESCO to the reserve, to highlight some of the important features of the Flow Country and to discuss its management.

The visit was part of a week-long tour of the Flow Country by assessors, who met with land managers, local communities and peatland experts as part of their assessment of the Flow Country bid – led by the Flow Country Partnership.

Here at Plantlife, we are strongly supporting the bid, and will continue to work hard to protect Munsary Peatlands as an important part of this unique landscape.

A decision on whether to award the Flow Country World Heritage Site status is expected next year – stay tuned!

Spotlight on Plantlife’s Cairngorms Volunteers

Spotlight on Plantlife's Cairngorms Volunteers

Discover the activities and work that our volunteers in the Cairngorms do with Sam Jones of the Rare Plants and Wild Connections Project. 

Munsary Nature Reserve’s Road to UNESCO World Heritage Site

Munsary Nature Reserve’s Road to UNESCO World Heritage Site

Learn about why our Munsary Peatlands reserve is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Botanical Art Journey of Plantlife’s Reserves

A Botanical Art Journey of Plantlife’s Reserves

Plantlife’s Artist in Residence, shares her summer journey across our reserves and some top tips for aspiring botanical artists.

We are well and truly into summer, and we’ve already witnessed a spectacular succession of wild plants flowering over the last few months. Now that we’ve waved goodbye to the anemones and hawthorn is beginning to fade, we’re welcoming the orchids.

Butterfly orchids are delicate, elegant plants, with a single floral spike bearing many pale, creamy green flowers. Each flower resembles a tiny moth (or butterfly) in flight, with its wings outstretched. They are sweetly scented and can be found growing in a diverse range of habitats, from moors and bogs to woodlands, but most commonly they are found in undisturbed grasslands and meadows. 

The difference between Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids

Butterfly orchid differences.

There are two species, Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha and Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia. The differences between them takes an expert eye to spot, and are to do with the angle between the pollen bearing organs of the plant (the pollinia).  

Both species are pollinated by moths. At night, the first signal a moth will pick up on is the fragrance of the orchid – once closer the pale flowers will stand out against the darkness.

UK orchids are in trouble 

Unfortunately, both species are experiencing dramatic declines nationally.  Greater butterfly orchid is faring the better of the two but is still classed as Near Threatened in the UK. Lesser butterfly orchid has been assessed as Vulnerable on the UK Vascular Plant Red List and has disappeared from over half of its previous range in the last 50 years. 

Declines across both species are because of changes in agricultural grassland management – these species need consistent management over a long time to thrive. Damaging land use change could include too much (or too little) grazing, drainage of fields, and even addition of chemical fertilisers. Orchids rely on a soil fungus to survive, and agricultural chemicals can kill off this unseen life support network. 

Thankfully, as their habitats are safe and protected within our reserves, these species are still thriving. To be sure of this, every year we participate in the butterfly orchid count to monitor how our populations of these beautiful plants are faring.  

2023’s Butterfly Orchid Count Results 

Why do we count our Butterfly Orchids? 

Monitoring how they are faring is an important part of understanding our reserves and making good management choices. Both our Welsh nature reserves are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and both list the Butterfly Orchids as a notified feature- so there is a legal duty to ensure the populations remain in good condition 

Volunteers counting orchids at Caeau Tan y Bwlch nature reserve

We want to be able to demonstrate that the way we are managing land is benefitting them, and counting the number of orchids each year, and gathering supporting habitat information, can help us adjust our site management when we need to. This enables us to give the orchids the best possible chance they have going forwards. 

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Discover the gnarled woodlands on the wildest peaks in Wales, as Robbie Blackhall-Miles reveals the secrets of Eryri’s miniature but magical Juniper forests.

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

The Wild Leek has been a symbol of Wales for so long that its stories date back to St David himself.

What can I find at Cae Blaen-dyffryn in spring?

Cae Blaen-dyffryn is our south Wales nature reserve and can be found close to the town of Lampeter, in Carmarthenshire. It’s best known for its population of Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera chlorantha & P. bifolia) which flower in the high summer. 

However, a visit in spring is always rewarding. Luxuriant fresh growth in the grassland is fed by a warm sun and abundant rain. Cuckoos call from distant hills. Within the reserve, Meadow Pipits drop from the sky above you with their cascading song, and Stonechats call assertively from the scrub. 

What’s in bloom this month?

You can also find the earliest-flowering plant species breaking through in Cae Blaen-dyffryn in May and June.  If you look carefully, you can also find signs of other beauties still in store, like the feathery leaves of Whorled Caraway Carum verticillatum (Carmarthenshire’s ‘County Flower’) poking through. 

Discovering Orchids at Caeau Tan y Bwlch

Our North Wales nature reserve, sitting on a hillside above Clynnog-Fawr on the Llyn peninsula, is equally known for its population of Greater Butterfly Orchids which number in their thousands at the site.  

The meadows under the mountain pass face north east, making them a morning spot to visit if you wish to enjoy them in the sunshine at this time of year. They are as equally beautiful in the North Wales rain, however.

The cloddiau (earth and stone bank walls) between the fields are an equal show to the meadows, with their hedgerow tops of Rowan, Damson, Hawthorn and Blackthorn. If you look below the trees the Common Dog Violets Viola riviniana hide amongst the tree roots and the boulders. 

What else is in flower in spring?

The orchids are already visible in the meadow and the Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor is just starting to flower. 

There is something wonderful about the sense of promise yielded by flower-rich grasslands at this time of year. And a feeling you can’t wait to come back to see what you might find next. 

Caeau Tan y Bwlch is managed on behalf of Plantlife by North Wales Wildlife Trust. 

How do I visit a Plantlife nature reserve in Wales?

For more details on visiting our Welsh reserves in spring and throughout the year, visit our reserves page here Welsh Nature Reserves – Plantlife 

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Discover the gnarled woodlands on the wildest peaks in Wales, as Robbie Blackhall-Miles reveals the secrets of Eryri’s miniature but magical Juniper forests.

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

The Wild Leek has been a symbol of Wales for so long that its stories date back to St David himself.