Saturday, 24 December 2016

Hutton Roof Crags and how it became a Nature Reserve and the rest is history!

a favourite 'atrorubens' site (photo: Bryan Yorke)

Some lovely facts about Hutton Roof Crags and its Orchids and Variants, which includes how it became a nature reserve and the stock it holds (Orchids only)

Hutton Roof Crags was listed No. 193 of the original Rothschild Nature Reserves

"Rothschild went around the UK identifying the best places for wildlife.  He did this in 1912.  Some areas such as Meathop Moss he bought or leased himself.  This happened to Meathop Moss in 1919.  He never got to Hutton Roof before he died.  Although Hutton Roof is on the list as a “Rothschild Site”.  Rothschild was the Chairman of the SPNR (Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves.  This later became the SPNC. Which later then became the RSNC. Which later still became the RSWT, which is also now known as TWT.  All these name changes, but the same charity which was formed way back in 1912.   Rothchild’s list was recognised as the “best places” to become nature reserves, by Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves.  When Nature Conservancy Council (Now Natural England) formed in 1949 they established SSSI’s and Hutton Roof was one of the very first to become established".    

And guess what made Hutton Roof Crags especially famous.  Well it was because of the following two species:

Rigid Buckler Fern ('Dryopteris submontana') Photo: Bryan Yorke (Click over image to enlarge)

         No: 1 Was the Rigid Buckler Fern otherwise known as Dryopteris submontana, but it was known back in 1920's as Lastrea rigida

Angular Solomons Seal (Polygonatum odoratum)
 Photo: Bryan Yorke (Click over image to enlarge)
No:2 Was the Angular Solomon's Seal otherwise known as the Polygonatum odoratum.


And here is how it was listed on the original document:

"A piece of typical primeval Country = Limestone formation"

A locality for 'Lastrea rigida' (Rigid Buckler Fern) and 'Polygonatum odoratum' (Angular Solomon's Seal).  Hutton Roof Crags those days was owned by Lady Henry Cavendish Bentinck of Underlay Hall, Kirkby Lonsdale (Earl of Lonsdale, Whitehaven Castle, Cumberland).


Some later notes more recently added by Cumbria Wildlife Trust:

An area in Westmorland (now Cumbria) considered by the SPNR to be a "typical limestone formation" and of geological and botanical significance.  It was the only limestone pavement site on Rothschild's list and the SPNR noted it as a location for specialist plants such as Angular Solomon's Seal and Rigid Buckler Fern.  Like other limestone pavement sites it has been damaged by some removal of stone but it is now protected as a nature reserve managed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust, and still contains some of the finest areas of limestone pavement in Britain.  Today Hutton Roof Crags holds SSSI status. 

Now back to my studies (over the past nine years eg: 2012 to 2021)

Today we have over 2,000 Dark Red Helleborines (Epipactis atrorubens) and it's assorted varieties (with only 60% of the total area as yet surveyed), we also have over 400 Broad Leaved Helliborines (Epipactis helleborine), Usually around the 20 to 25 of the bolder Hybrids (atrorubens x helleborine) (Epipactis schmalhauseneii), plus maybe up to 100 which are still unclassified and recorded as only "probable" but even these do have a strong leaning towards possible hybrids or plants that are breeding back on themselves, we have noticed all the Epipactis on Hutton Roof are fertile. Wouldn't it be grand if we could tell their DNA!!  

Hutton Roof also has several good populations of the rare Fly Orchid which is found at eight separate locations on Hutton Roof.  Most of the areas just have a handful, yet at least one of the areas has in excess of 80 spikes.  I would expect a total of 130 to 150 spikes are on Hutton Roof (last count survey 132 actual in 2018).


Early Purple Orchids are found throughout Hutton Roof, the species is regarded as common and would probably number in the late hundreds to one thousand slot.


This is the plant on "Ploverlands" Photo: Bryan Yorke (Click over to enlarge)

Heath Fragrant Orchid – I have only ever found a single specimen on Hutton Roof Crags. The specimen (photographed here) to my knowledge has flowered for the past 3 years (on checking spike history and cannot account for its history prior to 2013


Common Spotted Orchid are found throughout Hutton Roof but only in small numbers. At best I would have recorded about 100 specimens


Common Twayblades are found throughout Hutton Roof, but just in small groups or even just individuals at various points.  So far recorded in total would probably amount to maybe less than 75