R. T. Doncaster
Some ten years ago the Sorby Natural History Society started a survey of the Flowers of the River Don, within the City of Sheffield. The river was divided into sections based on access points and main landmarks such as a bridge. Each section was examined in turn as far as possible from beside the river as it was flowers connected with the river that were to be studied. Although not part of that study, various points on the Don were also looked at and on 4th August 1979, Sorby visited Wortley Top Forge. Finding the right time to visit a site to look for flowers is not easy. Late identification can. be uncertain even if you know the family name.
Recording flowers or any other form of wildlife requires a methodical technique. It will involve finding, identifying, making a note and then systemalising into a proper record. Flowers have the advantage they won't fly away but even then it takes time and can be difficult. One simple problem is to ensure that you have covered the ground effectively and not missed anything. And you never pick a flower. Sorby splits Into two parties of about eight each. One party ticked off on a prepared card as members, wandering at will, called out names. Anything questionable or doubtful entailed visiting that caller to see what had been found. Duplicate calling added to the recorders amount of work. Apart from ticking off, a list was made to summarise what was being found so that confirmation and nonduplication was ensured. For inaccurate records can mean the exercise becomes meaningless. Sorby looked at different areas, of varying habitat form. Top Forge has about four main areas. The river bank; the dam; the field; and the immediate forge grounds. Each tends to have its own speciality although some plants can be widespread.
Although no flowers, trees and shrubs were identified in the list, ten different ones being the number recorded. Sycamore and Ash were the large trees and Alder and Willow were the water loving species. Grasses also, hardly flowers, were identified and there were thirteen species. False oat, tall and rampant, was on the waste ground: rough meadow grass and cocksfoot in the field.
The river bank produced one or two specials. Giant Bellflower (campanula latifolia) was probably the most spectacular: Pink Purstane (claylonia alsinoides) probably the most intriguing. Intriging because the Don Valley around Top Forge is thick with it, yet in other parts of Sheffield district it is fairly uncommon, only Rivelin having any number. Also by the river was lady fern, well named for its grace, and golden saxifrage with its green leaves and tiny golden flowers so prominent in the spring.
The dam, a static water site was empty at the time of the visit, would have its own flora. During the repairs some colonisation had probably taken place by species which would normally be found elsewhere. Redleg was predominant covering much of the mud with its red flowers and stalks. Around the edge was rosebay.
The immediate forge grounds, an area heavily trodden, would only support low creeping flowers. Most are what a gardener would call weeds but which in another setting are a welcome cover to poor soil or a base of ashes and cinder. Dandelion, daisy, two clovers, two chickweeds and groundsell were dominant. Rye grass and pineappple weed, both of which will stand hard usage, we common.
Perhaps the field had the biggest choice, as might be expected. Untouched land of any sort will grow a surprising range of plants. The secret is to leave well alone and let nature take its course. Taller plants will survive but not if they are trampled on or cut down. Four umbelliferas, so named because their flowers are arranged in an umbrella shape, were found as well as foxglove, thistles and vetches, and the usual buttercups and daisies.
A full list would be inappropriate and somewhat boring except to the botanist. Sorby of course has one. The interesting fact is that in 1979 one hundred and twelve species of plants were identified. One or two might have been garden escapes, such as rose and raspberry; one or two might have come in with industry; one or two might have been relicts from agricultural times. But they grew and survived because they were left alone.
Top Forge has changed these last five years. Rightly so. The purpose is to build a museum of equipment, of process and product. And the facilities to support such a museum and make it worthwhile for visitors must come first. But let us keep some areas where wild plants can grow. We will already have lost some of our flowers, quite unintentionally. We have altered the balance, both .restricting and also creating new conditions, possibly for some new flowers to come in. Not that we should artificially introduce new species. Let them come in their own way, for in the long run they live best where they choose for themselves. Like most of us.
The Cutting Edge - No.1 - Autumn 1984
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