We looked at dozens of common wild flowers on our walk - many were used in the past for food, herbal health or day-to-day needs. Here are a few we looked at:
There are many plants of the pea family on our local open space. Here are a couple, though Gorse and Broom belong to this family too - the flowers of all provide good sources of food for insects, fix nitrogen in their roots, and, like their cousins the garden peas, have pods that are high in protein for wildlife.
Bush Vetch - Bumble and honey bees, weevils and beetles all feed on this plant, and some caterpillars eat its leaves.
Bird’s Foot Trefoil - The name comes from the seed-pods which look like a birds toes, this plant is also known as ‘Eggs and Bacon’ because the yellow flowers can be tinged with red. It is very good for insects and the leaves are the main food plant for some beautiful butterflies - the Common Blue, the Green Hairstreak and the duller ‘Dingy Skipper’!
Herb Robert - this very common wild flower also goes by the common name ‘Stinking Bob’ and if you gently rub a leaf, you will soon see why. Often the stems, and the leaves are reddish which led it to be associated with Robin Goodfellow, as mentioned by Shakespeare, and it was thought to bring good luck. The juice on your skin was used as a mosquito deterrent. Some herbal uses of plants are still very valuable but there was a practice in the past that was less reliable. This was the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’ whereby the look of a part of a plant was taken to mean it was a useful cure for a condition that resembled it- because of the redness of this plant, it was used to treat blood disorders.
Stinging Nettles: Nettles are rich in minerals, the young tips of leaves make a tonic-tea in spring, while the leaves were often used as a ‘potherb’. For 1000’s of years, until cotton and silk were introduced, the fibres in nettles were used to make cloth. In the Second World War a green dye from the plant helped to create camouflage material. Nettles are really valuable for wildlife toomany insects feed on the pollen, the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterfly caterpillars feed on the leaves and birds eat their seeds.
Bluebells - Voted the UK’s favourite wildflower, we hold half the world’s population. Our native bluebell (which have flowers hanging from one side of the stem, and narrower leaves and stems) is under some threat from the bigger-flowered garden or Spanish Bluebell but most on Parkwood Springs are still true Bluebells (except nearer gardens), and haven’t yet crossed with the Spanish plants. Bluebells feed many insects, including moths, butterflies, hoverflies and bees. Those bees that are too big to reach inside the flowers sometimes ‘steal’ the nectar by biting through the petal at its base. Some birds do this with some of our wild flowers too. They get the food but don’t pollinate the plant because they don’t pick up pollen on their bodies and carry it to the next flower they visit! Bluebell seeds, as with Snowdrops and Primroses, are covered by a sweet substance which attracts ants. Ants carry the seed off to their nests where the coating is eaten by their larvae. The larvae get fed and the seeds get spread! In the Middle Ages the sap was used to fix feathers to arrows, as well as to bind books. Elizabethans used it to starch their ruffs and collars.
Garlic Mustard or Jack By The Hedge - There are big patches of this lovely plant around Parkwood Springs. It was also called ‘Sauce Alone’ and has a mild garlic flavour with at least 6,000 years of human use. The young leaves and flowers can be used in salads and sauces and there are many 17th and 18th century recipes for its use with lamb, fish and bacon. The leaves were cooked as a vegetable (pot herb) and it was used internally to treat sweating illnesses and externally as an antiseptic. I have it in the garden because it is one of the food plants for both the Orange-tip and the Green-veined White Butterfly.
May or Hawthorn: There are many myths and folk stories around this common hedge-plant/shrub and it is the origin of the saying ‘Cast not a clout (‘vest’) till May is out’. On the 1st of May thousands of women, including Samual Pepys’ wife but also those within living memory, would rise at dawn to bathe in the dew from the flower, to enhance their complexion. It was a fertility symbol and the origin of the ‘Maypole’. It was also associated with death and people would not bring it into their homes,. Recenlty, chemical analysis has shown that the flower contains the same chemical as decaying bodies and that clearly led to people associating it with death. It is a wonderful plant for wildlife - feeding 300 types of insects with its flowers and leaves, plus many birds and small mammals with its red berries (‘Haws’). Its dense growth provides shelter and nesting places for birds and mammals. On the way to school we would eat the very young leaf-buds, known to us as ‘bread-and-cheese’.
Ribwort Plantain: This common plant was a gene for many of us -you can pull out a stalk, loop it and shoot off the head, or use the stalk/flower head like a conker. Recent research shows, as with trees, it has a microrhizome-fungal relationship with fungi in the soil, which helps it fight pests and gain nutrients. It had many herbal uses, for skin and eye conditions and to staunch wounds. Antibacterial properties means its juices are said to be better for insect bites and stinging nettle stings than dock. The young flowerheads, before pollen appears, taste of mushroom. It also provide food for insects and the seed-heads are eaten by finches throughout autumn and early winter.
Each March and June a Breeding Bird Survey for the British Trust for Ornithology is carried out at the kilometre square SK3489, most of which covers our great Sheffield urban park, Parkwood Springs. This is not a complete study of birds to be seen on Parkwood Springs - for that, you can read the more thorough bird survey on this website.
What is the ‘Breeding Bird Survey’?
For the Breeding Bird Survey you have to follow two paths across the kilometre square, SK3489, in the early morning, once in early spring and again in early summer. For the survey you have to walk the paths over about 45 minutes each, noting every adult bird seen and heard. Thousands of other volunteers do the same, every year, for kilometre squares all over the country. These survey-sites are chosen by the BTO to create a record of birds across urban, rural and industrialised areas and all habitats. They help build a picture of how birds are doing, which species are thriving and which are in decline. In turn that is used by the BTO and other campaigning groups to argue for better ‘green’ policies, especially important when so many habitats and species are seriously threatened.
Which paths do are used to record Parkwood Springs’ Breeding Birds?
The paths were chosen by a previous BTO volunteer which were taken over from when they retired. One of the kilometre paths is beside the River Don, along Club Mill Road, from its beginning at Neepsend Lane and one kilometre stretches up hill from Vale Road, beside the old Ski Village site, to the viewpoint and down the path besides the housing near Penrith Road.
Some highlights of birds recorded on Parkwood Springs
Here are some of the less common birds for you to look out for, too, in our lovely local urban parkland (N.B. all images are taken by myself, and most very locally, though not on Parkwood Springs itself - it isn’t possible to do the survey and take photos at the same time!)
Along Club Mill Road beside the river and through the industrial estate Sand Martins and Swifts are regularly recorded, as well as flitting Grey Wagtail, fleeting glimpses of wonderful Kingfishers and dipping Dippers, this year including a young Dipper with its parent, feeding in the river Don. Mallards and Moorhen are common.
Along both kilometre paths there are Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, many Wrens and Robins, singing Song Thrushes and Blackbirds and of course more common species like Magpie, Wood Pigeon and Carrion Crows, to name a few.
Along the second path Buzzards are increasingly to be seen and heard, along with Sparrowhawks and a Kestrel family and it is especially good to see several pairs of Lesser Whitethroat which are clearly breeding successfully. Once, Skylark's singing have been heard - maybe we will get more regular Skylarks as well as other grassland nesting-species as the old Veolia ‘tip’ site becomes more established as a grassland hill.
A family of Great Spotted Woodpeckers was clearly visible, too, this year.
These are only some of the species seen in the times when the Breeding Bird Survey is recorded. We hope, as more habitats are created over the next few years, there will be even greater diversity on Parkwood Springs than there is now.
When you are next up at the Beacons Viewpoint, enjoying the view across the city and beyond, have a look closer to the ground, at the wild flower meadow areas which the Friends’ group are creating.
We started in early spring 2018. You will probably remember the two shipping containers which were put up by the Viewpoint for a film of Steve Peat’s amazing cycle stunts. The brambles which covered the area were removed by machinery, and, once the containers were taken away, we took the opportunity to increase the biodiversity of the area by cultivating a wildflower meadow.
So, after digging out some large stones and scraping off the grass which had very quickly recolonised the area, we raked the soil and planted wild flower seeds. Crucially, the city council ecologists brought hay from the flower-rich meadows at Beauchief and Gleadless. The hay was full of seeds from the wild flowers which thrive in Sheffield, and this was scattered over the seed bed too. Every year since then we have cut the meadow in the autumn, left the hay to shed some of its seeds, and then moved the hay to the other grassy areas around the Viewpoint, to shed more seeds. The wildflowers are gradually spreading and now, on warm days, the sound of grasshoppers and bees can be heard above the noise from cars and machinery in the valley.
Every year we see different numbers and varieties of flowers. At the moment we are really pleased that the yellow rattle is doing well. This plant feeds off the nutrients in the roots of grasses. As the grasses get less vigorous more delicate flower species will have room to thrive.
So, have a look at the wild flower meadows and see how many kinds of wild flowers are growing there, and which insects are enjoying the meadows as much as we do.
Beat the Street is nearly upon us! This fun and free initiative gives players the opportunity see how far you can walk, cycle or run in just 6 weeks, starting next week - 16th June. There are a range of benefits of taking part, from getting fit, winning rewards and prizes, exploring your local area and rising up the points leaderboard!
Members of the Friends of Parkwood Springs group are participating and we would love to see those around Parkwood Springs get involved and even join our Team! There are a number of Beat Boxes in and around Parkwood Springs and you can find these on the Map (https://www.beatthestreet.me/sheffield/map/). In the local area, we have one Beat Box housed on the Little Pear Tree field sign (440), on the mountain bike trail (439), and a number of others located outside nearby schools such as at Abbeyfield Primary Academy (441) and Watercliffe Primary School (447).
Please do join-in and explore some lovely walking and cycling routes around Parkwood Springs! You can join by picking up a card from one of the distribution points, registering your card online and entering the ‘Friends of Parkwood Springs’ as your Team. If you want to change your Team to Friends of Parkwood Springs, visit your account page: https://www.beatthestreet.me/account/ or click on ‘Menu’ and ‘Manage account’ and change your Team in the dropdown menu (see image below). As always, do share with us photos of you exploring and enjoying Parkwood Springs on Facebook and Twitter @FriendsofPWS as you Beat the Street!
We are joining the Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust in declaring a Nature Emergency for Sheffield. As they say on their webpage https://www.wildsheffield.com/naturesheffield/
As well as a climate crisis, our wildlife is facing a critical emergency.
More than 1 in 10 of over 8,000 species assessed in the 2019 State of Nature Report are at risk of extinction – with 1 in 4 UK mammal species at threat of being lost.
We will be following their campaign and taking account of the implications of the emergency in all our activities.
We held our second Zoom Open Meeting on the 21st April and were able to get updates on the five(!) projects on-going on Parkwood Springs – potentially millions of pounds worth of investment.
We supported the project to improve the cycling and walking track from Herries Road to Clubmill Road, but we were pleased to see that some detailed concerns have been incorporated in the Planning Permission. The work cannot start until measures have been taken to maintain the ecology and biodiversity of the site. Proposals to modify the entrances to restrict motorcycles must also be ready to implement if it becomes necessary.
Earlier this month we attended a Landfill Restoration Access liaison meeting hosted by Viridor. Viridor confirmed that work will start on the agreed path layout at the beginning of May and should be largely complete by the end of the year. The drainage proposal, to which we objected, has been withdrawn and a revised proposal is being submitted. This should recognise the need to provide a wetland to improve biodiversity. We have been campaigning for this for over fifteen years! The proposed wetland area is shown in blue in the map below.
We were told that a suggestion of using part of the landfill site for solar energy generation is not being pursued. However, we would support solar generation being included in the development of the former ski village area.
There has been speculation in the Star about delays to the redevelopment of the old Ski Village site, and improving road access to it. Jon Dallow from the Council told us that Extreme, the preferred development partner, is expected to make a planning application for the redevelopment of the ski village during this summer. There may also be a separate, but complementary, application from Skyline, the operators of the proposed Luge.
The building of the access road to the Extreme development is being taken forward by the Council because it will be a public road, and the funding is subject to tight time constraints.
Jon also told us that the Tip to Trail application to British Cycling, which we discussed at the previous Open Meeting, has been successful, subject to agreeing some details. The Council is now waiting for the award letter which will confirm the details, but the likelihood is that it will involve substantial improvements to the entrances to the site to make them more attractive, improvements to both footpaths and cycle trails, and a kiosk and toilets. Consultation will be starting soon about what exactly will be provided. We have made an immediate suggestion of a wild play area for small children following on from discussions we have had with a group of local parents of pre-school age children.
A ‘monolith’ appeared (and disappeared very quickly!) at the Beacons Viewpoint in early January. These have apparently been appearing in different parts of the world since the first one appeared in the desert in Utah. Read more about the story in the Sheffield Star. We also featured on ITV Calendar news, you can check it out here.
We have been thinking about making use of the Beacons viewpoint area as a location for temporary public art, but we imagined that the pieces would remain for longer than two days! Do any of Sheffield’s vibrant artistic community have any ideas they would like to share. If so, please do get in touch.
Recently the Council brought contractors in to cut back the hedges on either side of the Forest Garden. The hedges had grown so much that they were in danger of becoming belts of trees, and were already shading out parts of the garden.
They have now been cut back to just under 2m high, which will allow us to maintain them properly in the future. They will thicken up pretty quickly and provide sites for nesting birds.
We had a lovely Open Meeting earlier this week. There was a good turnout via Zoom, so thank you to everyone who came along.
For those of you who couldn’t attend we discussed a number of areas including:
We will be looking to host our annual AGM on Wednesday 9th June.