Why you should visit Crich Chase Meadows

Bluebells at Crich Chase Meadows Photo: Kieron Huston

Bluebells at Crich Chase Meadows Photo: Kieron Huston - Credit: Archant

Oli Foulds, Living Landscapes Advisor at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, takes a look at one of the least known but most special wild spots of Derbyshire

Crich Chase Meadows Photo: Kieron Huston

Crich Chase Meadows Photo: Kieron Huston - Credit: Archant

There is one site in Derbyshire that holds a special significance for me and it is a place I will always go and visit if I want to experience some of the best wildlife the county has to offer. The site is known as Crich Chase Meadows and it lies at the southern end of a large Site of Special Scientific Interest called Crich Chase. The meadows stretch out over a steep slope and surround a small patch of ancient woodland, Smith’s Rough, through which quarried limestone used to be carried down George Stephenson’s steep tramway to the limekilns below. This piece of land is where I became fascinated with British wildlife and I began to learn how to identify the plants and animals that fill the meadows with colour and sound. There are very few places outside the Peak District that still have grassland habitats of this quality. It is a relic of an age when our farmland was colourful and teemed with butterflies and bees; a snapshot of a wilder past.

The species richness of this site is partly a result of its traditional management, whereby it escaped the agricultural intensification of the surrounding land, and also due to the variety of different habitats that are intertwined throughout the area. Grassland mixes with scrubland, which grades into woodland and back out into grassland again with patches and margins of bramble. This structural complexity provides a wealth of microhabitats and hidden niches to suit a vast array of plants, fungi and animals that is unmatched in the locality.

The meadows are well known for their huge numbers of butterflies in summer. Common blues and small coppers add flashes of colour to the meadows, while the more drably coloured dingy skipper, now a rarity, basks on the steep, south-facing slope. The importance of this site for invertebrate populations is still not fully understood but more than 50 different species of hoverfly alone have been found, suggesting that other invertebrate groups could be similarly diverse. The site is a haven for pollinators, with large numbers of bumblebees, mining bees and honey bees busying themselves with frantic foraging in the spring and summer.

Common knapweed and bird’s-foot-trefoil are everywhere, filling the grass with purple and yellow flowers irresistible to butterflies and bees. In the more gently-sloping southern grassland spikes of agrimony rise up between patches of restharrow, with meadow vetchling and cowslips dotted throughout. Up on the steep, dry sandstone bank in the east, heath bedstraw lies in carpets, scattered with wood sage, heath speedwell and tormentil. Deep in the ancient woodland of Smith’s Rough, vast swathes of bluebells and wild garlic bring stripes of blue and white to the woodland floor in the spring and fill the still air with their unmistakable scents.

Allium ursinum (Wild Garlic) at Smith's Rough Photo: Kieron Huston

Allium ursinum (Wild Garlic) at Smith's Rough Photo: Kieron Huston - Credit: Archant

In autumn, the brightness of the flowers fades away and you must look harder to discover the world of colour beneath. The fungi of Crich Chase Meadows is recognised as one of the most diverse assemblages in the country, with a spectacular array of waxcaps that rise from the meadows in October and November. From the shiny green Parrot Waxcap to the Blackening Waxcap and the rare Ballerina Waxcap, each has its own unique characteristics and adds to the rich complexity of the ecosystem in these meadows. Golden Spindles reach out of the grass like fingers, while in the darkness of Smith’s Rough the Shaggy Parasol opens out to the size of a hand and is joined by the beautiful deep purple Deceiver nestled in the leaf litter.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust manages this precious site in a project funded by National Grid to halt the loss of grassland and reverse some of the habitat degradation. Weekly habitat management is carried out through the winter with a small team of local volunteers tirelessly battling the bramble and hawthorn that threatens to swallow up the precious grassland. This work is vital to the survival of these plants and fungi and without a restoration project in place this rare treasure trove of species could be lost forever. u

In order to look after all of these beautiful reserves we need a dedicated team of volunteers. If you want to become a volunteer, you can find more information on our website at www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/support/volunteer

Veronica officinalis (Heath Speedwell) at Crich Chase Meadows in June Photo: Kieron Huston

Veronica officinalis (Heath Speedwell) at Crich Chase Meadows in June Photo: Kieron Huston - Credit: Archant

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