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Montane Eyebright Credit: John OReilly

More Priority Plants of the Dales


Montane Eyebright

Euphrasia officinalis subsp. monticola

Family: Scrophulariaceae

Eyebrights are a group of wildflowers that are key to a suite of plant species found on upland hay meadow habitat. Many botanists shudder at the mention of Eyebright identification because the differences between the species are so subtle, so to identify sub-species takes something special. But there are a select few such as Alan Silverside and John O’Reilly who enjoy this challenge. The rest of us rely on specialists for these difficult groups.

It flowers on upland hay meadows amongst Globeflower, Devil’s bit scabious, Marsh valerian, Meadowsweet, Water avens and Marsh hawk’s-beard in late June and early July. It has unusually large flowers and paler grey-green leaves compared with most other eyebrights. It is very similar to Euphrasia officinalis subsp. rostkoviana but can be distinguished by the presence of long glandular hairs on the upper stem and leaves. These can be seen with a x20 hand lens or under the microscope.


Flat Sedge

Blysmus compressus

Family: Cyperaceae

Flat sedge is a rhizomatous perennial, which can mostly easily be spotted when flowering or fruiting (June to August). If wanting to get to grips with the identification of this species joining a local naturalists group might be for you. There are a number of Natural History Societies, Field Societies and Conservation Groups in and around the YDNP who run field meetings throughout the summer. This is a great way to learn from more experienced naturalists while enjoying some stunning scenery often off the beaten track.

Nationally flat sedge is mainly found in northern England, East Anglia and the West Midlands down to Dorset. The Yorkshire Dales National Park coincides with one of its core areas in the country. There are 67 known localities for it in the YDNP. Most of these coincide with the limestone country in South of the Park, in particular where there are calcareous flushes and calcareous stream borders which are prone to flooding.


Field Gentian

Gentianella campestris

Family: Gentianaceae

Imagine wandering across calcareous grassland on a sunny day with the scent of wild thyme in the air. Stop for a moment to catch your breath and admire the view. Then notice a cluster of autumn gentians in bud between the other wildflowers and among them like purple jewels are a few gentians already in flower. But there’s something different about them. At a closer look there are two large sepals overlapping two small ones. You have stumbled across the rare and beautiful Field gentian.

Nationally field gentians are mainly found in Scotland, northern England, North Wales and the north of Northern Ireland. In the Yorkshire Dales National Park they have been recorded in Upper Wharfedale, Langstrothdale, Littondale, Malhamdale and Ribblesdale. In addition, there are some low resolution records covering Wensleydale, Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.


Narrow Small-reed

Calamagrostis stricta

Family: Poaceae

This species is one for the experts. A challenge to identify at the best of times this species is also thought to hybridise with its close relatives, which makes identification even more tricky. The Botanical Society for the British Isles (BSBI) has some of their best brains carrying out research on it.

It is a tufted rhizomatous perennial with a scattered distribution in Northern Britain, South to West Suffolk, Cheshire and County Antrim in Northern Ireland. It is native of near neutral marshes, fens and lakesides at an altitude of 0-340m. In the Yorkshire Dales National Park it has been recorded recently on Malham Tarn National Nature Reserve.

The on-going morphometrics research includes comparing Calamagrostis stricta with its close relative C. scotica. We are looking forward to the findings and hope they will shed new light on this national priority species.


Northern Hawk’s-beard

Crepis mollis

Family: Asteraceae

Northern hawk’s-beard is a rare wildflower that doesn’t occur outside Europe. It can be easily confused with it’s close relative the Marsh hawk’s-beard or with some Hawkweed microspecies and when not in flower the basal leaves can look very similar to Common Knapwed or Devil’s-bit scabious. Consequently, new sitings of Crepis mollis need to be treated with caution, and should ideally be checked by an expert on-site rather than collecting a specimen, due to its current rarity.

Its current British distribution includes the northern half of the Pennines from the Yorkshire Dales to the Cheviot Hills into Northumberland and the Scottish borders, with more scattered records in the east Highlands of Scotland. However its core areas in the UK are Durham and Northumberland. A lot was learned about its current ecology as a result of the Botanical Society of the British Isles Threatened Plants project survey in 2008.

In Yorkshire, it occurs between 210 and 270m altitude on steep limestone pasture on valley sides with a northerly aspect, grazed species-rich banks within otherwise improved pastures or hay-meadows and wooded limestone pavement. There are currently three known sites within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. These are at Colt Park in Ribblesdale, near Worton in Wensleydale and near Starbotton in Upper Wharfedale.

The majority of populations are on protected sites or in grassland managed under agri-environment schemes. It is possible that further sites will be discovered as surveyors become more familiar with its habitats. However, the populations are isolated and small which makes them vulnerable to changes in management, climate change and eutrophication. It is important that the remaining sites in the Yorkshire Dales National Park do not become agriculturally improved or have their stocking levels increased in order to safeguard this species.