Hunting for wild flowers in Yorkshire

PUBLISHED: 13:09 05 July 2011 | UPDATED: 12:03 28 February 2013

Hunting for wild flowers in Yorkshire

Hunting for wild flowers in Yorkshire

Hunting for and recording rare wild flowers has become more than a passion for one man as Terry Fletcher finds out Photographs by Howard Beck

To most people wild flowers are just a colourful ornament to a day out, whether it is a swathe of buttercups in a Dales meadow or a tiny yellow jewel hidden in a hedge bottom. But to Howard Beck they are an addiction. He has spent a lifetime searching them out and now hes written a guide to the Wild Flowers of Yorkshire to help others share his passion.

Searching for wild flowers is one of the great unsung pleasures of the countryside, he says. Families can enjoy it together and it enhances any day out. You can get a real kick if you come across a rarity. Anyone can be an amateur botanist; it will not break the bank to get started and you dont need to be another David Bellamy to enjoy flowers.

On top of that you can do it almost anywhere.

You dont have to mount a big expedition. You can hunt for plants round your own home, in the local woods or riverbank or even on old industrial sites. Nor do you need a large field. When you start its often easier to search a very small area and try to identify all the plants in there. Once you start really looking you will find more and more just in that tiny space.

And in Yorkshire, we are particularly spoiled for choice of species to track down. Thanks to the varied landscape in Englands biggest county we have an especially wide selection of flowers. The varied habitats, from the high moors and mountains of the Pennines, down across the lime-rich soil of the Dales to the farmlands and flooded ings of the Vale of York, the rolling chalk of the Wolds and the salty coastline, each provide a home for different species, including some that grow nowhere else in the country. There really are enough to keep any botanist occupied for an entire lifetime and youd still be lucky to see all the 800 or so species we have in the county.

Yet to get started all you need is a 10x magnifying glass, notebook, camera, a good field guide and, most important of all, a sharp eye. Sometimes flowers can prove surprisingly tricky to spot. Many a time I have been looking for a particular plant, scouring the ground until I finally spot one. Then looking round I find they are all around me and Ive missed them. Some, like eyebright, are so tiny just a few millimetres across they are best found by crawling on your hands and knees with a magnifier.

And, once found, plants can prove tricky to identify. Local micro climates can lead to flowers appearing in unexpected places, perhaps up hills where they have no right to be, while others dont always appear as they should with baffling variations in colour because of local conditions. It can be very difficult sometimes to make an identification and at times Ive sat for an hour or more trying to identify a plant but, looking on the bright side, at least, unlike birds, they do sit still while you are trying to puzzle it out.

But no matter how hard a flower is to name he is adamant that they should never be picked or dug up. That is not only often illegal but picking rare flowers before they have had a chance to sow their seed could jeopardise their survival.

Thats particularly true of Howards main passion orchids. Although many think of them as exotic hothouse plants there are 50 or so varieties which grow wild in Britain, half of them in Yorkshire. While some are spectacular like the bee orchid, which has a flower shaped like a female bumble bee to attract males to visit the flower and pollinate the blooms, others like the birds nest orchid, are positively drab. One, the ladys slipper, is so rare that the sole naturally-occurring site is kept secret.


The ladys slipper orchid. Only one known naturally-occurring site in the Yorkshire Dales.

The pyrenean saxifrage. Britains only known colony is in the Three Peaks area.

The wild tulip. Found on only one site on the banks of the River Nidd.

Howards top tips for beginners

You dont have to travel a long way to find wild flowers. They are probably on your doorstep.
Pick a small area and see how many different plants you can find and identify.

Never pick or dig up a wild flower. Always take the book to the plant, not the other way round.

All you need to get started:

A field guide
A magnifying glass, preferably 10x
A notebook
A sharp eye; some flowers are tiny and can be hard to spot

The Wild Flowers of Yorkshire by Howard Beck. Published by The Crowood Press 12.99.

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