Out of bounds

Last week I had a rare opportunity to visit Altcar Rifle Range. The Altcar Training Camp lies to the north of the estuary of the River Alt on the Sefton coastline and covers 620 acres of beach, sand dune, grassland and light woodland. Last year over 108,000 service personnel, cadets and reservists used the camp.

For obvious reasons the camp is off limits to the general public and this creates a unique environment. The grassland is hardly disturbed.No fertilisers or weed killers are used and it develops into a superb wildflower meadow. A couple of times each year the area is opened up to a small number of visitors and I was lucky to be join one of these groups led by John, one of the rangers from Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership.

We were guided on our walk by John and Steve, a plant expert helped us to identify the many species of wildflowers.

We saw several species of orchid

5048

There were several types of Marsh Orchid, the Northern Marsh Orchid, the Common Spotted Orchid and the Early Marsh Orchid. Identification was more difficult as they readily hybridise.

4939

There were also plenty of examples of the Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamtis pyramidalis.

5145

Moving on we saw lots of Ragged Robin, Lychnis Flos-cuculi.

35 Ragged Robin32 Ragged Robin

The petals of the plant look ragged, hence the common name of the plant. It is often found covered in the spittle of the Cuckoo Spit insect. In Germany the plants name translates as ‘Cuckoo Light Pink’. People used to believe that the first cuckoo of spring had spat on the plant.

Next came Devil’s Bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis.

36 Devil's Bit Scabious37

The rootstock at the base looks black and withered. This led to the belief that the devil had bitten off the roots and so people were banned from reaping the benefits of the plants healing powers. It was once used as a poultice to treat ulcers and lung conditions.

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Ladies Bedstraw, Gallium verum.

49 Ladies betstraw

The dried plant has a strong scent and was once used as a strewing herb. According to Christian legend, Lady’s Bedstraw was used to line the manger of Baby Jesus.

The plant contains a protein that acts as a curdling agent and has been used in cheese making. It also gives the cheese a nice yellow colour.

In folk medicine it has been used as a diuretic and as a remedy for catarrh.

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Common Twayblade, Listera ovata

56 Common Twayblade57 Common Twayblade

Common Twayblade is another member of the Orchid family and is easily overlooked in the long grass. The flowers are green with a yellow-green tip.

If an insect comes into contact with the flower a droplet of sticky liquid is sprayed on to it. Sacks of pollen are then caked onto the insect.

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We were now approaching the sand dunes and the beach. The water table was only a couple of feet below us and we saw just a couple of spikes of Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera.

Bee Orchid

The flowers resemble a female bee and this is supposed to aid pollination but in fact this plant is largely self-pollinating. I think they look like a very happy bee having a laugh.

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We climbed up onto the dunes to look at the estuary from this unusual viewpoint.

53 The estuary

It was almost time to head back but walking through the damp meadow I found the plant I had been looking for, the Marsh Helleborine, Epipactis palustris.

65 Marsh Helleborine66 Marsh Helleborine

This beautiful orchid can be quite abundant on the Sefton Coast but it was the first time that I had seen it.

60 Marsh Helleborine59 Marsh Helleborine

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In April/May the meadows are full of Cowslips and Green Winged Orchids. It is the largest population of these orchids in the country and the site is designated SSSI, a site of special scientific interest. I must try to book on the walk next May.

It had been a fascinating evening.

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About crosbyman66

My aim is to create a photo diary of my walks and my travels. I have two main hobbies, walking and photography and these complement each other. I am a senior citizen, what used to be called an old age pensioner, but I don't feel old. Since retirement I have had more time to pursue my hobbies and the opportunity to travel more. My philosophy now is - Do what you can, while you can. My other interests are fine wines and keeping fit. These may not complement each other but keep me happy.
This entry was posted in Natural History, Photography, Sefton Coastline, Wild Flowers. Bookmark the permalink.

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