Dave Barlow © Cleveland Naturalists’ Field Club. 17th April 2015
It was in 1982 when I embarked upon the task of surveying and mapping of the wild plants of the now defunct county of Cleveland. At that time nearly all the counties of Great Britain had produced a comprehensive flora of their own particular territories. It was then I decided to ‘have a go’ at our small county of Cleveland with its wide variety of habitats including especially our Tees Estuary and its saltmarsh areas.
I had just retired as a teacher at Marton Grove Junior School in Grove Hill, Middlesbrough.
There I had organised and subsequently run a Wild Life Club in the 1950s and, being particularly interested in wild plants, this club was obviously biased in that particular direction. In the earlier years, I spent the non-flowering months looking for and trying to identify the birds of the area. I say ‘trying to identify them’, but, as we all know, birds don’t hang around for long enough to get a good look at them so the task of getting youngsters to be able to identify them was not easy. A lot of patience is needed and that is not a virtue of the younger generation. To add to the difficulties very few of them had binoculars – they were expensive items for those living in our school area.
I must add, at this point, say that I was well primed in bird recognition by various members of the Field Club (which I had joined in 1950). In this respect I will mention one particular person, now deceased, who lived in Great Ayton and was particularly impressed by the enthusiasm of my young members, who volunteered to take both myself and my group, around his area and show me how to identify the little birds which flittered around the fields and hedgerows (in much greater numbers than they do today!!) as well as in the local woodlands and streamsides. The youngsters used to really enjoy those excursions away from home, if for no other reason, it was a day out for them in places they never knew existed
Most importantly, I also learned how to recognize the presence of a particular bird by its call and song. I still retain that ability – maybe because I am musical myself and easily recognize the various pitches in their songs. I have ‘an ear’ for that sort of thing which many people do not have. So that was how we spent the winter months, weather permitting, of course, because we were often afflicted with snow which could be quite deep – it never caused our schools to be closed, by the way, we got there, somehow!.
I started my love of nature, especially of wild flowers, whilst at Teachers’ Training College at Alsager in Cheshire where I took biology as a subject. This, of course, included botany and my tutor was a botanist who sent us out scouring the lane sides and hedgerows of that very sandy area. We would search diligently to try and out do each other to find a plant, press it and mount it ready for presentation – all correctly labelled, of course.
I had from that time been ‘bitten by the botanical bug’ as they say. For the children at Marton Grove, I was able to impart my enthusiasm to them. It was great for them to scour the derelict areas of Grove Hill looking for plants and bringing them into school to proudly show what they had found and if it was new for the area they were well-rewarded with points. They were easy things for them to spot as they did not fly away. What is more , they enjoyed it far better than vandalising the area which had been their previous occupation!
This ‘Grove Hill Flora’ was to be the starting point of my Flora of Cleveland, which, in my latter years at Marton Grove was inspired by the youngsters themselves at that time.. It was they who encouraged me to ‘spread my wings’ and extend the area around Grove Hill with their volunteered help and support.
These youngsters are now grown up, and if and when I happen to ‘bump into’ them, they tell me they still remember seeing the Greater Stitchwort out on our walks and that they even point these things out to their own off-springs.. This certainly gives me much satisfaction, but I am very saddened by the profound lack of knowledge of the present generation, many of whom come out of college etc. with very little knowledge (if any!) of what is growing around them even though they may proudly possess the necessary certificate showing that they are ‘proficient’ in ecology and the environment which they have been given the task to conserve for the future ‘climatic changes’ They will perhaps not even be aware of the fact that in the 50s and 60s the world around our generation was ‘teeming with all creatures (and plants) great and small’!!!
Many of the plants which I, and my youngsters, enjoyed are no longer there. Why?
What has happened since then which has caused the loss of many species, not only in the world of plants. After all, many other forms of of wild life depend upon the flowers and vegetation in general – so do we!
I will use this media to discuss you the changes that have taken place, especially
relating to the Flora of Cleveland since it was published in 1994. I will also give
you some helpful hints (with the help of other experts in the C.N.F.C. ) how to recognize
what is growing around us and relate these (also with the help of member experts
in other fields) to the change in our plant life here in what we now know as the
Tees Valley, but still recognized by us naturalists as Cleveland. Cleveland covered
an area of many habitats from moor to coast and river valley to estuarine saltmarsh.
THE NEW FLORA OF THE GREATER CLEVELAND AREA
First of all, let me elucidate about what I am now calling the ‘Greater Cleveland’ area.
Since the demise of the one-time Cleveland county, on which I based my Guide to the Flora of Cleveland, I have decided to include the immediate neighbouring counties of North Yorkshire and County Durham as part of my research area. My Cleveland flora did include little ‘bites’ out of these areas such as: at Middleton –on – Leven, Great Ayton and Staithes - all part of North Yorkshire and Crimdon Dene in County Durham.
All these are, more or less, extensions of sites and habitats in the former Cleveland
area and that is why I am regarding my botanical areas as being Greater Cleveland
(hoping there are no local objections to this!)
The most important of these ‘extensions’ I look upon as being the Great Ayton and Stokesley areas, especially seeing that there is no flora of North Yorkshire and, at present there does not seem any likelihood of there being one in the near future, as the county has now, since boundary changes, become so unwieldy as it extends down into the one-time West Yorkshire territory.
So it may mean the redrawing of my botanical area for the benefit of those areas being included in future reports. Perhaps, also the inclusion of the Leven valley as the southern boundary. This includes Great Ayton, Stokesley, Hutton Rudby and Crathorne - all very good botanical areas. After Crathorne, the Leven winds its way towards Yarm in the old Cleveland area.
My records for this northern part of North Yorkshire are not complete although I have certainly botanized them during the past years but not made any attempt at mapping them.
Incidentally, in spite of the fact that I have mapped the old Cleveland area, these
were never included in my Flora nor produced as a separate item to illustrate the
plants of that Flora . This was simply due to the extra expense needed to do so.
After all, the then Cleveland County Council were very good in that they sponsored
the Guide. I suppose this was because it did include a lot of info. regarding the
county including walks to take so as to see the best of its Flora. The Flora was
also well-received nationally and was often (perhaps still is) referred to by students,
botanists and conservationists. It is, however now out of date, hence the need to
remedy that very problem as I am hoping to do in this update.
The following chapters I hope will remedy that as quite a lot has changed since 1994 when that book was published.. I will, first of all, be discussing the native pants and their present status – additions and losses. I will then be discussing the many alien species which have made their way into the area – a very important factor as some of these seem to be settling in very nicely.
I must, at this point mention the excellent work carried on by my successor, Vincent
Jones, who has taken on the updating of vice-county 62 (north-east Yorks.) – an area
which extends right down as far as the York area and part of the River Derwent on
its southern boundary. No doubt Vincent will be only too happy to provide me with
any records especially in the areas which I am proposing to include in this new format.
I would very much appreciate any comments on what I have outlined in this opening chapter, especially from those whose ‘territory’ happens to be in my proposed ‘extensions’
Don’t forget also, as I said in my introduction, I would very much like to embrace other forms of wild life which live in association with the vegetation which I will be referring to in the coming chapters. In fact it would be very nice to include further chapters dealing with other forms of the wildlife depending on the plants.