That sounds like a title of a children’s book, but a couple of weeks ago I went on an evening walk lead by members of the Wildlife Trust in an old chalk quarry in Cambridge and discovered a whole load of plants I’d never heard of or seen before, including the rare Moon Carrot. (In fact, until recently I didn’t know of the existence of the quarry or SSSI* in Cherry Hinton, just a couple of miles from the Cambridge City centre either.)
Late to the party, due to waiting at the wrong entrance, a couple of us were quickly caught up to speed on species immediately visible. Wild thyme was the most obvious since its mauve flowers painted large areas of the quarry floor, but there was also Common Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum), Mignonette (Reseda Lutea) and Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).
The East Pit, which is where these photos are taken, is the larger quarry and was worked up until the 1980s, providing hard chalk and cement for the University Colleges. Taken over by the Wildlife Trust, re-profiling was carried out in 2009 on the base of the pit to form three gentle depressions. This process broke up much of the solid chalk surface and enabled wildflowers and grasses to spread and colonise the exposed chalk.
Trust volunteers report waves of colonisation taking place: This year the Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) is growing very strongly at the South end of the pit. Nothing has been deliberately introduced, so new species are blow-ins from the surrounding area.
The Pits support plenty interesting invertebrates too, including colourful Burnet moths (whose caterpillars munch on the Bird’s-foot trefoil), glow-worms (seen in July) and this Eyed Hawk-moth:
So here is a gallery of some of the lovely, delicate plants I’ve never seen before:
And finally, the rare Moon Carrot (Seseli libanotis), which only grows here and at two other locations in the country (Beachy Head, East Sussex and Knocking Hoe, Bedfordshire). Apparently, it gets its name because of the shape of its flowering head and some say because it glows in the dark. The umbel is rather a rather distinctive cauliflower-shaped. In the East Pit it is growing on the steep cliffs to the west, so I had to climb a bit to get this shot, hence the oblique angle.
It is similar to wild carrot.
All in all, a good local discovery to have made and I plan to go back for the glow-worm count at the end of the month and maybe later for the bat evening.
* SSSI – Site of Special Scientific Interest