Sunday 25 March 2012

Ten Reasons to Save Brownfield Sites

What is a Brownfield Site? - A brownfield site is any land, which has previously been used for any purpose (e.g. industrial or quarrying) and is no longer in use for that purpose.

We are losing them and we should value them more.

his article is just one pebble in encouraging people to value them more for Nature Conservation. It was written the day after after the Yorkshire Naturalists Union Day Conference on Brownfield Sites held at York on 24 March 2012, attended by naturalists from all over Yorkshire


  • The biodiversity and nature conservation value of a brownfield sites may be high. 
  • The public mostly has not appreciated this and we are in danger of losing a valuable resource 
  • Each site needs to be considered on a case by case basis. 
  • Greenfield sites in comparison often have very low natural history and wild life interest - a green field of ryegrass or a lawn, or an arable crop, have very low biodiversity value. 
  • We have a large heritage of brownfield sites which are rapidly disappearing - We should value them and save and manage the best, and be aware of the value and potential of new ones that arise.
See the peacock butterfly sunning
itself on the tufa by the stream
Red orange-peel fungus

(Whilst writing this on 25 March I just nipped out to my neighbouring brownfield site - the Hoffman Kiln and former council waste disposal dump - on this day with mid summer temperatures -

1. What evidence is there they are good for wildlife?
e.g. 12-15% of rare and scarce invertebrates live on brownfield sites - there is great biodiversity per square foot - on a par with ancient woodland

2. Why are they so good for wildlife? (i.e. why do they have so many different plants , mammal, birds, bees, butterflies and other invertebrates?) 

  • complex habitats 
  • nutrient poor, 
  • stressed 
  • disturbed 
  • bare ground give a hot microclimate which insects like 
  • The variety of flowers gives a variety of nectar source for insects 
  • There is spatial variety - different types of substrate 
  • There is temporal variety - different successional stages

3. They mimic habitat associated with many rare species. They mimic grassland, heathland and coastal scrub which are now rare habitats.

4. They mimic successional stages - they ARE successional stages. As the ice retreated 12,000 years ago from UK it would leave bare rock and cliffs and lakes that would silt up - rather like quarries. Special plants and animals would colonise these. Some of these habitats are recreated in quarries and even the concrete of old aerodromes..

5. Why are they under threat?
  • Brownfield sites are undervalued by the public and even by environmental consultants 
  • To keep the vegetation and communities "as it is" - could need a lot of management. 
  • But we can value them as they are whilst they exist in that stage 
  • We can look to find other brownfield sites as quarries and factories are decommissioned - but much of our factory and quarry land was made during the industrial revolution, and already much of the industries and quarries have stopped. The reservoir of future "brownfield land is much less now. 
  • We can lose them by building on them - Brown field sites are built on in preference to greenfield sites 
  • We can lose them by "reclaiming them" - as has happened on many former colliery heaps. The parkland or agricultural land produced is often not at all interesting from a biodiversity standpoint. 
  • Often "reclaiming" involves planting wildflower seed with seeds that are not of native stock - they come form Europe. Or planting with trees that are not suitable for the special soil type. Bare ground is good for insects - but this is lost when the place is covered with thick rich topsoil.
6. Why do the UK nature conservation planning laws not save them?

Is there not a safety net to protect good sites?

Our safety net is:-

  • SSSIs - Sites of Special scientific Interest 
  • Local Wildlife Sites 
  • The planning system should protect most important sites from development 
But new brownfield sites are not given SSSI status. There is just one example of a brownfield site that is an SSSI. (Having said that many SSSIs are "old brownfield sites" such e.g. old quarries - e.g. Quarry Moor at Ripon.) . In planning decisions, greenfield land is protected in preference to brownfield land. Land that has planning permision to be built on has higher monetary value than land that cannot be built on.

Who knows how the laws will be changed next week.

7. Brownfield sites often have historical interest

8. Many current Sites of Special Scientific Interest were once former Brownfield sites.

9. Going to extremes, one could consider all of Britain a complex of former brownfield sites. Simon Warick pointed out, The mesolithic henge at Nosterfield was an early example of a brownfield site.. (he said this after describing the amazing natural wildlife developments at the Nature reserve at Nosterfield in a former gravel quarry)

10. How can we raise awareness?
How can we encourage people to stick up for the biodiversity and wildlife potential of brownfield sites - against the perception that it would be better if it were all planted with ryegrass, or else built on?

The talks from this conference will be put on the YNU web site

Buglife Website is going to have a section on advice about Brownfield Sites

Thanks to all the speakers and organisers and especially to Sarah Henshall, Conservation Officer of Buglife, from whose talk I collected many of the above points.

Phil Wheater led a discussion on Local Nature Partnerships. These are supposed to benefit Nature, People and the Local Economy. There are about 50 of these. They have received some money to meet. but not to do anything. They are committees made up of Health people, Nature people and Business people.


1. I've made this webpage.

2. And at Coffee after Church this morning I raised it in conversation..

WM replied The Dales Hay meadow round here used to be full of colour 50 years ago- they are just green now.

H replied to me "Well brownfield sites should be filled in shouldn't they. They are toxic. I pointed out that the Hoffman Kiln, a local reserve was a brownfield site, she looked surprised. Then we jointly laughed at my efforts to try and publicise the plight of brownfield sites.

Here are some pictures from Saturday's YNU  Conference

YNU Conference on Brownfield Sites
 - Coffee Break
Discussion at YNU Conference
on Brownfield Sites

The Speakers answer questions.
Outside the Natural Centre -
JA holding a
Field Studies Council Program

Lichens on location - Booths Supermarket Settle

Ochrolechia parella 

Is it because I have been on Allan's course, or is it because I have some new glasses which once again let me focus on objects a hand's distance away rather than an arms length distance - that I am noticing lichens again?

Here we are at the Millennium Gardens at Booths (see the sign) looking at the millstone grit/coarse sandstone capstones of the wall. The rest of the wall is mostly acid sandstone too, but there are a few limestone rocks.

This big splodge is Ochrolechia parella

The diameter of my black pen end  in the pictures below is 8mm - just less than 1cm wide.

Ochrolechia parella 

This big lichen with a fimbriate edge, and no visible fruiting bodies on this specimen, is also growing on the grit capstones. It  is not possible to identify without fruiting bodies.  It must be growing quickly because it has grown over the edge of the moss (Grimmia pulvinata)

Candelariella vitelina

lecidella stigmatea

Lecanora polytropa  - On acid grit.

These next three pictures are al on hard limestone and they are a Verrucaria. The fruiting bodies make holes in the rock. They maybe Verrucaria baldensis since the fruitting bodies are less than 0.3mm diameter. remember the pen end is 8mm.

For more lichens pages see Lichens

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Poa pratensis - Smooth Meadow-grass

Grass of the Month for March 2012

Photo of Poa pratensis taken on 28 January 2012 outside Church Hall

Poa pratenis between two paving stones at St John's Church Hall, Settle
This year I am "Wading through the Poas". Whilst I like to maintain that I can recognise most grasses any month, March proved hard. I drove around to favourite sites looking for Poa compressa, and expecting to see Poa trivialis and Poa pratensis everywhere. The Poa compressa was rather dead and undistinctive. The Poa trivialis - normally so common around here - was alsmost absent. I suppose all last year's growth had decomposed. However here are two photos I took at the end of January of Poa pratensis.

All the Poas have tramlines and boat-shaped tops.

I can tell it is not Poa annua (which is flowering now) because there are a lot of thick dead sheath bases and old leaves - implying this plant is a perennial, and the blades are thick textured and slightly bluish green, and it has short ligules..  Poa annua would not have many dead remains, the blades would be thin and whitish or mid green, and it would have bigger white ligules. Poa annua does not have rhizomes.

Poa pratensis has rhizomes - and it is relatively easy to guess that this plant between the paving stones may have rhizomes - the way the shoots are spaced along the crack with gaps between the tufts. If you dig it up you should see the rhizomes.

Poa pratensis has parallel sided leaves (unlike trivialis which has tapering leaves),
Poa pratensis has bluish green leaves (unlike trivialis which has shiny bright green or yellow green leaves)

The shoots of Poa pratensis  rise vertically from the ground (or almost so) and then the blades stick out at a wide angle to catch the sunlight

Poa pratensis and Poa humilis
Poa pratensis is extremely similar to Poa humilis  (Spreading Meadow-grass) formerly called Poa subcaerulea. Poa pratensis has tufts of shoots joined by rhizomes whereas  Poa humilis has single shoots.  Some books say that Poa humilis has tiny hairs at the base of the leaf blade - but I have found that both species have this.
Poa humilis can be found in mole hills in damp peaty soil. Poa pratensis is more likely to be found in cracks in dry walls. but there is a big overlap.
For the critical feature you need to have a flower:
Poa pratensis has one vein on the lower glume
Poa humilis has three veins on the lower glume

I will be teaching a grass identification course at Juniper Hall in ten days time.

(See other months' grasses)

Sunday 18 March 2012

Ecology near Yate and Stoke Gifford

You might be wondering what I got up to this weekend, when I went down on the Thursday night to the Bristol Area for the CEL Committee meeting on the Friday and the Conference on the Saturday.

The picture on the right shows some of us in an extremely noisy pub on the Friday night -

You might ask "How is life different in Stoke Gifford and Yate near Bristol comapared to Yorkshire?"  (or you might not... but I'm going to describe it anyway)

About ten members of Christian Ecology Link   stayed at Yate, about 10 miles from Stoke Gifford / Bristol Parkway.


CEL's conference on 10 March - stimulating talks and workshops on sustainability, ethics and theology -and meeting old friends (30 seconds per friend in the lunch break) and new interesting people - but all indoors..

Yate Common
CEL's Steering Committee Meeting on 9 March - useful planning and updating of ideas, meeting old friends and interesting people -but all indoors.

But what of the wildlife of the area? Would there be any "wild" nature?

Our B&B was on a very straight busy main road just near the railway station.

The half mile walk at 6pm from the B& B to the Fox Inn for a meal, along the road between railway and industrial estate revealed, amongst the gravel and mud of the tamac edge,
1. Spring whitlow-grass, Common stitchwort, Mouse-ear chickweed, Daisy, Red dead-nettle.  I tried to show these to the others. (And for the record later I found in also in flower Spring Scurvy grass and Oxford Ragwort )

2. "I knew she'd start doing this!" cried Chris, delighted that he'd been proved right

3. "Yes  Judith Yes " said Ashley.

Actually, earlier that eveing, on returning to Yate after our committee meeting I went for a walk at 5pm on Yate Common just behind our bed and breakfast. I decided to get up early on Saturday to enjoy the country nature of the flat common. Very flat common

Yate Common

Wooded area near the railway line

Look at the liverworts, mosses and lichens on this fissured bark (of ash?)
Xanthoria parietina
Thallose liverwort Metzgeria furcata

These buds were small -about the size of hazel buds..
and the red on the buds reminded me of hazel
but the see the leaf in the picture below

They are field maple Acer campestris
I now realise all these trees of about the same age must have been planted about 30 years ago.

Physcia tenella and Lecanora chlarotera

The lichen near the top just below the shadow
 - jam tart with a pinky-brown centre  is Lecanora chlarotera
the foliose lichen is Physcia tenella sp.

This could be dead Lecanora chlarotera?? with Orthotrichum sp moss.

Main lichen with black dots:-  Lecidella elaeochroma

The tiny grey folose lichen round it is Physcia tenella

Here is a leafy liverwort in the trunk: Frullania dilatata
In another area of trees labelled Bikers Copse on a map
there was more evidence that the trees had been planted
 - the plastic remains around every base

Lecidella elaeochroma - greenish crust with black fruiting bodies and black edge to thallus

Saying goodbye to the lady who made our breakfast.

 Just before leaving Yate to go to the conference on Saturday morning I found time to go on the Frome Way - A wildlife coridor seems to have been left for the river as it meanders/cuts through the industrial estate.

Seedlings of Himalayn balsom show that there will be tall rank vegetation here by midsummer.

Finally a couple of pictures at Stoke Gifford after the conference
The church at Stoke Gifford was picturesque

The bright green lichene on this gravestone is Psilolechia lucida

The journey home north

The journey home north
Other Lichens Postings