HUNDREDS OF small Cowslips are in flower on the grassy plateau in the centre of Walton Colliery Nature Park, just 2 miles south-east of the centre of Wakefield. I’m impressed by the transformation that has taken place during the past 20 years or so from grey spoil heap to copse, heathy meadow and pond. Now a Local Nature Reserve, it’s probably the best place to see Grass Snake and Adder, although I’ve yet to see either, and for insects, such as the rare Short-winged Conehead bush-cricket which astonished conservation volunteers when they came across it last summer; this species had previously not been recorded in Yorkshire for 80 years. It shows how creating the right habitat (with perhaps a bit of help from global warming!) can benefit wildlife.

This particular Cowslip, Primula veris, growing at the foot of the slope, was bigger those in on the plateau. The lusher growth might be the result deeper soils, resulting from rainwash on the slope and it may be that, down here in the dappled shade of a copse of sapling broadleaf trees, there’s more shelter from wind and sun.

Cowslips are typically found on limy soils. I always imagine that former colliery spoil heaps would give rise to acid soils but there’s more to the coal measures than sulphur-rich coal; sometimes shale can be lime-rich. Mussel bands from the coal measures, as the name suggests, can be stuffed with lime-rich fossil shells. However, growing amongst the Cowslips was Sorrel, typical of acid soils and with leaves that have an acid taste.

As I was drawing the Cowslip, a Brimstone Butterfly, Gonepteryx rhamni, flew past and rested in the sun on a nearby Dandelion. Speckled Woods were amongst the other butterflies to be found in the patchwork of grassland and copses at Walton Colliery Nature Park.


These three fungi are – I guess – earthballs that have burst open to distribute their ochre-coloured spores. They’re growing on the plateau in a sunny, grassy corner sheltered by  a copse amongst the leaves of Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, and fine glossy leaves of grass (Wavy-hair?).