Plant Counts


Annual counts of some of the more interesting plants are done on Brook Meadow, namely all three Orchids, Ragged Robin and Butterbur.  Details of these counts are below . . .

The number of flowering Ragged Robin plants is counted each year in late May. These plants grow on the Lumley area.

The chart below shows the maximum counts each year from 2002. The counts have been variable over the years. Following a record 625 in 2010 the count fell to 214 in 2011 and then plummeted in Years 2012 and 2013. The count in 2014 was up to 104, but it fell again to just 34 flowering plants in 2015. Numbers increased again in 2016 to 154 which was the best count since 2011 and remained high in 2017.
2018 was another excellent year for this attractive flower with a grand total of 433 flowering plants counted, mostly on the Lumley area. Numbers again fell in year 2019 to 178 which is more in line with 2016 and 2017. They fell further in 2020 to 114 which is the lowest for 5 years.
I have no idea why numbers  vary so much from one year to the next. There is no obvious change in the habitat or the management of the area. Maybe, it is weather related, who knows?

A count of the number of Butterbur flower spikes on Brook Meadow has been done each year from 1999, usually in late March before they get buried beneath the surrounding vegetation.  All the Brook Meadow plants are male. The nearest female plants are on the Langbrook Stream at Langstone.  They propagate by underground rhizomes.

Most plants grow in the area immediately below the main seat
Annual Butterbur count – 23rd March 2020
I took my time for the count and found most of the spurs, though many were quite tiny and partly hidden among the burgeoning vegetation, whereas others were large and getting old and worn.
As I suspected, the total count of 198 was way down on recent years which have been consistently over 500; last year’s count was 794 and the all time record was 1,150 in 2013. As shown in the following chart, this year’s total was the lowest I have ever recorded over 20 years of counting.

Butterbur grow in several areas of the meadow, but the largest drop was in the largest area immediately below the main seat which fell to 147 from 704 last year. The smaller Butterbur sites, on the river bank, south meadow and east causeway were much the same as before.
So what has happened? There has been no special conservation work on the main Butterbur area which could account for this change. Weather is an obvious cause. This winter has been warm and wet, but I can see no obvious reason why this should disadvantage our native Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) – which are all male plants and which propagate and spread though underground rhizomes. If anyone has any idea please let me know.


The first two Southern Marsh Orchids were planted on Brook Meadow on June 17, 2007. They were donated by orchid expert Nigel Johnson who had grown them in pots from originals collected from the colony on South Moor at Langstone. Nigel said the plants would seed themselves and would multiply over time and he was right!
Here are the first two that were planted.

This is how the flowers now appear, quite handsome plants

As shown in the following chart, Southern Marsh Orchids steadily increased in numbers from the 2 that were originally planted in 2007 to 31 in 2017. However, this total was significantly eclipsed in 2018 when a total of 102 flowering spikes were counted.
2019 Saw another small increase in numbers as shown in the following chart, but the numbers are modest in comparison with other local sites, such as, Fishbourne Meadows which boasts around 500 and South Moor, Langstone which has several thousand.

Common Spotted Orchids were first seen on Brook Meadow in 2007 but showed very little change in numbers until 2017 following the planting of 10 new plants the previous year. Numbers continued to grow in 2018 when a total of 25 flowering spikes were counted.
There was another small increase in 2019, but numbers remain modest.

Common Spotted Orchids tend to be pale, though some are dark and not easy to distinguish from Southern Marsh Orchids.  Their spotted leaves is a good indication.  Here is a particularly fine specimen that came up in 2019 with nicely marked petals.

Bee Orchid counts vary a lot from one year to the next. This is party due the growth of surrounding vegetation which makes them extremely difficult to find.  The plants are also small and have pale petals.  However each spike usually has several flowers, like this example.
2018 was a particularly difficult year with grasses and other vegetation very dense.  Hence only three Bee Orchids have been found, though there are more hidden away!
2019 was better, though still way below the record year in 2015.  All the flowers in 2019 were found on the Lumley area and none on the main orchid area on the north meadow.

We had just one Pyramidal Orchid – located on the main orchid area for the second year running.  Let’s hope they increase in numbers.


A count of the number of Butterbur flower spikes on Brook Meadow has been done each year from 1999, usually in late March before they get buried beneath the surrounding vegetation. Here is a typical flower spike. All the Brook Meadow plants are male. The nearest female plants are on the Langbrook Stream at Langstone.  They propagate by underground rhizomes.

Butterbur count for 2019
I carried out a second count of the Butterbur flower spikes on Brook Meadow during the work session on March 27th. I could see immediately that there were far more than the last count a week ago and so it turned out.
The work group kindly provided me with suitable long twigs with which I could section off the main Butterbur area for easier counting. I did the first count last Friday 15 March which was very low in comparison with previous years, so I decided to do a repeat. Well, I was thoroughly justified as today’s count revealed a considerable increase in the number of visible flower spikes from 415 to 794 since the previous count. The largest increase by far came from the main area immediately below the seat which went up from 352 to 704. Here is a view of the main Butterbur area.
As shown in the chart below this year’s count is higher than the last three years but roughly the same as that in 2014 and 2015, but all are well below the all time record of 1,150 in year 2013. This will be my final count as the flower spikes are now getting difficult to see as the surrounding grass and other vegetation grows rapidly.

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