The Hills and Holes

The Hills and Holes is an ancient quarry site . It provided the stone for local buildings. Warsop and Sookholme churches were probably built from the locally quarried stone. It was never quarried on an industrial scale, which is why the plants that exist there today have been able to develop over such a long period. There was always somewhere for the plants to grow. Only with the coming of the coal mines and the railway was large scale quarrying undertaken, even then it occurred only in two places. Now even those sites are being invaded by wildflowers. Where there was bare rock thirty years ago, plants increasingly cover the ground.

View fron Stone BridgeThe Hills and Holes is an area protected as part of a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ or SSSI because of the wonderful variety of plants that grow there. The Hills and Holes, and other islands of diversity elsewhere are important as they safeguard the existence of species that can no longer exist elsewhere. While sites such as this provide a haven for wildlife they are of benefit to people as well. They provide places where we can recharge our personal batteries, take time out from the pace of modern life and simply relax and enjoy our surroundings.



The Plants of The Hills and Holes

The Hills and Holes is an area protected as part of a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ or SSSI because of the wonderful variety of plants that grow there. The Hills and Holes, and other islands of diversity elsewhere are important as they safeguard the existence of species that can no longer exist elsewhere. While sites such as this provide a haven for wildlife they are of benefit to people as well. They provide places where we can recharge our personal batteries, take time out from the pace of modern life and simply relax and enjoy our surroundings.
The following section highlights some of the important species and areas that visitors from near and far may wish to see. It doesn’t identify every important area because not everyone reading this will have a sympathetic or caring attitude. We need to protect against them as well!
It is up to us all, and not just governments, landowners and farmers to ensure that these places are valued and treated with care. Picking flowers, digging up plants and other activities that threaten the area are illegal. Follow the country code and keep the area safe for future generations.

Bird's-foot-Trefoil Garlic Mustard Ramsons or Wild Garlic
Biting Stonecrop Hairy Violet Restharrow
Bluebell Hemlock Rue-leaved Saxifrage
Buttercups Herb Robert Salad Burnet
Clovers Hoary Ragwort Selfheal
Common-spotted Orchid Kidney Vetch St. John’s Wort
Cowslip Knapweeds Sweet Violet
Crested Dog’s tail Lady’s Bedstraw Tor Grass
Daisy Lady’s Smock Wild Onion
Dog-violets Milkwort Wild Thyme
Dove’s-foot Cranes-bill Mouse-ears Wood Anemone
Dyer’s Greenweed Ox-eye Daisy Wood Melick
Early-Purple Orchid Pignut Yellow Archangel
Field Scabious Plantains Yellow-wort
Fragrant Orchid Quaking Grass

On damper meadow areas in early spring, the delightful Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo Flower can be seen. When held petals downmost, the flower-head’s four pale mauve petals form the shape of a lady’s smock dress - hence the name. Elsewhere you will see the architecturally beautiful foliage of Hemlock rising above the surrounding grasses. However, look but don’t touch. This plant is deadly poisonous. It was a popular poison used by murderers in days gone by. If in doubt, look for the purple spots on its stems.

In damper shady areas, you will find Ramsons or Wild Garlic. The wide, flat leaves disappear during high summer, but not before they provide a magnificent spectacle of drifts of white flowers. Sometimes you can smell the plants before you can see them. If bruised, the leaves give off a pungent, garlic smell. They taste strongly of garlic too. A more delicate taste can be found from Garlic Mustard. The leaves release a mild taste of garlic after being chewed; very tasty on egg sandwiches. Growing at woodland edges and hedgerows throughout the area, the broad leaves often have a yellow-green colour.

Throughout the area of the Hills and Holes, there are patches of dense shade under trees and hedgerows. Within these areas shade-loving plants are able to thrive. The type of plants you can see depends on the time of year that you visit.

Most true woodland plants flower during spring; those more typical of the woodland edge can usually be found later in summer. Perhaps the most common wild flower found under trees is Herb Robert a member of the Crane's-bill or Geranium family. This pretty flower with five pink petals, reddish hairy stems, and delicately cut leaves has seeds with a longer beak that resemble the head and bill of a Stork.

Nowhere within the area are true woodland plants abundant. This is because the area has been managed as grassland over long period of time. Where woodland exists it may be the remaining pieces of the original woodland that covered the area. Woodland plant species that do not easily move naturally from one area to another help to indicate areas that have been wooded for longer periods. Therefore where Bluebell, Wood Anemone, Wood Melick and Yellow Archangel occur they are helping to indicate lengthy coverage by trees.

In early spring look out for violets carpeting the ground. They occur in a variety of colours from white to dark blue and purple. There are several different species of violet including Common and Early Dog-violets, Hairy Violet and Sweet Violet.

The thin soils on the tops and side of the hillocks are well-drained and baked dry in summer. This causes stress to the plants growing there. No single species is able to dominate the grassland and a very large variety of wildflowers can be found. In the ‘holes’ between the ‘hills’ moisture is retained and lusher growth of sometimes single species can be seen The best time to view the flowers is in late spring and midsummer.

In late spring cowslips are sprinkled throughout the grassland. Later on they are joined by Pignut, a member of the carrot family that has an edible nut-like bulb deep underground that was once eaten by countryfolk.

Early-Purple Orchids are found in small patches, as are Fragrant Orchid. Their beauty and unusual form are a delight to see however please do not be tempted to pick the flowers. It is worth getting down to ground level to look at the beautiful colouring of the individual flowers on the flower spikes.

During summer the Hills and Holes comes into its own. You will see why it is considered to be one of the premier limestone grasslands within the East Midlands (outside the Peak District). The ground is covered with drifts of different wild flowers in a carpet of grasses.

Look out for: Restharrow, Kidney Vetch, Bird's-foot-Trefoil, knapweeds, Field Scabious, Daisy, Thyme, Lady’s Bedstraw, Common-spotted Orchid, at least three species of buttercups; Creeping, Bulbous and Meadow, three plantains; Hoary, Ribwort and Broad-leaved, Salad Burnet, Selfheal, St. John’s Worts, Yellow-wort, Clover (White, Red, Zigzag and Hare’s foot), Wild Onion, Dyer’s Greenweed, Hoary Ragwort, Ox-eye Daisy, Doves-foot Cranes-bill, Milkwort, Mouse-ears, Biting Stonecrop, and many more. No single species dominates because the environmental conditions do not allow it.

Dozens of different grasses provide the canvas within which the flowers grow. Species to look out for include: Quaking Grass, so named because the seeding head held on thin stalks ‘quake’ in the slightest breeze, Tor Grass, with its broad, rough, yellow-green leaves, and Crested Dog’s tail with its flattened seeding head with the seeds lined up it two parallel rows opposite each other either side of the stalk.

The large variety of wildflowers and grasses attract many insects including a large number of butterflies some of which will only lay their eggs on particular plants on which their caterpillars feed. The insects in turn provide protein for birds feeding their young.

There are a few areas of bare rock. Here it is possible to see how colonisation takes place by looking at the order in which the plants grow out from a bare area: Rue-leaved Saxifrage, Biting Stonecrop, Dove’s-foot Cranes-bill, Wild Thyme, fine leaved grasses, and so on. The true colonisers are plants that can cope with baking, arid conditions with no shade, no soil, and no moisture for long periods. They create the conditions that allow other, less tolerant plants to grow. Each wave of colonisation changes the local environment creating less harsh conditions.

Providing there are plants in the vicinity to colonise, creating new patches of bare rock will ensure that these pioneer plants have a niche in which to grow.

The Birds of The Hills and Holes

These are amongst the many birds you may see around this part of the Hills and Holes-

Chiff Chaff
Willow Warbler
Garden Warbler

Kingfishers are frustrating birds. They are most often glimpsed as a flash of brilliant blue out of the corner of the eye as they fly overhead at high speed, but have gone by the time you turn to look. This is made worse because the vividness of their blue colouring is even greater than any drawing, photograph or TV picture can show. With a little patience, several individual birds can be seen along the River Meden. Listen out for their piping call. Once you have learned to recognise the call, you are more likely to be ready to see when a bird appears. The best spots are where trees overhang the river at stretches where there is enough water to find sticklebacks and minnows or where the banks are high enough to allow nest tunnels to be excavated.

Wrens, robins and native blackbirds find the area useful for feeding. They are found scattered throughout the area close to the hawthorn that is so important in their lives, providing food and shelter year round. Patches of thick shrubbery prove rich hunting grounds for the small invertebrates on which they depend to survive the winter.

Wrens skulk though the lower branches, picking off tiny insects. The power of the Wren’s song is astonishing. One can hardly believe such a small bird could make such a loud noise. During the breeding season, listen out for the brief rattle in the middle of a prolonged loud song from within deep cover.

Robins are found at all heights from ground to treetop. These birds are optimists, finding food wherever they can. They feed in the same places as both Wren and Blackbird but specialise in neither.

The Blackbirds feed on the ground, using the trees and shrubs for cover. They can be seen disturbing the carpet of leaf-litter in Hawthorn thickets searching for worms and other floor-dwelling food.

Goldcrest is one of the smallest birds found in the UK. Constantly on the move, these lovely birds can often be seen working through the trees and scrub on the Hills and Holes during the coldest parts of winter after they have moved south to avoid the harsh northern winter. Their high-pitched call often gives their position away. They are often fearless having arrived from poorly populated areas. If you stand still beside or under a tree they sometimes work their way to within a few feet of your position.

In the past, Nightingales were found in the area, but are only rarely found locally. However, other members of the Warbler family can be spotted but they do need to be looked for. Warblers are generally smallish, greenish or brownish birds. Remarkably unremarkable, leaf shaped and leaf coloured; they can sometimes prove impossible to see. But they often have very beautiful or easily recognisable songs.

Four species of warbler are commonly found across the area but particularly in the woodland downstream from the junction of Sookholme Brook with the River Meden.

The Chiff Chaff and Willow Warbler look very similar, but the Chiff Chaff’s repetitive call from the tops of trees provides a sure way of identifying at least the males.

The Garden Warbler and Blackcap have similar songs. Long passages of lovely warbling song from deep within a thicket or tree. You need experience to tell them apart.

The Hedgerows of The Hills and Holes

The lanes, hedges and field boundaries adjacent to the Hills and Holes are ancient in origin and character, they provide a buffer around the site and add to its attraction. It is important that they are protected and managed accordingly.