Sookholme Brook is a Site of Special Scientific Interest from its source at Sookholme Bath to the point where it joins the River Meden in the Hills and Holes. This stretch near Sookholme Moor has a special atmosphere, particularly on a quiet summer day.
The Plants along Sookholme Brook
As summer progresses, along
Sookholme Brook, dense barriers of plants grow up hiding the running water
in many places. These waterside plants all look similar but are in fact several
different species including: Watercress, Fools Watercress and Lesser
Water Parsnip. All three have similar leaves and can be difficult to
separate. The latter two have leaves that smell of parsnips when crushed
- both are poisonous. Watercress is edible but it is safer not to risk it
where there is any doubt on identification.
In a few rocky areas, near the water table, water stands throughout the winter and often into spring. Here you can see Lesser Spearwort and Creeping Jenny. Both yellow wildflowers combine to provide a luscious carpet that belies the soggy ground underneath.
The low-lying area south of the River Meden was the site of a marsh until the 1970s. Filled in and drained, its loss provides a lesson to us all. The wildflowers, birds, and amphibians that have been lost to the area are not suitably compensated for by the rather species poor grassland that can be seen now. This area is now being managed to increase its value as a grassland by carefully grazing and taking hay cuts at the appropriate time to reduce the nutrient levels in the soil and create an open grass sward into which new plants gain a foothold. It will take time and will probably never be of equivalent value to what has been lost.
The Birds of Sookholme Brook
The small area of woodland beside Sookholme Brook is important for the Marsh Tit and Willow Tit that congregate here. The diverse mix of deciduous trees provides an important food reservoir for these birds in winter. Very difficult to separate, the birds are distinguished from other tits by their black Beatle type head colouring and pale breast.
The Hedgerows around Sookholme Brook
Near Sookholme Brook, the
wet nature of the ground allows Alder to grow as a hedgerow tree.
A typical tree of riverbanks, Alder is able to grow in the poor, waterlogged
soil because of its ability to utilise nitrogen made available by bacteria
growing in symbiosis with its roots. The soil here is acidic and peaty, unlike
most of the Hills and Holes which has a typical clay soil derived from the
Magnesian Limestone rocks underneath.
Beside Sookholme Brook, lack of management over long periods including the exclusion of grazing animals has allowed the development of woodland between the hedgerow and Sookholme Brook. In places, the hedgerow is indistinguishable from the woodland. Trees have grown-up including mature English Oak, shading shrubs and threatening the long-term existence of the boundary as a hedge. Despite this, the woodland itself provides a rich habitat with many species typical of ancient wooded areas. Growing on the flood plain, with rich moist soils and plentiful shade, the woodland, though small in area, has a special atmosphere not to be missed. Where the soil is waterlogged and springs arise, a dense stand of willows proves impenetrable.
Across the Brook, the very thin soils allow plant roots to easily come into contact with the limestone rock, but here we find shrub species that prefer well-drained acid soils. This is because the good drainage allows rainfall to quickly wash away the soils nutrients. As a result, we can see acid-loving shrubs (Gorse and Broom) growing in close proximity to typical limestone plants. Parts of the hedgerow above have been devastated by fire at one time or another and therefore are very straggly. The abundant Gorse is able to invade the gaps.