Steve Orridge's stories

Steve is one of our Club stalwarts, a self-taught expert on invertebrates of all sorts, and on flowers, birds and many other aspects of wildlife. He is the founder and the driving influence behind the Lightwood Group, and the organiser of our annual Buxton Butterfly Survey. Here are some of his stories and articles on Lightwood and on Buxton wildlife, which he has kindly shared with us here.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Steve Orridge)
White-letter Hairstreak, Lightwood (SO)
Marsh Orchid (S Orridge)

My Favourite Patch

I am sure many of us have a favourite patch which we return to regularly. Mine is Lightwood, Buxton and it has become a bit of an obsession. It all started calmly enough. I would go up once a month – or less – when I had some free time from work and parenting duties.

Over the years the children got older, and work got lighter and lighter and new duties appeared – walking the new dog. In 2006 Lightwood Reservoir became Lightwood pools and nature began taking over the site. Then in 2016 Nestle bought Lightwood. This became my rallying call to highlight the importance of the site for wildlife and my visits became daily. I also started a Facebook page dedicated to Lightwood and post regular photos of the seasonal wildlife. We have now recorded 15 species of Dragonfly (the latest being Ruddy Darter) and 24 species of butterfly with the latest addition being White-letter Hairstreak. My goal is to log every species of flora and fauna in Lightwood, and we already have over 1000 species. My prime interest is Entomology, but I have had to learn many new groups and I am sure that there is enough species to find to keep me busy for the rest of my active life. It has been a steep learning curve with no signs of it levelling out but the pleasure of finding a new species is overwhelming. And the fact that it can still occur daily is a sheer joy. I have many, many happy memories of species hunting. One incident occurred in 2016. I was in Flamborough when one of my Facebook group members posted a photo of a Dragonfly he had found in Lightwood. I at once recognised it as a Golden -ringed Dragonfly but what could I do? I was over 140 miles away and would not be returning for several days. In the meantime, another group member posted some more photos with an Emperor as a bonus! By the time I returned the dragonfly had moved on. But my patience was rewarded the following year when a female flew round me to get my attention and then spent the next 10 minutes ovipositing for my sole viewing pleasure. I was jumping for joy after she left, and I still get a warm glow when I think of it now. And the following year, not to be outdone a male landed on my shorts and rested for about 5 minutes; it had been harassed by an Emperor and just needed a bit of moral support. The Golden-ringed Dragonfly has visited every year since and delighted many people who have made a special journey to see it.  These are the sorts of joys that money cannot buy. Yes, my pleasures are simple and inexpensive!

Now I am trying to learn everything, and my guidebook library is growing exponentially. I am never going to be an expert on any group but the wonder of it all can be overwhelming.

 

Take a look at many of the fascinating photos Steve has taken of wildlife in Lightwood and around Buxton by clicking on these buttons.  There are many more to be found by exploring the site!

A Lightwood Journey

I have called this article A Lightwood Journey because, for me, it has been a journey of discovery. Every time I visit, I am overwhelmed by the beauty and wonder of its wildlife and there is something new to discover every day, whether it is a new species or a new behaviour. I will try not to ramble too much as I do while walking around my local area and so, let me tell you a bit about my favourite patch. There is a hidden gem that goes by the name of Lightwood. It lies on the northern outskirts of Buxton and there has been a reservoir of one sort or another for nearly two hundred. The original one was fairly basic and was a result of damming Hogshaw Brook. In 1872 an extension was proposed, and details were published in the London Gazette. This second bigger reservoir, originally called Hogshaw had a capacity of 73,000 cubic metres and was completed by the end of the 19th Century. And there it remained until the beginning of the 21st century when Severn Trent, who began supplying Buxton with water from the Derwent Reservoir, decided to decommission it. The work took two years and the company tasked with making it wildlife friendly eventually won awards for their environmental work. Once the valley sides had been landscaped there was a bare valley ripe to be colonised by the local wildlife.

Although it was originally seeded with a “wildflower” mix there has been a steady natural colonisation of wild flowers and Lightwood continues to delight with new species being recorded every year; our latest find being Three-nerved Sandwort and Yellow Pimpernel in 2022. Some of the original seed mix has thrived such as Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Wild Carrot, Ribbed Melilot and Wild Basil but the list grows every year as new species colonise this undisturbed oasis. Our most recent survey, conducted by the Derbyshire Flora Group, listed over 270 species of flowers, ferns and grasses.

 

In Buxton our seasons probably start a little later than our surrounding towns and the snow can stay a bit longer on the hills but by early spring the former reservoir, now a meadow, is carpeted in the yellows of Coltsfoot, son before father (so called because the flower comes out before the leaf). The leaf is also referred to as poor man’s baccy and was reputed to relieve coughs and other chest complaints. These early flowers are a useful food source for our early bees and butterflies. By summer time the flowers have passed and the leaves take on the urgent work of building up reserves in their rhizomes for the following spring. Then come the meadow buttercups followed by Rough Hawkbit, Kidney Vetch, Bird’s Foot Trefoil (also known as grannies toenails due to the long black seed pods) and spikes of Marsh orchid standing proud. We have five species of Orchid in Lightwood, and these include Twayblade, Southern Marsh Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid, Bee Orchid (a record 19 plants in 2019) and our latest addition Fragrant Orchid. There are also many hybrids which I leave to the experts to determine.  It is not difficult to find 10 species or more of the “Worts” including Gypsywort, Sneezewort, Lousewort, Common Figwort, Lesser Spearwort, Common Ragwort, several species of St John’s Worts and Stitchwort. It can be fascinating studying the etymology of the plant names. The “Worts” in particular refer to the plant’s food or herbal origins.

On our last count we had over 270 species of herbs and grasses and new species are colonising the site every year. A walk on to Combs Moss, above Lightwood, will also reveal Cow Wheat, Cowberry, Cloudberry, Cranberry and the ubiquitous Bilberry. What can we expect to see the twenty twenties? I believe Botany is a worthy pursuit and guarantees one a lifetime of fascination, but the insects hold me in their thrall. Where would these plants be without their pollinators? Lightwood has recorded 24 species of butterfly which includes three BAP species, White-letter Hairstreak, Wall and Small Heath. If you sit down in the meadow in summer, you will be surrounded by the buzzing of insects; all taking their sustenance from their free food banks, the flowers. Many of the Diptera (true flies) have parasitic young – their larva feed internally or externally on other insect groups or inside plants but as adults they still need to replenish their energy tanks which they do by feeding on the nectar source provided by flowers.

 

The natural world has always played an important part in my life as it does for countless others. For me Lightwood has been a place of refuge, contemplation and a place to just enjoy the profound beauty of nature. In the natural world life just gets on with the important job of surviving and if you can sit and watch this fascinating world – a micro world of nature red in tooth and claw – it can put life into perspective.

I have met people, in Lightwood, who have crossed continents to see the exotic wildlife in other countries but know little of what is in their local area, which is a shame because there is so much to be discovered locally. We have a wealth of flora and fauna on our doorstep. It may not have the appeal of big game, but it can be just as exotic. Within Lightwood, with the help of experts in their chosen groups, we have identified over 1000 species of plants and animals, some of them new records for our area. How much more is waiting to be discovered? I would suggest to everyone with an interest in nature to get out and discover what is out there for yourself. It is also much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to join a local natural history group than to jet off to Africa to see some over watched mega-fauna. In this digital age, for some, it somehow seems more important to keep up to date with one’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds but there also is a wealth of knowledge waiting to be tapped. It is so easy to post a photo, of something you have discovered, on-line and get back an identification within seconds. There are many organisations calling out for our records and there is a lot of satisfaction to be gained by joining a Citizen Science project such as the Garden Bird surveys and the Big Butterfly counts.  I am sure that the readers of this article are already attuned to our natural world but what can we do to encourage others to join in? Personally, if I see some interesting flora or fauna, I want to share it and will tell any passing walker who may be interested – and some people are genuinely interested. Some make a polite grunt and move on, but I like to think I may have ignited a spark and next time that person may want to know more.

Lightwood has so many different aspects. There are many different habitats and I often make the joke that the only thing we lack is a seafront but with our constantly changing climate who knows this may happen one day. By walking around Lightwood, you can walk up on to the moors listening to the plaintive call of Curlew and the go-back, go-back of the red grouse. If you take a walk around the pools, you may find one of our 15 species of dragonfly coming to inspect you if they are not too busy chasing other dragonflies off their territory. In the meadows you will hear the constant buzzing of insects including one of our speciality species the Mountain (or Bilberry) Bumblebee. In the boggy bits you may see the Bog Hoverfly, Sericomyia silentis or it’s rarer cousin the White-barred Peat Hoverfly, Sericomyia lappona.

When we go plant spotting, we appreciate the beauty and sometimes the rarity of that plant, but all flowering plants have co-evolved with the insects. Why have bright colours and nectar, if not to entice them to supply a pollination service. The orchids, in particular have a close relationship with their pollinators whether it be a bird, bee, butterfly, beetle or hoverfly. The Bee orchid, Ophrys apifera has an unusual strategy. The clue is in its Latin name, apifera meaning bee bringing, and the flower is in the shape of a female bee to entice the male. Unfortunately, the bee that it imitates does not occur in the UK, so our Bee Orchids are self-pollinating which leads to some interesting mutations. In Lightwood some of our Bee Orchids grow to a height of 30 centimetres!

So next time you look at a plant, take a look also, at all the fauna feeding on it and ponder on the important job they are doing propagating the beauty and colours that delight us so much.

Here is a gallery of photos taken by our members in Lightwood, showing a sample of the plethora of species to be found there. 

The Wildlife of Buxton

As you look down into Buxton from the surrounding hills you can’t help but notice that it is town nestled in trees. We have one of the highest counts of street trees in the UK and on your way up Brown Edge you will notice Hogshaw wood to your right and a line of trees stretching up the hill. If you have an interest in the natural world, like I do, then we are very lucky to live in Buxton. No matter where you live, within less than 15 minutes, you can be away from the tarmac and concrete and surrounded by flowers, the calls of our local bird life and the buzzing of insects. And if you are lucky enough to have a garden then, with the right plants, nature will come to you.

Our garden is managed for wildlife and we have been treated to visits from badger, fox, hedgehog, grey squirrel, over 50 species of birds, 15 species of butterfly and over 500 species of moth.  There is a rich diversity of wildlife in our town just waiting to be discovered and, for me personally, getting to know all of our town’s wildlife is the most rewarding, life-enriching and satisfying pursuit that I can imagine. It doesn’t cost anything to sit down and appreciate the beauty of a flower, a bird or a butterfly and if you need to get away from the stresses of life then I recommend walking into one of our dales, finding a quiet spot and just sitting down and watching what goes past.

One of our favourite walks is to Lightwood. Not that long ago, it was one of the undiscovered gems of Buxton. Since lockdown it has become a regular walking destination for families and dog walkers but there are still quiet spots to be found where you can sit and unwind. We have been recording the wildlife here for the last few years and are already up to over 1000 species including nationally rare ones. There are many walks around Lightwood but even if you have limited mobility then a drive to the small parking area and a gentle walk to the top of the track will reveal dozens of species of flowers, birds and insects. And if you go at the right time (mid-afternoon) you may be treated to close up views of our local Common Lizard.

In early spring we have a special treat of visiting toads and frogs which arrive in their thousands to mate and leave the next generation in the ponds. It is a spectacular sight and we have one of the best set of ponds in Derbyshire for aquatic life. They also support Smooth and Palmate Newt, 15 species of dragonfly and dozens of species of water beetle.

There are many other local areas to visit for wildlife which include Grinlow, Cunningdale, and Ferneydale; although some can be a little difficult to walk. If you want to know more about our local wildlife and you are on Facebook then you can join Lightwood Natural History, Buxton Field Club or Ferneydale & Sherbrook Natural History. If you believe that our local nature is important to our wellbeing and you want to help with restoring nature around Buxton then do please contact the Club and we will put you in contact with the right people.

Here is a gallery of the tree species to be found in Lightwood and Buxton, taken by Steve.