Finding the Quarry
Situated 1km North of Bishop Middleham Village lies a disused Magnesian Limestone quarry abandoned in the 1930’s. This site is particularly interesting, due to its thin limestone soils and shelter, it provides an ideal environment for a wide range of orchids – most famously the Dark Red Helleborine, flowering at it’s best between late June and July.
As you drive through Bishop Middleham Village you can take the A177 minor road where you can park parallel to one of the reserve’s entrances along the lay-bys. Just be cautious along this minor road as tractors and other large vehicles often use it as a short cut.
Upon arriving at the site’s entrance you’re welcomed by a beautifully informative interpretation board where you can read about what species you can find on the site. From here you have the option to bare right or left depending on which way you’d like to walk, either way you’ll get to see everything due to the circuit route. The only thing you need to ask yourself is – Do you fancy walking up or down those steep steps?
(Hint: bear right to avoid walking up them!)
Although there is no livestock on site (at present) it is wise to keep your pups on a lead, or as close to you as possible as the site does have some cliff edges. You’ll see them as soon as you walk onto the site, they’re pretty hard to miss.
The site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (or SSSI for short) due to the abundance of plant life; bird species; moth species and butterfly species which it supports. People from all over the world visit Bishop Middleham just to see it’s plant species, it’s a nationally recognised nature reserve. How amazing is that? Right on our doorstep!
During the summer time you can expect to see an abundance of butterfly life thriving at the base of the quarry. Species wise we have a wide variety of amazing butterflies from the Dingy Skipper to the Durham Brown Argus butterfly a rare species whom is only found in (as it’s name suggests) County Durham. The largest colony is actually found in Bishop Middleham… That’s fantastic!
Our Butterfly Population
Unfortunately, records have shown that the butterfly population in Bishop Middleham Quarry nature reserve has declined and we want to stop that. One possibility of the decline is the quarry becoming more shaded as the surrounding foliage encroaches on the butterfly’s environment. This is where Durham Wildlife Trust come into the picture.
During their time at Bishop Middleham Quarry, they took to felling all the trees which were shading the environment in the hope that the extra sunlight will help to boost the population. So when you’re walking around the quarry and notice a huge amount of tree stumps sticking out, don’t panic and don’t assume all trees must be saved. Sometimes trees can do more damage when left to grow out of control.
The importance of Butterflies
So, sure we all like butterflies and pretty things but why is it so important that we protect our butterflies? What’s so important about butterflies? A small, fragile little creature, what makes them so important for our habitats?
As an indicator species, butterflies serve an important ecosystem value.
An indicator species indicates whether an environment or ecosystem is healthy or not. If we have a large presence of butterflies this can indicate a healthy ecosystem. While a lack of butterflies can indicate an unhealthy ecosystem. Being an important part of the food chain along with moths means where ever butterflies and moths flourish, so will their predators whether that be birds, bats or other insectivores.
So you get the idea, butterflies are pretty important. Along with their ecosystem value, butterflies serve an economic value… Crazy isn’t it? A little butterfly has an economic value, and I’ll explain why.
The most obvious reason links in with the aesthetic value of butterflies, how people love and want to see them. Thousands of butterfly enthusiasts flood nature reserves and national parks all over the world to see rare and special species of butterflies. This travel pumps money into the local communities and provides jobs for many people as butterfly tour guides or shop owners selling butterfly related souvenirs, even the local bus services and hotels benefit.
While serving a traditional economic value, some species of butterflies serve a more important role in our economy. Butterflies and moths have developed their own suite of chemical which the use to deter predators or find mates, this chemical has various different potentials for our own benefit.
The Meadow Brown
The Meadow Brown for example is a widespread species of butterfly which has been found to possess strong antibiotics in these chemicals. There is so much more I could talk about on the topic of the importance of butterflies, their aesthetic value or their perfect ‘model’ organism properties, I could go on and on…
Check out the Butterfly Conservation website if you’d like to learn more about these magnificent creatures and how you can help.
As well as visiting the site in the Summer for the beautiful scenery and the amazing abundance of life, visiting the site during the Winter is just as satisfying.
Imagine walking the dog in the pouring rain with the wind constantly ripping up your umbrella. Well look no further for an alternative, due to the high quarry cliffs, Bishop Middleham Quarry Nature Reserve is an ideal spot for a quick walk in unfavourable weather.
The perfect your-round walk.