Coun­try diary

Al­len­dale, Northum­ber­land

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

The dry grass prick­les my san­dalled feet as I cross the biscuit-coloured field to­wards the East Allen. The green and cool haugh has burned up in the heat, its smell be­come Mediter­ranean, an earthy mix of dried clay and hay, bit­ter and sweet at the same time. The shrunken river threads its way be­tween boul­der is­lands, find­ing pas­sage be­tween rocks that are nor­mally sub­merged. This year the mon­key flow­ers are able to grow tall, un­tram­melled by the fast flow of wa­ter, un­bat­tered by wind or flood. The Allen has be­come a river of gold. Mon­key flower,

was first recorded in the wild in Bri­tain in 1824, hav­ing es­caped from gar­dens. This species comes from the west coast of

North Amer­ica, where it grows in wet places from sea level to high-al­ti­tude mead­ows. It is now well es­tab­lished along our wa­ter cour­ses, around lakes and in damp pas­tures, set­ting abun­dant seed and root­ing eas­ily from frag­ments that get car­ried down­river. The more floods we have, the more it is likely to in­crease, so its spread may af­fect the rich­ness of our ri­par­ian plant com­mu­ni­ties. It is cer­tainly hav­ing a bumper year in the up­per reaches of the Tyne river sys­tem.

I sit on the river bank, which is now pro­tected by wil­low spiling that I helped to weave five years ago. Silt and de­bris has built up be­hind this liv­ing revet­ment, en­abling young alders to take root, along with fox­gloves, docks, bed­straw and the mon­key flow­ers. With­out dark glasses, I have to squint at their daz­zling yel­low­ness, the ex­u­ber­ant “faces” that gave them their com­mon name. The red spots in their throats led to the species name of (mean­ing speck­led), and there are two rounded ridges where pol­li­nat­ing in­sects can land. Leaves are fleshy and cool to the touch.

The sheep have been down here, eat­ing the mon­key flow­ers, a suc­cu­lent change from dusty grass. A sand­piper darts down­river call­ing

A ringlet but­ter­fly is a smudge of dusky black amid pink­topped yarrow. There’s the sound of church bells from Al­len­dale Town. Sand martins skim the wa­ter and flies clus­ter round my head. It’s go­ing to be an­other hot day.

Susie White

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