The visit to Stonepit Field (managed by the Parks Trust) was the first since early June 2019, and attracted a good attendance including several new members: a most welcome indication of the growing natural history interest in Milton Keynes. The site was farmland until 1993 and is an excellent example of how in just 30 years biodiversity can be dramatically increased through careful management. (For further information about the site including its history, go to MKNHS Wildlife Sites and scroll down to Stonepit Field.)
The main focus of the evening was to identify and list species especially of the flower-rich grassland and limestone scrape. Members were divided into three groups to avoid underfoot damage to the habitats particularly the scrape area. It was hoped that these activities would: introduce and encourage members to enjoy and return to the site; improve individual identification skills; and contribute to the draft cumulative list of species for Stonepit Field maintained by Mike LeRoy. Current species lists were available to members as a handout at the start of the visit. Species new to these lists identified during the evening will be added to the cumulative list and are included as an annex to this Report, which can be found here.
The Park has four main habitats: flower-rich grassland; limestone scrape; two ponds and their steep banks; and a woodland strip (the woodland itself was not included in this visit).
The flower-rich grassland covers well over half the area of the site. Dominant plants in or near to flowering were Meadow Buttercup, Bulbous Buttercup. Oxeye Daisy, Red Clover, Salad Burnet, Common Sorrel, Ribwort Plantain, Beaked Hawksbeard, Common Vetch, Cut-leaved Cranesbill, and Yellow Rattle. These plants were interspersed with the delicate Quaking Grass, Common Birdsfoot Trefoil, Medick sp., Knapweed sp., Lady’s Bedstraw, and Goatsbeard. Of special interest was Common Broomrape, a parasitic plant without leaves or green pigment, hosted by neighbouring species which is scattered through much of the grassland. Meadow Cranesbill was found in some of the more grassy areas and was coming into flower.
The limestone scrape
The limestone scrape is located roughly in the middle of the site not far from the Car Park. It is not unique in Milton Keynes as a habitat (two were added in Stanton Low Park across the Newport Road from Stonepit Field a few years back) but it is certainly a very special habitat for lime-loving species. At the time of our visit the Bee Orchids were no more than 5 to 15 cm above the ground but not yet in flower: there is virtually no soil here. In contrast at the edges of the scrape, patches of Birdsfoot Trefoil and Horseshoe Vetch were in full flower together with smaller areas of Common Rock Rose, Kidney Vetch, and Mouse-ear Hawkweed. Some of the plants of the grassland areas survive in stunted form, for example Salad Burnet, Oxeye Daisy, Yellow Rattle and Quaking Grass.
The ponds and their steep banks
The ponds were added to the site in 2007 as part of the over-flow drainage system when Oakridge Park was developed for housing. The steep banks, presumably spoil from the pond excavation, are home to Gorse, coarse grasses, Creeping Thistle, Dog Rose, Teasel, Stinging Nettles, Hogweed, and self-seeded Hawthorn with small patches of Red Campion and one of Ragged Robin at the edge of the west pond. Yellow Iris borders both ponds.
Identification and listing in these three habitats added 15 species plants to the cumulative list. (Note that some of those listed may require further checking.)
Twenty-nine bird species were identified nine of which were new to the cumulative list including Common Tern, Lesser Blackback Gull, Green Woodpecker, Whitethroat and Jay. Little Egret, Grey Heron, Moorhen, and Mallard are regulars at the ponds.
Only one Butterfly species was seen – the Common Blue – not surprising for an evening visit (a few days later Susan Weatherhead reported on Society Sightings the presence of 9 Small Blues in the scrape area). Four moth species were identified: Mint Moth, Silver Ground Carpet, Light Brown Apple Moth and (thanks to Tim Arnold and Julian Lambley’s photo) Grass Rivulet, all four new to the cumulative list.
Red-eyed Damselfly, Azure Damselfly, and Common Blue Damselfly were identified by Harry Appleyard as a first step in establishing an odanata list and St. Mark’s fly was identified by Paul Lund to add to the diptera cumulative list. Although not the primary focus some tree, shrub and grass species were identified of which two may be new to the cumulative list namely Privet and Wild Cherry. Elder and the attractive Guelder Rose were both in flower.
The evening engaged many members present in the process of identification and listing species as well as enjoyment in getting to know Stonepit Field as an attractive ‘hotspot’ for wildlife. There are still gaps in the cumulative species lists, the timing of visits being a key factor here. For example, Harebell is not yet in flower but will be the dominant scrape species in another month or so: perhaps there would be interest in a July Society visit in 2023?
My thanks to Mike LeRoy for sharing his knowledge of the site with me before the visit and for leading one of the groups; Linda Murphy for leading another of the groups; Harry Appleyard for his bird and odanata identifications; Julian Lambley and Harry Appleyard for their excellent photographs; and to all the members taking part.