The Water Meadows Chronicles part 11 (mid May 2020)

Iain Carruthers-Jones looks on the bright side. Earlier parts of the Chronicles can be found here.

There’s been a bit of a gap since the last edition of the Chronicles. The coronavirus put us all into lockdown and the volunteer work programme shuddered to a halt. Much to everyone’s chagrin both from a “doing enjoyable worthwhile conservation work” point of view and from a social point of view. It was always rare to hear nothing when a work group was working. There was the teamwork-oriented effort and the chatter that went with working together and there was the chatter which covered everything from politics (how dumb can some politicians be?) to what’s growing well in the allotments. And then there were the tea-break goodies. The camaraderie was palpable.

For some of us, the lockdown felt like a prison sentence, perhaps especially for those living alone. We all recognise that these guidelines are essential but for those over 70 the realisation that restrictions may last into the new year is a difficult pill to swallow. It feels like an eternity; we have had a mere couple of months and there could be another seven months yet to cope with.

So this is where I apply the Pollyanna Principle. Some of you might remember a story written by Eleanor H Porter about a girl called Pollyanna. Newly orphaned, she was sent to live with her Aunt Polly, a spinster without a kind thought or deed to her name. Her life was orderly and austere. Pollyanna was an unwelcome burden but Aunt Polly knew that she must take on this responsibility.

The first weeks were difficult for Pollyanna. A happy natured girl, she was always being scolded by her aunt. Everything that Pollyanna did was too noisy, too unself-controlled and totally lacking in dignity. When she tried to introduce Aunt Polly to the Glad Game she was scorned. Eventually the two were reconciled and there was a very happy ending.

So – what is the Glad Game or Pollyanna Principle and how is it relevant to the Water Meadow Chronicles? It is simple really. With my psychologist hat on I would call it relentless optimism, with my whimsical philosopher hat on I would call it seeing the silver lining in every adversity and with my Cognitive Behaviour Therapist hat on I would call it reversing the negative cognitive spiral. So every difficult or problematic situation can still allow a positive perspective.

The Glad news is that the Watermeadows are still there. We may not be able to do our volunteer work but we can walk (with or without a dog) even if we have to “social distance”. We can say “Good morning, another lovely day” without getting fined. I walk every morning with my dog Luna and it has been a joy. We don’t see many people but most are polite and courteous and we all play the Glad Game. There are cows on No Mans Meadow and if we wait patiently more often than not one of the cows comes across to greet us. There are sheep and lambs in several meadows; Luna is fascinated by the lambs and, anthropomorphising, I think she is disappointed that they don’t come across to play. She certainly makes the noise she does with other dogs when she wants to play.

And the trees and flowers. I am amazed (again) at how leaves open in what seems like moments. The cherry blossom was beautiful – I wish you were there – and now the cherries are forming. I think this year we will have a good crop. The hawthorn has flowered; a cloud of white. The horse chestnuts are in flower – both red and white – and are graceful and elegant. The willows are that acid green which almost makes your eyes hurt. The hedgerow plants are in full flow. The cow parsley is wonderful, especially in the Great Churchyard (it’s only 100 yards from the Crankles!!)

While that is the star for many people, lots of other plants feature and in the last few days in Ram Meadow, the Crankles and No Mans meadow we have seen, among many, common comfrey, green alkanet, red campion, creeping groundsel, ground ivy, alexanders, burdock, white deadnettle, red deadnettle, hedgerow crane’s bill, garlic mustard, creeping buttercup, germander speedwell, red valerian, black mustard, hogweed, dame’s rocket, and garden yellowrocket. We have also our fair share of hemlock which though native is a bit of a thug and liable to take over if we don’t deal with it before it flowers. I chose to mention these because most of them are in flower.

To add to the artist’s palette of flower colours there is an orchestra of birdsong. Birds are everywhere. Most are heard but not seen. But those that are include pheasant, egret, mallard (of course), magpie and rook. Further along No Man’s Meadow there are lots of Jackdaws. A couple of weeks ago I saw something I’ve not seen before. Jackdaws were clustering around some sheep. I thought at first that they were attacking lambs but on closer inspection I realised that the sheep were quite placid and that one corvid was perching on a mature sheep’s back and tugging wool. It was passing the wool to other birds which then flew off with wool in their beaks. No doubt to line nests.

As I write, we have no news of when restrictions will be lifted. Obviously BWMG is hoping that we can get the volunteer programme going again. One key factor is when the 2 metre rule will be relaxed. The other key factor relates to when the over-70’s will be liberated. We have to “watch this space” however much it irritates us.

In the meantime, get out for a walk. You will feel better for it. The fresh air and the natural beauty of plant life and bird song are a powerful combination to impact “wellness”. We can improve our knowledge as well. A series of lectures has been organised; via Zoom, we have heard experts talk about a variety of topics including how we can help the insects, how chalk streams can be brought back to life, how we can use herbs for health and cooking and very practical support to help swifts when they return on their long migration. The talks are proving very popular and all you need is a computer, a tablet or a smart phone. Visit our events page on the website for more details.

 

The Water Meadows Chronicles part 10 (March 2020)

Iain Carruthers-Jones continues his accounts of BWMG work parties. Earlier parts of the Chronicles can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

What extraordinary times we live in. Daily the situation changes; we have pronouncements every day from what the Scots call “high Heedyins”. The only problem is that every day we get different pronouncements as well as predictions about what will be announced the following day. We get news roundups around the world and find that Italy is closed. Germany is partially closed. The US doesn’t seem to know what time of day it is; the esteemed president banned all people from the EU going to the US, but it was OK for people from the UK. Now Brits are no longer allowed either. My head is spinning with it all but I’m obviously going to be able to slow down and calm down; it has been decided to suggest (or perhaps decree) that all over 70 self-isolate for four months, what on earth does that mean? How many of us are going to struggle with this?

I am really hoping that common sense begins to prevail soon. However, I have been called an optimist many times and this is probably another example, if the panic buying spree is anything to go by. It was reported yesterday that someone was trying to buy toilet rolls. Not one pack but eight packs and each pack contained 24 rolls. Perhaps he has an incontinent family or perhaps he was planning to sell them through the internet at an inflated price?

I had another, different, surprise earlier in the week. You may remember that, in Chronicle 1, I wrote about the six o’clock dog. Bark, bark to make sure that I’m awake nice and early. Well, he’s back. The following day I was awake and ready at 5.55. There was no dog. Of course, I could not go back to sleep. I’m hoping that someone else, perhaps less tolerant than myself, offered succinct advice on what to do with the dog. Perhaps the owner complied. One can always hope!

A week or so ago, I received my invitation to the latest volunteer working party from Jillian and Julian. My invitation was to join one of two work parties planned for Sunday March 15th. Those wishing to join the litter picking team would assemble at Barwell Road for litter picking in Ram Meadow. This was led by Ian Campbell. I was delighted to see that there was an excellent turnout – around a dozen or so – and, under Ian’s guidance they soon spread out across the Meadow.

Necessarily, a lot of attention was focused on the river and the banks. In a number of places there were fallen trees reaching across and into the water. It was clear to see that the river had flowed at widely varying levels in recent months. Plastic bottles and plastic sheeting had lodged in bundles of twigs and even in the higher branches of the low hanging trees. In small groups the volunteers dispersed across the Meadow and began filling the collection bags. Having offered encouragement and taken a few pictures, I set off upstream to the Abbots Bridge and then into the Abbey Gardens.

The planting team had assembled around the iron foot bridge over the River Lark. The plan was to seed the gabions with soil, which later on (either later in the season or in autumn) would be planted. Additionally, plug plants of woodland favourites such as bluebells, aconites and primroses would be planted under the trees where the wildflower turf had not taken. Another dozen or so volunteers tackled this work. As always we were advised to wear gumboots and tough gardening gloves. We have all learned to be incredibly careful where brambles are concerned. The work on the gabions was exciting for those with a mountaineering bent; it was good to see transformation happen quickly. Those working on the riverbanks north of the bridge achieved a lot of change, too. Caution was needed all round to make sure none of us fell into the river.

As well as the woodland plants we gaped up some spaces in the existing wildflower turf and planted 5 of each of Meadow cranesbill , Lesser knapweed, Greater knapweed, Wild marjoram, Wild basil, and Common Birds-foot-trefoil. The latter arguably the most important one as it’s a vital foodplant for the caterpillars of the Common blue butterfly as well as Silver-studded blues and Wood Whites. You won’t see any Silver Studded blues or Wood Whites in the Abbey gardens but you should see Common blue butterflies.

It was very noticeable that the trees and plants have decided it is spring. There is blossom perfuming the air and the daffodils are in bloom. So are crocuses and a number of wildflowers like wild garlic, daisies and nettle.

So, overall, we were lucky. Although it was largely overcast there was no rain. Layered up, as most of us were, meant that we didn’t get cold. Sue, as is often the case, raided her kitchen stock and brought along some of her oaty specials. All in all, another very successful volunteer session for those in Ram Meadow and those in the Abbey Gardens.

Sad to say, this will be the last instalment of the Chronicle for a while. The culprit is, of course, the virus and the restrictions imposed on us in an attempt to keep as many of us safe as possible.

Keep safe.

Iain Carruthers-Jones

The Water Meadows Chronicles part 9

Iain Carruthers-Jones gives his account of the BWMG work party on 19th February. Earlier parts of the Chronicles can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Nearly twenty volunteers gathered on one of those days. You know, the ones where the sun shines and there is a little crispness in the air. We set to work , were ready for the tea break and really enjoyed the Water Meadows Oaties made to a secret recipe by Sue (some even had two!!), set to work again and by about 12.15 those with sensitive noses noticed the wind changing and the temperature beginning to drop. We gathered all the tools in and dispersed as the clouds began to darken a bit and before long it was raining and cold. Great timing. I would not blame anyone who turned up the heating and relaxed with a good book and a cup of tea for the afternoon and evening.

So what did we do during the volunteer session? Well, we all commented that it felt like spring was within grasp. While there were no lambs gambolling in No Man’s Meadow, there was plenty of birdsong. A robin sang his heart out, while keeping an eye to see if we turned up anything juicy for a snack. A flock of tits flitted around. We see a mixed flock of blue tits, coal tits and long tailed tits most days. It is lovely to see although it drives the local robins wild as they graze the very bird feeders which the robins consider their territory. The tits have worked out a cunning strategy for distracting the robins; it works every time.

One group of the volunteers set to on the meadow and Linnet bank part of the south Crankle. A lot of dried off plant material was gathered in using rakes.  Essentially the material was gathered into 3 different types of habitat pile, all with their specific uses. The first is finer dried grass and plants; at wildlife Trust sites this would probably be burnt in situ, but it breaks down and in the process creates heat which attracts lizards and slowworms. The second was thicker twigs and small branches which will attract bird foraging for grubs and act as shelter. The third pile was cut bramble which the council will take away. Some bramble of course is left as it’s a favourite source of nectar for many beasties and it’s good nesting material for hedgehogs and birds.

What was really nice ? As the ground was raked it became obvious that there is already a lot of new green growth and there is a large variety of plants. Most spectacular today was the extensive carpet of snowdrops in flower. They had been completely obscured before the area was raked. Now there is a large patch beside the bee hives and a bigger stretch along the east bank of the Linnet to enjoy.

So a large part of the volunteer team was satisfied with the change they achieved. Big smiles from the team and from passers-by as well. The other part of the group was working on the north bank of the South Crankle ditch. While centuries ago this ditch and the others a few yards further south were probably kept in a very orderly way since they were the arms of the Abbey fish farm, in recent years an air of neglect has developed. A number of trees, some quite large, have fallen and the ditch is criss-crossed with the boughs.

Our task was to begin to tidy up while , at the same time, leaving the well rotted boughs to continue to provide a wonderfully rich habitat for birds and all kinds of “creepy crawlies”. For example, at one point I moved a foot fractionally and nearly trod on a beautiful green frog. It made me jump but it lived to hop another day. In the muddy bank, too, I saw the hoofprints of a muntjac deer.

Sometimes it is difficult to see what has been achieved. During this session the piles of twigs, branches and brambles were clear evidence and the objective of clearing “stuff” to allow fresh new growth to burst through was achieved. Congratulations to the whole group.

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 8 (February 2020)

Iain Carruthers-Jones gives his latest account of BWMG work parties. Earlier parts of the Chronicles can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

The volunteer work party on 2nd February 2020 was different from any session that I have been involved in since I started writing The Water Meadow Chronicles, part way through last year. While we planted wildflower seeds some months ago on the River Lark west bank in No Man’s Meadow, there was nothing to see and no immediate visual impact. This session we were planting snowdrops and the transition was from nondescript to terrific and uplifting.

A record number of volunteers participated. We really deserved sunshine, but we had to make do with mild and overcast. At least there was no rain. The twenty or so attendees set to the task with a will and in no time, a carpet of nodding white flowers had been planted along the river side at the entrance to Ram Meadow. Spirits were high and, rightly, we were pleased with ourselves. It is said that getting out in the fresh air and enjoying some exercise contributes to hygge (or a sense of meaningfulness and wellbeing) and this session was a wonderful example of this. There were plenty of smiles and a clear collective sense of achievement. We had created our own sunshine!

We were joined by Ian Campbell who leads the “in-river” volunteer group. That’s the volunteers who have been trained in river safety and can get into the river with fetching garments on called chest waders, for jobs such as restoration, litter picking and Himalayan balsam removal. He was cutting back a willow that had fallen and obscured the entrance, which now had lovely snowdrops along it’s way. When the team had cut back some of the low branches and cleared some of the dead grasses and brambles, the view along the path was very much improved since one could see the sea of snowdrops from quite a distance.

This session was, according to Ian Campbell, “a wonderful example of what an active volunteer group can achieve by being collaborative, creative and flexible”. I couldn’t put it any better myself.

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 7 (January 2020)

Iain Carruthers-Jones gives his latest account of BWMG work parties. Earlier parts of the Chronicles can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

We had a lovely morning for the volunteer session on the 18th January. The sun shone and it was brisk rather than cold to start with. By tea break time we were all comfortably warm because plenty of effort was needed for the tasks assigned. There were sixteen in the group including our young volunteer on a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme

Our brief this morning outlined “some ditch maintenance”. This work on the south Crankles involved having a go at the area around the ditch between The Crankles and the first meadow of No Man’s Meadow. The name Crankles comes from the shape of the fishponds used by the monks in the Abbey, now celebrating 1000 years this year. The type of work we would do would be determined by the depth of the water. A daunting prospect given the recent weather we have “enjoyed” and bearing in mind that this part of the Crankles had been under water as both the Lark and the Linnet overflowed their banks for a few days. Whatever, gumboots were an imperative. The second task was raking last years’ old growth away and putting it on the compost heap as well as some tree maintenance around the ditch. If there was time left we would make a start on clearing old tree guards and tree mulching. Phew!!

A possible extra hazard was that we would be working adjacent to the beehives which can’t be closed up in the winter due to mouse deflectors on their entrances. As it turned out, the temperature was low enough for the bees not to be flying.

It was quite a revelation to see just how much clearing was needed. This ditch has been neglected for a while and the area has many fallen trees, some of the larger ones were right across the ditch. Those volunteers who were able, helped to pull some of the easier logs from the deep mud which was both slippery and retentive. While this heroic work was going on the rest of us raked the vegetation which had been mowed earlier and putting our resultant arisings onto the now huge, compost heap nearby.

We were ready for our “coffee break” when the time came and there was banter among the group of setting a really difficult bog snorkelling competition – Sticky mud, zero visibility, very cold water: what’s not to just relish! On a more serious note, traces of oil were seen on the water surface of the ditch as it flowed towards and into the Lark. Whether this can be linked to the fly tipping event a few days earlier, is difficult to say, but it was distressing to see.

As the weeks pass and the work of the volunteers progresses I am reminded of the value of their work. They are getting pleasure from their collective efforts, but they are also helping to revive and create a wonderful green space for all to enjoy.

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 6 (January 2020)

Iain Carruthers-Jones gives his latest account of BWMG work parties.  Earlier parts of the Chronicles can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Happy New Year!! The first volunteer meeting of the new year produced an excellent turnout of volunteers. All 16 were in great spirits and there was plenty of hard work as well as happy conversation (especially during the coffee break).

There had been discussion about what we would tackle during the session. It had been thought that we might be planting snowdrops but that wasn’t possible. Further, the weather we have had recently provided a fly in the ointment. You probably are all aware that the Crankles and No Man’s Meadow were under water for a few days. Both the Lark and the Linnet had the highest water levels seen in a long time and the footpaths were impassable for all but the most intrepid. The conditions would have been perfect for Which Magazine if they had been wanting to do a wellies comparison test!!

An alternative plan had been to tackle the Crankles South side. The ditch, which probably formed the first arm of the medieval fish farm, is in need of clearing. There are several boughs of various sizes spread across and along it. The level of water in the ditch rose from almost nothing to almost swimmable. The volunteers were disappointed when Jillian decided that it is a health and safety risk. The rivers are back to a reasonable level but the ground is still very wet, muddy and slippery.

So we tackled the Crankles North side which is nearest the Abbey Gardens. It was a repeat of what we were doing in the Crankles on Feb 18 last year, when we cleared the arisings and made habitat piles of the vegetation. The arisings ranged from simple dead plant material to wickedly prickly briars. One of the group was delighted to be working with briars as she has recently treated herself to a fantastic pair of gloves. She was very proud to be able to give us a demonstration of their excellence. Collectively we took out several yards of briars. They need to be separated out and disposed of away from the other arisings since they have the capacity to root from cuttings left on the ground. An extraordinary plant with good qualities but also to be handled with the greatest care.

We also worked to make sure all the trees in staked guards are alive and secure. Happily the survival rate has been high; we all agreed, however, that the planting had been rather regimental in terms of layout and single minded in tree type.

This part of the Crankles has not changed much, apart from the planting of the alder saplings, since the cricket bat willows came down in 2015/16, and there are lots of logs in various states of decay lying on the ground. All this is wonderful habitat for wildlife but we needed to take care in case of tripping and falling over. Some logs were slippery with moss and several hosted varieties of toadstool and fungus. There were signs of animal life with several nest holes; there was a reminder of animal death as well. One volunteer turned up a muntjac deer skull. It was easy to identify because the horns form part of the skull.

A couple of the volunteers went across to the east side of Crankles South and made a start on clearing the eastern end of the ditch. It was heavy going and they made a sterling effort.

From the naturalist’s perspective we can report a number of sightings during the day. A couple of egrets were seen flying over from the north end of the Crankles towards the south end of No Mans Meadow. They seem to defy the laws of physics but they are wonderful in their elegance.

Winter aconite, photo by Bengt Nyman

A roe deer was seen and a water vole colony seems to have established itself on the west bank of the Linnet near to the Premier Inn car park. A wonderful carpet of Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) could be seen at the northern tip of the North Crankle. Several wild flowers are beginning to show growth. Nearby viburnam bodnantse can be seen and smelt. A wonderful fragrance that lifts the spirits.

All in all, a very good morning’s work.

Iain Carruthers-Jones
10th January 2020

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 5 (December 2019)

Iain Carruthers-Jones shares his experiences as BWMG volunteer, with the latest Chronicle:

The mid-December (14/12/19) Watermeadows Volunteers work party assignment was a good challenge. The weather forecast was fair and it was a bit nippy. The incentive to get started was clear. More activity means that you keep warm as well as see progress, and even transformation.

The task was outlined by the group leader, Julian. The ten volunteers were to work on the east bank of the Lark moving in a northerly, down river, direction towards the red dogwood. This stretch had a lot of overgrown dead plant material and several extremely elderly elder trees. There was, as well, a considerable number of extremely thorny rambling plants ready to cling to jackets and gouge nasty scratch marks. Undaunted and having donned stout clothing and good leather gardening gloves we set-to with our secateurs, loppers and saws. We made great progress. The smaller twigs were moved by wheelbarrow to the compost heap on the west bank and the larger pieces were stacked in piles in the hope that they will be good small mammal and insect refuges. We will cross our fingers and see.

As always, a really good team esprit developed. It’s always nice to chat as well as work. Today’s session was particularly lively because we discussed the results of the general election which was held two days ago. Opinions and comments were very forthcoming about Brexit (yes or no), the pantomime of the election promises made during the last few weeks as well as the personalities of both the leading and lesser characters. It would be fair to say that plaudits were in very short supply. It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next weeks and months. Will the election promises, such as the improvement in meeting the urgent needs of the NHS services and infrastructure, be fulfilled and who will become the new leader of Labour? Even that discussion and the heavy rain we endured didn’t seem to dampen our spirits.

Something that has become evident to me is that one notices things when you are working on a small area of ground. Things you wouldn’t necessarily notice when you are out walking. Or even when you are out walking the dog and dawdling along as the dog enjoys a “sniffathon”. The former tends to give you an eye level or a horizon level perspective and the latter, at least in my case, needs a micro, ground level perspective to ensure that the dog is not eating something it shouldn’t. My dog finds it difficult just yet to tell the difference between dog biscuits and dried poo. From discussion with other dog owners, it would seem that many dogs are similarly challenged!

However, working as a volunteer allows me to look closely in the arms’ reach to medium distance range. I saw lots of buds and shoots on shrubs and trees. It looked more like early spring than early winter. I saw quite a lot of daisies in flower and I saw plenty of new growth grass and nettles. There were cow parsley shoots as well. It made me smile as I was reminded of the vision of ethereal beauty we can look forward to in the spring, especially in the Great Churchyard. Since I moved to Bury St Edmunds only earlier this year I did not know what to expect and I was transfixed.

Birds-wise, a grey heron flew past us. I am so impressed with the elegance of these birds. Flight seems to be languid and effortless. I wonder if the raised water levels in both the Lark and the Linnet will help or hinder the herons search for food? Certainly the increased flow might hinder the moorhens. They haven’t been seen around in the last few days.

In contrast, there has been a daily mid morning flypast of long tailed tits. They seem to gambol along. Twittering away to each other they fly from tree to tree seeking out food. They queue up on my fence to get to the bird feeder; I’ve seen as many as six all on the feeder at the same time. Sometimes they allow great tits, coal tits and blue tits to fly with them as well. It’s like a flying circus; it certainly brings a smile to my face.

As well as tits of various types, we enjoy robins. They seem to thrive in this area. During the volunteer session there was a robin “keeping an eye” on us. It even adopted one of the new stumps as a vantage point. Sadly I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to get a picture!

Many people seem to think that the robin is a friendly bird. It is always close by and chirpy. However, I was talking with an expert in bird behaviour recently and he was saying that they can be very territorial and aggressive both with other robins and other birds in general. In support of that idea, I witnessed some “furious flying” a few minutes ago ( Sunday, 15th Dec 14.35) . A robin was perched on the bird feeder outside my kitchen window. A flock of long tailed tits and a couple of blue tits flew in. While the robin was chasing off about five or six of them, the rest settled in to feed. When the robin returned it chased off the ones that had been feeding. This left space for the others to come back and feed. This went on for several minutes. The robin was very agitated. If I could hear in the frequency range that tits laugh, I would have been deafened.

Robin (image from http://www.gardenbirdwatching.com)

Iain Carruthers-Jones

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 4 (December 2019)

BWMG member Iain Carruthers-Jones continues his first-hand accounts of our work parties:

Getting up and looking out of the window yesterday morning I was thinking to myself that this must be the wrong day. Where the day before had been a beautiful, cloudless day, this morning (01/12/2019) was grey and unpromising. It was no surprise that it started to rain quite hard as I began to make my way to the work party meeting point in Abbey Gardens. Surely no one would notice if I didn’t appear? I had just decided that this was a rain or shine commitment when a fellow volunteer called my name and caught up with me. No turning back now. Anyway, the rain seemed to be easing a bit. And then, just as we crossed the bridge at the eastern boundary of the Gardens, a streak of turquoise went past us heading for the old bridge. That kingfisher was on some sort of mission. Blink and we would have missed it. The day was getting better by the moment.

The weather improved through the morning. By the end of the session, which was very ably led by Julian Case (pictured left, pointing), the sun was shining, we all had smiles on our faces as well as a great sense of satisfaction with our work. This session’s task involved sweeping and gathering leaves from the river bank, clearing litter, pruning back some plants, giving some plants more space to prosper in the spring and removing brambles which can rapidly smother other plants as well as cause some blood letting if you are not wearing stout leather gloves.

It would seem that along this stretch of river most leaves have fallen. We moved several big barrow loads and those lying on the grass should be moved by the council soon.

Several barrow loads of dead and dried out plant material were gathered. Their seeds have been naturally dispersed in recent weeks and new growth is already beginning to show. With reasonable weather through the winter we should see a great selection of wild flowers next year.

Some of our time was taken collecting cans and plastic bottles. It’s a pity that such an attractive area is spoiled by the carelessness of a few people and it’s to the credit of the volunteer team that they tackle this clearing work with hardly a comment.

Overall, the session was a success as always. The team worked hard and there will be a touch of stiffness later. More obviously and importantly, there was a lot of satisfaction expressed in being part of a very congenial group working to support and enhance a worthwhile cause. The feelgood effect was evident.

Iain Carruthers-Jones

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 3 (October 2019)

BWMG member Iain Carruthers-Jones continues his first-hand accounts of our work parties

Wednesday 23rd October was one of those days when the water meadows looked just about the best place to be. The sun was out and it was neither too warm nor too frosty. It was autumn at its best. A group of volunteers met at the bridge over the river Linnet at the bottom of Shirehall Way. There were fifteen of us. Our task for the day was to make our way over to the River Lark side of No Man’s Meadow to clear ground, dig some squares of earth (about 45 centimetres square for the technically minded), clear roots, remove leaves and cut grass. Then we did a light till and spread a sand and wildflower seed mix. Hopefully this is going to look lovely in the spring and early summer.

Ian Cunliffe / Yellow Rattle – Rhinanthus minor

The choice of wildflowers seeds to be sown was researched carefully. The final choice contained 23 native British wildflower species consisting of mainly perennial species designed to restore and enrich loamy riverside soil. One of the most important species being Yellow rattle which is semi parasitic on grasses. This suppresses the growth of grass so that other flowers can flourish.

As always, there was a great spirit of team effort and good humour. It was an excellent session and there was a collective sense of real satisfaction. And all that’s needed to join in is to dress as if you were going to do some gardening, wear some stout and waterproof footwear and bring a pair of gardening gloves. It’s a good idea to bring a flask of tea, coffee or water – it can be thirsty work – and there is always Polish cake and/or flapjacks for the “tea break”.

As always, too, there’s lots to chat about and plenty to see as well. There’s longer term planning to hear about and shorter term activity to get feedback about. Just yesterday we moved some turves that had been removed to make way for wildflower seed planting. It was decided to put the turves to good use rather than just pile them up. They were placed along the footpaths at the end of No Man’s Meadow where the paths near the steps have got very muddy. Just this morning I had feedback from a regular dog walker (who also happens to be a member of the Water Meadows Group) that she thought this was a brilliant idea and a great improvement. It was good to get such prompt and fulsome feedback about the Volunteers Group efforts.

I mentioned in one of the earlier Chronicles that it would seem a good idea to begin to keep a record of the wildlife that inhabits the water meadows. Obviously we are hoping that the nurturing of biodiversity will be of interest to Group members but it could also be useful when, as a newly established charity, we find ourselves eligible to apply for grants. In discussions I have had with a variety of people, it is evident that there are quite a number of animals, birds, bugs etc. Please help me with this initiative. Indeed, if someone has started to collect data, I would love to hear from them. A collaborative effort, which might include several people, would be an excellent way to move forward.

Yesterday, while we were beavering away as a group of volunteers, we took time to enjoy the view of the water meadows in its autumnal glory. We also saw an egret, several fieldfares and redwings, a grey heron and a buzzard being mobbed by crows. As always, there was a robin about as well.

By Joe Pell – Tawny Owl, CC BY 2.0

In recent weeks I have had reports of kingfishers (near the bridge over the Linnet), adders ( a neighbour’s dog was severely bitten; it needed to stay over with a local vet. It appeared to be well on the way to recovery but has subsequently died) and a tawny owl. I have been tantalisingly close to the owl on several occasions but not yet managed to see it. Earlier this week a vole was seen on the bank of the Linnet near to the bridge and several people have reported seeing bats. At least two types of bat have been spotted. Would it be a good idea to put up bat boxes? And just yesterday I saw a large flock of long tailed tits scurrying from tree to tree.

Several months ago I saw deer and at night, in season, there was plenty of deer noise to be heard around the Crankles. Plenty of squirrels have been seen, too. With regard to fish, I have heard that sticklebacks have been seen in the Lark. Have any other types of fish been seen?

If you would like to let me know of sightings you have made or if you would like to be involved collaboratively in our survey and recording work, please contact me via email.

The Water Meadows Chronicles part 2 (October 2019)

BWMG member and work party volunteer Iain Carruthers-Jones writes:

I was reading an article the other evening in Country Living (July 2019). It was written by a man called Joe Harkness and it was entitled Wings of Hope. His central question was “Can birdwatching benefit our mental health?”  He had had a breakdown a few years ago and, going for a walk near his home in Norfolk, he had seen a buzzard soaring above the trees. This sight had a deep emotional impact on him and it was the starting point for his recovery. In his book, Bird Therapy, he describes his recovery and the role that birds have played. He advises that it isn’t just the sighting of birds that is important but hearing the sounds as well.

It is a heartwarming story but, you ask, how is that relevant to you or me? Well, within the Water Meadows we have the opportunity to enjoy a whole soundscape. We are all aware of the history of this area and what a history it has been. We are all aware of the beauty. We see the wonderful colour palate of nature with the changing seasons. And yet I wonder how many of us are aware of the sounds of the Water Meadows? What about the slither of the adders, the buzz of the bees and the calls of the birds?

Despite my last blog’s mention of the six o’clock dog, most dog walkers have quiet, well behaved dogs. So they too should be able to hear the sounds of nature. How many birds are there in this area and how many different types? I have heard quite a few but seen fewer and recognised still fewer ; perhaps I have not taken enough time yet. I’m working on learning to identify by sound and I don’t always have my binoculars and camera to hand. What I do know, though, is that I get a huge amount of pleasure from listening. Several evenings recently, for example, I have heard the call of an owl. Almost certainly a Barn Owl. Is it alone ? I don’t know but I can say that its call is haunting.

Some weeks ago I saw a bird on our bird feeder which I thought I recognised. But it was a little too big for a blue Tit and the tail was a little too long. Out came my bird book; I had seen my first Yellow Wagtail. Wow!

Yellow wagtail“Yellow wagtail” by jans canon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Several people have seen the egret. Perhaps there are more than one but I can report only one in the last few months. It is the large white bird which has been seen wading in the River Linnet. It has also been seen at the south end of No Man’s Meadow as well. But no one has reported hearing it or, indeed, seeing a pair this year (see video taken last year, from the Crankles).

I can report having seen robins, wrens, blackbirds, blue tits, coal tits and long tailed tits. And, of course, pigeons as well as mallards, moorhens, pheasants and magpies.

It would be good to hear of any other sightings, especially of hawks, owls and birds of passage. The big migration south is underway. I would like to keep a record of sightings (and hearings) so that we can keep track of bird and animal life and I would welcome all the help I can get. I can be contacted through the website.

Going back to the egret I mentioned three paragraphs ago, I was talking with another member of the Volunteers group last Saturday (5th October); he was telling me that in recent years there have been as many as four egrets on the Water Meadows and No Mans’ Meadow. I wonder if there is any significance in this decline?

We had a very successful Volunteer Group activity last Saturday. There was no rain. Thank goodness we did not have the activity the following day since we would have been washed out. As it was, it was warm and pleasant. The nine volunteers set to and we completed our goals. First, there was a tool sharpening exercise using the new tools. That was energetic and the results were satisfying and effective. Second, we cleared the Water Meadow of the material we had cut a couple of weeks ago and left to dry out a bit. It was stacked up a couple of yards away from the path that runs alongside the River Linnet. As we emptied the wheelbarrows it became obvious that we had helped a lot of invertebrates move home as well. Hundreds of tiny spiders as well as centipedes, earwigs and others too numerous to count, or even identify, moved on to inhabit the newly created compost pile. In a tree nearby, a robin gave us a round of music. How can such a small bird generate such melody and volume?

Apparently a wicker fence will be built to contain the mountain of material later this year. Aesthetically, it will be attractive as well as functional. We are looking forward to getting a lesson in willow fence making at the same time.