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 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.

The Water Meadow Chronicles part 1 (September 2019)

BWMG member Iain Carruthers-Jones writes about his experiences of volunteering on our work parties.

Bark, bark, bark, bark! I come to and wake with a sigh. It’s the six o’clock dog. He’s loving his walk in the Water Meadows and seems to be just barking. Unfortunately, my bedroom window is within 25 yards of the path alongside the Linnet where he and his human companion walk and I have no option but to enjoy his joy too. To be fair, it’s not always 6 o’clock. Sometimes it is 6.15 and sometimes he has been either fitted with a silencer or his owner is running late and has not the time to walk Barky.

Why does the dog bark then? There’s no other dogs; no reciprocal barking. Anthropomorphising, I guess it’s just joie de vivre. Have you walked through the Water Meadows in the early morning? If I were a dog, I would probably bark as well. It’s lovely, especially when the sun is coming up and you can see the spiders’ webs and the grass glistening with dew. Perhaps because of its long history, it is easy to pick up a sense of peace and serenity. What was it like for the monks coming to the Crankles all those years ago?

As a member of the Bury Water Meadows Group, soon hopefully to become a registered charity, one is supportive of the restoration of the Water Meadows and the two rivers, the Lark and the Linnet. Some Members have committed to go a step further and become part of the volunteer groups who help actively to manage the vegetation and the rivers. This work is done in association with the council under the leadership of Jillian Macready.

It might be interesting to update all Water Meadows Group members on the work being done by the volunteers. Perhaps it will encourage some members to become volunteers as well? That would be wonderful. So this is the first of a number of fairly regular posts. New (and young) blood would be great but all are welcome; there is so much we can do.

The two recent working parties’ output was clear to see. The first (Sunday, 8th September) concentrated on cutting back the faded meadow which had flowered in the Crankles. The second (Saturday, 21st September) involved the gathering up the cut vegetation, as much as possible, that had hopefully shed its seed back into the meadow as well as having dried out in the two weeks since the first working party. A second group worked in No Mans Meadow starting to clear thistles and nettles. Both days were hot, and it was thirsty work. The “tea breaks” were very welcome, especially since cake was on offer. There was a great sense of camaraderie (the chat and laughter level was high) and a sense of achievement was palpable. Thank you to all who took part.