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.