The Water Meadow Chronicles, part 20

These last few weeks have been strange days. The weather has been very variable; sometimes it has felt more like a mild winter’s day. Occasionally there has been a glimpse of something brighter. There’s been days with no rain ; it’s been overcast and felt a little oppressive. And we’ve had quite a lot of days with a lot of rain and gloom. As I start writing this Chronicle in mid-September, we are enjoying a string of lovely days with (largely) cloudless skies and the sun has been strong enough to require an application of sunscreen. As I say “long may it continue;” there are others saying that the gardens are desperate for rain. You can’t please everyone!

One thing is certain – we are crossing the seasons into autumn. The trees are beginning to shed their leaves and the virginia creepers’ leaves are beginning to turn from green to that wonderful deep red; it always brings a smile to my face. More dog walkers are wearing their padded gilets or fleecies in the morning; fewer are venturing out in short sleeves.

With the easing of the Covid regulations our volunteer programme has gradually become more active again. There is so much to do and it is great to see people stepping forward. Some have been long term volunteers who were frustrated when the programme was frozen. Others are newer members. All have set to with a will. Some are happy (trained) scythers, others prefer to rake and clear. The in-water team is busy as well. The collective effort, very ably organised by Jillian Macready, Julian Case and Ian Campbell, has achieved a lot.
Photo of the Angel Hotel by Martin Pettitt, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The picture (left) shows a piece of land in the town that has recently become available for BWMG to do our conservation work on.

Very recently, I was a member of a group of four who visited. The group comprised Jillian Macready, Anna Saltmarsh, Vic Ward and myself. Collectively, we were amazed and delighted at what we found. Firstly ,we were surprised at the size of the site. It is bigger than we had anticipated. The first picture is taken from the southern end of the site. Anna can be seen in the bottom right hand side of the photo. She was industriously recording plants.

Secondly, we realised very quickly that while the northern end of the site, which is across the road from Tesco, had been cleared of the travellers’ rubbish and then covered with soil which has sprouted an amazing variety plants, including snapdragons and chrysanthemums, the rest of the site appears to have remained untouched for years.

Vic Ward pictured here (right) can be seen assessing an area largely containing bulrushes. It is very wet underfoot but there is no standing or running water such as one would see with a pond or stream. The source of water cannot be the river Lark since the “pond” lies several feet above the river level. Neither is there an evident water source from the eastern side of the site so it may be a dew pond but at present we have no idea who might have created it.

In the picture below, a stand of himalayan balsam can be seen. This is, of course, an unwelcome invasive plant which our inwater team has worked hard to eliminate along the length of the Water Meadows. Fortunately, this stand is not widespread and, therefore, may be dealt with fairly straightforwardly.

Interestingly, the balsam is on the side of an earth mound which is situated at the southern end of the site. About ten feet high and roughly forty feet square, it would be tempting to suggest that it is a medieval earthwork. The probable explanation may be a little more prosaic. It could well be a spoil heap created when the A14 was being built. Whichever, it is host to moles and deer as there are lots of mole hillocks and hoof tracks.

The group spent several hours walking the site and we concluded that the site has been largely undisturbed for many years. There is a considerable diversity of habitat and it is probable that there is a rich birdlife and a great diversity of plants. Vic Ward has agreed to be our biodiversity survey recorder; we look forward to hearing about what he sees.

The photo to the right summarised for me how rich and full of life the site is. We all said how much we look forward to spending time enjoying, studying, recording and writing about this splendid piece of wilderness. While the new “acquisition” is fascinating and full of potential for more discovery, the rest of our Water Meadows continue to give us pleasure.

Sue Russell, one of our biodiversity survey volunteer recorders, was walking in Ram Meadow one morning and came face to face with a deer and took this photograph. Usually deer take to their heels when disturbed but occasionally, probably when they do not feel threatened, they will stand still probably believing that they blend into the foliage. Sadly, they are most often disturbed by people walking their dog(s). Some walk their dog off the lead and seem to believe that it is alright to allow their dog to get their exercise by harassing wildlife as well as other dogs. I heard a few weeks ago of someone walking their dog along the Lark Path on the eastern edge of No Mans Meadow. Their dog spotted a muntjac deer and chased it through the Lark and onto the meadow on the other bank. Apparently, the deer turned on the dog and, using teeth and horns, savaged it. A visit to the vets was needed.
Photo by Sue Russell

As mentioned before, we have a team of volunteers who have been trained to scythe. Chris Power is seen here scything in the Abbey Gardens but the team is working all over the Meadows. It is probably the most efficient and eco friendly way to manage plant growth. Other members of the team were working in the South Crankles last Saturday (October 9th). Julian Case and his fellow scythers were working their way through the nettles on the east bank of the Linnet. With a steady, almost poetic, rhythm they worked their way through 100 yards of nettles with seeming ease. A satisfying session.

The volunteer group spent some time sowing yellow-rattle (rhinanthus minor), as well. It is a semi-parasitic plant which can host numerous insects.

In conclusion, while we are all winding down into autumn and winter, there is still a lot to do, see and enjoy. The leaves are turning colour and some are falling. Many people have said to me that, because of the pandemic and the restrictions it has caused , they have come to appreciate the Water Meadows and the general outdoors even more. What a pleasure!

Iain Carruthers-Jones Sept/ Oct 2021

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