Water Meadows Chronicles

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