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

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