Weeds and Water

We travelled north to Yorkshire for two nights this week to visit my oldest friend on the occasion of a significant birthday. There wasn’t much time to go chasing wildlife but we did take a walk along the wooded valley of Hebden Beck just above the popular tourist town of Hebden Bridge. This town is set in a steep-sided valley, downstream from the coming-together of several rivers and streams, which has resulted in a long history of flooding. Recently, the town has been badly hit in 2012, 2015 and 2020.

Tree trunks secured to large and heavy boulders

There is now a flood alleviation scheme underway and we were interested to see one aspect of this already in place along Hebden Beck where tree trunks had been secured to large boulders at intervals along the stream. There has been much talk of Beaver pools and dams being used to help prevent flood surges by increasing the water holding capacity of the uplands. Now, in the moors and valleys above Hebden Bridge, unsuitable for Beaver reintroduction for many reasons, they are anyway reproducing this Beaver effect by reducing the water in local reservoirs by 10% and creating artificial dams with these tree trunks.

This trunk has started to form a fuller dam effect as other smaller pieces of wood get trapped alongside it

The charity Slow The Flow has been working hard using local volunteers to get these leaky dams and other measures in place to reduce the risk of future serious flooding events in the Calder Valley.

Himalayan Balsam was growing along the banks of the beck in some profusion. This invasive plant has an explosive seed dispersal mechanism, the seeds thus getting into the water course and spreading widely. It is an attractive plant but, once it gets going, it grows so densely that it inhibits growth of our native flora. Since it is an annual, cutting it down early so that no seeds form would be an effective control, the problem of course being that it is often growing in horribly inaccessible places.

We walked up the beck as far as the gloriously-located Gibson Mill, which used the power of Hebden Beck to drive a water wheel and produce cotton cloth until 1890, employing around 20 workers who lived onsite in attached cottages. Since 1950 it has been owned by the National Trust, now housing a welcome café although it still remains proudly off grid, generating all its power itself and using a local spring for its water.

Back down south, the vegetation in the meadows seems especially tall and verdant this year with all the rain we have had so far this summer.

It seems to be an extremely good year for Wild Carrot

We don’t have Himalayan Balsam here but that is not to say that we don’t have our own problematic plants. We rather smugly thought that we were winning the battle against Ragwort after several years of operating a zero tolerance policy, but this year there is a lot of it and it is looking so vigorous:

But now that the plant has advertised its locations with its acid yellow flowers, we are starting to pull it:

However, we are leaving those that have Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on them until the caterpillars pupate:

Maybe it is not just us who is having a rampant Ragwort year – I saw this small field in Berkshire on a visit back this week. If ever we wanted evidence to support our Ragwort zero tolerance stance, this field is it:

Last year we also removed all flower heads from Wild Parsnip after realising that the plant was growing in alarming concentrations in a couple of largish areas. The leaves have a toxin that can bring you out in a long-lasting photo-sensitive rash if you brush against them. This plant is a biennial and so we aspire to be able to eradicate this plant entirely if we keep our concentration up and don’t let it seed this year either.

Wild Parsnip
One of the two Wild Parsnip patches in 2020. It looks like it is as bad, if not worse, this year
We also fight an on-going war with Creeping Thistle, which we try not to allow to seed. We have missed the boat a bit this year with this, unfortunately

The female Sparrowhawk likes to spend some time most days on this perch:

And this is the most amazing show of leg from her:

The ringed female Blackbird and her two chicks
Painted Lady
Emperor Dragonfly laying eggs into the pond
We saw several of these rolled cigarettes on this tree, protecting something within, although we currently don’t know what

As summer progresses and the soil becomes drier, worms go deeper and are less accessible to Badgers. I have certainly noticed an increased enthusiasm for the nightly peanuts. With no cubs born this year, there are four adult Badgers:

Last year four cubs were born and so, by late July, we had a lovely family group of seven of them. I presume that one of these cubs was allowed to stay within the group, while other cubs were forced to disperse last autumn:

Photo from July 2020. Three adults and four young

The Badgers are also now coming up to the strip to bulldoze the cages aside and get at any seed that the birds might have left:

Most of the way into the cage.
Two cages flipped over and one cage largely dismantled the next morning

It has been two weeks now since we have seen the Old Gentleman Fox, or glimpsed him on any of the cameras, which is unprecedented. Despite my best efforts to cure his mange, I have to conclude that he is surely no more. The foxes here are generally deeply wary of humans and that is all for the best, of course. This included the Old Gentleman himself when he first arrived here last year but he gradually accepted us as the source of his beloved honey sandwiches and became increasingly tame. Up until a fortnight ago, he had started hanging around the house a good hour ahead of time, staring hard through the kitchen window to see if he could catch our eye and hurry us up a bit.

The Old Gentleman last month

Of course I became ridiculously fond of him and it feels very sad putting out the peanuts and sandwiches at dusk these days with no fox hanging round my ankles.

On Friday this week we had a day of strong winds as Storm Evert blew himself out above us. The Pride of Burgundy channel ferry sheltered alongside us – always a sign of disruption and associated passenger misery at the Port of Dover just to the south.

By this morning, calm had returned. The last day of July but there is a feeling that autumn is just round the corner. The first blackberries are starting to ripen:

Fruit is swelling on the trees of the orchard:

Fungal fruiting bodies will soon be sprouting up along this fairy ring…

…and the bird ringers returned to the meadows for their first ringing session of the autumnal migration.

Willow Warbler, born this year and weighing less than 7g but now on its way to Africa

We eagerly anticipate the autumn migration every year and the warblers have now started moving and so it is on its way. Last year we had a Ring Ouzel stay for several days in our garden and so who knows what this autumn might bring.

A view out to the late summer meadows across the Agapanthus

One thought on “Weeds and Water

  1. Sorry to hear about the old gentleman. I was fond of him too from your posts.
    Nice that you got up North. I do like Hebden Bridge with all its quirky independent shops. x

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