The work party was our second session of the winter 2017 trying to tackle the Typha (reedmace) that was attempting to take over the extension to the Water Vole Scrape in the Reservoir Basin. However, this time we came armed with three new pairs of waders, some pond gloves and a crome, along with three of her volunteers, courtesy of Anne Heathcote of the Freshwater Habitats Trust.
Before we started!
One only has to compare the final photo of the 8th October session with those of two months later to see what many people with the right tools can do! We also made use of the additional help by doing the annual 50% cutback of the Phragmites (Common reed) in the original scrape. The reasons for both are to refresh the growth of the reeds, which we want, and to control the reedmace, which is a bit of a thug, and we don’t want. We also relocated some reed plants to where we’d dug out the reedmace.
With thirteen volunteers, six of whom were wearing chest waders the waist-deep icy water was overcome, along with the still muddy challenge of cutting the reed bed. The scrape has become well-established with a good variety of other water plants and creatures still visible. Our especial thanks must go to Amy who had come from Cumbria with her mum, Jill, via West Yorkshire and probably ended up the muddiest of all! Thanks also to Julie and Mark, Mark A, Judi, Neil, Helen, Pete, Anne and Dick – a very satisfying work party upon which the sun shone taking the edge off the ice-cold water.
Dick with the new crome
Modelling the waders and crome
The next session is on Sunday 7th January at 10:30 pm and the plan is to lay the Blue Beck Copse eastern hedge and cut back outside suckers. The fence then has to be repaired. The session may run on after 1 pm. There will be an experienced hedge-layer (Don) on hand to direct.
On a splendid sunny autumn morning the eight voluneers entered the Blue Beck Copse with a plan to do some coppicing. The day was cold but sunny and quite sheltered within the trees. Unfortunately after a brief inspection we first had to clear up after someone’s ‘picnic’, with a mix of detritus from cans, food containers, clothing and rubbish that was spread across several square metres to bag up and dispose of. We also found that the bullocks had managed to push down the fence and trampled through, although the actual damage was minimal and probably less that the human predecessors.
We also found that we had clear access to the hedge plants of hazel and hawthorn we’d put in a couple of years earlier and these could be straightened and re-staked using hazel poles to being the hedge between the copse and New Meadow back. Mark and Masha bravely used a brick as a hammer to do this! More inter-planting will be considered over the winter.
In the twenty-odd years since it was first planted the copse has been coppiced on a number of occasions and the hazel stools were quite evident, along with the willow that had been similarly treated. More hazel and willow were cut back bringing a pleasant sylvan light amongst the remaining trees and stools. The nest boxes were also in one piece but need checking and cleaning over winter.
The area has obviously got a number of rabbits and foxes, from the number of holes to trip over if not paying attention, but upon lifting an old half of clay plant pot it was discovered that a small mammal had made a nest of moss and feathers, and there were a range of birds nests from couple of feet above ground and upwards. The benefits of managing it in the manner we have done were clear.
All being well, on Friday 24th November a small group of us will be attempting to repair and fix the remaining barn owl box in position in the Copse Meadow (If we have time afterwards we’ll also carry on coppicing in the Blue Beck Copse). The next Sunday work party is on the 3rd December where we can test out the new waders funded by the Freshwater Habitats Trust Flagship Pond Scheme as we make further attempts to reduce the Typha invasion from the extended Water Vole scrape in the Reservoir Basin.
Thanks to Masha, Judi, Julie and Mark, Pete, Helen and Mark T for all their enthusiastic hard work. Many hands have brought light to the copse!
The actual work party for November is on Sunday 19th November at 10:30 at Blue Beck Copse. Some may not be aware of this area but we have been quietly managing it over the years having planted it in the 1990’s. The Copse is to the north of the site, just north of Blue Beck where it joins the Ings Dyke and south of the New Meadow where the Tansy Beetles are on the bank. The plan is to coppice some of the hazel and willow there and hopefully we will be joined by Leilah of Dragon Willow and a friend of hers, who can make use of the cuttings, otherwise we will be disposing of way from the floodplain.
On Friday 24th November from about 10:00 am we are hoping to mount the remaining Barn Owl nest box on a tree in the Copse Meadow. The Copse Meadow is to the west of the cycle track as it leaves Rawcliffe Meadows and heads towards our copse a few hundred metres north. The trees are along the Ings Dyke.
Thanks to Anne Heathcote and the Freshwater Habitats Trust we are now getting several pairs of chest waders, pond gloves and a crome ( a sort of bent fork that’s great for clearing ditches and ponds), which will come in handy for Sunday 3rd December’s second assault on the Typha in the water voles scrape in the Reservoir Basin (from 10:30, as usual). We’ll probably need a third session there in the New Year, the programme for which is currently being planned. The annual report will soon be started too, so any recordings welcome in due course!
Greater Water Parsnip in the flood basin
GREATER WATER PARSNIP is one of Britain’s most threatened plants, categorised as Endangered in the Red List of flowering plants. It’s a tall, imposing umbellifer – a member of the carrot family with distinct ‘umbrella’ flowers – which likes to keep its feet wet. Once widespread in lowland wetlands and river floodplains, Greater Water Parsnip was recorded from the River Foss as long ago as 1796 and remained widespread from York to Strensall into the early 20th century. According to Henry Baines’ Flora of Yorkshire, published in 1840, it also grew “in the moat at York”.
Drainage of wetlands, over-engineering of rivers and the mechanisation of ditch management have been disastrous for this plant, to the point where it has disappeared from most of its British range. Two beetles dependent on Greater Water Parsnip have become extinct in Britain. In Yorkshire it survives only in the Lower Derwent Valley (mainly around Bubwith and North Duffield) and in a small area beside Hornsea Mere, with occasional plants seen on the Leven Canal.
Greater Water Parsnip is not difficult to grow from seed and a number of re-introductions have been attempted in Yorkshire but most of these have been poorly monitored and the plants have vanished without trace (Yorkshire Water’s excellent Tophill Low Nature Reserve in the Hull valley being a notable exception). Little is known about how long individual plants live and whether they reproduce from seed or by vegetative means. We know its natural habitat is tall reedbed or fen vegetation but we don’t know how much competition it can tolerate, or what kind of management is most beneficial. To try and answer some of these questions, three plants grown from Yorkshire seed have been planted in the Water Vole Scrape at Rawcliffe Meadows. This is not a re-introduction project – the site is not big enough for that – but it’s well suited to monitoring the life-history of the plants. Initial results show that conditions are favourable with all three flowering and producing seed since they were planted out in June.
M.Hammond, October 2017
Given that pond clearance is not a particularly popular activity it was good to have six volunteers and three reasonable apologies for the morning’s work of trying to rid the water vole scrape of the Typha (reedmace) that was threatening to take over the newish extension.
So Judi, Julie, Mark A, Mark T, Masha and Mick proceeded to try and dig out by the roots what Typha they could. The day turned out warm, with lots of spiders and other creatures bobbing about in the pond, and good humour as mud splattered everywhere…
As it turned out it was quite hard work and despite six of us we only cleared around 50% of the area, so the rest will have to wait until the 3rd December when we can hopefully carry on with removing more, along with cutting back 50% of the Phragmites (common reed) in the older section of the scrape.
There was much other plant life trying to compete against the Typha, and hopefully by knocking it back on a regular basis, the habitat will balance.
The next work party will be on much firmer and less smelly land with us needing to do some coppicing in Blue Beck Copse on Sunday 19th November. Although we have coppiced regularly, and erected bird boxes, the copse is looking in need of attention, including finding one of the elm saplings. It hoped that Leilah, a professional willow weaver, will join us to make use of the hazel and willow we cut back. Blue Beck Copse is at the north of the site, below New Meadow and adjacent to the cycle track as it crosses the Blue Beck running under the Barrier Bank.
Fortunately for us the weather was not as bad as the forecast had warned, apart from a very short, light shower early on. So, thanks to Simon and Isaac, Annie, Helen, Pete, Ron and Mick we started off by scattering the Yellow Rattle seed a few of them had collected earlier in the year from the New Meadow that had been overrun with it onto the Cornfield Grassland that we started establishing in 2012. Yellow Rattle is hemi-parasitic on grass roots reducing their growth so we aimed the seed spreading to areas where there is more grass than herbs. We also had a variety of meadow flower seed that Martin had collected in 2015 but needed using up, for this we raked some of the barer areas of the sward (not that there were many) and spread it there, making a mental note of where that had been. The expectation is that the cattle will trample the seed into the soil when they next tour the field.
When the flower seed was scattered on the Cornfield Grassland, attention was turned to adding some, in a similar manner, onto the New Meadow.
In addition, the north-western and south-western corners of the Cornfield Grassland were cut back as they were getting encroached by nettles and brambles. The bullocks have done a great grazing job but are partial to the softer grasses and herbs. The bird feeder was also removed for repair as the bullocks appeared to have taken a dislike to it, or the squirrels become extremely aggressive.
Next outing is planned to be Sunday 8th October at 10:30 am in the Reservoir Basin pulling out the reedmace from the Water Vole Scrape as it is taking over from the Phragmites. Definitely a wellies and gloves job!
Our ecologist Martin reports that for the second time, what’s almost certainly a Little Owl pellet has been found on a gatepost in the Cornfield. Characteristically, it’s full of beetle wing cases. However, as far as we know, no-one has ever reported seeing this day-flying, insect-eating owl at Rawcliffe Meadows.
Also in the Cornfield, a couple of immature Yellowhammers have been present since August. Whilst not definite proof of local breeding, this is a hopeful sign. For some years we’ve been planting Gorse in gaps in the Cornfield boundary hedge in the hope of enticing wintering Linnets and Yellowhammers to stay and nest.