WILDEN MARSH: A Year Living with Nature at Hoo Wood and Wilden Marsh.
The diverse flora and fauna found in Hoo Wood and on Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve, the latter being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), continue to thrive in spite of being surrounded by industrial estates, and despite the previous disinterest and neglect by those responsible for its upkeep, not to mention the possible interest of property developers. Both Hoo Wood and Wilden Marsh are ribbons of nature connecting Stourport on Severn with Kidderminster. The River Stour flows parallel to the western edge of the marsh, as does the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal; to the east, and running parallel with the marsh, is Wilden Lane. Hoo Brook borders the northern end of the marsh, slowly winding its way down to the River Stour.
There is a lot of work going on at the southern end of the marsh at the moment. Volunteers are thinning and pruning trees, clearing ditches, and installing weirs at the end of the ditches to maintain water levels. It looks like their work will prove to be a major improvement, particularly to access.
PLEASE NOTE! Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve is closed until further notice, to enable essential maintenance work to be carried out. Anyone requiring access to the north or south ends of the reserve will need a permit from The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust.
Hoo Wood is approximately one mile long by 450 feet wide, steeply sloped and running parallel with the eastern side of the northern end of Wilden Lane. The wood is primarily populated with oak, intermingled with birch, a smattering of larch, sycamore and beech trees. Hazel, holly, broom, elder, gorse and many other varieties are well established – there are even a few varieties of apple tree. The plant life is also abundant and varied, but more about these later in the year. In summer, the mosquitoes are vicious; their bites produce swellings the size of hazel nuts. I certainly need to make sure I am well deeted when I am wandering in Hoo Wood during the summer months.
Wilden Village is situated 0.8 miles along the 2.2 miles long Wilden Lane, on the Stourport on Severn side, and is opposite Wilden Industrial Estate, formerly the site of Wilden Iron Works. At the centre of the village is the Wilden Shop and Post Office. There used to be a village pub opposite the entrance to the industrial estate: The Wilden Inn was demolished a few years ago to make way for residential housing.
During the 1970s the marsh began to deteriorate with the removal of the old weirs, but with the installation of two new 1.5 metre high stone weirs last year, placed 1.5 kilometres apart, the water levels in the marsh are now rising.
At the north end of Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve are the disused British Sugar settling lagoons, their water gradually evaporating after the closure of the sugar factory in 2002, further contributing to the drying out of the marsh. The nature reserve consists of 37.5 hectares of dry and marshy fields with small alder and willow woods, reed beds and many drainage ditches, all with different flora and fauna; there are also lots of uncommon plants such as marsh orchids, marsh cinquefoil and lesser water parsnip. A total of 192 bird species have been recorded here and about 70 species breed. The River Stour is less than half a mile from any point along Wilden Lane. The Widen Marsh Nature Reserve is managed by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust.
For many years I have been interested in the fauna and flora of Hoo Woods and Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and I intend to document my seasonal impressions over a 12 month period, in this blogs.
I have watched buzzards nesting and fledging in Hoo Wood for a number of years and, last year, I photographed a buzzard chick’s progress from hatching to it leaving the nest (fledging). I have photographed foxes, badgers, mice, and the many birds that frequent this very local area.
These are a few photographs of last year’s Hoo Wood common buzzard (Buteo buteo). There was one chick hatched last year and 2 chicks the year before. Many hours were spent hiding under my camouflage net, in amongst the Himalayan Balsam, ferns, bracken and mozzies, waiting for the chick to perform for my camera, which was usually for a few minutes in 3 hours.
The common buzzard is easily distinguished from all other species of hawk by its size. The wingspan may vary between 48 to 60 inches, with a body length of around 20 inches. The ‘mewing’ of a buzzard is unmistakable. It’s a slow flyer and has little hope of catching prey that’s on the move. Its usual tactic is to perch motionless on a tree branch and wait for its prey to pass beneath it.
Buzzards start breeding in late March and can lay 2 to 5 eggs, which take 33 to 35 days to incubate and a further 50 to 55 days for the chicks to fledge.