A wet end to the year.
30th December 2012:
Today’s weather was overcast; it has been one of the drier days of late. I was rained-on three times, but for short periods only. The River Stour roared noisily over the stone boulder weirs. Upstream, I gauged the water flow by watching empty and part filled plastic bottles bobbing and pirouetting in the thick brown, churning soup. The Stour was within inches of breaking its banks again. Most of the Reserve is waterlogged. “But it’s a marsh,” I hear you say. “Aren’t marshes supposed to be waterlogged?” Well, dry, wet and waterlogged are words often used to describe the condition of Wilden Marsh. In terms of practicality, a completely dry marsh is not desirable. A wet marsh is easier and more comfortable to walk through, and a soft, squishy and slippery waterlogged marsh can be a pain when maintenance tasks need to be carried out.
Fortunately, the marsh is not constantly waterlogged. Sluice gates are used to help control water levels, but when water is coming onto the marsh faster than it can naturally flow out, the ground can take a while to drain.
The Stour has been in flood more times this year than in other near previous years. Trees and tree branches have again fallen into the river, blocking the progress of the usual flotsam and jetsam trying to make its way down to the River Severn. Where does all the rubbish come from is a question I have asked myself many times? Do the liquefied gas cylinders, plastic bottles and containers of all sizes and colours, car wheels, footballs, and all manner of other floating rubbish originate from a single point upstream, or is most of it down to fly tipping?
The water borne rubbish forms into large floating rafts behind the various river obstructions. If we are fortunate, an extra-large rubbish raft stuck somewhere upstream beyond the marsh limits, will break its woody restraints and gain sufficient momentum to force its way to the River Severn. I think the most likely outcome will be a change in weather; the river levels will drop, leaving huge quantities of floating debris trapped until the next big flood. I’ve seen this happen too many times before!
Standing watching the brown water of the Stour today, reminded me of a dark evening at the beginning of this year: In similar flood conditions, with water lapping around my Wellington boots, I heard what sounded like a motor boat making its way downstream towards me. As the water level continued to rise, a huge rubbish raft sped past me at a brisk running pace. Water that had backed up behind the raft overflowed into the North Pond, cutting off my escape route. This sounds like a very dangerous situation to be caught up in on a dark evening, but I knew what was happening and if absolutely necessary I could have sought sanctuary in a nearby tree. The water level quickly dropped away once the raft had disappeared downstream.
Today I planned to check on mash fox activity; that four jack snipes were where they should be; that the water rail is in residence and that the muntjac is patrolling its regular paths. The marsh is not an easy place for the animals to eke out a living at this time of the year. The foxes will be taking special interest in the moles that are busily repairing their tunnels at the moment. Now is the perfect time to pick out badgers’ runs, but I will check these later in the week when I make an early evening visit to the crossroads.
Shetland Cattle grazed the north pasture. Scanning the area through binoculars, I noticed the head of a small calf poking above the vegetation well away from the other cows. It’s the little calves that are at risk from uncontrolled dogs – I noticed a dog running amongst the cattle earlier in the week, when looking down from Hoo Wood. The head was up, but it wasn’t moving. I walked through the cows, which paid me scant attention and weren’t at all concerned that I was walking towards the calf. It made no effort to move as I approached, and I must admit to a little anxiety. The eyes were closed, and it was chewing the cud. The little fellow was sleeping! I made my usual tongue clicking cow greeting, and it jumped to its feet.
Five herons waded in the south pool’ but took to the air as soon as they laid eyes on me. Most of the trees at the south end of the marsh have been felled over the last few months; I have brought a few down myself, but contractors did most of the work. I’m not used to the changes yet; it all seems a bit bare down there, and machinery has chewed up the ground – it looks a little grim, to be honest. Next summer the south end of the marsh will seem almost normal when the trees that are left are in leaf, and the vegetation has grown a few feet. If the trees were not removed, the marsh would revert to forest. We are trying to encourage wading birds to nest on the marsh and they are attracted by open wet areas. Also, the marsh needs to be grazed to encourage wild plant growth; the cattle condition the ground.
The correct name for the lagoon field, which is in danger of being taken over by willows, is The Wilden Meadow. The marsh has probably been grazed since cattle and sheep were domesticated.
Did I achieve today’s goals? I saw four Jack Snipe where I expected them to be. Munjac tracks showed that the deer was travelling to and fro, from the swamp. I spotted the water rail. I didn’t see a foxes, or any signs of fox kills, but I did see fresh tracks and droppings. I heard a curlew call from the flooded withy wood and another water bird call that I am not yet able to identify.
I am looking forward to dry sunny weather!
According to to weather forecasters, this has been the wettest year since records began.