Has summer arrived?
A small, bright, electric blue dart zoomed upstream, inches from the surface of the water: I made too much noise approaching the kingfisher’s fishing perch, again; it nearly always sees me first! I know what’s about to happen next: the bird will fly in a large loop back to its perch, as long as I continue moving away. So I keep walking and sure enough, I catch sight of it racing midway around the loop. The fishing perch is in a large bush growing through the middle of the river; the kingfisher’s nesting tunnel is in the bank directly opposite. In early spring, I would probably creep back and attempt to photograph it, but there is no point now – the kingfisher is too well hidden amongst thick green leaves.
Today is a proper summer’s day: hot and still, under a cloudless powder blue sky. The north marsh is totally wild. Giant hogweed, huge thistles, long swaying stinging nettles, whippy rosebay willow herb – bramble tendrils that wind their way close to the ground, between masses of tightly packed green stalks, waiting to entangle and trip the unwary – and all manner of differing vegetation covering every piece of previously open ground, to a height of seven feet in places. I force my way through thick leafy swathes of vegetation that hides hazards, such as logs, coppiced branches, deep holes and heavy vehicle tyre ruts. It’s so hot and humid that my glasses are constantly misted up. Biting insects continually search for areas of skin not protected by a tropical strength insect repellent. Sharp thistle needles easily penetrate my thorn proof trousers. Stinging nettle delight in caressing my face and my thin cotton shirt does not prevent their hollow stinging trichomes from embedding in the top half of my body. I also made the mistake of wearing walking boots, instead of wellingtons over which I would be able pull my trouser legs; my boots are full of seeds and other things that irritate sweaty feet. I write about the marsh conditions in this tone not to gain the pity or sympathy from those who read this – not that there is much chance of this happening, I feel – for I am made of much sterner stuff! Sympathy or pity is neither sought nor needed by me. 😉 No, I am merely depicting, for those who have not experienced Wilden Marsh during mid-summer, the current condition of the Reserve. I would hate people to think that I am moaning about the natural marsh conditions.
A month ago, the Environment Agency removed rubbish rafts from the river The Heavy machinery used to cut and haul trees and branches from the river chewed an area of ground along the corridor to the Tenant Farmer’s Field into a muddy mess – it’s not possible to make an omelette without breaking eggs. The damaged ground is now covered in grass and plant shoots again. At the right time of year, nature is very quick to re-establish itself.
The new corridor running through the northern end of the marsh, which had been flailed to within an inch of its life earlier this year, is now full of five feet high vegetation.
The dominant smells wafting on rising humid air currents today are those of giant hog-weed and hemlock. I find these smells very soothing, and evocative of bygone days; they bring to mind happy memories of the tunnelling field from my youth.
The south marsh is not as overgrown as the north, thanks to a small herd of Shetland cattle grazing there. Yellow iris blooms are everywhere; they are flourishing in the recently de-wooded areas.
The south pool is disappointing: puddle might be a better word to describe it. Tall yellow flag iris fronds and thick vegetation clog what was an attractive expanse of open water favoured by water birds last year. The sluice boards are securely locked in place – a low water table is a likely cause of the problem.
One of the many good things about Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve is that every year is different.