Warden’s Conservation Information.
Sunrise: 08.14 Sunset: 03.56
I am wearing my warden’s hat whilst writing this post. We are about to start clearance work at the northern and wilder end of the marsh; around the North Pond chain and in the swamp beyond it. This post is my attempt to address potential questions and concerns some locals and others might have when they become aware of increased north marsh activity, and particularly when trees are disappearing from their horizons.
Interest and concerns were expressed during the construction of the northern corridor, and after the removal of large willow and alder stands on the south marsh earlier this year.
I am hoping I will be able to save time by pointing people, who stop me with questions or send emails about what they fear is happening on the marsh, to this post. Some people hold very strong views, and conversations can get quite heated at times. I would like to offer coherent information that I am often unable to provide on the hoof – on account of my having a slow mind. I am hoping I can achieve this goal within as short a post as possible.
Wilden Marsh is a nature reserve and a site of special scientific interest, running north to south along the lower Stour valley. It’s a wildlife corridor heavily influenced by industrial and residential pressures. Human intervention is controlled, and general public access to the reserve is by permit only.
At the southern end, next to the reserve entrance, are a scrapyard and the Wilden Industrial Estate. Flowing east to west along its northern boundary is Hoo Brook; at the top of its high steep bank is Hoobrook Industrial Estate. The western boundary is defined by the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal and the River Stour, both flowing north to south. There is a high, steep bank along the western side of the canal, with dense concentrations of industrial and residential properties beyond and along its length.
For many hundreds of years Wilden Marsh has been an area of managed fields for grazing and other agricultural usage. It’s in post war years that it has, perhaps, been less intensively managed. 1945 aerial photographs show mostly single rows of trees around field boundaries, and a smattering of oaks where the middle wood is now. The lagoon field and areas along Hoo Brook were almost completely devoid of trees and bushes. There were only half a dozen oak standards in the area of North Pond chain (a very recent manmade feature).
Today we have eight woods and copses, and a plethora of bushes and thickets that are increasingly reducing the available pasture land. Some trees and bushes have already been coppiced in the north pasture. The cattle keep the many grasses, the invasive Himalayan balsam, and other vegetation that they are capable of eating without poisoning themselves, under control. The cattle won’t eat the brambles that spread like wildfire. Himalayan balsam can reach heights in excess of seven feet, and the brambles grow into ever larger bushes. We don’t like to remove all bramble bushes. The aim is to provide varied and sustainable habitats that match, as far as possible, the requirements of the fauna and flora that use and live on the marsh. I suppose our job is ultimately one of managing change. The marsh is constantly changing with the progress of time, climate, seasons, and the unrelenting pressure on available resources.
Depending on funding and licensing dictates, the many quality macro and microhabitats are pragmatically and sympathetically managed, using volunteer and contracted resources. Contractors will carry out the heavy work, such as felling large tree stands, flailing and ditching. Volunteers handle the vital coppicing, pollarding, shrub and weed clearance, fence repairs and general maintenance jobs.
Most animals don’t like large areas of dense vegetation; like us, they would rather move around it than through it. All animals will force their way through heavy shrubbery if they need to, but they don’t know what’s in there, and it’s not easy to retreat from should they meet a predator. The marsh foxes are excellent ambush hunters, but they like open ground too.
The withy wood is an exception; a tangle of tall spindly trees packed close together in a shallow waterlogged environment. Badgers, the marsh foxes, otters and domestic cats prowl the withy wood; muntjac deer hide there too. I often hear the screams of water birds being predated in the withy wood. I’ve heard and or seen redshank, water rails, curlews, coots, moorhens, frogs, toads, great crested newts, and various owls in there. I’ve seen woodcock, snipe, sparrowhawks, kestrels and green woodpeckers in the areas close to the wood.
So when we are working our socks off around North Pond and in the stinking swamp, we are not doing things that will spoil or harm the ecology of the north marsh; we will be attempting to improve sustainability. Try as we may, though, none of us are able to make omelettes without breaking eggs. Nature is very quick to recover and take advantage of new opportunities, especially on the marsh. Orchids popped up all over the southern end when the new northern corridor was flailed, earlier this year.
We will be opening areas and allowing sunlight to touch the ground and work its magic. Where bushes and trees are removed, we will build log and brash pile habitats and install nest boxes. I will even build a couple or three living otter holts.