Water Voles And A Cautionary Wilden Marsh Tale
A chainsaw bursting into life, at around 8.30am yesterday morning, caused the cattle to lift their ears and turn their heads. The herd had finally moved itself on from the Orchid Field’s Swampy Bottom to the northern end of the compartment, close to the Rhombus Field gate. I was bent over with my Silky, cutting willow saplings, but stood to home-in on the sound’s location, which seemed to be the South Riverside Pasture reed beds, east of the central drainage ditch. Two sparrow hawks streaked overhead, tumbling and arguing on a flight path to Middle Wood, Six black, orange beaked cormorants looked down on the River Stour from their power cable perches, and a couple of buzzards circled high above on a rising thermal.
I wandered off south across the mire. Colin Cross’s pick-up truck was parked on the Riverside Pasture. My mind must have been wandering in an altogether different direction, because I came to my senses standing right on the edge of the western mud trap. My advice is always: avoid the eastern and western Orchid Field mud traps at all costs. I think both traps are associated with underground springs. Choosing what I thought was the best route within grabbing distance of a large willow tree, I picked my way around its roots. It occurred to me at the time that I shouldn’t be doing this, but I was now only a step and a half away from firmer ground and safety. I held on to a stout branch for support, pulled down harder to steady myself, and it snapped. I sank slowly into the mud, feeling a little like the saluting captain going down with his ship. Fine, glutinous mud poured in and filled my wellies.
When I felt water rising above my knees, I leant forward and my shins made contact with a sunken solid object – a tree root I think. Canted at an impossible angle against the root, I was no longer sinking. I removed my jacket and threw it to firmer ground. The weight of my torso acting against the fulcrum of my root locked shins, was sufficient to overcome the trap’s grip and my legs broke free of the mud.
The moral of this tale is: I should heed my own advice and stay well clear of the Orchid Field’s mud traps. However, this is not the first time I’ve fought the ferocity of the traps’ grip. On each previous occasion, I’ve needed to returned home to shower and change my clothes immediately afterwards, as will be the case today. Even the marsh cattle know they are to avoid the Orchid Field’s mud traps; they’ve learned to cross the compartment through the middle of the field – the herd obviously has more common sense than I.
Pulling my jacket on, I made my way through Swampy Bottom to its boundary with the South Riverside Pasture reed beds. Colin was cutting willow scrub some ten metres beyond the fence, but the whining chainsaw and his ear mufflers prevented him from hearing my shouts, screams and frantic whistles. Eventually I caught his attention and he waded over for a chat. The thick vegetation saved me from having to explain why I was in such a mess.
Collin found quite a few field mouse day-nests in the reed beds, and possible indications of water vole activity. I found water voles at this very same location on the reed bed bank of the central drainage ditch back in 2014, so Colin’s findings could be exciting news indeed.
Such is life on Wilden Marsh!