Hoo Brook Pasture

I checked Hoo Brook Pasture periphery stock fencing this afternoon ahead of bringing the cattle up next week. It’s an unruly compartment with closely spaced oak trees forming natural shelters. The marsh animals huddle under these trees in stormy weather. Many fast-growing willows and tall alder trees grow here also. Hoo Brook marks the northern boundary of Wilden Marsh and Meadows. It flows through the pasture on the last 400 metres leg of its journey down to the 40 Km long River Stour. The brook tumbles and gurgles its way over and around various natural log obstacles and under rafts of trapped fast-food and drink containers: natural deadwood obstacles and barriers lie across the brook and in other places throughout the pasture. A fallen oak tree lies across the Lagoon Field fence and has to be dealt with before the cattle access this pasture.

A high soil bank drops steeply from a fast-food outlet and the Hoobrook Enterprise Centre, ending up in the brook. I’ve watched American mink dive into holes along this bank, forcing terrified rats to perform mighty leaps over the water to make frantic escapes by swimming downstream. Doomed rodents try desperately to flee with a very energetic and savage mink biting bits out of them. Rats are no match for a mink. The mink quickly despatches its prey before moving on to search other holes along the bank. The slaughter continues until the mink runs out of rats; its head continually moving from left to right in the hope of finding stragglers. It zooms down one rathole and reappears from another, totally consumed with bloodlust when in attack mode. When there are no more lingering rats, the mink moves on to pastures new, leaving dead and mortally wounded rodents scattered in its wake. I haven’t seen mink for a year or more: otters kill and chase them away.

Wilden Lane runs parallel to Hoo Brook Pasture’s eastern boundary fence, the Lagoon Field borders its southern side, and the River Stour is directly west. We cleared many trees from here five years ago, but it is now rapidly returning to rough woodland again. This pasture has a deep seedbed: saplings pop-up almost as soon as warm sunlight hits its damp soil. If I push a twig into the ground anywhere on Wilden Marsh, it quickly takes root and grows into a tree. I think the solution is to pull young saplings out of the earth as soon as possible.

Cattle are very good at eating invasive Himalayan balsam and keeping general vegetation under control but don’t have much effect on reducing marsh woodland regrowth though. They halfheartedly browse thistle when they have to pull it from the ground themselves, but will follow me around and eating it all when I cut it in July. By mid growing season, the vegetation is easily tall enough to hide the marsh herd. Tall vegetation is not a problem because it is natural, and of course the cattle eat it.

Hoo Brook Pasture is a gathering place; all the marsh animals congregate here at one time or another. Sometimes the north marsh fox, deer and badgers feed within metres of each other. I have also been surprised by a Harris hawk swooping down from an alder tree on a few occasions.
At the far southern end of the reserve is Wilden Village and the Wilden Industrial Estate; the latter was the site of an ironworks with a heritage going back to the 1500s. It seems to me that industrial and residential estates are being built on every available space around Wilden Marsh and Meadows and the area inside the boundary fencing is already a target for property developers. Periphery fencing isolates the marsh from most of these pressures, outside is the busy world of people getting on with their highly structured daily lives. Inside is the much more peaceful world of urban nature. Wilden Marsh and Meadows is dynamic, and fluid too, in its own way. The worlds inside and outside the periphery fencing are different entities moving at different speeds, with different agendas, and are subject to a different set of rules and regulations.

I hope local and national Government prioritise nature in general by protecting valuable nature reserves and important urban green spaces, now and in the future.

The video is of Hoo Brook Pasture in September of this year when the cattle were grazing the south marsh.


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