The marsh water levels are not a constant, they vary continuously; not only as a result of extrodinary natural events such as drought and flooding, but also as a response to normal everyday weather. We also control the marsh water levels for management reasons, conservation aims, and to facilitate safer grazing. By changing the height of sluice boards we alter water levels to make the marsh more attractive to wading birds, and to control the proliferation of aquatic plants. Managing the marsh water levels is a balancing act, with some areas requiring wet conditions and other habitats need to be damp or dry; it’s difficult to get the balance right. There is often a long time lag between lowering a sluice board and the water levels dropping. Lowering the sluice for too long a period can end up with the loss of too much water, and raising the boards too early can result in the retainment of too much water. Local weather conditions can make a big difference, as can weather condition thirty miles away. The River Stour can go from low water to flood conditions in a matter of a few hours. So through the judicious manipulation of sluice boards heights we aim to achieve low level muddy margined pools in spring and summer and maxium water levels in autumn and winter. Drainage ditches can slow the flow of water through the marsh when they are full of reeds, bull rushes, yellow flag irises and silt. Achieving optimal water levels on Wilden Marsh is a nightmare! Having too much water is prefferable to not having enough, though.
The north marsh, including the Swamp, drain through the North Pond Chain into the River Stour midway along the North Pasture. These natural spring waters, rain and flood waters are not drained through an adjustable sluice, they overflow the riverbank at its lowest point.
I saw a lesser spotted Mike Averill on the north marsh this afternoon, doing its water level measurements.
South Pool the collection point for the marsh water prior to entering the River Stour.
The main sluice controling the outflow of the middle marsh waters into the River Stour.
The middle marsh water outflow point from the sluice into the River Stour.
Muntjac deer giving me the eye from the Swamp this afternoon.
One of the five kingfishers I saw this afternoon.
Slightly closer view of the same kingfisher.
Red Dog, the north marsh fox, was in amongst the cattle when I arrived at the North Pasture this afternoon. As soon as the cattle heard the gate close, they ran towards me mooing and bellowing for all they were worth. Even Rose, who was out of sight way down by the river, joined in with her unique screeching. With all the kerfuffle, Red Dog quickly disappeared from the scene. The cattle haven’t made such a fuss at seeing me since they had that mad time a month ago. It’s strange that on the very day I’m planning to move them they should get so excited and make so much noise; it’s as though they were reading my mind.
If I was thinking of keeping the cattle in the North Pasture beyond today, their excited behaviour convinced me it was indeed time to move them to the Flooded Wood Pasture. They followed me the length of the North Pasture and stood bellowing at the gate whilst I checked that the Flooded Wood Pasture was secure. When I opened the gate, they danced and ran in all directions. The three calves ran excitedly in circles and refused to leave the security of the North Pasture; they did come out eventually.
It’s all new grass in the Flooded Wood Pasture, but it’s only four to six inches high; all the cattle care about is sweet, tender, new grass and they were loving it – the herd will probably eat it all within the week. There is a weeks new grass in the Tenant Farmer’s Field, but very little in the South Riverside Pasture. Still, as each week passes now, the new grass will grow taller.
The Shetland and Belted Galloway cattle made use of different grazing techniques, when I let them into the Flooded Wood Pasture today. The Shetlands rushed off looking for the best possible grazing, whilst the Belties, Wayne and Waynetta, began grazing immediately they passed through the gate. The Shetlands browsed a little from here and a little from there. The Belted Galloways grazed an area like mowing machines.
I crossed Red Dogs path three times today, but it was very difficult to get a decent image of him. The image below is the best I could do.
Red Dog hidden in the undergrowth.
I mentioned in a previous post a possible fox den I had found whilst photographing herons in the North Pasture.
The cattle have checked it out, left their calling cards, and trampled the spoil heap. When I found this hole in the ground, the other day, fox paw prints were clearly visible, but no more. I think this is a test den dug by the north marsh vixen, and it’s unlikely that she will use it as her birthing den, but you never know. I will keep an eye on it.
The cattle are still in the North Pasture. They are eagerly grazing, not standing about wasting their time or mine, and they are not complaining either. However, they are all getting well stuck into eating the common rush, and this is the last chance to get them to graze it down before the new growing season presents them with tastier morsels. The cattle need a good supply of water when grazing rush and their is plenty pooled all around them. I am keeping a close daily eye on them and would like the herd to remain in the North Pasture until at least Wednesday, before moving them to the Flooded Wood Pasture (just through that gate). New grass is coming up quickly now and the cattle have perked up quite a bit this last week.
Just beyond the northern boundary of Wilden Marsh, across Hoo Brook, a new wildlife area has been created along the wildlife corridor. It has been properly fenced off. A water trough for the cattle has been plumbed in. Trees have been planted, an otter holt has been installed, and bat boxes will be placed there also. It seems that whenever a new wildlife area is laid down, and new fencing installed to secured it, holes start appearing in the fencing almost immediately. The riverside fencing has been repaired a few times lately, and today I found the likely culprits: three fishermen with a large amount of kit. They had scaled the fencing at the new bypass bridge, and smashed a section of the riverside fencing to gain easy access to the riverbank. They had a roaring bonfire going today too. Anyway, they left the site willingly enough, and I will keep a close eye on the area from now on. The last thing I want is the cattle escaping down the river through broken fencing.
Beth trying to work out how to open the gate to the Flooded Wood Pasture.
Jess searching for the new grass.
Damage to the new wildlife area fencing.
There was plenty of noisy activity at the heronry today, but the herons saw me first and ducked into their nests. I ducked behind the riverbank fence, crept a hundred metres along it and caught these two wondering where I’d disappeared to.
Whilst waiting to catch a glimpse of the herons, I saw what looked like a freshly dug entrance to a fox den, a few metres from my feet. I was so intent on fooling the herons, that I forgot about it. I will check it out tomorrow. It’s a bit early for a vixen to be denning, so it might be a test den.
A heron pair at the Wilden Marsh heronry.