I really feel, dear reader, that Cemex are going all out to finish the restoration of Manor farm. There is no sign of them abating their pace, and they still have plenty to do. I must admit to not knowing what the final plan is for this part of the reserve. I've seen at least three different sets of diagrams, all different. Time will tell, as the adage goes.
A MGLG member, whose house overlooks the site, agreed with me on the frenzy of activity that has taken place over the past week. For months he has seen the odd lorry or two pottering around the site, with the bulldozer and occasional digger. Now it as like the flood gates had been opened.
I visited the site on Thursday 26th April, at roughly 13:15. Our stalwart bulldozer was now working at the Longwater road entrance, shoving earth and the western shore of Finch pond ever eastwards.
Space was, initially, quite tight around this area. Lorries would trundle around Finch pond then drive into the Longwater road entrance as far as the gate, before reversing towards Finch pond. It was very skilful driving, especially as there were lorries coming from all directions.
Every now and again the bulldozer driver would get out of his cab to direct traffic, guiding lorries to the shore of Finch pond. There was not a lot of space between the lorries.
I felt there were possibly fewer lorries around on Thursday, compared to Tuesday, but not by much. I think a couple of the locals, e.g. Collard, were not around. I counted a minimum of ten lorries, but it is difficult to estimate as they keep moving!
Two diggers were at work around the site of the Yellow bridge. Unlike Tuesday, both were concerned with feeding the boulder sorter outer. I felt it was rather curious. One digger would be digging out the bed of the road that wound up to the Yellow bridge, loading the rubble into the huge dumper truck. When full, the digger driver would beep his horn, and thenthe dumper truck would drive the 20 or 30 metres to the boulder sorter outer, then go round it, before reversing to dump its load.
A second digger would then feed the soil into the boulder sorter outer, whilst the huge dumper truck went back for another load. I couldn't see why the boulder sorter outer wasn't moved closer to the old road, so the rubble could be fed directly into it.
I realised, whilst watching it, that the boulder sorter outer produces three grades of sorted 'stuff'. Fine: basically soil. Medium: looks like gravel upto about 50mm in diameter. Coarse: Anything bigger than the previous two.
The amount of dust the lorries kicked up was a sight, even though they had to drive quite slowly. The track way was exceedingly bumpy. All the rain on Friday would have dampened down the soil, so relieving the drivers of the dust.
I popped back to the site on Saturday morning, and encountered the usual bleak, moist weather, with overcast conditions. I managed to avoid the worst of the rain, which only started toward the end of my trek. Unfortunately my nemesis - mud - made its reappearance. Thick, horrible stuff.
The change, particularly around the Longwater road entrance, was astonishing. Large vistas of flat land, extending into what was Finch pond. Water levels were at the lowest I have ever seen them, but actually higher than when the quarry was still extracting.
Unfortunately, the water levels were still not low enough for me to cross the channel between Finch pond and Cormorant lake. I was forced to take a long detour. As usual I kept off the gravel spit (between Cormorant lake north and south), and kept clear of the mud flats just in case there were any birds brave enough to nest there with all the noise, machinery and humans around them.
I am not sure what Cemex are doing with the north end of Cormorant spit. They have dumped a huge pile of sand and gravel there. It would be nice if it were turned into a scape. The birds desperately need one. However, I am not sure what the plan is for Cormorant lake. An early one shows it merging with Manor lake to the east, with its north part being turned into reed beds. The plans have changed, but to what, I do not know.
Wildlife was sparse, today. The Shelduck were absent. Perhaps they have decided to use the lovely nest which the Moor Green Lakes Group built for them on Plover island. As usual, the armadas of Tufted ducks were bobbing around, but not as many I felt. Even the Roe deer put up a poor showing. Only three of them.
Two slide shows today. The first is from my visit on Thursday. The second,with all the murky photos, from my visit today.
Now on to Saturday's photos. I did edit some to brighten them up, as it was so dark this morning.
I will add that the pump was rattling a little this morning. It sounded like the fan. Poor thing has been pumping continuously for months now. It's getting tired and needs a rest.
It is getting more difficult to walk along the north embankment and ridge. The nettles are now over knee high. I got soaked through this morning with all the rain drops on them. In a month or so I reckon they will reach chest height or higher. I once walked through stuff that high, whilst hunting for sink holes around White Hart, Hertfordshire.
Comments will be added later on this evening or tomorrow.
I had to take my cats to the vets, yesterday, and noticed a hive of activity on Manor farm, plus some 'white van man' fellas and their vans with working on the gates to Fleet Hill Farm. I decided to investigate today and visited the reserve at 14:00.
I was met with quite an astounding sight. Firstly on the Fleet Hill Farm part of the reserve I noticed a forest of green tubes and tree stakes - obvious signs of sapling planting. Before investigating I took off around the south footpath to see what was happening on Manor farm.
It was an extraordinary sight. I walked along the south footpath to the works bridge and then back again, taking in all that was happening. I have no idea what the restoration operation is costing Cemex (I shall try and find out) but it must stretch into the millions.
Normally I see one or two haulage lorries (the heavy duty bulk carriers) trundling around the site, so it came as a shock to see so many on site. For what might be the last big push to complete the restoration there were a large number of haulage lorries (possibly ten or more) trundling backwards and forwards from Finch pond to the Hampshire side of the reserve. Quite a few companies were used - I certainly recognised John Stacey and local Collard. The flow of lorries was constant, with large amounts of dust being thrown up.
The trackway they were using was single track with one passing point - where the Yellow bridge used to stand. Lorries heading west would patiently wait at the Yellow bridge for lorries heading east to trundle along Finch pond and pass them. The other passing point - well turning point really - was where they were dumping soil at Finch pond for the bulldozer. Here, lorries heading east to pick a new load of inert soil would patiently wait for fully laden lorries heading west along the single track.
Our bulldozer was industrially working away, dodging in between the lorries, pushing soil into Finch pond. It all looked a bit hairy for me. The vehicles are BIG, and there are a lot of them manoeuvring around a relatively small space. I have no idea how they avoided hitting each other, especially when the haulage lorries were reversing to dump their loads whilst the bulldozer was also reversing, but back from the edge of Finch pond.
I stayed on the south footpath. Not once did I contemplate hopping over the fence 'for that shot'.
Work was also going on at a pace around the Yellow bridge. A digger was digging away the banking that runs along the south footpath. It would load the soil into a huge dumper truck. When full, the dumper truck would drive across the single track to dump the soil next to the boulder sorter, before crossing the single track to pick up another load of soil. A second digger (our blue digger) would then load the soil into the boulder sorter outer. All the while the enormous haulage lorries were trundling past them. Quite a sight.
There must have been two or more diggers on the Hampshire side of the reserve loading up the lorries with inert soil, such was the apparent speed of turn around. Who knows how many other lorry movements were involved in getting the inert soil to the quarry.
There were quite a few birds around the site. Though most chose to put as much of Cormorant lake between them and the lorries. Others were surprisingly close to all the noise and mayhem. Quite oblivious to it all.
I think I have worked out why the banking has been built up along the south shore of Cormorant lake and the west shore of manor lake. It is for traffic control. It is to stop the lorry drivers accidentally driving into the lakes. Stands to reason that if two lorries are passing each other along a relatively narrow track then it is all too easy to get too close to the shore line and end up in the lake.
Fleet Hill Farm.
Moving over to this side of the reserve. Over the past two days a forest (well small wood) has sprung up. I was down here on Sunday evening setting out a trail cam and I did not see any tree stakes or green sapling tubes. Monday morning I noticed the two vans parked in the south Longwater road entrance and a couple of chaps fiddling with the north Longwater road entrance gates.
When I returned at 14:00 on Tuesday I was met with a forest of green plastic tubes. They were all over the place. There were at least four contractors planting out. Even so, I am very impressed with the speed at which they worked.
I had a brief chat with one of the lads. He said they were planting 6000 trees. When I duly expressed astonishment, he said it was quite a small amount. They are quite used to putting out 100,000+ trees, particularly along motorways. The way he said 'miles and miles' of trees leads me to believe it gets rather tedious planting that many trees in one go.
He wasn't certain if they would be back to plant trees on the Manor farm part of the reserve. I asked if they would plant trees west of the wooden footbridge. He indicated no, but I'm not sure if they or other contractors will be back to plant more trees on this part of the reserve.
I do hope the saplings survive. Some many seem not to make it, from what I've seen on various hikes - particularly on the north York moors and Forest of Bowland. The other problem they face round here are the local yobs and oiks who would think it great fun to rip out all the trees, stakes and tubes. Never mind criminal gangs who will steal them on mass to sell. Sigh.
Fingers crossed all will turn out well. On to the fun bit of the photos. My route started at the Longwater road entrance, following the footpath to the wooden footbridge. I stayed off the reserve so as not to disturb the contractors too much, even though their work was far more sedate than the lorry traffic on Manor farm. As it was, I felt they just wanted to get on and finish the contract.
After a considerable hiatus, no doubt caused by the inclement weather of late and the resulting high water levels in the lakes (plus a knackered pump), Inert are back with a vengeance.
When I set off for the reserve this morning I felt distinctly underdressed. No thermals. No base and multiple mid layers. No Thinsulate hat, gloves or snood. No heavy weather proof coat. To add to my bemused feeling - it was sunny and bright! Yes a strange yellow disk in the sky made an appearance.
I couldn't get away from my nemesis - mud the consistency of quicksand. Though most of the tracks were now quite dry and hard, I decided to take a shot cut at one point and strike off across some 'dry' mudflats. Only they hadn't had time to dry out properly. So your mad blogger sand up to his knees in the stuff again. This time, dear reader, I was aware of what was going on, and didn't get stuck in the stuff by dint of not stopping. Momentum and brute strength carried me through the quicksand mud.
The gates at the works bridge were still firmly closed. I now suspect this is to keep people off the site. Inert are back with bulldozer, digger and the boulder sorter outer. They have concentrated on the south shore of Finch pond and the area around the copse where our erstwhile Yellow bridge used to stand. It has been ignominiously pushed aside.
Much work has ensued over this past week with soil being bulldozed into Finch pond to extend its south shore ever northwards. A 'mascot' was discovered during excavations. You'll see it in the slide show. :-) The boulder sorter outer was on the 'Land Mass' possibly to sieve out the rocks from the road way that lead to the Yellow bridge.
I didn't go up to the works bridge to find out if anything has happened on the Hampshire side of the reserve. I was in a bit of a hurry, plus it was obvious Inert were working on the Manor Farm part of the reserve. How long is any one's guess as they tend to flit about the site from week to week. In their defence, I think they were prevented from working fully on Manor farm due to the awful weather and high water levels.
You will notice a considerable change in the photos this week. The trees have greened up. Also the grasses and nettles have put on a staggering amount of growth. This is one of those years where you will miss spring if yo blink. I can only remember the 'spring' of 2013 being worse; when January/February temperatures finally came to an end in mid May.
A note about the slide show. I have included a couple of photos from last weekend when it was somewhat misty and still a little on the cool side.
There was a considerable amount of bird life around - sadly most of it audible; particularly the Skylarks. Some of the usual suspects made an appearance: the two Shelduck which have taken up residence in Finch pond; four squadrons of Tufted duck (two in each of Finch pond and Cormorant lake); Mute swan; Canada goose (yep, singular - only one today); three Egyptian geese; only one Lapwing (who set off for Fleet Hill farm); Gulls and Terns galore screaming at me from Manor lake; Mallards; Wood Pigeons; Carrion Crows; and a few others I could not recognise - intentionally or unintentionally.
The highlight was spotting five Ringed Plovers. There appear to be two pairs and a single. Though the single may have had a mate somewhere. They weren't too bothered by my appearance (in fact one pair decided to set about the process of making babies), though in keeping with most all the birds on the reserve they kept a healthy amount of distance between them and me.
I managed quite a few shots with my bridge camera. Some are a little blurry as I went into digital zoom (this give a 'magnification' of 120x), plus I was balanced on a ridge of soil and wasn't using a tripod. I got quite good at holding my breath whilst taking the shot
In response to a tip off from a birder (thanks Michael), my partner and I took off to Fleet Hill farm for a spot of poop pondering. Alas all signs of the interesting poop had been eradicated due to the incessant heavy rain and mammalian traffic; that would be humans, dogs, horses, etc.
A crying shame, as from the photo sent to me by Michael the poop (or should we be more posh and call it spraint) had all the features of something interesting like Mink, Badger or Otter! Had it been the latter then my trail cams would have been repositioned around the area in a flash.
What has my world become to that I descend on the reserve not once but twice to have a look and poke at poop!
Expect some dramatic changes to the photos in the coming couple of weeks, dear reader. I noticed that trees were beginning to leaf out. The warm weather expected next week will accelerate this process. Already other plants like hogweed, cow parsley, nettles, etc are romping along. Quite a lot of the reserve will be obscured from footpaths as it changes from dreary brown, black and grey to glorious green.
Now dear reader, on to the iron footbridge. Cemex have finally got around to removing this fine, if somewhat lethal structure from the south footpath. A small part of me will miss this edifice. It always focused my mind to carefully walk up and down the slippery iron steps, but it did provide a good view of the Manor farm part of the reserve. Many a birder used to pause on the iron footbridge to survey the area. It is amazing how much difference a two or three metre high platform makes.
The bridge hasn't been removed fully. It has been parked on the reserve, awaiting disposal; along with pump station bridge and yellow bridge.
The works bridge has a brand new shiny (and I mean shiny) gate on the north side of the footpath. Both it and the southern gate were closed to vehicle traffic. The latter gates being firmly padlocked. The reasons for this, in addition to my musings last week, could be that Cemex will halt restoration work for a few months to allow the birds to breed in peace. I was reminded of this by Michael, and it tallied with what one of the presenters at the Moor Green Lakes AGM said. As an aside, the MGLG AGM is really worth attending. It isn't your usual stuffy old AGM. Presentations are short and sweet and packed with interesting information, with free food afterwards.
What I do find odd is that the pump is still chugging away, with water levels in Finch pond and Cormorant lake now at the lowest I have seen them. If work is halted, why pump?
You'll notice from the photos that Cemex have spread a bed of gravel across the footpath. I believe that the plan is for the south footpath to be converted into a bridle path. It makes sense, really. Some naughty horse riders already ride their horses along it, plus there are numerous cyclists who use it. The latter should increase as they no longer have to hoick their bikes over the iron footbridge. Having a nice wide bridle path should accommodate all users safely. Though horses really tear up paths something rotten. A bigger problem is keeping motorcyclists off it. I did spot four or five antisocial types haring along the footpath on Fleet Hill farm. They really damaged the paths, though it may possibly have been a one off.
Cemex are putting a lot of effort and money into restoring this site. Hopefully it will become a well recognised asset; though more work for the Moor Green Lakes Group and Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust to maintain. Part of the fun, really.
There was considerable flooding of the footpath through the Fleet Hill farm part of the reserve - despite the fall in water levels. This was caused, in part, by the drainage ditches being blocked. It added a little interest to our walk.
Light conditions were pretty appalling. Low heavy clouds and mist. It made photography a little challenging, even more so as I only took my bridge camera.
Now a short wildlife section.
As you would expect the breeding season is in full swing. Many birds are nesting, others squabbling for nesting sites and fighting territorial battles. A couple of Lapwings pairs appear to have set up shot along the south shore of Finch pond and Cormorant lake. While the Great Crested Grebe in Lower lake, Fleet Hill farm, is still alone.
I noticed a UGB (Unidentified Grey Bird) poking around on the shore of Cormorant lake and took several photos. We met a couple of Moor Green Lakes Group members further along the south footpath who immediately identified the bird as being a Redshank. They also reported seeing a Black Redstart. I am continually astonished at the range of birds that this site hosts.
The Swallows and Martins are back, skimming and wheeling around Cormorant lake picking off insects.
My partner who is continually on mammal watch did spot a bank vole,which is quite good going seeing how quick and elusive they can be. After all, we are walking along the footpaths, not sitting still for ages waiting for something to appear.
My trail cam captured this unfortunate fox. He looked fine apart from his traumatised tail; poor thing.
Somewhat unusually, dear reader, the gates across the works bridge were firmly shut today. One set was locked with padlock and chain. Unfortunately, one of the posts holding one of the gates was so rotten it fell over, allowing easy access to the Manor Farm part of the reserve.
Cemex do this every now and again. Close and lock the gates. I wonder if it is a legal thing? I know that some private roads and footpaths are closed to the public at least once a year. I believe this establishes the right of the owners of to said path/road to do so and reinforces their ownership.
I am afraid, dear reader, that is the extent of the excitement for this week. Cemex/Insert do no appear to have touched Manor Farm. I didn't step over the fallen gate and climb the iron footbridge to see if anything happened to the Hampshire part of the reserve. It is possible Cemex/Inert might have been working on this part of the reserve, as I did hear machinery, but as I didn't walk along the south footpath I couldn't tell for sure.
The pump is still chugging away, just about keeping up with the ingress of water from all the rain we've had over the past week. More rain to come tomorrow.
Even the wild life proved disappointing. A couple of Shelduck; the usual flotillas of Tufted duck; gulls and terns of course; even the normally reliable Roe deer only put in one appearance. Two Lapwings appear to have made Manor farm their own. They were wheeling around the sky. Only four Canada geese honked into view. There were the usual assortment of Wrens, Moorhens, Coots, Pigeons, and UBBs (Unidentified Brown Birds) flitting about.
Three Egyptian geese were having a right old barney above the grasslands of Manor farm. They were putting on quite a display, chasing and screaming. Unusually I saw them land in trees. Normally they plod along the ground.
Even more unusually, as I drove back I spotted a rather bemused Egyptian goose, standing on the corner of Fleet Hill and Longwater road, next to the Greyhound pub. It seemed quite comfortable, just standing there. Normally they keep as much distance between them and you as is possible. Then again, they probably do not associate cars with humans.
Unusually for 7:50 am I did espy three bird watchers about. I'm normally totally on my own that early in the morning. The occasional jogger or dog walker makes a rare sighting.
Afternoon update: My partner and I popped back to the reserve at 12:45; parking in the Moor Green Lakes car park before walking along the north edge of Manor farm, then coming back via the south footpath. The glorious weather and dry conditions brought out the 'Sunday' walkers in force. Never seen so many people hoofing it along the footpaths.
My partner (who was on mammal lookout) was over the moon as she saw a Kingfisher zooming up the Blackwater. I spotted a snake again along the banks of the Blackwater, but only the lower three quarters of its body as it quickly slithered into the under growth. In all likelihood it was a small Grass Snake; I only saw something brown, about the thickness of my thumb, and roughly 40cm long - well the bit I saw. It moved quite quickly.
Once again we spooked two Shelduck, this time on Finch pond. They flew off, but we then spotted them resting on Plover island (along with Egyptian Geese) on our way back to the car park. A Grey Heron flew over ominously as they do, while a Kestrel kept an eye on us from quite a distance. An Oyster Catcher did attempt to land on an island near the viewing point in Colnbrook lake (south), but the nesting Canada geese (and other birds) put it off.
I did manage to photograph the Skylark on the fields south of the Blackwater. I never thought Skylarks would live in such relatively built up areas. I mean, to the immediate south of the fields are the playing fields; to the east is the active quarry. While on the Manor farm grasslands, we still have all the noise and bustle from the restoration, plus the actual Manor farm along the Lower Sandhurst road with its machinery, and some of the housing along said road.
All in all, quite a good afternoon.
The sogginess slogs on, with continuous rain making attempts to do any gardening almost futile. Unseasonally low temperatures did not help. Even the snow that northern parts had this Easter would have been better than the monotony of dull, grey, drab skies and yet more of the wet stuff. On the other hand, at least it doesn't look like a drought year.
Anyway, enough of my moaning. We did pop down to the reserve in between the showers - checking the Met Office's rainfall radar before hand - and found a reasonably varied variety of wildlife. I must learn gull and tern recognition. There are a lot of them, noisily defending their patch.
We ventured a little into Fleet Hill farm; I really must take another extended walk through it to familiarise myself with the layout and various lakes. We did notice extensive flooding along the Blackwater; and this after water levels had dropped by at least a foot (30cm). I believe there is a planning application to have a path running along the Blackwater. Well, it will get flooded on a regular basis unless it is built up.
I may add more to this post over the week, depending whether we visit the reserve. Though it is so cloudy outside right now it looks like late evening and I spy wet stuff falling from the sky.
All photos taken on my Panasonic FZ72 bridge camera. It already suffers from bland, washed out detail, which was made worse by the bad light conditions. In comparison the Canon SX-700HS point-and-shoot camera takes much better photos, with greater detail but doesn't have the same optical zoom (i.e. 30 vs 60) or a view finder. Sigh. I have a fighting chance of holding the Panasonic steady as I can jam my arms against my body and ram the viewfinder up against my face. Whereas the Canon you have to hold out in front of you like a smart phone. Double sigh.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.