Notification: I must point out that I have special permission to be on the Eversley quarry site of Fleet hill farm, Manor farm and the Hampshire part. These are not open areas for general access. Public rights of way are being incorporated into the sites to enable people to enjoy the new reserves.
Please bear this in mind. Although I refer them in my blog as reserves, they are still, technically, part of an operating quarry. So please keep to the existing public rights of way, and wait for the new ones to be adopted. Also it is will be even more important to stick to the public rights of way when they do become reserves so as not to disturb the wildlife.
Update: Apparently Cemex and RSPB have been working together to restore 1000 hectares of ex-gravel works to prime habitat. The aim was to achieve this by 2020. They actually managed the 1000th hectare in 2017.
Eversley was the first hectare to be restored under this partnership; actually the Moor Green lakes and surrounding area e.g. Horseshoe lake. This youtube video features scenes from Manor farm which regular readers will be familiar with. Here is an explanation on the RSPB's website, and here is one on the Cemex website about them being runner up in the MPA Quarries from Nature awards due to their work on the Eversley quarry restoration.
27th Jan 2018 - we get a mention in The Telegraph: 50 disused quarries turned into wildlife habitats to help Britain's endangered wildlife. "Eversley Quarry in Hampshire was the first to be completed following three years of work by wildlife and conservation experts." Ahhh, they missed phase 2, the subject of this blog.
This blog is about a proposed nature reserve on the Cemex gravel extraction works between Finchampstead and Eversley. There are three parts to the reserve.
1. Moor Green Lakes. This reserve already exists. It was restored by Cemex some years ago.
2. Manor Farm.
3. Fleet Hill Farm.
Initially, this blog concentrates on the restoration efforts Cemex engaged in prior to handing over the reserve to a conservation group for day to day management. Once this happens, I would then hope to chart the efforts required to turn the raw restoration into a fully operational nature reserve.
That being said, there is already a wealth of wildlife inhabiting the site, mostly as Cemex have ceased extracting gravel, and appears to be a mecca for bird watchers. We often encounter them as we walk around the footpath, humping their tripods, spotting scopes, cameras and binoculars or perhaps exchanging notes with each other on what they have spotted that day.
Although I live about three miles away from the proposed new reserve, I only learnt about it recently. I started to photograph the efforts Cemex are expanding in clearing the gravel works and, as is the nature of such endeavours, realised I had a photo journal before I knew it.
Extent of entire reserve
The plan below shows the extent of the reserve. It stretches for 2.2 miles along the Blackwater river.
Moor Green Farm is already a nature reserve, namely Moor Green Lakes nature reserve. For more details see here Moor Green Lakes Group or here RSPB entry. Perhaps you could join us on one of our work parties to aid in the conservation of this reserve.
Fleet Hill farm is supposed to be ready as a reserve by end of summer 2017. Apart from a few sub-phases, this appears to have been achieved.
Approximately 18 months later, Manor Farm will be incorporated into the reserve. A target date in a planning application I read suggested that restoration of Manor farm should be completed by 31st December 2018. Personally, as of 7th October 2018, I can't see this happening unless the scale of infill is altered drastically or a lot more resources are thrown at the restoration effort.
You may notice, dear reader, quite a few differences between the various plans and google earth images of the reserve displayed below. I am not sure why. I suspect that some of the differences are due to extraction of gravel. This is certainly true of the Fleet Hill farm portion of the reserve. Note: I have since discovered that the plans for the restoration were fairly fluid and subject to numerous alterations.
Update: I am keeping my speculations for historical reasons. Part of the 'fun' of keeping this blog is working out what Cemex and Inert are up to. Well, the later posts show that they are infilling Finch pond. They may also modify Cormorant and Manor farm lakes to look more like the plan.
Plan of proposed Manor Farm part of reserve and image from Google Earth
NOTE: I've finally got around to updating the google earth image with the expanded reference points. Hopefully, this will allow you to navigate my text a little better.
The plan below is the Manor Farm extension. Below that is a Google Earth image as of March 2017. Note the difference between the it and the plan. Particularly Finch Lake, which is now huge, and what I have been calling Cormorant Lake which is supposed to be joined to the bigger lake to its right. The Pump Station area, currently on dry land, would be in the middle of a lake, according to the Cemex plan.
As described above we start our walk at the Moor Green Lake car park, located in the top right hand corner of the map. The details shown in this map are the proposed public right of ways, and possibly some further landscaping. As an example, currently there is a sizable lake at the point I call the Pump Station. This lake is not shown in the map.
There are large areas of this new reserve I have not photographed as we have tended to keep to the current public footpaths.
We cross the Longwater road at the culvert/entrance to the reserve to get enter Fleet Hill farm immediately opposite.
Plan of proposed Fleet Hill farm part of the reserve and image from Google Earth.
This is the Fleet Hill farm extension showing proposed structure and public right of ways. Below that is a Google Earth as of Sept 2017.
Stone Crusher lake is a small manky green lake. The plans below suggest that it will be filled in.
Swan lake is also a small manky green lake, which according to the plan will get bigger.
There is a large part of this extension that I have not really photographed as we have tended to stick to the footpaths. Most all the restoration had been completed by the time I started photographing the works.
Update 7th October 2018. I suspect that apart from a few small pieces of work (e.g. completion of bridle path) Fleet Hill farm is pretty much restored. One of the planning applications I read said that tree planting will occur in the year after restoration has been completed. As this happened earlier on in 2018, this would suggest that, apart from a few sub-phases, restoration is complete.
This post shows how the Fleet Hill Farm and Manor Farm parts of the Cemex Eversley gravel works has changed over the years since 1999. Credit has to go to the Google corporation for their Google Earth initiative and also for developing Googe Earth Pro. This free application allowed me to explore a history of the images Google have taken of our planet since 1999, and to also save images.
I would recommend you download Google Earth Pro. It allows to you to zoom in to see an incredible amount of detail.
As well as showing the evolution of the area, the images also demonstrate the evolution of the techniques Google used to photograph the landscape. If you look closely you will notice that Google had problems stitching some parts of the images together. They also either went through a number companies to do the fly over and photography or simply garnered images from different GIS companies over the years.
The images below have been reduced considerably in size from the Google Earth images. It would take ages for this blog to load across the network if I left them at full resolution.
Note. I've used Google Earth as was readily available and convenient to use. There are other GIS sources available, which may provide even higher resolution images or greater quality. You pays your money and takes your choice.
Several times in this blog I mention the complex geology of the area. I found a map, courtesy of my old College, that goes part way to showing this complexity. Greater detail can be found here Eocene sands and iron map a natty title that sort of rolls of the tongue.
I've taken the liberty of inserting a much reduced image in this blog. The vertical red line marks the Longwater road. If you zoom in you may just make out the words "Cemex works" to the left of it. This is actually on the Fleethill farm part of the works. To the immediate right of the red line is Manor farm. Count two large lakes to the right and you reach Moor Green lakes.
Quite a landmark are our works.
This is now pinned to the top of the posts.
I have largely ignored Chandlers farm over the years. Partly as most of the restoration will be (and has been) given over to sports facilities, and partly as it is still an operational quarry. I believe there are some 50,000 tonnes of stuff still to be extracted once the site buildings are demolished.
A small area of the site (the north west corner) is to be given over to a nature reserve, and I'm sure I read in one planning document that there was to be a community growing area. Another name for these could be allotments, perhaps. We need more allotments, especially considering the waiting list, and the need to do something to save this planet.
I present to you, courtesy of Google Earth Pro (a free app well worth getting hold of) the changing face of Chandlers farm - the original Eversley Quarry. Manor farm and Fleet Hill farm are subsequent extensions to this quarry.
I'm deeply suspicious of both the imagery and the dates attached to them. The earlier ones exhibit particular problems, typical of a fledgling service. Imagery has come from various sources, with varying degrees of quality, and they have been stitched together with varying degrees of accuracy.
I'd certainly take the imagery dates with a large pinch of salt. The year 'might' be correct, but the date is not always correct e.g. images dated 31st December or 1st January show deciduous trees in full leaf!!!
Consider the 'settlement ponds' in the top right hand corner of the site. These three rectangular ponds are, I believe, where water (pumped out of the various ponds and lakes) are passed through to allow sediment to settle out, before the water is put into the Blackwater. The photos for 1999/2000 show these ponds. The ponds are missing from the photos dated 2003, only to reappear in 2004.
I hadn't appreciated how much restoration had already taken place on Chandlers farm. Note the football pitches - rather poshly flood lit at night. I thought they had been there before the quarry. But no. They were one of the first parts of the quarry to be restored.
You will also notice the stop-start nature of the restoration. Not readily apparent from the large gaps in the imagery data, but quite normal as I have reported in this blog.
Still, it looks as if Hampshire county council is putting pressure on Cemex to get Chandlers farm completed, judging by the all out effort put in this year. Alternatively, it might be Inert flitting around the various sites, as we have seen over the past couple of years.
However, at least this is being done. Hopefully, the surrounding communities will benefit greatly, and hopefully a small fragment of this planet will be saved for wildlife and future generations.
Enough ramblings, on with the show.
Yes, dear reader, your intrepid (some say foolish) blogger, despite posting continuous warnings about the quicksand nature of the mud on Manor farm, sank up to his knees in the stuff today. In my defence, the bit of bulldozed mud I stepped into had a firm look (rather than the grey porridge stuff) and took the weight of my right foot.
Unfortunately, the torrential rain of recent weeks (particularly last night) made the mud particularly soft. I sank up to my knees when I took a step with my left leg and put a load on it. Attempts to extricate my left foot out by pulling it out vertically and balancing on my right foot, only caused said right foot to sink even deeper into the mud.
Sigh. There was nothing for it but to gone on hand and knees. With my weight now distributed across three points (two hands and a knee), I could twist one foot clear of the mud and place it (horizontally) on slight firmer mud, and with my weight distributed over a larger area of leg. Then I could twist the other leg out of the mud, before crawling backwards on hands and knees to firm ground.
Yes, my trouser knees were distinctly muddy, as were my hands. Luckily, I eschewed my DSLR/long lens due to the manky weather. Thus I did not have to worry about getting them muddy. I only took my bridge camera, which I simply slung around my back. Also, I did not have to lie completely flat and pull myself out on my stomach.
Unlike my previous sinking incident, this time I had a mobile phone and could have called for help. However, I did not want to even contemplate being rescued by emergency services.
Before we plough into our normal schedule: There is a MGLG work party tomorrow, Sunday 13th. This week we shall be planting 300 saplings in the gaps in the hedgerow running from the MGLG car park and the Blackwater river. Do come along and help. Meet at MGLG car park from10:15am onward.
Inert et al, as is their normal modus operandi, have been working all over the southern half of Manor farm. I am still very perplexed at this flitting all over the place business. Must be the engineer in me: Start at one place and then work your way, linearly, to the finish - unless there is some compelling work to do in the middle bits beforehand.
The remains of the old iron footbridge and pump station road bridge have been removed. Bit of a sad day. I was quite fond of the iron footbridge, even though its metal treads were lethal when wet. As I can attest to with experience, having slipped down them on a couple of occasions.
Last week I said that one reason for the pump not chugging was that it was grounded, with its inlet pipe partially or wholly above the water; thus making pumping impossible. How wrong I was. It seems that the pump pontoon rests on a large brick structure. This structure was still mostly under water. The pump was chugging away this week, revealing the brick structure. At least a foot and a half (say 45cm) has been pumped out this week.
Just as well the pump is on. Water was flowing quite rapidly from the new Finch pond into Cormorant lake (south) and thence into 'pump pond'. It is still raining hard as I type, and the forecast is for yet more deluge over the coming week!
You'd be hard pressed to see what Inert have been up to on Finch pond this past week. It is all torn up, looking like the Somme. Again this follows restoration practice of infill, smooth, tear up: repeat. I can see that Inert et al have:
- Continued building up the land level around the northern part of Manor farm; some backfill along the banking built last week.
- Deepened the drainage channel between the smaller Finch pond and Cormorant lake (south) they started last week.
- I think the smaller Finch pond is now taking shape. At least there is a pond shaped hole approximately where it is to be, and it is being drained; but not yet hooked up to either the culvert or the original fragment of Colebrook cut. Can't do that until quite late on as access is needed by lorries.
Midweek I espied a digger working around the pump. Not entirely sure what it was up to, but there was a new track on the east shore of Cormorant lake (south), next to the drainage channel. Most was revealed this morning; though I do not know how much was done this past week or the weeks before.
- The ditch connecting Manor Lake (south) to what was Cormorant lake (south) has been partially filled in, forming a dam/viaduct to allow plant to cross over. This means that Manor lake (south) can longer drain. Water levels have built up, covering some of the mud flats/gravel bars.
- The viaduct allows diggers and bulldozers to go around the drainage ditch to work on the east shore of Cormorant lake (south).
- I am not entirely sure why or what has been done. There appears to be some bulldozing of soil into the 'pond' next to the pump. Diggers and/or the bulldozer have worked their way northward, but not a huge amount appears to have been achieved. Very odd.
- The digger also appears to have cut a path from the pump southward along the west shore of Manor lake (south), on the east side of where a bridge used to stand. Again, it is difficult to discern what the point of this is. It does give better access to the pump pipe, running into Chandlers farm.
Anyway, by the time I reached the pump station, I was a bit soggy, somewhat muddy, and slightly knackered; partly due to too much swimming this part week and as it was such a hard slog across Manor farm through all the mud and torn up ground. I chose to walk back to the Longwater road via the firm and comforting south footpath. At least the sewage plant wasn't so smelly. It was really on form on Wednesday.
Moving on to wildlife. Plenty of deer sign, as usual. Birds are beginning to return to Cormorant lake. I think I have seen less due to the odd times I visited the site over the past few weeks, but also I think it is only now that they start congregating into large flocks. Also, a whole load of migrant species start arriving e.g. Widgeon.
There were a lot of Canada geese, Egyptian geese, Barnacle geese and Lapwing. Your normal Coots, Grebes, Mallards and other assorted wildfowl I can't recognise were abound. Oh, I can now here and sometimes see Long-tailed tits. I've missed their song all summer, and was worried that they might have had a catastrophic breeding season.
The conditions were pretty bad for photography. My bridge camera struggled. Just as well, with the mud incident, I didn't take my DSLR and long lens.
Cemex/Inert have made reporting more challenging. Inert have been working all over Manor farm, it's hard to keep up and to even figure out what had been accomplished over this past week. Listing the highlights of what I could determine...
- Midweek revealed two diggers at work, attacking some of the banking along side the south footpath. My Saturday stomp revealed they had sliced a bit off the banking, making the vehicle track wider. Curiously, the track was then pinched narrower by marking its edges with some of the concrete blocks dumped next to the mighty mound.
- My midweek walk also revealed our bulldozer driver, working on the infill on the east shore of Cormorant lake south. Not unusually, there seemed to be far fewer lorries around. But this was Wednesday. More lorries may have been employed on other days of the week. The amount of stuff dumped onto Manor farm seemed to suggest this.
- Our puffing pump was off. I think I have discovered one reason why it has been off so much recently. Water levels are now so low, the pontoon holding the pump pipe inlet is now grounded on the bottom of Cormorant lake. The can't pump any more water, as the inlet is no longer submerged.
- A small 'pond' has appeared, located in the middle of what was Finch pond. Due, I think, in part to the large amount of rain we have had recently and also to the land level being built up around it. Inert have dug a drainage ditch from 'mini' Finch pond to Cormorant lake north, which curiously doesn't actually reach the latter lake.
- A line of soil has been bulldozed up to a survey stake which used to show 5' (1.5m) of infill needed to reach it. I think this is a fairly significant milestone. It gives the clearest indication yet of the effort required. All that needs be done now is the land be raised around it and landscaped appropriately; using the north and west embankments and ridge.
- The land has also been built up around the northern part of the copse. This is an original piece of hedgerow containing a fragment of the Colebrook cut. The land is, in places, level with the stream bed.
- Although much of the land has been built up, Inert are following their normal procedure of plough titanic gouges in to the levelled land, pushing some into the lakes, and piling up others into huge mounds. Thus, although the land has been built up over the past few weeks, it could just as easily be gouged out again. One thought I had for this procedure is that perhaps it is a means of mixing up the infill to provide a more homogenous mix.
- Further infill has taken place along the south eastern edge of Cormorant lake north. Inert are going to a great deal of trouble to infill around the feature I have been calling the scrape. If this scrape is to exist as part of the finished restoration, there needs to be some means of protecting its shores from erosion. Tern island, a scrape in Colebrook lake north, in Moor Green Lakes, has had up to 8' (2.4m) of its shore eroded away. It is now about half its original size, and rapidly disappearing.
- The soil barrier blocking the Longwater road entrance has now been flattened, and the gate has a shiny new pad lock. Strangely, the large hole (or anti tank trap as I call it) has not been filled in.
- I am quite sure I have missed a great deal of what happened on Manor farm this week. After all, I only have one, quick mid morning stomp (probably at the contractors' tea break time), and then enter into a forensic examination on the weekend to determine what Inert have been up to. It is all quite fascinating how a quarry is restored for nature.
I'm submitting this post first, before I then go to work on the slide show. It was a rather busy Saturday, and I'm a bit tired this morning.
A reminder about tomorrow's soggy Sunday Moor Green Lakes open day walk. Kicking off at 10:00am, and finishing at 4:00pm, I'm sure you'd all love to dodge showers and cow poop to have a guided tour of the reserve, along with other activities depending on the weather.
For once, Cemex/Inert have kept to my script :-) :-) :-) A colossal amount of progress has been accomplished, which the post title does not convey. In addition to filling what little remained of Finch pond and the 'Inlet', the boys have :
- Filled in the channel (as mentioned) but extended the infill into Cormorant lake (north) along the gravel bank
- Built up the land level on the north part of what was Finch pond. In many places up to the finish level. Whilst they appear to have built up half of the 5' (1.5m) high slope just north of the copse: very impressive.
- Work has recommenced on the east shore of Cormorant lake (south), with an extensive amount of infill pushing northward.
- There are signs of general clean up and grading all over what was Finch pond. What I can't work out is if the terracing it to remain. From volunteer work on Moor Green Lakes, I would say yes. however, I have been proven wrong before.
- More stuff, i.e. large lumps of concrete, have appeared next to my mighty mound (aka former location of Yellow bridge). I'm not sure if this will be bulldozed into the lakes as is (it is classed as inert material) or if some effort will be made to break it up a little.
-The brand new, shiny chalk/limestone track has been thoroughly chewed up by the lorry traffic. A lot has been ground up to the consistency of quicksand. It is truly yukkie stuff, looking like concealed porridge, and it sticks to my wellies like epoxy.
- I'm sure there are other pieces of restoration Inert have been up to on Manor farm. My short visits do not reveal this.
As I prepared my photographs for posting, I began to realise just how much had been accomplished this week. It is quite impressive. The question now is will this continue or will the lorry count be reduced to the normal three to four?
Oh, I forgot. My nemesis (mud) is back. The pump appeared on mid week, but seemed silent this morning. However, this might have been due to the wind direction, carrying any sound of it away from me. Water levels, despite the numerous down pours, seemed acceptably low.
You might have noticed, dear reader, that my website has changed its look and feel. The old theme I used had been deprecated by Weebly. This means that it is no longer being updated, and may be retired in the near future. This meant further that certain features of the old theme (e.g. slide show) did not work properly on some smart phones.
The new theme offers more features and flexibility, and also renders properly in most browsers on most smart phones. I will explore the new features over the coming weeks, and make tweaks to my website.
A further plug for this Sunday's open day walk on Moor Green Lakes, kicking off at 10:00am. Though currently the weather report is looking rather dire. Heavy rain in the morning (stopping at roughly 10:00am) followed by thundery showers. However, both the MetOffice and Beeb have been predicting thunderstorms this and last week, but nary a rumble in the sky was to be heard.
On to Manor farm and my mid week walk. There were a whole load of lorries, busily at work on Manor farm. I estimate at least ten; though I reckon more.
It has been some time since I last saw this number of lorries on Manor farm. This is not to say this hasn't happened. I may not have noticed them as my mid-week stomp covers such a short interval of a week.
I have have seen this before. A whole fleet of lorries arrive for a week or two, then vanish. We are then reduced to the two or three lorries. In defence of Cemex, they may simply not be able to hire that number of lorries on a long term basis. There are only a small number of haulage firms capable of carrying large quantities of spoil. They typically have a small fleet. And they have other customers to service.
Still, it was good to see that number of plant trundling to and fro. It is possible Cemex are making a determined effort to complete restoration. It is hanging like a millstone around their corporate necks.
Today the lorries were dumping loads in two places. Firstly across the middle top of what was Finch pond - where Inert has to increase ground level by up to 5' (1.5m) in places. Secondly, around the channel between Finch pond (as was) and Cormorant lake (south). I reckon the feature I called the inlet has now gone, and who knows, perhaps the channel itself.
I never did manage to cross the channel when it was a proper channel, connecting the two former bodies of water.
The photo of the Black-winged Stilt was taken from the 'viewing point' on the bridle path between Manor farm and Moor Green Lakes. The Black-winged Stilt is still on the fen, totally unperturbed by the lorry traffic trundling very close to it.
First a plug for the Moor Green Lakes open day, on Sunday 29th Sept i.e. next week. There will be guided tours around parts of the reserve not normally open to the public. I might be leading some of the tours (depending on how many volunteers and visitors we get), but should be manning Colebrook hide and the 'new workings' (aka Manor farm) during the afternoon.
Yesterday's mammal walk/talk went well, and I managed not to throw any naughty children into Colebrook lake; though one precocious tyke (not used to sharing) did deserve it. More details (including short video clips) to be found here https://www.facebook.com/pg/MoorGreenLakes/community/?ref=page_internal
Returning to our scheduled report: Once again, on my Wednesday walk, all that was apparent on Manor farm were piles of spoil and lorries trundling to and from dropping them. Our bulldozer was working away on Chandlers farm. On my return from MGL, the bulldozer was busily at work on to the north of the copse. Seems a sensible strategy to me, if indeed this is the modus operandi: the bulldozer works on Chandlers farm while the small number of lorries available build up the spoil on Manor farm; when there is sufficient spoil to work on, the bulldozer returns to Manor farm.
Much progress has been accomplished this week. Finch pond, for all intents and purposes, is gone; completely filled in. The structure I called the 'inlet' (a narrow strip of water running parallel to the ridge) is almost completely filled in. I would expect the tiny remaining remnant to be filled in this coming week: though Inert have caught me out before by flitting over to another part of the site.
In addition to filling in the 'inlet' our bulldozer driver appears to have worked all over Manor farm, smoothing and grading the surface. Piles of spoil have been dropped near the north embankment. I am going to stick my neck out and say this stuff is going to be used to build up and contour the land to the required finish level - some 5' (1.5m) in places.
I couldn't be entirely sure (I paid a quick visit on Friday evening, as I was helping with the mammal walk/talk on Saturday morning) but further infill has occurred along the gravel bank which separates Cormorant lakes north and south.
For those interested. The Black-winged Stilt is still hanging around East Fen (aka Manor lake north) on Manor farm. Plenty of bird watchers in attendance. Quite a few other species on offer e.g. Ruff, Green and Common Sandpiper, Sparrow hawk, numerous Lapwing etc, etc, etc.
First an updated infill map. Although the change from last week's map looks miniscule, an awful amount of work has been done. The depth of infill is over six feet (1.8'), which is a substantial amount of stuff to cart around.
Heads up: Blackwater River Festival kicks off next week. The Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust and associated nature conservation groups have a week of events planned between 21st and 29th September.
As part of this, Moor Green Lakes Group will have an open day on the 29th September where members of the public will be permitted access to the reserve. I am scheduled to perform various tasks on the day, from possibly leading guided tours, and also manning Colebrook hide and Manor farm.
Back to our normal schedule.
Manor farm was very misty at roughly 7:30 on Saturday morning. Opening and closing the Longwater road gate to Manor farm (it still isn't padlocked properly), and clambering up the west embankment, I could barely see half way across. I decided it wasn't worthwhile walking along the embankments, and took off across what was Finch pond. By the time I got near the ridge, the mist had been burnt off by the sun. Amazing how quickly this can occur.
Inert have been very busy this week. My Wednesday stomp revealed nowt but a whole load of lorries dumping loads on the north side of the copse. There was very little sign of Finch (village) pond west or of the bulldozer. It was busily at work on Chandlers farm.
Told you Inert flit about the site. Though it probably makes sense for the lorries to dump a whole load of stuff, before the bulldozer does its business. When there are only a few lorries, the bulldozer driver can spend a fair amount of time waiting for sufficient stuff to flatten.
Last week, Inert filled in Finch pond west; remember I've been calling what was calling them large village ponds. This week, Inert have almost completely filled in Finch pond east. Only half the 'inlet' is left.
Inert have also started to fill in Cormorant lake, pushing what looks like really good top soil along the south side of the gravel ridge separating Cormorant lakes north and south. Shame. The birds really like the flat, open shoreline, bereft of vegetation. Strangely, very few birds seem to use Cormorant lake north. I do see them there. Just not as many as on Cormorant lake south. I guess it is too enclosed.
Other than that, the whole of Finch pond and area around the copse have this tidied up, flatten appearance. Interesting, seeing as the survey stakes suggest the land has to be built up considerably. I think this is where the north embankments (strictly, they are banks) and ridge come into play, being bulldozed flat.
The shiny new limestone/chalk track way is taking a pounding from the lorry traffic. It's beginning to form ruts. This will make it a bouncy ride for the lorry drivers in the not too distant future.
Our pump wasn't pumping. Gone on strike again. Though water levels were quite well. Not much point in pumping the lake (i.e. Cormorant) completely dry. All the little fish will be killed off.
On the wildlife front. There was (and maybe still is) great excitement at the appearance of a Black-winged Stilt. More on this in the wildlife section.
Firstly, an updated map of the latest round of work (in yellow) since Inert were last here back in early march. NOTE: Inert have actually been working all over what was Finch pond, and the old infill I call the Land Mass. They have been steadily landscaping the site, smoothing it over, and building up bits. The yellow hatching simply shows the new infill that has taken place since they returned a couple of weeks ago.
As part of my Wednesday stomp, I usually take a wander over to Colebrook hide to see if there are any interesting species around. This week there was a Snipe - a somewhat reclusive bird. I was dead chuffed to see it on the sand bars in front of the hide.
At this point a birder comes hoofing it up to me, all excited like, asking if I'd seen the Black-winged Stilt. I wouldn't know this bird if it came up and bit me on the leg. I showed him the photos of the Snipe I'd taken, on the grounds that my bird identification skills are so low it could have been said Stilt.
My photo was dismissed. However, the birder did spot the Black-winged Stilt. A creature of the Med, rarely seen in this country. This particular individual was a juvenile, suggesting that it was hatched in this country. No doubts they are moving north due to climate change.
Anyway, this sighting caused considerable excitement, and went out on the birders hotline very quickly. On my early morning Saturday stomp, I found two birders already in position, viewing said bird on East fen. Another one joined them shortly thereafter. A fourth, whom I met heading west on Manor farm, was heading back when I left for home. I think he had gone off to Manor farm as it was so misty early on. Nothing could be seen.
Personally, I found the Black-winged Stilt a little on the boring side. I far prefer Lapwings, Snipe, Egyptian geese, etc. They are more colourful. Still, each to their own.
Now some of the more familiar species inhabiting the reserve.
Well, dear reader, the game, as Holmes is alleged to have said, is afoot and motoring away.
My Wednesday morning stomp revealed contractors working on the embankments and ridge in force; and were making their way along the north and west embankments bordering Cormorant lake (north). Why is this significant? After all, the north and west embankments and ridge have been cleared before.
It is the clearing of the north and east embankments which lead me to believe the big push is on. I realised that if you are a bulldozer driver or digger operator, perched 3m to over 6m up on some steep sided banking, then you really want to know where the edge of said banking is. Kind of difficult to establish when it is covered in dense growths of thistles, nettles and bracken over 2m high.
Further signs that Cemex are really go for a completion sooner rather than later:
- What was Finch pond is rather flat and filled in. Only a tiny bit remains around the north of the copse. What I called east Finch pond has been filled in. I had an easy walk around the site: no having to work my way carefully around what was left of Finch pond, assessing the best route through an apocalyptic landscape resembling the Somme, clambering up high, steep side gouges in the land and then sinking up to my knees in mud.
- Inert have continued to gouge out the north embankment next to the ridge, and bulldoze it into the 'inlet' of Finch pond. The inlet is a tongue of water that ran alongside the ridge. Inert always left it there, and I wondered when they would start to fill it in.
- The south end of the ridge has been bull dozed flat. Well, actually a small nub of a hillock that was isolated when Inert cut a way through the end of the ridge to allow lorries to access the gravel spit the divides Cormorant lakes north and south.
- Further work has been done on Cormorant lake (south), mainly to clear out and deepen the channel that drains said lake.
- Inert have also been over bits of the land mass (aka the infill from previous years) and bulldozed some of the north and east shores of Cormorant lake.
- The pump, which was wheezing on Wednesday (a partial blockage, I reckon), was off today (from what I could see), but water levels were quite low all round.
I'm sure there are many other bits of restoration I have missed, but I was impressed with the speed at what had been accomplished this week. Who knows, Cemex might pull it off and complete restoration by the end of the year. This does mean no more need to get down to the site at 7:00am on a cold, wet, dank winter's Saturday, ploughing through my nemesis: mud the consistency of quicksand.
If I am any judge of the lie of the land, the reincarnated Finch pond, once landscaping has finished, will be quite shallow, possibly with some terracing. The latter is pure conjecture. Terracing is there, but it will be a piffling task to grade to a nice, gentle slope.
We'll kick off the slide shows with a 360 from the top of the structure I call the mega mound. Inert have sliced a chunk off it to build up the track way. The resulting steep slope made it a little 'interesting' to clamber up. As I climbed up I noticed caterpillar tracks all the way to the top! These digger drivers are absolute nutters. I swear the slope it trundled up is greater that 45 degrees.
Now on to the main slide show. Inert have been flitting all about Manor farm; though mainly concentrating on Finch pond. A little work has been done on the 'tank traps' i.e. the barriers built around the Longwater road entrance.
Some photos from Wednesday stomp showing how Inert are tackling the embankments. I did wonder how they were going to do this.
Also the contractors working to clear the embankments of vegetation. It was blisteringly hot when they did this last year during our mega hot summer. This year they had a nicer time of it, temperature wise. Though it isn't a pleasant job.
Wildlife was somewhat sparse. I'm not sure if this is due to the season, the time in the morning I visit the reserve or the creatures not being used to the heavy plant working on the site.
Last year the birds in particular got very used to lorries, bulldozers, diggers and other assorted vehicles trundling about the site. They totally ignored the huge hulking things, to the point where I figured that if I disguised myself as one (e.g. wear boxes painted yellow, with a big flashing light on my head, and me making brum-brum noises) I could walk around the site photographing birds.
I was intrigued by the number of garden plants on the site; especially the sunflowers. Right now the post industrial landscape of Manor farm provides a rich variety of flowering plants, much like an old fashioned meadows. Unfortunately, the reserve to be will likely not exhibit this level of diversity. Certainly the East Fen (the area I call the grasslands) seems somewhat barren.
Enough of my wittering...
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.