Thursday's stomp around the south footpath revealed considerable flooding on Manor farm due to storm Alex. The land bridge to Cormorant lake (north) was under water, as was the alternative route around the ridge.
Finch pond has reappeared, over quite an extent, but will soon disappear. Inert were at play, on Thursday, though restricted to the middle south and east of the land mass. There didn't seem to be many lorries around. About three or four, from what I could make out during my brief foray.
Saturday morning was bright, cold and frosty; a nice change from the deluges we've been experiencing. I was slightly disappointed to see that water levels, although still high, had fallen considerably since Thursday. This was perplexing to me, as the pump was not working on Thursday or Saturday or the week prior. I am puzzled as to how the water is draining from the site.
Despite the flooding, ground conditions were very good; firm to hard in, I believe, horse racing parlance. This is a far cry from before lockdown. A combination of freshly bulldozed spoil and plenty of rain led to lethally soft soil; the consistency of quicksand in some places. Large areas of Manor farm, including vehicle tracks, were off limits to me, such was the depth of gooey mud.
The soil had settled and compacted over the summer, enabling me to walk anywhere on Manor farm - apart from the flooded bits.
Having not been for two weeks, I was intrigued to see what progress had been made by Inert. They appear to have made reasonable inroads into filling Cormorant lake (north) before storm Alex hit last week. It was a little difficult to gauge accurately as the area being filled was underwater, apart from a small spit, projecting into Cormorant lake (north). This spit marks the edge of where the bulldozer had got to as it pushes spoil into the lake.
Inert were more or less forced to work on the middle part of Cormorant lake (south) or, as I call it, the land mass. Again, it was fairly difficult to gauge progress. I guess steady, is the operative word.
I made the mistake of starting my stomp by walking along the west embankment. I got stung rotten by stinging nettles. They got me through my summer wear hiking trousers. I used the embankment as I thought the ground from Longwater road to the ridge would be soft and muddy (i.e. sink up to your knees type mud) as it was prior to lockdown. Not so. The ground was quite firm, even round the margins of the emergent Finch pond.
There was masses of wildlife on site. Loads of Egyptian geese, Lapwing and Canada geese; who loved the large expanses of water. They seemed to prefer the emergent Finch pond, which is a reversal of what I have observed in previous years. I can only put it down to Finch pond now having lots of little islands poking out of it.
There were the usual plethora of small brown birds.
Somewhat busy mid-week, hence no stomp on Tues, Wed or Thurs. Far too wet over the weekend with slow moving storm Alex dropping a load on the UK.
However, whilst you are here why not register for the Covid-19 vaccine. I did, way back in June.
After succumbing to being bashed and dinged by lorries, the old gate was removed some months ago. I spied a shiny new replacement gate, this Saturday, which wasn't there on Wednesday. I didn't walk up to it on Saturday, but it looked from where I was standing (on Manor farm) that it didn't fit.
The real surprise, and excitement, in one sense, was that Inert have started to infill Cormorant lake (north). This was always a funny little lake, hidden from view, bordered by high embankments and a gravel/shingle causeway/spit. Birds tended to be slightly ambivalent about it, partly, I suspect, due to the water levels going up and down so often. When high, it forms a proper lake/pond. When low, there are mud/sand banks, which are too exposed to predators to nest on, plus they get flooded quite often.
I'm sad to see Cormorant lake (north) being filled in. Whilst I didn't visit it often, the whole area has become sort of a friend to me over the years. Now they are disappearing.
Another surprise was that inert have built a bridge/crossing across the drainage ditch between Finch pond and Cormorant lake (south). This gives lorries easy access to Cormorant lake (north). About time to. I never understood why Inert have never done this before now. Previously, lorries would have an enormous detour, going west from the bailey bridge, swinging around north past the Longwater road entrance, then heading east by hugging the north embankment, before heading south around the ridge. It's about 3/4 of a mile. With the bridge/crossing in place, that distance is halved.
Inert had completed their flattening of the spoil they dumped between the pump and scrape before lockdown. They were, therefore, not working on Saturday morning. This meant I could stomp across the site unmolested. However, I delayed my visit until after 7:40 just to make sure digger and lorry were not there; but also this meant I started my walk from near the bailey, after walking around the south footpath and then hopping over the wire fence next to the transformer.
I was able to walk over to the scrape, on Saturday. I haven't really been able to walk on large areas of what was Finch pond or get any where near the scrape since about the new year. It has simply been too wet and the infill too boggy to walk on. I did manage to do the odd foray, by sticking to bulldozer tracks, to get within about 30m of the scrape. But to not venture close to the edge of any infill. However, all is dry and firm now, and I had no problem getting to the scrape.
Our pump was not chugging away. It hasn't done so for a couple of weeks now. Water levels are, thus, beginning to creep up.
The infill/upfill of the north and west shores of Cormorant lake (south) continue apace.Though strangely, I only saw two lorries at work on Wednesday. There was the heavy earth mover and a tipper truck. I might have arrived on a quiet day. The amount of work seems to suggest this.
Wild fowl are, to some degree, avoiding what is left of Cormorant lake. Understandable, given that it is now a lot smaller, and there is a lot of disruption. On the other hand, what was Finch pond is a buzz with birds and, presumably, small mammals - there are certain at least eight Roe deer. There are large numbers of Gold Finches, Pied Wagtails and Skylarks, and other small brown birds I cannot recognise. Most all birds appear to have had a very successful breeding season.
I arrived relatively late on Manor farm, about 7:20 am. After a brief pause to photograph two Red Kites swooping on some kill near the sewage works, stomped round to the ridge. Whilst photographing the latest progress on the Land mass, I spotted a heavy earth mover driving onto Manor farm, at 7.40 am. A couple of minutes later, a digger clanked and squealed over the bailey bridge to join the heavy earth mover.
Time for me to get off Manor farm. Sigh. I may well have to move my stomp to Sunday. Arriving earlier will not work as dawn it getting later and later. This situation is likely not to last too much longer. I noticed that the job of the digger and heavy earth mover is to make inroads into all the spoil dumped around the pump station during autumn of 2019 and winter/spring of 2020.
I don't really understand why the bulldozers can't shove all this spoil into Cormorant lake (south). It's seems a bit of a long winded exercise to load up the heavy earth mover and have it trundle around Cormorant lake (south) to drop the spoil, only for the bulldozer to shove it into said lake.
Also, the south vehicle track can best be described as a single track road with passing places. One of the pinch points being the heavy earth mover, blocking the track whilst it is being loaded with spoil by the heavy earth mover. Hopefully the single track road will become properly two way once all the piles of spoil near the pump station is cleared away.
I had an unusual mid-week stomp, in that it was Tuesday rather than my normal Wednesday. There didn't seem to be as many tipper trucks trundling around as the previous week. This could be an illusion, as it takes time to load them up with spoil when they are on Chandlers farm. However, it was very gratifying to see four lorries on the land mass, with two passing each other on vehicle tracks. This should speed up progress no end, plus save Cemex shed loads of money.
I can't see Inert accepting a fix priced contract for this restoration. Especially as lengthy delays, measured in years, seem quite the norm. It makes government projects seem models of efficiency by comparison.
Our on-off pump was chugging away on Tuesday, but by the looks of things it was off by Saturday. I couldn't get near it on Saturday, due to the digger and earth mover, whist the wind was blowing in the wrong direction for me to hear it from the south footpath. The alternative outflow from the settlement ponds, which was flowing on Tuesday, had dried up by Saturday.
Oh, I spotted at least eight Roe deer on Manor farm, on Saturday. Six females were in one herd. Most unusual.
Our bulldozer returns and the pump has been turned on.
There has been a huge amount of progress this past week. I haven't seen so much progress in many, many months. Restoration pace before lockdown was glacial, mainly due the use of single track roads, necessitating lorries queuing just south of the bailey bridge, with jams up to 15 lorries long!
Now, with two way traffic and more than one lorry at a time on the land mass, restoration is romping a long. A word of caution: I have seen this before. A massive flurry of activity for two or four weeks, involving 10, 20 or more lorries, then back to glacial progress for months. In fairness to Inert/Cemex, there are a finite number of tipper trucks and grab loaders available for hire, and other companies need them as well.
My Thursday stomp (I couldn't make my usual Wednesday) revealed much activity going and our bulldozer driver's return. Now, it is possible that he has been here previously, and that my two mid-week visits coincided with his day off, but it is nice to see him as it means progress will be much faster.
I also heard the pump working away, but strangely there was no water gushing from the usual outlets. However, one stream, entering the Blackwater, was in full spate, which might suggest the water is being diverted. The other explanation is that the pump has only just been turned on, and the settlement ponds are still being filled, and have not reached a sufficient depth to overflow into the usual discharge channels.
Either way, water levels were considerably lower in both Cormorant lakes and the drainage channel between Cormorant lake (south) and what is left of Finch pond. In fact, the latter's low water levels allowed me to cross the drainage channel near the ridge, rather than take a long detour around Finch pond.
Inert have continued to build up and consolidate the ground on the north shore of Cormorant lake (south) they have been raising since returning. They have also moved their operation westward to the strange track across the land mass I commented on last week. The ground level has been raised by about 2' (60cm).
I can't work out if this raised area (getting on to the size of a football pitch) is now at its final height. There are now survey markers to tell me. Standing on the lovely, 'smooth', level surface and looking south to the land next to the Blackwater, it sort of looks as if it is the final height.
However, another word of caution. I have seen Inert do this - what I call dump, level, gouge. To wit, they dump a whole load of spoil in big heaps, then level the ground, then gouge out the level ground - pushing the stuff into a lake, before repeating the process.
On the other hand, if Inert keep their work rate up then I feel the infill of Cormorant lake could be finished in November, if not sooner. A lot of the infill near the south footpath (basically from the pump station to the copse) needs to be gouged out to make the new, long Manor lake. What is gouged out can be used either to infill the north east corner of Cormorant lake or help build up its level.
The north and east embankments and ridge can then be bulldozed, partly to infill Cormorant lake (north) and partly to provide a final layer of top soil. Unless we get really foul, wet weather, I can't really see any reason why the basic infill and landscaping of Manor farm cannot be completed before next April.
Now on to my Saturday stomp. I got to Manor farm at about 7:15am, walked along the west and north embankments to photograph progress from the ridge. Then I traipsed down the ridge, making my way across the drainage ditch (without any drama i.e. sinking up to my knees in mud), and photographed the huge amount of build up that has happened.
At about 7:35am I heard clanking of heavy plant coming from Chandlers farm. I wasn't unduly worried as this has happened many times over the past three years. But then a movement, coming from the direction of the bailey bridge, caught my eye. It looked like the mesh barriers had been opened. I stopped and watched, as I might have been mistaken, but sure enough the heavy earth mover made its way onto Manor farm, but stopped.
My plan had been to wander over to the pump, but the arrival of heavy plant stymied that idea. At 7:40 am I decided needed to get off Manor farm so as not to interfere with Inert's work. It's is going to bugger up my Saturday stomp if Inert keep this working up. I may have to switch to Sunday. Surely they wouldn't work on a Sunday.
Anyway, I turned and walked westward towards the Longwater road. Curious as to what Inert were up to, I dropped down behind a raised area of ground and watched what was going on for a while. A digger appeared, and both drivers had a conflab. I made my way around the copse, crossed over to the south footpath (I wasn't going to walk all the way back to the Longwater road), and then headed east along the footpath to see what Inert were doing.
The chaps were taking spoil from the heaps piled up near the pump station, and moving it onto the land mass. Finally! It took Inert ages and ages to pile the stuff up originally, due to the single track road.
I've just realised, I have not provided an update to the (badly drawn) progress map since September last year. Here is my attempt at trying to show how much infill has taken place since I started this blog. The red lines represent what I think has been done since last September.
I'm not sure when precisely Inert and Cemex returned to their restoration of Manor farm. Their usual breeding season hiatus (normally end of march to mid-July) was slightly extended by the ridiculous full national covid-19 lockdown. Seriously, face masks and social distancing would have been sufficient to bring transmission rate down.
Anyway, enough of the deficiencies of bumbling Boris and his bunch of bungling buffoons. I suspect that Inert returned sometime in July. I did pop around the south footpath on the 31st May, and noticed no activity what so ever, on both Chandlers farm and Manor farm. Though some large mesh barriers were set up across the bailey bridge and Manor farm track.
I didn't do a Wednesday stomp. Instead we did a 9 mile hike with some friends on Tuesday, taking in MGL, Manor farm and Fleet Hill farm en route, which is when I noticed that Inert were back.
Inert have been concentrating on completing the infill of Cormorant lake (south). They have covered an impressive amount of the north west shore with an impressive amount of spoil, some 1 metre deep. This is all the more impressive seeing as once agin the lorries are queuing along the vehicle track. I only saw some three lorries queuing on Tuesday. A far cry from the 10 lorry jam I have witnessed. But I am still puzzled as to why, given all the space they have, Inert still insist on single track road, which causes lorries to queue.
Lorry drivers are being paid an awful lot of money to sit their, twiddling their thumbs.
The pump was not working, and subsequently water levels were very high. Basically where they should be. I was quite surprised that work was progressing with water levels being so high, but did notice that the spoil wasn't actually being pushed into Cormorant lake (south). Perhaps this is why Inert were happy to have water levels so high.
Also, I didn't see our bulldozer trundling around. There was a single digger working away. Perhaps this is a one off, and our bulldozer driver will be back.
Oh, Inert have cut a nice deep drainage channel between what is left of Finch pond and Cormorant lake (south), so draining a lot of the former pond.
The west and north embankments and ridge appear to have had their annual trim. All that nasty tall nettles and thistles have been cut down, making it easier for me to trek along.
Well, that's it for this week. I really thought that Cemex would use covid-19 as an excuse to suspend restoration work. Apparently not, it would seem. Fingers crossed, we could see work completed on Cormorant lake by next spring.
Well folks, no site visit last week on Wednesday or Saturday due to lockdown. I'm not even sure if Inert are continuing with restoration. Doesn't make sense to. Partly due to it being non-essential work and partly due work being halted due to the imminent breeding season.
As part of my exercise routine, I am permitted to walk along the Blackwater, seeing as the area is local to me. I may pay a visit on Wednesday as I need the exercise and well being of nature.
However I may, seeing as I signed up to be both a Community response and NHS transport volunteer, and may go on duty. As it is we are buying food for an 82 year old neighbour who has had heart surgery recently and must self isolate. Therefore she and the community take priority.
See you on the other side, people.
Before we kick off this week's somewhat tedious report, a bit of good news and bad news on my attempts at art.
Good new: Aquadango has been short listed for the David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition. My painting, along with roughly 100 other art works, was selected from over 1,200 entries. Category winners will be chosen from the short listed pieces, and all can exhibit at the Mall galleries, London.
Bad news: Exhibition dates run from 27th to 31st May, 2020. Oops. Unlikely due to a naughty little virus.
Back to the blog. Inert still have a single track road, which requires lorries to reverse some 100m to drop their loads. Only six lorries queuing up to cross the bailey bridge on Wednesday.
I suppose I should have paid a site visit on Saturday to see where all the soil is being pushed. Our bulldozer driver is making a mighty pile of soil, but I never see him push the stuff very far north i.e. towards Cormorant lake (south). It must be going somewhere. I might visit next weekend.
The single track road is pretty lethal. I would have thought the ground would have dried out by now. It is very slippery, with some enormous potholes. Lorries have to drive very slowly and carefully along the track - increasing the time for queuing lorries and the time it is taking to complete restoration.
I have a photo of a lorry negotiating a pothole. I have no idea why it isn't filled in with a large lump of concrete or lots of 100mm ballast. There is enough of it lying around. It would make the lorry drivers' lives easier.
Oh, a couple or three weeks ago, I posted photographs of the east most gate across the footpath by the bailey bridge. It showed the gate somewhat dented after being hit by a lorry. Due in main to walkers unable to close the gates properly. It isn't difficult, but you would be amazed at the number of times I've found the gates either left open or not closed properly.
Last week the west gate across the footpath had taken a severe knock from a lorry, and the gate post (a fairly major block of wood) had been broken, though not so much that the gate couldn't function as a gate. This week, my Wednesday stomp revealed the gate on its side, with the post completely sheared off.
It was inevitable, but simply down to stupid walkers unable to grasp the mechanics of closing a gate.
There was a digger working on the south vehicle track, next to where the bulldozer was operating. No idea what it was doing, except one of the random pieces of work Inert get up to; which do not seem to serve any real purpose except waste time.
Oh, the pump still isn't running but water levels are low in the lakes. I need to pop over to find out why. I do not think Cormorant lake (south) has been joined with Manor lake, with water somehow flowing out of the latter into the Blackwater. Simply due to Manor lake being higher than Cormorant lake.
This could well be my mantra for the coming weeks or months; given that Inert/Cemex do not cry off for the breeding season.
My Wednesday visit revealed only four lorries sat in a traffic jam, as they waited patiently to cross the bailey bridge. At least the process is costing Cemex less, as they don't shell out for lorries drivers to sit idle for up to 50 minutes at a time, waiting for one lorry to reverse 100m down a single track road to drop its cargo.
As a result of this silliness and lack of project management, restoration progress is glacial and costing Cemex an unnecessary fortune. I wish I had that amount of money to fritter away. In my experience, this is how management works - they don't, except when it comes to pay and bonus time, when suddenly they make themselves out to be heroes, bringing in projects on time and to budget.
I didn't pay a visit on Saturday: no point as so little had been accomplished, plus it was raining yet again. Sheesh, I think it has rain every day since last October.
The pump wasn't working, which is quite surprising. Water levels in Cormorant lake (south), from what I could see, were very low. Quite perplexing, given the amount of rain we continue to have.
This must be costing Cemex a fortune: up to 10 lorry drivers, plus a digger operator, twiddling their thumbs doing nothing (except burning diesel) as the former wait in a traffic jam.
Inert have removed the two way vehicle track alongside the Blackwater footpath and the track alongside the lake. Instead they have replaced them with a single carriageway. Thus, only one lorry at time can use it.
Up to 10 lorries will queue on the south side of the bailey bridge, waiting for one lorry to reverse some 100 yards west to the bulldozer, drop its load, drive back and cross the bailey bridge. It's madness. Three lorries can achieve the same throughput at a fraction of the price.
Two years ago there was both a two way vehicle track running along side the Blackwater footpath, with the option of a circular route along the lake. I saw as many as 20 lorries in operation at once, and restoration progress was rapid.
Now, only one lorry at a time uses the track, with restoration rates plummeting to glacial pace, schedules pushed back and costs to Inert/Cemex rocketing.
I am further baffled by why Inert are piling up spoil along the vehicle track. I though the idea was to fill in Cormorant lake. The bulldozer diver also doubled up as a digger operator, but he was scraping soil back from the infill area and piling it up alongside the vehicle track?!?!?!?
My Wednesday stomp revealed a digger working on what was Finch pond. Again, I am taken with Inert flitting about the site, seemingly engaged on random tasks; this time building yet more piles of soil. It wasn't as if there was any landscaping going on i.e. the digger digging out the new, tiny Finch pond. Instead, our heavy earth mover was bringing in yet more stuff (not a lot, due to the traffic jam) for the digger to pile up.
Anyway, I did visit the site on Saturday, in light rain. This stuff is incessant. The amount of mud, again of quicksand consistency, is a sight to behold. I was unable to proceed along the vehicle track where the bulldozer was working this week. There was a sea of deep, thin porridge like mud that was inching its way up my wellies as I walked eastward - and that was before I reached the really churned up stuff where the bulldozer had been working.
I had to back track west, then gingerly clamber a low embankment to get to the south footpath, before proceeding east to the transformer, where upon I could get back onto the site. Though I stayed off the vehicle track, it was too muddy. I simply took a couple of photos, before getting back to the south footpath and heading back home.
Oh, the pump didn't appear to be on. Which is curious, as water levels were quite low in the lake. I need to work out why.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.