As expected, restoration efforts have been put on hold over the Christmas period; and so it should. People need time off, especially over Christmas. It's only the second time in twelve years that I've had the days between Boxing Day and New Year's eve off.
This week's update is a little odd. Some of the photos are from Thursday 28th Dec. We have had lots of heavy rain recently; whilst areas north of us have had a torrid time of it with snow. More rain is predicted for the New Year's weekend. The water levels in the Blackwater river can rise dramatically (2' / 60cm or more) after torrential rain. Therefore I felt it prudent to retrieve my trail camera, as I had placed it closer to the water than last time.
As well I did. The water levels in the Blackwater river had risen over a foot (30cm) and had reached the base of the fallen tree I had rigged my trail cam on. Water levels in all the lakes on both Fleet hill and Manor farms have also risen considerably. Cormorant island has disappeared, and the channel between Finch pond and Cormorant lake is now flooding bits of the land mass. I will pop down to the reserve sometime today to see if water levels have risen even more since Thursday due to the heavy rain we've had since then.
My trail cam did pick up that mink. They are very fast, and move a fair distance before my cheapo trail cam fires. Still, it caught the blighter twice, plus a whole load of other wildlife: a fox, Grey Wagtail, Wren, Chaffinch, Moorhen, various unidentified nocturnal rodents, and what appears to be the mink swimming up the Blackwater river. I also found what appears to be mink spraint i.e. poop. It's old, so didn't pong, but appears to have fur in it and is roughly the right shape for a mink.
I wont be putting the trail cam out this week due to the river levels being so high. This results in the fallen tree being submerged. Even if not completely submerged the high water levels prevent animals from getting onto the tree trunk. I certainly do not want to leap five feet (1.5m) with a standing start from bank to tree and back again, with nothing to grab onto and three feet (90cm) of water to fall into.
Finally, we have central heating and hot water! The boiler man arrived on Wednesday afternoon, diagnosed and fixed the boiler in 15 minutes (it was a solenoid). He was disgusted that we had been left without heating or hot water for seven days, over the Christmas period. He couldn't understand what the call centre was playing at, booking an engineer in so late. To cap it all they charged us £50 excess for the privilege of not fixing our boiler for a week, even though we are on Homecare!
It appears he had 28 engineers working over the entire week from Wed 20th to when he came out. They were busy, but not so busy that they could not have got to us Thursday 21st at the earliest and Friday 22nd at the very latest. In fact had we rang on Boxing Day morning he could have got someone to us by the afternoon.
Needless to say, a strongly worded complaint has been lodged.
Thing is, we both remember when British Gas was state owned. Weekend working just didn't happen, apart from emergencies, whilst the whole country shutdown for the Christmas period. So we thought the engineers could only get to us on Thursday or Friday, and the reason they couldn't was that there were far more needy people than us. Turns out this was not the case.
Here are the photos from the 28th Dec 2017
We popped along to the reserve round about 11:00 am on Saturday 30th Dec. My partner went mammal hunting along the Blackwater when I disappeared for a muddy trudge around the Manor Farm section of the reserve. It was very very muddy, with a couple of kilos easily sticking to my wellies. In some sections the bulldozer had really cut into the ground, both with its blade or caterpillar tracks. Filled with water from all the rain, some were deeper than my wellies were high. I took advantage of this deep water to wash the considerable amount of mud sticking to my wellies.
Water levels in the Blackwater were up a foot (30cm) from yesterday, while the out flow from Moor Green lakes into Manor lake was higher by about 4" (10cm) or so. With more rain predicted for tonight and early tomorrow morning, I would expect levels to be even higher. The fallen tree on which I rig my trail cam will be submerged today.
I suspect that the water levels of the lakes and ponds on Manor Farm are getting back to what they should be, now that Cemex have stopped pumping. Looking back at my blog, I notice that Cormorant island reappeared on the 2nd Dec entry after Cemex turned the pump back on.
There isn't a huge amount of commentary in the slideshow. Just simply compare water levels in this set of photos to those taken earlier on in the year.
Oh, finally; it's early days but I might, just might, have got rid of that annoying hair in the top right hand corner of the photos. I think it is a piece of fine fiber or cat hair that lay across the cmos chip. I couldn't see anything on the Tamron lens - plus I had cleaned it so much any light reflected off it could probably be seen from the Moon. Also, when I am taking a photo I cannot see the hair in the view finder. Which led me to figure it was something behind the camera mirror. In hind sight, what I should have done was stick on the Canon lens that came with the camera and see if the hair appeared in photos taken with it. Sigh.
We went for a walk along the Manor farm section of the reserve; partly for exercise and partly for me to put my trail camera back out. My partner always searches the banks of the Blackwater as we walk, ever hopeful of spotting some wild mammals. Today, she got an early Christmas present. She spotted an American mink. Possibly the same one my trail cam picked up last week.
She was dead chuffed, though this feeling was slightly tempered with the knowledge of how much damage this creature will do to the local wildlife.
I managed to film the beastie with my bridge camera. Unfortunately a party of four walkers came along and spooked the mink off. I can't upload video to my website as I have the cheapest most basic plan. Three screen shots will have to do. There is a close up, then a pull back, while the last shot has the back of the mink to you as it turned and dived into the water. It swam off under the water.
If you spot an American mink on or near the reserve then please report this either to the Moor Green Lakes Group or the Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust.
Cue violins. Cue sympathy. Our boiler packed up on Wednesday; no heating or hot water. The earliest British Gas can get to us is Dec 27th. It's actually better than the three weeks the previous time. So much for BG HomeCare; to quote from their site "We've got a range of HomeCare products to help keep your home warm and working." Honestly, that animated penguin should be shot and stuffed, and the millions of pounds of advertising budget used to hire more gas engineers. At least it is mild.
Actually it reminds us of our childhoods. Only the living room got heated, scraping ice off the insides of windows, curled up tightly under bed covers in the morning trying to get the last therm of warmth out of a hot water bottle before taking the plunge to ooze out of bed to get a fire started. As for hot running water - that's what a kettle on a stove was for.
Right, enough ranting and reminiscing, on with the serious stuff. Suitably attired for a dark, dank, drizzly morning, I sallied forth while attempting not to get too sullied.
This week it is all about mud. Endless photos of mud, all churned up by the heavy plant trundling around the reserve; with ruts so deep you could loose a small dog in them. Walking around the site gives you a tiny, minuscule idea of what it must have been like in the trenches. I found it quite sobering.
Cemex have been very active around the south shoreline of Finch pond, the yellow bridge and the western area adjacent to the copse. The land here has been extended further into Finch pond by dint of scraping roughly 2' (60cm) of soil and bulldozing it into the water. Least ways that's what it looks like to me.
They have also been at work attacking some of the earth banks bordering the south footpath, reducing one of the rubble piles in the process. There has been much movement of heavy plant along the track ways - three of them now. The soil has taken such a pounding it has turned into a fine goo not unlike cake mixture. It sticks instantly to everything like epoxy resin. My progress was slowed further this week as I would test any bit of suspicious looking mud before putting my full weight on to it just in case it was a miniature quagmire.
With the pump off, water levels continue to rise; possibly as much as a foot - 30cm in new money - since last week. Cormorant island has almost disappeared.
I still do not understand the grand plan of this restoration. An example this week is that more of the new stream bed, so recently cut by Cemex, has been obliterated. It kind of goes against my engineering grain, all this to and fro, destroying stuff already done or redoing stuff destroyed.
Personally, I would be very surprised if anything happens on the site next week. It makes sense to close the works down for a week. The bulldozer has certainly been packed away. Fear not, dear reader, I will take a peek next week.
A final thought before we press on with the slideshow. The wildlife do not appear particularly concerned about the machinery trundling around the site. They are, however, quite nervous about humans. Would the ultimate disguise for this reserve be a square-ish yellow outfit, with a flashing amber light strapped to your head, all the while emitting trunk rumbling noises?
Actually, a final, final thought. The photos seem a little out of focus this week. I can't work out if it was due to the murky light I had this morning or if it had something to do with my muddy encounter last week with the subsequent cleaning of my DLSR.
Yes dear reader, your intrepid blogger had not one but two encounters with quicksand today, sinking up to his knees in the stuff. I kid you not, and it was quite hard work extracting myself.
Our bulldozer driver has been hard at work this week around the yellow bridge and Longwater road entrance. Much moving and piling of earth has taken place. Some of that earth is very fine silt and sand.
It rained heavily this week, causing the Blackwater river to rise well over a foot. The combination of fine silt being bulldozed into sizeable heaps which are not compacted and the rain meant miniature quagmires formed here and there. It was while walking off two reasonably well consolidated heaps of soil that I stepped into patches of piled up fine silt, sinking immediately up to my knees in the stuff.
Naturally, as I tried extracting one foot (all the while trying not to get more of me or my cameras covered in mud) the other foot sank deeper into the silt; well over the tops of my wellies. I tried using my monopod, resting it against a large chunk of bricks, to help leverage me out of the goo, but to no avail. I simply got the end of the monopod covered in mud; which then transferred to my coat and cameras as I continued my walk around the reserve.
It is an odd sensation attempting to walk with a kilo of congealing mud on and in each wellington, and on your trousers slightly over knee level.
I kept to the bulldozer tracks after the second silty encounter. A walker I met on the south footpath was kind enough to take a photo of me some 30 minutes after my muddy escapade.
Compared to last week, today was a relatively balmy 3 degrees centigrade, with quite a warming sun. I almost felt like breaking the sun cream out. As intimated earlier, much earth moving has taken place on Manor farm. I will update the photos and report on this post over the course of today, and possibly tomorrow. In the meantime, the rather ghastly photo of your muddy blogger. My wellies are normally jet black, tastefully tinged with the odd bit of stylish mud.
Works bridge, pump station and Cormorant lake.
Actually, it does cover a bit of Moor Green lakes. The lakes and ponds were frozen over due to the unseasonably cold weather we have had this last week. It's actually caused by La Nina, aided and abetted by a couple of other cyclical weather phenomena.
Area around Yellow bridge and copse
An extensive amount of work has occurred around the yellow bridge and copse. I wouldn't be surprised if it were removed soon. The infilling of a small pond I photographed last week appeared more about creating a track for the various plant moving around the site. The pond itself was still largely intact.
The land on the east edge of Finch pond appears to be expanding further into the pond. Seems like quite a major bit of reclamation going on. I'm not sure as to the ultimate fate of the copse itself.
Strangely, having cut the new stream bed some weeks back, Cemex have now bulldozed over the east end of it near the yellow bridge. They don't start from one end of the reserve and work their way to the other. They flit about all over the place. What Cemex appear to be doing is clearing some of the earth banks bordering the south footpath. These banks have always obscured the reserve from the footpath.
It was while finishing of this section of the walk that your intrepid blogger first sank up to both his knees in the quicksand, and spent five minutes extracting himself. It would have taken about a minute had I flopped down horizontally and pulled myself out. That, however, would have left me completely covered in mud from head to toe!
West shore of Finch pond and Longwater road entrance, taking in north embankment of Finch pond.
At some point along this section of the walk I sank up to my knees in quicksand yet again. Not as bad as previously, as I instantly realised what was happening. It only took a minute to get out of the mess. You may also notice that I stopped zooming. My hands were a tad muddy, and I did not want to risk getting dust or soil into the lens. As it is there is a rather annoying piece of fine hair that appears occasionally in the top right of photos. I can't work out where in the lens mechanism it is.
Cemex have been moving earth round these areas quite extensively. The west shoreline of Finch pond appears to be extending ever eastward. The area I called the white jetty has disappeared under a layer of top soil, which appears to have been scrapped off the top of the north embankment. It is all rather peculiar the approach Cemex are taking.
After finishing this section of the walk, I hopped over the Longwater road to Fleet Hill farm to retrieve a trail cam I had set on the Blackwater river. Rather grimly it had captured images of an American Mink. They are regularly reported on the reserve, and may have been responsible for wiping out the breeding season of Terns on the Moor Green lake section of the reserve.
After being drizzled on last week, this week I got snowed on and my toes froze. Well, they didn't actually freeze, otherwise I'd be in real trouble.
Bit of a treat for you this week, dear reader. I walked over the Fleet Hill farm section of the reserve on Friday morning, after a spot of ghastly Christmas shopping first thing. I was surprised how many ponds and lakes there are on this section of the reserve. Cemex have largely finished heavy earth moving works on Fleet Hill farm. They just have planting of reed beds and other cosmetic landscaping to do.
As with parts of Manor farm, some of the terrain here is not for the faint hearted. It is boggy in places, the ground is very uneven with much tussock, hummock and bracken. Nothing a fell or moor walker wouldn't take in their stride.
I walked around the south edge of Fleet Hill farm, but gave up about 400m shy of the actual farm itself. Partly as the terrain got distinct tough going (lots of brambles and shrubby trees), but mainly as it had started snowing. The stuff came in horizontally, borne by a stiff wind, and it was cold. Still this part of the reserve is large and quite beautiful.
Early Saturday morning, saw me returning to the reserve. It was 7:45 am, the temperature registered -3.5 degrees centigrade, but unlike Friday there was no wind. It actually felt warmer than Friday, even though the temperature was six degrees lower - no wind chill. An hour later, on my way back home, the temperature had climbed to -2.5 degrees centigrade.
I had to wear wellies today as I was placing a trail cam on a fallen tree in the Blackwater river. Hence the frozen toes. Plus, it ain't much fun walking on frozen ground which had been torn up by bulldozers and heavy plant; the soles of wellies have no padding.
However, this early in the day and with the weather sunny and breathlessly still, the reserve is quite magical.
Anyway, enough of the boring stuff. Cemex have been working around the Longwater road/culvert entrance and on the land mass by the Yellow bridge. They have started to fill in some of the smaller ponds close to the south footpath. They also appear to be filling in parts of Finch pond and Cormorant Lake. I feel it would be shame if they fill them in too much. On the other hand, if does offer a diverse habitat as there are plenty of sizeable lakes on the Fleet Hill farm and Moor Green lakes parts of the reserve.
A lot of earth has been moved around the site, and it looks like inert soil has been trucked in from other parts of the reserve. There is the huge embankments that could be used. I am not sure if they are to be left. It would give great views of the reserve.
My 'white' jetty is disappearing under an overcoat of inert soil. I think I was also correct about chalky outcrops - despite what the geological map I posted said. I took a careful look at the ground and the white stuff is definitely chalk. I don't think it's limestone, it looks too fine and white. Of course, Cemex might have brought the stuff in for some reason, but I am not sure of that. The area is a bit of a mess, geologically speaking. Lots of rivers and lakes, and geological epochs have all contributed to stirring the area up.
They've also moved one of the concrete cubes. I'm sure they just like playing with them!
Anyway, this is a quick update. I shall load the photos during the day, when I have time. It is another busy weekend, with much to do.
Manor farm, Friday 8th December.
I think this is probably it for the pump for some time now. It wasn't pumping today, and has not done so for some weeks. Consequently water levels are getting quite high now in the various lakes.
Cemex have been exceedingly busy this last week. As I started my walk at about 10:30am I was able to get photos of the bulldozer working away to fill in a small pond close to the south footpath and the yellow bridge. When I returned this way two hours later the driver was parked up at the Longwater road entrance, facing Finch pond to have his lunch. What a place to work, eh, with all the lovely views.
Manor farm. Saturday 9th December
Cemex have been very active around the Longwater road/culvert entrance and the land mass. There has been a lot of heavy plant moving around, while the bulldozer has been particularly active. A small pond has begun to be filled in, whilst the ground has been torn up as the dozer has moved soil around.
I think some of Cormorant lake has been filled in around the edges, and it is possible that more of the west shoreline of Finch pond has similarly been extended eastwards. My 'white jetty' begins to disappear under a covering of inert top soil.
As I surmised last week, the end (or start depending on your perspective) of the new stream bed is at the yellow bridge.
All the pools of water lying in the various tyre ruts were frozen, as were parts of the lakes. Naturally I couldn't resist stomping through the pools breaking up the ice. This simply contributed to my toes getting even colder, with resultant lose of feeling in them. Well, that's what you get for behaving like a little boy. :-)
Fleet Hill farm. A walk through the reserve.
I never photographed much of the Fleet Hill farm section of the reserve. Most of the restoration had been completed by the time I even knew of this part. All the action was taking place near the culvert.
Although I was on a mission to place a trail cam, I did take the opportunity to photograph this part of the reserve before Cemex return to add the finishing touches.
As I remarked earlier, the going was good to rough, and hopefully some of the photos convey how uneven the terrain is. The photos partially capture the weather. Starting bright and sunny, with the cloud building over the course of an hour, before dumping a whole load of snow on me.
My route round this part of the reserve is clockwise. Starting at the culvert entrance, I walked to the southern edge of this reserve, then struck out west hugging the southern edge as much as possible. Roughly three quarters of the way around the reserve, it began to snow and the going got really rough, with plenty of close scrubby growth. I abandoned following the southern edge of the reserve and headed north. Some of the photos at this point include Fleet hill farm proper - which is still a working farm.
Weaving between the ponds and crossing a couple of streams, I sort of followed the northern edge of the reserve east back to the wooden footbridge, then followed the north edge of stone crusher lake, before hopping over a fence on the Longwater road, crossing back into Manor farm, and walking round it to the Moor Green Lakes car park.
The Fleet Hill farm section of this reserve is long and thin, but of highly variable width. It is covered in loads of ponds.
A big problem with the slide show is providing context to where I am standing to take the photos. There aren't any obvious landmarks, unlike most of Manor farm and the east side of this reserve. One view of a lake and scrubby ground looks pretty much like another view of lake and scrubby ground. Just enjoy the photos and think of the reserve fully landscaped and full of wildlife.
Yes folks, with no pumping for a couple of weeks, the water levels in the lakes on Manor farm have risen to the point where Cormorant island has returned. No signs of the cormorants though.
A mid morning walk on a cold, grey, dank Saturday morning - well muffled up against the Arctic chill - I set off. Contrary to what the Met office told me, the day got darker as my walk progressed and then drizzle fell near the end. I had to protect my camera.
Today I eschewed my normal walk along the south footpath. Instead I walked from the pump station to the Longwater road entrance, along the south shores of Cormorant lake and Finch pond, taking a short excursion into what I call the land mass; a large expanse of land between the two lakes.
I discovered that what I have been calling the copse appears to be the original course of the Colebrook stream, complete with wooden bridge. Also that the yellow bridge is actually a road bridge, not a foot bridge as I had assumed up until now. One reason for this miss identification is that the yell bridge is largely hidden from the south footpath by a soil bank.
Yet another discovery was that Cemex had dug a new stream bed - I guess for the Colebrook to flow along again. I think that Cemex cut this stream bed some weeks ago. We can't actually see the stream bed from the south footpath, partly as it is below soil level but mainly as the spoil was heaped along it's edge; so obscuring it.
A final discovery was that the 'concrete' cube have sides of 1.8m or 6' in old money. I thought they might have only been a mere 1.5m, 5' to us oldies.
Otherwise Cemex appear to have worked along the entire length of Manor farm along it's north west, west and southern edges stretching from the Longwater road/culvert entrance to the pump station and the area south of the River Blackwater.
I have come to the conclusion that Cemex are burying a lot of the industrial rubble on site. I could be completely wrong, and that much of it is scraped off, loaded into trucks and hauled off site - which would explain the compacted road tracks. However, much of the rubble seems to be bulldozed into the ground. It's all fairly inert, but may explain why sometimes in gardens of houses I've lived in I dig up all sorts of waste.
Once again this post is picture heavy, and the slideshows have been split into separate sections.
We kick off with the area surrounding the works bridge and pump station
The enormous hill south of the Blackwater river just keeps growing. Cemex have even brought in a mobile conveyor to stack the soil and ballast every higher.
There is much evidence of heavy machinery passing over the works bridge. I like the huge tyres being used to edge the road track.
As usual (when Cemex are not working on the site) I walked down to the pump station. In a change I didn't return to the south footpath. Instead I continued westward along the south shore of Cormorant lake and then of Finch pond. Taking a slight detour to check out the large land area between the two bodies of water.
Our itinerary now takes us to the area around the yellow bridge and a little way onto the land mass.
A short distance from the west edge of Cormorant lake brings me to the yellow bridge. This is the first time I have seen it up close. Most of this area is hidden from the south footpath by a large bank of earth. The poor thing is looking a bit battered.
The google view of the 'land mass' reminds me of a dried up delta, with the rivulets marked by ridge of soil. In reality the area between Finch pond and Cormorant lake looks like a post apocalyptic industrial landscape or, if you like, the surface of the moon. Although it looks blasted and horrible, especially with the weather closing in, it is, if correctly managed quite a useful asset. Some species (e.g. Willow tit) would thrive in such a landscape if it were allowed to go all scrubby; rather than being manicured and verdant green.
We now take a brief detour on to the 'Land mass'
Well, not strictly true as the previous slideshow has photos of this area. I didn't wander too much over this area, mainly as there wasn't much to see. I did trek up to the channel that joins Finch pond with Cormorant lake, then strolled over to what I have been calling the copse.
I did take this opportunity to takes shots of views not seen before. It is difficult to tell when Cemex last worked on this bit. I am convinced they have cleared bits of vegetation, but it doesn't quite square with the google earth images taken in 2017. I think it is imagination combined with vegetation dying back around the south footpath.
Our brief detour now takes us to the copse - which isn't really a copse.
I've been calling this next area we visit the copse. From the south footpath and Longwater road entrance it looks like a copse. Today I discovered that it is actually the course of a stream - I believe the Colnbrook which was diverted when gravel extraction began. It might explain why this tiny bit of wood still exists i.e. part of the planning application conditions.
Today, it is a dry stream bed, about a metre or so above the lake levels. The stream itself looks as if it was as much as 2' (60cm for youngsters) deep.
Back to our normal route along Finch pond south.
To be honest, there isn't really much I can say about the next set of photos. Simply that it offers views of the south shoreline of Finch pond that I have never taken before, as I've tended to stick to the south footpath. It really is here to serve as a record of the happenings.
By now, dear reader, it was drizzling. That light sort of drizzle that doesn't seem like much, but gets into everything. I had forgotten to bring a pedal bin liner, and had to use my beanie hat to protect my DLSR. Fear not, dear reader, my head did not get too wet and cold (it was only 5 degrees centigrade) as my coat has a built in hood.
'New' stream bed: Cemex get creative.
As we have always tended to stick to the south footpath we never realised that Cemex had cut this stream bed - presumably to reinstate the approximate course of the Colnbrook. The placing of the spoil along the edges of the stream simply hid it from view.
Signs are it was cut some weeks back, when I first posted a blog entry noting that some form of work had taken place. I had to back track my route a bit to begin the photo sequence and capture views from points I had walked past.
I'm not sure if Cemex messed with the geology around here, but the soil looks distinctly calcareous. Basically your chalk or limestone. The whole area has hard water, and there are out crops of limestone. However, geologically speaking the whole area is a bit of a mess, with much mixing of clay, sandstone, old river and lake beds, sands, etc. I have areas of clay immediately abutting sand/gravel in my garden - not man made either.
Finally: The Longwater road/culvert entrance and north embankment.
There are definitely signs overall that Cemex have been working around this area. Some quite definite (i.e. scrapped top soil from the north embankment), others not so obvious i.e. one bit of churned up ground looks pretty much the same from one week to the next.
The only give away are the large number of new caterpillar tracks criss-crossing the area. Plus the appearance of the bulldozer.
I did notice that much of the rubble I photographed last week has disappeared. If I was being cynical I'd say it was bulldozed into the ground. On the other hand, the obvious signs of a large amount of lorry traffic and much signs of soil scraping by bulldozer blade suggests that it was carted off.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.