Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mixed emotions

Don't you just hate those weirs!

There is no better time to assess external impacts on a watercourse than when it begins to be re-charged after a long period of drought. It is possible to wait in the dry river bed of the upper Lathkill, often aided by a head-torch in the middle of the night, and follow the thread of water as it slowly wets the dry bed like an eel, waiting to fill up holes and gaps under stones before racing on a little more. This is the time when you realise the bed is like a colander, with the water not only leaving, but coming back in an upwelling too. The ground is becoming drenched as the water table rises to meet the river.
The longest we have had to wait for this re-birth is December tenth. Today is the seventh, three days from the sad record and far, far too long for the rivers inhabitants to hold their breath, but the rivers are running again.

There is though, an imbalance.

The Lathkill is sprinting like a train and can be heard from the office window above the howling wind in wood beyond. It is cleaning itself, lifting the autumn leaves from its bed and shifting tons of silt making it run the colour of tea so thick that water shrews might dance upon it.

The Bradford though, is not.

The same rain fell on each rivers catchment. Sweeping out of Buxton across Longnor and Monyash the North West wind brought nearly 4 inches in as many days. Water stands in puddles and ground is drenched from Gratton to Over Haddon but the Bradford does not tell that story. Heading down past the Church and looking over the bridge this morning I expected to see a river returned but was disappointed.

One of the residents from nearby sums up my thoughts as he wanders past. ‘Not much watter Surrie; fit more in me holla tooth’.

The good old reliable stream from New Dam joins the Bradford a little way down. It has kept its flow through the summer and the crayfish are grateful being able still to scurry and scavenge through the night rather than the drought turning their shells to power. It runs with the more water than the main river, and yet all its catchment can be seen in these few fields and this Mitten Wood.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Donor meadow

What happens when farmers take a crop of hay from a field each year and yet aren’t able to spread manure and replenish the nutrients? Only those flowers and plants that are tolerant of poor soils can exist and it is these that have become synonymous with English country meadows; products of ancient farming practises.
In order for the soil to become poor it needs ridding of its enrichment and this is best achieved by falling back into ancient farming practises; summer hay, winter sheep, no muck. There are some shortcuts that come in the form of short, yellow flowered plants, whose seed heads dry to a crisp. Yellow rattle parasitises on the roots of vigorous grasses that would otherwise take the meadow over.

We are cutting for hay tomorrow and in order for other meadows to benefit from this useful ally the seed harvester is set to work. Brushes underneath the machine liberate the seed from the heads and with only a small amount of winnowing a large amount of seed can be taken. Along with the rattle seeds comes sorrel and plantain seeds as well which are greatly liked by short-tailed voles.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Very sad that we have to play host, albeit for only a short length of time, to these disgusting creatures. They are stocked upstream by those who dont trust the Wye to produce fish of its own, in the name of people who use their catch to stay friendly with their neighbours. Thanks alot.

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Derby Uni LL.B.yr4 Birmingham Uni (field lecturer)