The cows have eaten most of the grass in the northern reserve compound, a couple of Barn Owl sightings have been reported and the Balsam continues to dominate the riverbanks despite the efforts of the Bashers. A date has been set for some scything (16 Sept) with the Council’s Green Spaces team. Cow 99 has been particularly friendly this summer (pictured below) and the earlier hay cut combined with the weather has produced a second round of wildflower blooms:
Some of the flowers and insects on the Marshes in early June:
Three Sussex Cattle have arrived again this summer to graze on the Nature Reserve. London Wildlife Trust have put up some signs, please make sure the gates remain closed and dogs are kept on leads inside the enclosure. River monitoring has turned up a few of the ‘Olive’ mayfly larvae that we want to see. The heavy rain in mid may has cleared the sewage fungus that was building up on the bed.
Yeading Brook river monitoring has painted a mixed picture this winter, with abundant small fish in November and the lovely Stone Loach (pictured) turning up in December. Stone Loaches are found feeding on the bottom of clear rivers and streams and often partly buries themselves in the gravel or sand. They feeds on small invertebrates such as mayfly larvae and freshwater shrimps, especially at night when they use their ‘barbels’ around their mouths (visible above against the 5p) to find prey. From April to August females may spawn 10,000 eggs amongst sand, stone and vegetation. By February sewage fungus had coated the bottom of the river and the lowest river quality scores since records began (2013) were recorded. Only 12 freshwater shrimp were contained in the sample of water collected during 3 minutes of kick-sampling.
The cows left at the August. After a wet June, where the cows were squelching around the reserve, a much drier July and August meant the ground firmed up and the cows could better focus on eating absolutely tons of grass! Many thanks to the cow watchers – the farmer was very grateful. The cows were moved to another London Wildlife Trust reserve, just downstream at 10 acre wood. They’ll return home (near Black Park) this winter. Maybe next year it will be possible to get cows over the Brook into the southern compounds.
Some scrub clearance is planning this Autumn – the small triangular field north west of the RAF crash gate.
Barn owl sightings have been reported recently – to have a dusk stroll if it’s warm – the bats are always out at that time too.
The Autumn river sampling revealed over 100 fresh water shrimp, the usual lack of mayfly larvae, but also by far the highest number of small fish since records began. The previous record was 7 fish (in a 3 minute kick sampling survey). In August around 40 small fish ended up in the sample tray.
Pictures from the Ickenham Festival marshes events are on the Marshes Facebook page (which now has 131 likes). The Festival Balsam Bash and bug hunt were well attended and well enjoyed!
Three Sussex cattle arrived on the Marshes on 4th June for the summer. They looked very happy when they saw the lush waist high grass that they’ll be chomping on for the next few months. They’re young females and the breed are noted for their passive nature. Please keeps dogs on a lead in the compound and there are contact details down there to report any issues. Several local volunteers Grace, Jenny, Kate Geoff and Chris will be keeping an eye on the cows, and Peter the farmer will be visiting regularly to check on them too. Do pop down to say hello – just follow the Austin’s Lane track to their compound – just by the Yeading Brook – and don’t forget the Balsam Bash on Saturday 11 June at 11am.
The wetland grasses and sedges on the Marshes are thriving at the moment as the clay soils and poor drainage traps water on the fields. Sedges look a bit like grasses, but typically have cylindrical stalks. A drainage survey has been carried out and has been shared with the Council for information. Most of the historical ditches on the Marshes are blocked. Un-blocking them might reduce path-flooding, but could have detrimental impacts for flora and fauna that have become accustomed to the wet conditions. No
Across the village on the Frays Farm Meadows the sedge beds are so extensive and diverse, they have attracted water voles and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status. HS2 Ltd are still to decide on whether their proposed Haul Road to alleviate local traffic will cut through what the Wildlife Trust describe as one of the most important reserves in London (see page 64 of HS2 Select Committee transcript).
The motorbikes made an unwelcome return to the Marshes in late January, churning up the painstakingly cut model helicopter landing area. Police attended and managed to speak to the bikers. If you see bikers on the Marshes, please call the Met Police on their non-emergency number 101. Even if it’s just a kid – one brings two. The Council and the Police are very much in support of a local zero-tolerance approach for this dangerous and illegal practise.
Stumbled across these lovely old OS maps recently. They date from the 1960s and go some way to explaining the mystery of the numbered Air Ministry boundary markers than have been debated on the Marshes Facebook page. Interesting to see the builders yards marked around the Compass Theatre – also the remnants of a large pond/inlet on the Brook, in the top corner of the Nature Reserve site. Click on the links below – they should open in a new window:
The Crane Valley Citizen Scientists met up at London Zoo in October to discuss the data from the 12 monitoring stations on the river between Harrow and the Thames. It great to meet up with all the other volunteers, but the data showed worse scores than last year for both water quality and invertebrate life. The water quality was a particular concern and plans are being formulated to carry out detailed surveys to walk the river and spot pipes that discharge pollution – often from misconnected washing machines and sometimes toilets! It hope it won’t be news to local people, but the river is pretty polluted – best to avoid letting dogs go in – and do make sure you wash your hands if you come in contact with the water.
HS2 Ltd have announced that they DO NOT want to use the TfL Ruislip depot as a construction site. The announcement is accompanied by details of what an HS2 compound on the site might have looked like. An A40 link road across the Marshes seems not to have been seriously considered – access would have been along the existing access road to West End Rd. TfL may still want to extend their depot onto the Marshes – confirmation of their intentions has now been sought. The announcements formed part of a wider plan to reduce HS2 impacts on Hillingdon – the key one being the construction of a new haul road through the Uxbridge Golf course and the Frays Farm Meadow Site of Special Scientific Interest down to the Swakeleys roundabout.
In other news, the canal feeder behind Glebe School has been significantly cleared as part of works to reduce flood risk on the Glebe estate. Four homes flooded last summer, and the overgrown canal feeder was identified as one of the contributing factors.
Lots of fish turned up in the monthly river monitoring – 9 minnows an 2 bullheads. The grass was cut on the nature reserve and the paths have also had a trim. Balsam on the river is less prevalent than in previous years, but there are some huge patches away from the river – lots of bashing to be done next year!
The HS2 Select Committee have asked HS2 Ltd to consider moving some or all of a proposed large HS2 construction site from Harvil Rd to the Ruislip TfL depot that marks much of the northern boundary of the Marshes. It is unclear at this stage how much land could be lost, either temporarily or permanently. Creating a direct access link via the Marshes to the A40 may also be discussed. TfL are supportive of the proposal, at this stage HS2 Ltd seem to be less convinced. The committee’s statement is reproduced here:
“the Committee are deeply unhappy about the impact of the proposed Harvil Road construction site in Hillingdon, and the impact that would have on the community. We want the promoters (HS2 Ltd) to have a very hard look at options for mitigating this, including working with TfL and Hillingdon on possibly substantially or completely relocating that construction site away from Harvil Rd to West Ruislip, with consideration given to alternative means of road access from adjacent and nearby sites….We would want a review to be completed by mid-September 2015. We may have other things to say about Hillingdon in due course.”
The third annual Balsam bash broke records on Sunday 7 June – for most Balsam bashed (mainly due to Graham’s professionally wielded machete) and also for the first Balsam bashing recorded on the lesser of the great water courses on the Marshes – the Ickenham Stream. Probably not to be celebrated, as no Balsam was present there last year!
More than 50 bug hunters descended on the Marshes during May half term. You can see some pictures of the bugs spotted on the Marshes Facebook page. Over 40 different species were spotted.
Pinner’s RSPB group visited the Marshes one morning in late April and spotted 38 bird species! The sun was out early on, and their first spots included a buzzard and red kite. There were also plenty of warblers, blackcaps and chiffchaffs as well as both whitethroat and lesser whitethroat. The rain then set in and they got very wet, but the sightings continued, including two swallows, fly-over canada geese and a cormorant, plus stock dove and singing skylark. They also saw the famous little egret and had very good views of a muntjac deer. However the highlight of the morning was when they walked south from the bridge over the river to the edge of the field near the Aerodrome, where they saw three wheatears.
Good news from the monthly river quality monitoring as the Mayfly larvae were again seen in the examination tray. Numerous fresh water shrimp were also found, but none of the other target invertibrate species.
As part of a plan to limit the impact of HS2 on Ickenham and surrounding areas, the local Council and TfL have confirmed that they have asked HS2 Ltd to consider using part of the Marshes for a new West Ruislip train depot. More details here. If HS2 agree to the proposal, they would hold a formal consultation before and final decisions are taken. We believe the fields in question are the most northerly ones that flank the Met line. There is currently no public access to these fields.
London Wildlife Trust have hired fencing contractors to install fencing on the Nature Reserve. Sections north and south of the Yeading Brook will be fenced for cows, which will hopefully arrive in early summer 2015. Gates will enable continued access to the footpaths in the area. Photos here
Extensive hedge cutting was carried out all over the Marshes in mid October. Contractors reported scrub up to 12 metres being cleared from the edges of fields. As a result, ponds have re-apprered, paths are more accessible and the wildflower meadows are protected from bramble and blackthorn encroachment. The work may look severe, but such cutting every few years is vital. Photos here
Volunteers Alan, Chris and Judy undertook pond clearing on 25 August. They cut back some of the overhanging willow branches on one of the biggest ponds on the Marshes to reduce the amount of dead leaves falling into the pond and to open the area up a bit to encourage local birds and mammals to enjoy the murky waters.
The Marshes Treasure Hunt on 24 July attracted 22 hunters on a glorious morning. Small plastic numbered balls were suspended on trees around the Marshes, and the hunters had to find as many as they could. The winner was Peter from Croxley, who found all but two.
Joe Pecorelli from ZSL ran a river quality monitoring taster session on the evening of- 4th July. Five local volunteers searched in vein for mayfly larvae in river water samples. A few stickleback were found, along with a river scorpion and hundreds of freshwater shrimp. Ickenham is one of 12 monitoring spots on the river, and the lack of Mayfly larvae is a concern – as it may indicate a decline in water quality. Mayfly are particularly sensitive to pollution, and were found in reasonable numbers in May and June.
The annual hay cut has taken place. Cut on 1st, bailed on 3rd. The contractors are from a farm near Black Park. They’re been coming for years and said that it’s a bumper crop this year. A Red Kite kept them company for most of the bailing day – following the tractors and swooping regularly.
Many thanks to the 14 Balsam Bashers that braved the steep banks and blazing sun on 8th June – one of ten Balsam Bashes taking place that day up and down the river. 11, 345 (approx) Balsam plants were uprooted and nobody fell in the river (picture above).
The Bug Count on Friday 13th attracted 21 enthusiastic bug hunters; most of whom were new visitors to the Marshes. Everyone had a good time, and lots of butterflies, beetles and wild flowers were spotted (picture below).
James, Chris and Luna hacked their way through two substantial blackthorn thickets on 31 May, clearing a section of the Willow Wander from encroaching thorns, just East of the Crash gate.
Monitoring river water quality – Local volunteer Chris Mountain bravely underwent kick-sample training on 17 May. ZSL provided the training as part of ongoing work to monitor the health of the Yeading Brook and other tributaries of the River Crane. Chris has been issued with sampling kit (net, trays and turkey baster) and is looking for more volunteers to get training up. To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruislip Gardens residents Emma, Toby and Megan went on a nature walk on Saturday 24. They saw two buzzards, lots of swifts, cuckoo spit, ants, crows, orange-tipped butterflies, vetch, daisies, buttercups, himalayan balsam, Taz the labrador, a stickleback and clover.
The Mayor of Hillingdon led a three mile walk from Hayes Rugby Club to Ickenham Marsh, culminating in the grand unveiling of the new Ickenham Marsh / Hillingdon Trail interpretation board. Good fun was had by all 20 walkers, and many thanks to the Council Green Spaces team for laying on tea and biscuits at the end!