Saturday, 14 January 2017

Dead Wood - from one blog to another

"the TCV Citizen Science team have been working to produce The Dead Good Deadwood Survey!"

Check this link for an article on dead wood and its benefits to the ecosystem

Dead Wood TCV

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Highbury Park today - Woodland Wednesday, and Nature Improvement Areas

Over the next few weeks until mid March there will be opportunities to engage with like minded volunteers, interact with nature and contribute to the management of both woodland and grassland, as well as exercising mind and body during Woodland Wednesdays at Highbury Park.

Today we continued coppicing, mostly hazel, and opening up the woodland canopy to allow much needed light to reach the lower levels; our efforts are designed to diversify the woodland plantation, adding layers with new regenerating growth in spring and added wildflowers thanks to Eco Park and NIA.

Coppicing at the Highbury Park plantation
A rather worrying observation led to a discussion regarding the level of bark stripping on 25 year old oaks.

Stripped bark on 20 yaer old oak

It seems that squirrels attack oaks and strip the bark, particularly on trees between the age of 10 and 40 years, and in many cases stripping the bark to ground level, as in this situation at Highbury. The results are not good and difficult to explain in ecological terms, but some accounts suggest occurances are greater when oaks are planted next to mature woodland or near mature individual oaks, as again, in this situation at Highbury.

Most of the oaks in the 28 year old plantation at Highbury Park have squirrel damage to some degree.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Cannon Hill Meadow and signs of spring elsewhere

Signs of spring are upon us, hoorah, at least, if not spring, as it's clearly mid winter, we have signs of rebirth, new beginnings, new life, natural occurrings etc.
"Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events in relation to weather and climate." for more information, check the link below -
Snowdrops showing at Kings Heath Park (10th January 2017)

In the midst of winter with arctic conditions forecast and many species yearning the warmer months ahead, we might gain meagre solace, desiring the coming spring, as we witness plants, such as Winter Flowering Cherry, other Prunus species, snowdrops and camelia, to name a few, already in flower.

Over the next few weeks we can expect many changes in the wild, providing us with hopeful signs, positive thoughts and optimism for the year ahead.
The meadow at Cannon Hill, early January 2017

The meadow is flat and somewhat lifeless at the moment
Many plants are evident as prostrate rosettes, hardy specimens
able to withstand winter temperatures (Knapweed spp)

Thursday, 17 November 2016

'Beating the bounds', 'Between the Oaks, along the hedge and down by the brook', and other walks

'Beating the bounds' is a traditional Ascension Day ritual in which the whole parish territorially walked its perimeter and beat children so they wouldn't forget the precise features. There's probably a better explanation than this elsewhere but those are the points I remember.

'Between the Oaks, along the hedge and down by the brook' conjures an impression of bygone rural pedestrian days when meeting someone was arranged with reference to well known landscape features. In Colley Gate for example we had the 'Water Stile', 'The Gulley', 'Lutley Gutter' - a green lane, the Razzle Dazzle - a perilous, sloping brick paved cut through which was treacherous in icy conditions, the 70 Steps - to this day dividing opinion as to the exact number; all wonderfully nostalgic, echoing a time shift identity and a society of character born out of toil and hardship.
A Black Country Rural Idyl from the early-mid 20th Century

Nostalgia is a 'return to suffering or pain', but many of us view the old days and the old ways as something lost yet wonderful, and I think in many cases its the loss of simplicity combined with modern complexities in our day to day lives that creates a yearning for something closer to nature.

Exploring the locality in which we live can be a rewarding experience with positive mental and physical health benefits, especially if carried out on foot with a number of friends or like minded people. The exploration combined with research at the local archives is a most satisfying exercise and one which helps us bond with the land whether it be new or old territory.

A recent publication entitled 'Hidden Histories' provides a wealth of ideas and places to visit, prompting exploration and investigation of the British landscape.
We hope to have a hidden history walk with the writer at Highbury Park early in the new year. Highbury lends itself perfectly to the topic with heat shattered stones from a Bronze Age Burnt Mound, Mediaeval Ridge and Furrow, The Henbury Estate, Highbury - Joeseph Chamberlain's home from 1880-1914 and much more. 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Lifford - William Dargue - A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames

Lifford Woods

An area of land bordering the River Rea at Allens Croft, with a pathway to Lifford Reservoir and Lifford Hall.

The linear woodland runs either side of the river with willows and alders thriving.

The site is little used today, with most people passing along the walkway, whilst much of the area is out of the public domain, cut off by railway embankment and the river. 

In terms of wildlife, I guess this is under recorded, as are most sites, all records should be submitted to EcoRecord and twitter is a good way of doing this. 

Lifford Woods and surrounds

The account below is taken from "Lifford - William Dargue - A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames"

B30 - Grid reference SP055796

la Ford: first record 1250

Lifford stands close to the ford across the River Rea. As the red clay on the east side of Birmingham became slimy and slippery in wet weather, a place where the river ran over a firmer bed would have been a draw for local people and for longer-distance travellers for thousands of years. This ford where Lifford Lane now bridges the river is likely to be pre-Roman, but it was was certainly in use 2000 years ago on the route of Icknield Street. This was a Roman road which left the Fosse Way at Bourton-on-the-Water, passed via the Roman town of Alcester and on through Stirchley whose Anglo-Saxon name actually means '(Roman) road clearing'. It then follows the Pershore Road to Bournville Lane, after which its route to Metchley fort in Edgbaston is uncertain.
However, although Adam de la Ford is recorded as living near here in 1275, the name Lifford probably has no connection with the river ford or with Adam. 

Lifford Hall is a Grade II Listed building which was erected in 1604 on the site of an earlier medieval building. In 1781 it was the home of James Hewitt of Coventry, who became Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He took Viscount Lifford as his title apparently named from Lifford near Londonderry, Whether this was a coincidence or was deliberately done with reference to the ford is open to conjecture. On Lifford's death the hall was bought by John Dobbs, the engineer of the adjacent Worcester & Birmingham Canal.
The hall is built of red brick with stone dressings but is now stuccoed. It has 18th-century gothick embattled stone walls and an octagonal watchtower folly. There are 18th- and 19th-century additions. The building was renovated in the 1950s and new office blocks were added in the early 1990s.

Archaeological excavations on the front lawn of the hall in advance of building work revealed evidence of Lifford Mill, a post-medieval watermill which stood here on the River Rea until the early 19th century. The remains were unearthed of a water tunnel leaving the mill and of the tail race to the river.

Documentary evidence shows that there was an earlier medieval mill downstream nearer to the reservoir (which was not there at that time) dating from the 14th century. 
Take a look. Lifford Reservoir was built by the Worcester & Birmingham Canal company in 1815 in order to compensate the mill for water lost to the canal. This lake is a surprise and worth a detour to visit. Nearby Sherbourne Mill on Lifford Lane was a paper mill from c1835 until 1965 producing amongst other things gun wadding. The mill pool and millrace survive, as does the building which used to house the Patrick Collection Motor Museum. 

Well worth a visit. There are some interesting features on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal here. Alongside Kings Norton playing fields is Kings Norton Junction with the Stratford Canal, and opposite is Junction House. Built in 1796 this was the first office of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Company and doubled as a toll house. Twenty-three years in the making, the canal finally reached Worcester in 1815. In the same year the completed Stratford-upon-Avon Canal was also opened; this had taken fifteen years to cut.
Just off Lifford Lane is the Lifford Guillotine Lock, an unusual stop lock designed to stop water flowing from one canal to the other. There was a 15cm difference in water levels between the two waterways which continued until the canals were nationalised in 1948. Water was an expensive commodity for canal companies and its supply was jealously guarded by this brick-lined lock.

A guillotine gate here is operated by a hand-winched counterweighted chain mechanism within a tall cast-iron framework. The present gates are probably 19th-century replacements, but all other parts are original and the lock has the status of a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The Lifford Swing Bridge close by is also an unusual survival.

The Railways
After crossing the River Rea and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, the B&G from New Street via Moseley passes through the site of Lifford Station which closed over half a century ago. This station, on the east side of Lifford Lane, opened with the line in 1840.

The other line through Lifford, the Birmingham West Suburban Railway, the BSWR had been promoted by an independent company in collaboration with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and closely follows that canal from the B&G at Lifford via Edgbaston to Granville Street and into Birmingham New Street. One year before the line opened in 1876 it was bought by the Midland Railway who closed the B&G Lifford Station and opened the BWSR Lifford Station west of Lifford Lane.

In 1885 the Midland Railway built loops between the two lines to create a circular route between Lifford and New Street. The BWSR Lifford Station was closed and the B&G Lifford Station reopened. This circular commuter route ran until 1940. The original BWSR line had followed the canal to join the B&G Railway at Queens Drive, a track later known as the Canal Branch which closed in 1962.

The present route laid in 1892 was called the Stirchley Street & Bournville to Kings Norton Deviation Line, now the Lifford Curve, and meets the B&G at Lifford West Junction near Rowheath Road. When the BWSR was made double-track in 1885 it became the Midland Railway's mainline route from Bristol and Gloucester, the B&G being used only for local services and freight. It is now used only for freight and diverted traffic.

The immediate area around Lifford Lane may be described as Lifford, but the name is used as a location and is not in general use as a district name.
William Dargue 03.04.09/ 02.08.2010

The wider area of Lifford with connecting green space at Dawberry Fields and Tunnel Lane Fields

Friday, 7 October 2016

B&BCWT - Kingfisher, Water Vole Stickleback and Bullhead Records on the River Rea

Our attention now turns to trees and woodland

 Our attention now turns to trees and woodland - 
The woodland season begins with an introduction to managing small wooded areas, with topics involving -
  • coppicing (practice and theory)
  • tools - bowsaw, billhook, axe
  • health and safety
  • biodiversity
  • species identification
  • 'crafting the woodland'
  • managing access
  • public relations
  • interpretation
This year's chosen coppicing plot at Highbury- 
The area was chosen because of the presence of hazel, previously cut around 10-15 years ago, poor ground flora, poor structure, some regeneration, including holly, rowan and cherry.

The aim is to improve species diversity by increasing light levels and introducing ground flora, such as bluebell, primrose, wild daffodil, red campion and wood melick.

Coppice - To cut

Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. 

In a coppiced wood, which is called a copse, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. 

In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again. 

Pollarding is a similar process carried out at a higher level on the tree. (Wiki)

Friday, 23 September 2016

2016-17 - update and plan

A new active season begins in October following a Summer of walking, talking and planning around the Rea Valley. The weekly 'Woodland Wednesdays' at Highbury Park have been well attended and feedback to these regular gatherings is positive.

To add variety to our Wednesday gatherings we have been supported by the B&BC Wildlife Trust 'Nature Improvement Programme', which enabled us to work on a scheme to improve the grassland at Highbury Park.

During August we took delivery of four bales of wildflower rich hay from Eades Meadow;
The lower part of the meadow, adjacent to Shutlock Lane, was treated prior to delivery, this was  followed by hay strewing and yellow rattle seed broadcasting a couple of weeks later, we wait for next year to see the results.

Hay Strewing at Highbury
Four of these bales were deposited at Highbury Meadows

The bales were then rolled, broken and scattered so that the hay could be hand strewn over the prepared site
The proposal was sent out for consultation
Our attention now turns to trees and woodland - 
The woodland season begins with an introduction to managing small wooded areas, with topics involving - 

  • coppicing (practice and theory)
  • tools - bowsaw, billhook, axe
  • health and safety
  • biodiversity
  • species identification
  • 'crafting the woodland'
  • managing access
  • public relations
  • interpretation