Monday, 25 August 2008

The wild Wyre outback

Before we start the main news I have managed to identify the small fish mentioned in the blog of 10th August as a Sand Smelt....on with the show....

The safari ventured up in to the wild headwaters of the river Wyre this weekend. There were some specific target species in mind. The path winds its way along the river bank through an interesting damp woodland, although there is a massive invasion of the pernicious Japanese Knotweed which shades out the native wild flowers. Keeping our eyes glued to the floor due to the rough nature of the path we saw a good number of deer slots (footprints) probably from Roe Deer, but although it was early evening and very quiet unfortunately we didn't see any of them.
Some of the trees are real old beauts. Many are multi-stemmed from being coppiced in the past. Coppicing means trees are cut down and allowed to grow again. The timber being used for all sorts of things such as fencing, tool handles, furniture making, building. Allowing the trees to regrow meant that in a few years time another crop was available. The length of time between cuts depending on the species of tree and the size of wood required. The word coppice comes from the French 'couper' - to cut.
The tree below is a Beech, a good wood for burning and chopping boards and wooden spoons.

This next tree is a Small Leaved Lime and the single straight trunk shows that it has not been coppiced.

The following picture shows a Hazel coppice. Hazel was very important. The thin branches grow quickly and are very springy. It was used for hedging stakes when hedges were laid to keep animals in the fields, it was woven in to hurdles, ie fencing panels, pegs for the washing line, tool handles, and fighting sticks such as those used by Little John, Robin Hood's right hand man.

Below is a Rowan, or somewhat incorrectly Mountain Ash. It has Ash like leaves but is not related, so Rowan is the better name for this tree. Amongst its most important properties is its ability to keep witches, ghosts and ghouls at bay. If you are troubled by any of those be sure to plant one in your garden. Not being a very large tree they are suited to urban situations. This one is a particularly large and venerable specimen as can be seen from the size of the two rotten stumps on either side. I would not like to guess how old this tree might be.

Finally we have an Alder, not to be confused with Elder from which Elderberry wine is made. Alder is the typical tree of Lancashire river valleys and wet areas, and supplied the clog soles for the millions of mill workers in the Victorian factories of industrial Lancashire. When freshly cut the wood turns a beautiful orange colour. Alder is one of the few deciduous trees which has cones but these aren't quite the same as the cones from a conifer tree.

The last tree picture is of a small species of fungus growing out of the moss which is gowing on a Sycamore. I am no expert on fungi nor mosses so can't tell you what they are. Over to you readers, can anyone out there help?

Sycamore has been maligned over the years by conservationists as not being a native species and having the tendancy to overrun native woodland. Its 'helicopter' seeds spread easily and germinate and grow quickly when light is available on the woodland floor, for example when large trees are cut or blown down. It also supports far fewer insect species than native trees such as Oak, Hawthorn, or Willow. However, a single tree can have a population of Greenfly numbering tens of thousands, an important food item for a large variety of predatory insects including Ladybirds. It does have one very impressive saving grace though, because it does not splinter it was traditionally used for loo seats!

At the end of our safari is this spectacular weir. Here we had brief views of two of Britain's most colourful birds, Kingfisher and Green Woodpecker. To the side of the dam is a Salmon ladder to allow the king of fish to pass upstream to the spawning 'redds', shallow gravel patches in the small mountainside tributaries. We watched from the bridge but did not see any Salmon jumping up the rapids or starting the long exhausting climb up the ladder.

The recent heavy rain and high water levels shouldn't have posed any problems for the Salmon but the water is very peat stained as you can see. If the upland drains were stopped up the peat bogs would absorb more water and there would be less erosion preventing this heavy colouration from happening. It also makes the water acidic which can have an adverse effect on the invetebrate life downstream which obviously has consequences for fish and the rest of the food chain.
Enough of the ecology lesson, what were the target species mentioned at the start, and did we see them? Well one was the Salmon, which we didn't see. neither did we see any of the very elusive Otters known to be present in the area. despite not getting the target species we saw huge selection of interesting wildlife culminating in the Kingfisher and had a trip to one of Lancashire's (almost) hidden gems.
Where to next? I can feel a beach safari coming on.
In the meantime please let us know what you have found in your 'outback'.


babooshka said...

Otters.I demand you go back out there until you get snap one.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Babs - now I have 3 serious assignments. 'Commissions' to get photos of otters, leaping salmon and badger cubs...getting that little lot is no mean feat, although I have had a good tip off for the latter which may have to wait until next spring as they'll be getting quite big by now...Watch this space....but don't hold your breath!!!!!