This is a series of photos illustrating a species rich nature reserve established over the last seven years on a five acre site in Cumbria.
The land had previously been poor grazing land as it remained very boggy throughout the year. Once fenced off from the rest of the field, and the sheep restricted, the natural stream was deepened slightly to reveal a gravelly bottom ideal for the spawning beds of Salmon, Trout and other fish.
Two large lagoons were excavated to take water from the water course in times of flood.
The top lagoon has two islands for added interest and to slow down the flow of flood water.
These lagoons fill and empty according to the prevailing rainfall.
A causeway separates the two lagoons creating the main wide access pathway. A buried pipe takes the water from the top lagoon to the lower one, but there are two swallow stone lined channels to take the water more quickly if it reaches the causeway level . This keeps the way in navigable by foot or small vehicles.
Over the stream at the entrance we built an Oak bridge on stone piers.
From the lower lagoon the water is let back into the stream through a pipe, the flow can be controlled as necessary.
Eels are now often seen in the lagoons,particularly when the water level is dropping. The eels slither their way across the damp ground back to the outlet and the stream.
The upper side of the site then remained out of the flood plain and drained well so we sowed a mixture of native wildflower and grasses including annuals and perennial species.
This was done over 5 years, sowing about half an acre each year, so as to always have cover and feeding areas for the many small mammals, reptiles and birds whose numbers were building rapidly given the shelter and food resources of ungrazed land.
The annuals put on spectacular shows in their first years before the more diverse and long-term herb rich sward matures.
Each years sowing produced a slightly different result according to weather and prevailing conditions.
And as each sowing matured different species became dominant.
To achieve a good take of the new seed and reduce competition from the existing, rather rank, vegetation, the turf and approx 2 inches of top soil were removed before sowing.
Then more of the perennial plants began to show their heads as the sward matured in succeeding years.
The boundary fence was supplemented and enhanced by planted a mixed native hedge on its inside. This consists of Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel, Beech, Dog rose, and Honeysuckle.
Willow, Alder, and Hawthorn trees already existed on the site, these were augmented by plating small stands of various Willows, Alders, Dogwoods and Prunus, as well as the new hedge.
Evidence of Otters has been seen recently. In the early days of the development several Mink seemed to be using the site, we no longer see them, probably due to the welcome return of Otters to our waterways. Some Deer and Badger move through the site. The whole place becomes alive with insects when the air warms, bees and butterflies provide a spectacle in themselves dancing and working over the flowering meadows.
Small birds frequent the trees, many warblers: Blackcaps, Willow and Reed. Flocks of Siskin and Redpoll feed in the mature Alders in late Winter. Clouds of Finches visit to feed on the flower and grass seed heads. A goodly number of Teal gather and reside here outside of the breeding season.
Owls, both Tawny and Barn hunt on the site ( three posts 7 foot above ground level with 10 inch long tee pieces across the top were erected in the grassed areas as resting/hunting perches for the barn owl, and they have been observed using these which is very pleasing)
The grassed areas are well populated with small rodents particularly Field Voles, they thrive in the stands of longer vegetation. Common Leaches, Newts, Frogs and Toads are abundant.
The main maintenance task is to cut and rake off
a section (about a fifth) of the wild flower rich grassland each year. (A hay
cut) This ensures a constant variety of herbage height, cover for the mammals
and reptiles, optimum sites for Owls to hunt over and a supply of seeding
vegetation for other birds while restricting the vigour of the grasses and
discouraging colonising scrub.
All together a highly diverse piece of landscape in a relatively small stretch of land.