Old Moor and moths
Old Moor and moths
Imagine standing in the morning sunshine in the middle of a marsh surrounded by spikes of marsh orchids, vivid pink stars of centaury and hundreds of butterflies – mainly dark brown ringlets, brown and orange meadow browns and elegant burnet moths, black with spots of fuchsia pink, – a naturalists’ heaven! A green woodpecker flew over our heads and, around the pools that dotted the area, dragonflies – both four-spot and broad-bodied chasers – and electric blue damselflies hovered and darted. Last Saturday WNS visited Old Moor and Gypsy Marsh, an RSPB Reserve – not deep in the countryside – but just a three-quarter hour drive south of Leeds at Wombwell near Barnsley.
The main Reserve comprises reed-beds, pools and scrapes where, that afternoon, from the shelter of strategically placed hides, we could watch the birds. Everywhere was teeming with youngsters: black-headed gull chicks keeping up a raucous dialogue with parents overhead, a female teal with tiny ducklings having a diving lesson, a family party of goslings gliding past in strict line between the goose and gander, half-grown coots with huge feet experimenting with paddling and – my favourites – four young little ring plovers imitated their parents foraging in the mud.
Amazing to think that all this has been created in the industrial heartland of the West Riding: the pools a result of subsidence due to coal-mining and the excavation and removal of soil to make good old mining sites. This kind of wetland habitat with its rich flora and fauna is precious and it is not maintained without a lot of work. Left to themselves, reed-beds, pools and marsh quickly return to scrub and then, eventually, to woodland, so RSPB staff and many volunteers are doing a magnificent job. Apparently the Reserve is currently in the semi-final round to choose the UK’s favourite lottery-funded project!
Industry has also left a legacy for wildlife here in mid-Wharfedale. The Wharfe provides some of the best gravel in the UK and, once extraction ceases and the site is restores – as the law requires – we are left with gravel pits, potentially prime sites for nature.
I was reflecting on this last week when WNS spent an evening at Ben Rhydding gravel pits. Extraction finished here in the 1970s leaving two large lagoons, one owned by the Anglers, the other by Bradford Council, and an extensive area of scrub and grassland. It used to be one of our prime sites for orchids and for butterflies, but, over time, the scrub has encroached, Himalayan balsam has spread and an increasing population of rabbits has nibbled off the orchids. Fortunately, a party of WNS members in association with the Anglers and the Council is now working to retrieve the situation and we could already see the results of their work. Not much sign of orchids, but the rabbit-nibbled turf is a mosaic of white and purple, eyebright and self heal creating naturally those ‘drifts’ beloved of TV gardeners. A moth trap run the previous evening had produced 34 species including a newly emerged green carpet moth still flushed with jade, a pale yellow swallow-tail and, interestingly, both the dark and light form of peppered moth. This small, fairly common moth changed its colour from white to sooty black to maintain its camouflage in the face of air pollution from industrialisation – evolution in pretty quick action. Recently the trend has reversed!FF77″>