‘Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness’

Autumn has replaced our forgetable summer but the birds continue to turn up at the garden feeders. Lots of siskin on the niger seeds together with a few goldfinch. Although redpolls were plentiful in the Spring there are no signs yet of Autumn visitors. No matter what time of year the red squirrels turn up every day at their feeder, together with the jackdaws. Very few wild raspberries and blackberries this year in the garden.

Because of the mallard activity on the pond I had thought, in the Spring,  to pump out the pond and replace the water, I used an industrial sludge pump but the inlet was soon clogged by leaves etc. so I never achieved the crystal clear pond I had envisaged.

I was given six new chickens, a welcome addition to any garden. They have even survived a terrier attack, although one of them is a bit ‘under the weather’ at the moment.

The contractors have now left the ‘toy town’ railway site in the village  but others continue to ‘hammer and bang’ at the lines already laid. I imagine that their activities will go on ad infinitum.

 

 

 

End of June

The last week in May saw the four young tawnies fledged and right on time the arrival of the spotted flycatchers from Africa.

During the daylight hours in June I would hear gentle calls from the adults as they brought food for the young who were sculking in the trees. From time to time, as they caught sight of the young tawnies, there were cries of alarm from the many blackbirds breeding in the garden.

The adult spotted flycatchers now have three new additions, the young left the nest in the early hours of 28th June. They will now need to feed up in preparation for the journey back to Africa. It is always a brief visit from them – the adults arrive towards the end of May and by September they will be on their way home. Despite their small size they will cross the vast Sahara Desert, to spend the winter in the forests of West Africa.

Early Summer

After two months with very little rain the garden pond has been reduced to a custardy sludge. I will take this opportunity to clean it out, refill and activate the new filter system. I hope this will help, in the future, to keep it clean despite the numerous mallard which visit. There have been a number of mallard families in the garden this spring, taking advantage of the free corn.

Four tawny owls were raised this year in the box, the last one left a few days ago. I hear the mother gently calling during the day. Great tits are presently raising a family of five in the ivy box and the spotted flycatchers arrived a couple of days ago to examine their old nest site.

Of course the noise and havoc caused by the activities of the toy town railway contractors continues. From a December completion it moved to March then to May and it is currently July and as we approach July it will change to September! During the Spring of 2016 I heard the usual warblers from my garden – willow, chiffchaff, garden and blackcap but not this year since the destruction of the nearby trees and shrubs on the old track they have disappeared. As a nation we bemoan the demise of our wildlife but at the same time we allow these obscene projects to proceed as though the two were not connected.

 

An amateur railway development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

It was suggested to me by WildlifeKate that a summary outlining this abomination should be included at the beginning of my blog. So here it is:

In 1853 a branch line off the Newcastle – Carlisle railway was completed between Haltwhistle and Alston, 15 miles up the South Tyne Valley. Too late for the declining lead industry it survived carrying limestone and coal and serving local agriculture. It was closed in 1976, and nature then took over and repaired the damage.

Then the enthusiasts stepped in with a narrow gauge railway. A first stage (2 miles north from Alston) of this railway was opened in 1983. Then a further 1 mile was added. Now after  grants from the Heritage Lottery fund & others totaling £5.5m they are in the process of extending it a further 2 miles to Slaggyford. When this society say “we have consulted those affected” they really mean they have dictated to those affected and made little if any attempt to compromise. With a patron from a non-elected legislature, those who address themselves as noble lords, and the use of a 200 year old railway act they are bulldozing their plans forward with such ludicrous claims as “it would bring an estimated 100,000 visitors to the area per year” and “extending the line to Haltwhistle would cost around £17m”. Considering it has cost £5.5m to extend 2 miles what would you say would be the cost of a further 10 miles? Please bear in mind that this 10 miles includes renovation of two viaducts, the lesser known Knar Burn and the more famous Lambley plus a new bridge over the A69 and renovation of the old bridge over the South Tyne. Try £170m and that would probably be a great bargain!

Now my understanding is that the primary purpose of the AONB designation is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape, with two secondary aims: meeting the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside and having regard for the interests of those who live and work there. I can not see what possible benefits, in line with those aims, that a narrow gauge railway will bring.

According to Northumberland County Council, who incidentally leased the old track-way to the society, they do not require planning permission for any of their activities. This includes building toilets, signal box, shop etc. at this old platform. Yet my understanding is that the Government has recently in the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) stated that AONBs and national parks have equal status when it comes to planning decisions on landscape issues. So what is going on behind the scenes?

Before destruction commenced the platform looked like the above and now it looks like the following. All of the near trees you can see in the above view have gone. That includes those lovely larch trees.

The construction companies involved have done what they were employed to do. Chop down trees and clear undergrowth etc. etc. producing this;

But part of their master-plan was to widen the very narrow road through the hamlet for their visitors cars and buses. Because they have already, on former agricultural land, next to the old station constructed a car park the size of which Tesco would not have been ashamed.

But then they discovered that the field was common land needing the Secretary of State’s permission to go ahead. Of course that is regardless of the mess they had already created in the centre of our hamlet.

A continuing problem that the contractors had was where they could dump excavated materials from the railway track. So this field in the centre of our village was their answer. Now here lies a problem! The ballast laid on the track bed in the 1850’s was according to local legend taken from the lead mine slag heaps. Not a problem in the 1850’s but quite different now. The heaps contained lead, zinc and cadmium. So I reported this to the Northern Environment Agency and asked them to test the materials which the contractors had so liberally dumped. I have been stonewalled since then – does this smell of something? So at the moment the centre of the village looks like this;

Yesterday, 3rd February, I took these photographs; How long do you suppose that these living organisms that  we call trees can survive this sort of treatment? Trees that are part of this upland landscape, that have struggled and survived in this harsh environment, just like our ancestors.

I will update this blog on a regular basis for those who are interested.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty North Pennines (AONB)

If you have followed my blog you would know approximately where I live – in an AONB in the north Pennines. Lucky for him you might say when the blurb about these areas says such things as;

“The primary purpose of the AONB designation is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape, with two secondary aims: meeting the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside and having regard for the interests of those who live and work there.”

“The Government has recently in the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) stated that AONBs and national parks have equal status when it comes to planning decisions on landscape issues.”

and yet an amateur railway club, using a 200 year old Act of Parliament , and with the help of 4-5 million pounds from the lottery fund – yes you read that correctly, are creating havoc with the landscape and wildlife in our area. Since the middle of May last year trees have been hacked down, undergrowth cleared and an old railway track which was once a wildlife corridor has been turned into a wildlife desert.

The tawny owls which used my nest box year on year have disappeared. A barn owl which used to quarter my garden and the adjoining fields has also disappeared. If this can happen in a AONB God knows what can take place in other areas.

 

December feeder visitors and a few thoughts.

Goldfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch, GS woodpecker and nuthatch just some of the visitors to the garden feeders, in other words nothing out of the ordinary now, but in a few years who knows, they may be rarities.

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The local mallard continue to visit the garden for food and shelter.

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and the red squirrel ever present, if illusive.

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Of course, it almost goes without saying that, the abomination that call themselves ‘railway enthusiasts’, with the help of the lottery fund, continue their path of destruction through what is ironically designated as an AONB.

What are we leaving for our descendants, theme parks and similar inane attactions? May your god rescue this planet before the human race destroys it completely.

‘… where late the sweet birds sang’

The destruction of our local habitat by the ‘toy town railway’ continues apace. What once was a pleasant bridle path for the locals, with plenty of habitat for birds, mammals and plants has been destroyed for the railway enthusiasts’ pleasure.

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The stretch of old track I refer to was similar in appearance to the above. At first glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary, just the result of nature’s effort over 40 years to recover from the previous attempt to industrialise the landscape.

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Now after the hacking down of trees and shrubs it looks like this;

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‘What would the world be, once bereft of wet and of wildness? Let them be left, O let them be left, wildness and wet; Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.’ G M Hopkins.

July and August

The local mallard continue to hang around the garden attracted by the corn I provide. The spotted flycatchers never returned to the nest site. During July redpoll and siskin were regular visitors to the Niger feeders however during August their numbers declined and now only the odd siskin pays a visit. To compensate there are still plenty of chaffinches, sparrows and tits to empty the seed feeders every day. A nuthatch drops in now and again but I can not recall seeing the GS woodpecker for quite a while now.

For a few months I experimented with streaming the red squirrel feeder to YouTube and picking up a link for the website. This allowed me to make two live streams available to watch. However, last month, Google/YouTube decided, unilaterally, that unless I went through a ridiculously complicated procedure I could no longer link to my website. So I in turn, unilaterally, closed my account.

Work on the track for the ‘toy town railway’ goes on, as it has from the middle of May. The noise and disturbance it creates can at times be quite overwhelming. Only time will tell what the effects of the destruction of the scrub trees and undergrowth along two miles of the old track will have on our rather limited wildlife! In this case the National Lottery can be proud, they have been instrumental in destroying more than forty years of what was a natural recovery of the land in favour of plants and animals along the old railway.

A few days of warmer weather, together with the flowering of buddleia and sedum has brought in the butterflies. Where they have been, up until now, I do not know. Over the past eighteen years, I cannot recall a poorer year than this for butterflies or should I say the lack of them. A few cabbage white were all I had seen in the garden this summer until the past week.

buddleia

sedum

May and June Activity.

I heard my first cuckoo on the 3rd of May this year calling, as usual, from the other side of the valley. Only one of the four small boxes in the garden was occupied, this year by a blue tit family. Six eggs were laid from early May onwards they hatched on the 24th May and fledged on the 12th June. As usual jackdaws laid in the red squirrel box, the eggs hatched on the 6th May. On the 19th May a spotted flycatcher turned up to examine their usual nesting site under the eves of the house,  but never returned – it must have found something better elsewhere. The two mallard families which first appeared in the garden as tiny ducklings are now fully grown – seven new birds in all. They appear to regard the garden as their home and present themselves, at regular intervals, in the yard for corn handouts.

The usual selection of bumblebees were around taking advantage of whatever was in flower beginning with the flowering currant bushes and progressing to the foxgloves. Few butterflies apart from cabbage white so far this year, this should improve when the buddleia bushes come into flower.

The plants around the ponds are now in full foliage with the flower heads of angelica standing tall around the small pond. I have planted a number of hemp agrimony around the ponds for the insects. I grew these from one packet of seed, an economical way for any gardener.

 

P1000103 (Medium)

Birds are nesting and plants are growing – at last.

It has been a cold and wet April which seems to have delayed occupation of the nest boxes in the garden. Jackdaws were, as usual, the first to begin with one pair in the red squirrel box having six eggs and later another couple occupied the tawny owl box with three eggs todate. Only one of the smaller boxes has been occupied, by a bluetit who has spent over a month preparing the nest. She visits every day and tinkers with the nest but as yet she has laid no eggs. Because of the time she has taken to build it this must be one of the most luxurious nests in the area. A bumble bee tried to take up occupation this morning but was soon evicted by the indignant owner.

bluetit nest 2016

There are young blackbirds in the yard and two families of mallard in the garden. Both are now down to five ducklings each having first appeared with nine and twelve respectively.

At last some of my plants are beginning to grow. Around the small pond the angelica is on the move. Apart from being structural it produces those lovely heads of tiny green flowers which attract hoverflies and bees in the summer. Nearby another structural plant is waking up; Gunnera ‘giant rhubarb’ which is a native of South America. In no time at all the small pond will disappear behind greenery.

small pond (Medium)