Leader: Colin Howes
Also Present: Tom; Gerri; Hillary & Caroline.
Poject: An all-day walk-round of about 4 miles mainly on the flat, making use of viewing platforms, benches, picnic tables and where available, bird hides. To familiarise current members of the Nats with the southern (Poor Piece) part of Hatfield Moors NNR and to see how Natural England’s re-wetting work has altered habitats described by Ian McDonald* in 2006.
(* In 2005-06 Ian Mcdonald, a keen botanist and notable former member of the Nats, undertook a vegetation survey of Hatfield Moors. This was to form a baseline against which subsequent developments could be compared. Ian’s study was published in 2009 by the Thorne & Hatfield Conservation Forum in ‘Flora by Foot’ (T&HM Technical Report no. 17) and oh! how things have changed since 2006).
Results: Four Nats stalwarts (Tom; Gerri; Hillary & Caroline) joined me in the rain, in the car park of the Natural England Visitor Centre (SE684049), all arriving ahead of time at 10.30am! after struggling into wellies and waterproofs, we sheltered from the early misty drizzle, followed by a downpour, in the large ‘Boston Bird Hide’. Here in the gloomy light we counted 1 Moorhen, 38+ Coot, 1 Little Grebe, 15+ Gadwall, 5+ Tufted Ducks and more wildfowl too distant to identify. The ‘Hatfield Birding Blog’ flagged up the presence of a Peregrine Falcon in the Boston area, sadly we saw no sign of it.
Back in the car park Tom showed us a rather magnificent Queen Hornet Vespa crabro, immobilised by the cold and wet on the lid of a waste bin. A Green Woodpecker called loudly from the boundary Poplar trees and high overhead a skein of several 100 Pinkfooted Geese flew west.
We followed the yellow arrow signs along the twisting pathways heading towards the Observation Gantry overlooking the reconstruction of the Neolithic trackway & the WWII War Grave. The route, over land reclaimed from the former Sand & Gravel workings, was wet underfoot and undertaken in misty rain and all within OS square SE68-04-. Ian’s 2006 comment for this square “Willow is common about the ditches in this area, as is common reed.”
Today, the shrubs have now developed into a dense low woodland of Sallows in wetter areas including Salix viminalis, S. cinerea, & S. caprea, with occasional sedges including Hairy Sedge Carex hirta. In dryer areas Birches Betula pendula & pubescens, dominated with occasional Oak Quercus robur, Rowan Sorbus aucuparia, and Dog Rose Rosa canina with an understory of Bramble Rubus fruticosa agg. and Bracken Pteridium aquilinum. On steep damp banks were graceful growths of Male Fern Dryopteris filix-mas. In wet open/inundated areas were beds of Phragmites reed Phragmites australis and occasional Reedmace Typha latifolia. Several areas of open water are managed as ponds and small lakes accessed by observation platforms and in due season are now celebrated for their Dragonfly and Damselfly populations. Elevated dryer areas, kept open by rabbit grazing and periodic strimming showed moss and lichen lawns, notable features of which were growths of the fibrous grey lichen Cladonia portentosa similar to the so called Reindeer Lichen. Fungi of the genera Mycena, Macrolepiota and Lactarius were present on the sandy substrate.
Nearer to the Observation Gantry, within SE69-04- the habitats over sand and gravel were a continuation of what we experienced in SE68-04-; however, as we proceeded west, the habitats were increasingly over peat. Now the vegetation was dense birch woodland with occasional Oak, Pine Pinus sylvestris and an understory of Bracken, and in spring Climbing Corydalis Ceratocapnos claviculata. Increasingly the Male fern was being replaced by Broad Buckler Fern Dryopteris austriaca.
During Ian’s 2006 survey about ⅓ of this square was bare open peat. These exposed peat areas are now flooded, forming peat pools or are clad in Heather Calluna vulgaris, occasional Cross-leaved Heath Erica tetralix; tussocks of Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerulea and beds of the two Cotton Grasses Eriophorum angustifolium & E. vaginatum. Birch and Pine is colonising where not sufficiently inundated.
We had lunch at the reconstruction of the Neolithic trackway & the information board for the WWII Polish Airmen War Grave. Further information is available from [https://www.facebook.com/InternationalBomberCommandCentre/posts/hatfield-moor-south-yorkshirememorial-and-aircraft-wreckage-remembers-four-polis/1748266015225634/].
From the gantry outlook, in vain we scanned the landscape for birds of prey. However, on the eastern skyline we spotted the tower of Epworth Church, the two windmill towers and water tower at Belton and to the north were forests of wind farms busily grinding out energy for the national Grid and income for their developers. The most frequent birds observed here were Carrion Crows many of which were perched, sentinel-like, on the tallest birches across the re-wetted peatland. A feeding group of titmice (unidentified) moved through the tree canopies. Three immature Mute Swans were resting and preening on one of the peat pools, their mottled plumage making them look like exposed bog oak stumps. In the distance a carrion Crow was mobbing a Common Buzzard nonchalantly drifting south towards the Badger Corner area.
After lunch we proceeded west along the edge of the moorland re-wetting landscape (Packards South), turning right at Ellerholm Farm along the track south to Badger Corner Lake.
The Birch dominated woodland produced a few examples of ‘Witches Broom’ fungal galls, Tom commenting on their scarcity here considering the abundance of their host tree but speculated whether the prevailing species of birch might be the reason. The Bracken understory of the woodland produced some fronds of an astonishing height, the support afforded by Bramble briars and the Birches enabling some plants to achieve heights in the region of 10ft. In the adjacent perimeter drain, the prevailing ferns were Dryopteris austriaca and in the adjacent hedgerow a flock of Redwings had gathered in a tall hawthorn.
Badger Corner Lake brought us to the south-eastern corner of the Nature Reserve and into SE69-03-. I remember exploring this area in the 1980s in the aftermath of it being part of the Poor Piece Sand & Gravel quarry and looking like a lunar landscape. The water table has recovered somewhat, enabling the lake to form and a dense surrounding vegetation to develop. Ian’s 2006 study notes “The area around the water’s edge consists of willow/birch scrub, with Soft Rush Juncus effusus.” Our notes included Gypsywort Lycopus europaeus, Soft Rush and Figwort Scrophularia nodosa and though encountering a large mat of Marsh Cinquefoil growing out into the open water (the highlight of the day), couldn’t at the time remember or believe what it was! Interestingly Ian recorded it here in 2006, a photograph of it in flower featuring in his report … but how on earth did it get here? Although it is a well known bog plant on Thorne Moors, I have never actually seen it on Hatfield Moors. However, I remember a narrow pond along a field-edge drain on the north side of Hatfield Moor (possibly SE690080) crammed with the stuff. That was in 1986 in a field west of what is now 10 Acre Lake, the drain running north into Hatfield Waste Drain. The field was threatened with sand and gravel quarrying, a development which never materialised.
Of the lake-birds at Badger Corner, we counted a modest list of 1Heron, 2+ Gadwall, 21+ Mallard, 5+ Shoveller and 9+ Pochard. However, members were more fascinated by the tree-roosting Cormorants (13+) on the central island.
We proceeded along the southern perimeter track looking for winter thrushes and other passerines in the hedgerow and were treated to views of a flock of Goldfinces. Blackbirds a Great Tit and a Robin were also present.
Re-entering the reserve via one of the equestrian kissing gates on the right, we crossed the grazed heathland and associated Birch/Oak woodland, where Tom found a leaf giving evidence of the presence of Turkey Oak Q. cerris, and joined the labyrinth of signed pathways heading generally in an easterly direction returning to the Visitor Centre Car Park, smart phones recording a total distance of 3.8 miles.
On our way round we were entertained by signage left over from the recent Natural England Halloween events e.g.
Q: What do birds say on Halloween?
A: Trick or Tweet!