Early spring news from the valley

The Roe Deer population is steadily increasing.

Up to six have been frequenting the Hollins Hall side: it’s like the Serengeti with bunkers (photo Ros Crosland)
All looking in the peak of good health after a mild, wet winter with lots of greenery to browse (Ros Crosland)

Last week we put up another round of bird boxes. Some of these:

This lot are aimed at Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers which have certainly bred in Spring Wood in the past.
This male Pied Flycatcher was photographed by Paul Marfell just down the road at Denso Marston last spring: they obviously still pass through from time to time.
And, amazingly without serious injury, we fixed up a box for Joey the Hollins Hall resident Barn Owl.

The Hollins Hall team have been very welcoming. It’s got to be the most wildlife-friendly course around. Really importantly, there are lots of corners which aren’t over-managed. Fallen dead wood is great for invertebrates which, in turn, obviously support birds and mammals.

You rarely find this kind of thing in farmland or in council parks these days: all the dead wood is tidied away.
But without a natural cycle of decaying vegetation there are none of these: Violet Ground Beetle.

Après le déluge

It rained. A lot.

The Gill Beck going the full Zambesi at Tong Park after storm Ciara: Sunday 9th Feb
Water almost up to the bottom of the bridge at the dam
And briefly flowing over the old weir again
A raging torrent heads for the viaduct

All this action has substantially re-engineered the Gill Beck.

We now have a long stretch of steep sandy bank
And new water features: all the fine silt has been stripped out of the river bed leaving clean shingle. Looks good for trout spawning.
A beach! Already with sprouting Butterbur
The old stream bed has dried out again but the damp conditions are ideal for Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage -one of the signature plants of the valley.
The new design seems to suit the resident Dippers (Photo Paul Marfell)

The History of Tong Park

Many thanks to Peter Hughes for bringing this gem to our attention:

Published in 1995

That cover photo apparently dates from about 1925: a time when Denby’s Mill (now Tong Park Industrial Estate) was still a thriving industry.

The first chapter looks at the geology and pre-history of the area. The last two glaciations of the current Ice Age, the Anglian and Devensian, saw complex ice movements amid successive advances and retreats. At some point a moraine formed between ice in the valley of the Gill Beck and the Airedale glacier. This spur across the mouth of the valley is the site of Tong Park station and receives the southern end of the viaduct. The whole landscape is studded with smaller moraines, drumlins and erratic rocks.

Human presence is documented from about 4000 BC by the presence of stone age implements of the Magelmose culture. From about 3000 BC Bronze Age technology followed: with progressive forest clearance. Stone carvings which litter the area from this time.

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=48900

Celtic Iron Age culture is known from Yorkshire only from about 300 BC.

With the principle ‘Inclosures’ Act of 1773 and other similar legislation across the centuries stone walls were built around ‘Parlimentary’ fields in the valley. These overly the earth ridges and furrows created by earlier farmers dating back to the Celts. The long S-shaped ridges are still visible on pasture and golf courses.

Ridge and furrow on Bradford Golf Course highlighted in melting snow: these earthworks may date back up to 2000 years.

At the ends of all of these fields are lynchet banks thrown up by the ploughs as they turned.

Weecher and Reva reservoirs, receiving run off from Burley and Ilkley moors, are the sources of the Gill Beck’s flow. Reva was completed in 1894.

Chapter two covers natural history: the list of species indicates little loss of diversity between the time of writing and today’s situation. In fact, I have the distinct impression that the valley is probably richer in flora and fauna today than it has been for much of the last century. It certainly looks considerably more wooded and wilder today than it does in many of the photos from the days when several thousand watched cricket matches at Tong Park. As Benedict Allen observes in his book ‘Rebirding’ ….’The post-industrial areas of Northern England have a very different aspect …In these areas vegetation freestyles in a way rarely permitted in any nature reserve or across much of the country….Here, less land is managed -and more is simply left’.

Chapter three documents the industrialisation of Tong Park. By 1778 there was a water mill on the site owned by messrs Halliday and Watson. Subsequently Thomas Gill upgraded this with the construction of Gill Mill. It’s unclear to me whether the name of the Beck derives from this.

William Denby and sons, incorporated in 1820, followed them and soon thereafter set about constructing the chain of upstream dams and reservoirs which ensured water supply to the factory. As well as the familiar main dam at Tong Park there are additionally the dam at the ‘frog pond’ on the north side of the beck, the Red Brick Dam below Moorside Farm, the New Dam on the Jum Beck above Hawksworth and the dam west of Ash House Farm, Sconce whose name remains unknown to me. At one time there was a large reservoir below the main dam and above the viaduct and enclosed by the bend in the beck.

Originally engaged in spinning, weaving and dyeing the business later progressively specialised in dyeing and fabric coatings. The tall chimney still nears the name ‘Denbirayne’: a patented waterproofed fabric.

The chimney of the former Denby Mills: photo by Paul Marfell (thanks Paul)

The book includes a lot of detail of the lives of the inhabitants of Tong during the heyday of the mill. The impression is of a tight-knit, self-contained community; almost all of whom worked at the mill or were related to those who did. The men played cricket and football in the valley, grew vegetables and kept pigs. The village gathered in the wesleyan methodist chapel (which also possessed a library) on Sundays, did their washing on Fridays and shopped in the Tong Park Street Co-op. They also swam in the lake at the dam. Many of the men went to fight in the world wars; frequently failing to return.

This loss which must have had a profound impact on the small community. A sadness compounded over subsequent decades by bitter industrial disputes and the ultimate decline of the textile industry. The main street was lined with terraced stone cottages which were demolished in the 1960s: a shame since they look very fine in photographs.

Early Feb update

Much of the valley is beswamped in mud. It did top up the frog pond, which was looking a bit parched after last summer, but makes walking less enjoyable. Thus we have been tackling some of the worst bits.

Here we are having a go at resolving the Passchendaele-like situation between the dam and the frog pond. Steve offers words of encouragement.
An even more amazing image of the resident male Kestrel by Ros
Barn Owls are enjoying the mild winter: the wide roughs of the golf courses are full of rodents

It’s an early spring so far: Wild Garlic is up and there are various other plants in unseasonal leaf or flower.

Kestrels

Kestrels have bred in the valley in each of the last few years. Although one year they were unceremoniously turfed out half way through by Tawny Owls. Mortality amongst young birds is very high with only about 30% making it through to the next summer. This bird, beautifully captured by Ros is an adult male: probably from last year’s pair. It seems that males are more likely to remain on territory during the winter whilst females more often find another site fairly locally and then return in the spring.

Kestrel (by Ros Crosland)

There must be a pretty good vole population in the roughs of the golf course.

Kestrel plus small rodent (Also Ros’s)

Meanwhile, Steve and I fixed the bridge at the top of Spring Wood in the beautiful winter sunshine.

A seamless bridge repair: the second plank is the new one 😉

Friends of Gill Beck Valley in 2020

After a little pause for contemplation it’s been a busy week for environmental activity chez FoGBV and an opportunity to put together a picture of what we want to do and how to achieve it.

Firstly, I think we have established that none of us really relish the prospect of lots of admin or formality.  Let me know if you do -there’s a place here for you!!  But, happily, we have the reassuring presence of the Aire Rivers Trust to help us. They are a well-organised charity with a wealth of experience and a network of co-workers whose aims are well aligned with ours in many respects (albeit focussed on the waterways).

Aire Rivers Trust https://aireriverstrust.org.uk/

Secondly, we are becoming aware of the diversity of amazing environmental organisations locally. Including…

Bradford Urban Wildlife Group https://buwg.vpweb.co.uk/default.html

Bradford Environmental Action Trust http://www.beat.org.uk/

Bradford Ornithological Group https://www.bradfordbirding.org/

Baildon Swift Group https://www.facebook.com/baildonswiftgroup/

Friends of the Earth Baildon https://friendsoftheearth.uk/groups/baildon

Sitting in on the meeting of the Friends of Bradford Becks (affiliates of the Aire Rivers Trust) this week we were very impressed with their effectiveness in improving the watery environment across the other side of the Aire from our patch.  Much to be learned from them.

On Thursday we convened our own little assembly in Baildon with ten pioneering attendees weighing in.  We are very grateful to Nick Milsom from Aire Rivers for being there.  Outcomes in brief summary:

  • We are currently resolved to remain a humble contact list and group of spontaneous conspirators rather than a more formal membership association with written constitution etc.
  • We can seek to collaborate with bigger organisations where necessary: including those listed above and also, importantly, Baildon Town Council and Bradford Countryside Service.
  • We will produce a digitised map of the valley accessible to all of us which can be annotated by us with points of interest, projects on the go and things needing attention.
  • We will produce an information board for a central site at Tong Park dam (with permission of the owners) focusing on the wildlife, human history of the valley, access points and giving contact details for ourselves to promote interest and generate new particpants. Plus smaller notices at main access points (Low Springs, Ladderbanks Lane, Hawksworth Lane footpath, Lonk House Lane).  We perhaps need a little logo too.
  • Recording of fauna and flora in the area will be an ongoing project over the years.
  • We will continue with ongoing projects: bird and bat boxes, litter collection and bins, footpath maintenance, pollution monitoring, wildlife recording and friendly overtures to the various landowners with a view to opening up new avenues of environmental enhancement where mutually advantageous.

Onwards and upwards! As ever, any feedback more than welcome.

Can trout access the Gill Beck?

There has been concern that the ‘step’ down in the bed of the Gill Beck at the top of the underpass below the main Otley Road might be a barrier to movement of fish. Effectively this is like a small weir. Trouble is that rectifying it would likely be a substantial project.

Having just seen this video (second clip in tweet below), I’m encouraged that maybe they can make it up anyway.

Something is happening with the Hazelnuts

Well, it’s been a complete bonanza of Hazelnuts this autumn. In addition to the native Hazel there are also lots of planted Cobnut trees around the Hollins Hill golf course which will now be about 20 years old.

Ripening Cob (Hazel) nut

Until this year I had never seen a brown Hazel or Cobnut on a tree in the valley. But something has happened: this autumn they are everywhere. Last year was quite good. This year has been a bonanza.

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the maturing of the trees.

The more intriguing possibility is that something has happened to reduce Grey Squirrel numbers. There are still plenty of them obviously…..on every camera trap I’ve set! But perhaps they’re not so completely ubiquitous.

If populations of Pine Martens can mysteriously appear in the New Forest and Cornwall; miles from anywhere they were supposed to be….

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/17/pine-martens-recorded-in-west-country-by-night-vision-camera

Then it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch that we could be within dispersal range of the breeding population in Shropshire (about 150 miles away):

https://www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/pinemartenproject

Or of those in the North York Moors (only 50 miles away):

Indeed, there is a single record from Derbyshire in 2018:

https://www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/news/rare-pine-marten-discovered-derbyshire

And a handful from Lancashire too:

Individual North American martens may disperse up to 190Km and similar long distance movements probably occur in Europe:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10592-015-0765-6

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276916249_False_heat_big_testes_and_the_onset_of_natal_dispersal_in_European_pine_Martens_Martes_martes

I shall be doing more camera traps this winter!

It’s been a bit wet!

But there’s always a silver lining. In this case a lot of mushrooms in the valley. Like the trees, although the land use has changed some of the fungal organisms must have been soldiering on underground regardless.

Field Blewit in grassland. What would have been unimproved meadow is now golf fairway.
The lilac stem distinguishes from similar species: Field Blewit is a good edible mushroom that usually appears after the first few really cold nights
Oyster mushrooms: can appear at any time of year but, around here, mostly in Oct-Dec
Meadow puffball: there are some huge mushroom rings uo to 50 metres across on the south-facing slopes of the valley which must be centuries old. Several fungi are responsible including these beauties.
Troops of Fly Agaric are all over. We’ve been testing these out as fly traps: a small lump in a saucer of milk on top of a cupboard will intoxicate a fair number.
Princess mushroom: Agaricus lanipes
Clouded Funnel
Death cap: there are several patches in the valley where they crop up. All under Oak.
I won’t bore you with too many brown ones but this is Common Cavalier