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Hawthorn in Gill Beck Valley

This image of the valley, taken from Lonk House Lane, comes from ‘A Celebration of Tong Park’ published by Baildon Historical Society. It’s credited to F Hainsworth and dates to about 1920. The war memorial must be quite new.

Looking at that image from a century ago, the most striking difference from today is how much more manicured the vegetation is compared to today.

2020: a slightly different angle from a little way down the path past the war memorial

In particular the ancient-looking Hawthorns which punctate every wall and field margin have clearly grown up since the end of the Great War.

Hawthorn on Hollins Hall side
More mature Hawthorn further up the valley at High Eldwick
Food for winter thrushes
Counting rings in the stumps of cut Hawthorns: they mostly seem to be about the same age and about 70-80 years old

I suspect that the photo at the top of the post marks a time when intensive grazing and management of the valley was tapering off. The wars of the 20th century will have taken away many of the men who worked on the land. Specifically, the generation of character Hawthorn which are such a feature probably got going during WWII.

The same may be true for WWI and many of the trees in the higher parts of Spring Wood…which look to be about 100 years old.

Happy New Year

Winter comes to the valley a little belatedly.

The swans are looking a little disconcerted as the dam sets solid
An inspection of last year’s footpath works shows that Steve’s dedication to ‘doing it properly’ in the holly tunnel has paid off…
Since the bit we haven’t done yet has turned into a swamp
The Christmas fairies left the usual collection of bottles, coffee cups, cans and bags. These two bagfulls the result of 20 minutes clearing up. One day we will solve this!
And on the same day the dam froze over…the first Hawthorn leaves of spring

Gill Beck autumn update: Barn Owls, Whinchats, Green Woodpeckers and paths

To balance the previous serious post…here’s the positive stuff 🙂

The valley of the Gill Beck: we’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating -it’s a great thing in a slightly gloomy world that such a beautiful natural space remains on the doorstep of two large cities. Looking after this place is vitally-important to our well-being (Photo: Ros Crosland)

We’ve been plugging away at the paths and getting fitter (younger participants) or more cream-crackered (the middle-aged) in the process of wheelbarrowing tons of aggregate around.

The path below Spring Wood in it’s newly-engineered glory

We’ll be needing another delivery soon Richard!

And we continue to fight the torrent of litter, poop and general trash that gets left down there. Many thanks to the legendary Jeff Yates of Litter-free Guiseley for supply of bags.

All of the following pics were taken in the Gill Beck valley late summer and autumn:

Barn Owls have had a bonanza year locally. The wide roughs of the golf courses, the rough pasture at Tong Park and Baildon Moor are rich in voles (photo: Ros Crosland)
These days, it feels increasingly special to still have Swallows nesting in the valley. Happily there are still parts of the valley where pesticides aren’t (much) used and there are enough flying insects for them.
A juvenile Whinchat on the wires at Low Springs Farm:
this is another species rapidly decreasing in the UK as a whole (Photo: Ros Crosland)
Migrant Wheatears also at Low Springs Farm (Photo: Ros Crosland…….this is a beauty Ros!)
Juvenile Green Woodpecker (Photo: Ros Crosland). There’s a lot of standing dead wood in the various bits of woodland around the valley which is important for woodpeckers.
Oyster mushrooms sprouting in the colder weather this week
Lurid Bolete at Hollins Hall
Russian Comfrey also at Hollins Hall
Birds foot Trefoil at Tong Park is still in flower late September
Crosswort alongside the Beck
And finally…not going to win any photography prizes with this one but I wanted to include it because I’ve seen very few Hedgehogs in the valley over the past couple of years.

This week there are still lots of Chiffchaffs hanging around and a few Swallows and House Martins. Lots of Siskins, Redpolls and the occasional Crossbill have been moving through overhead. The male Goshawk normally resident in the Shipley area, which is presumed to be a escaped falconer’s bird occasionally visits us.

Gill Beck water quality issues

There’s been an upsurge of interest nationally and locally in the quality of water in our streams and rivers. Nationally, the Environment Agency report on 17th September revealed the depressing fact that all UK watercourses are polluted in one way or another.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/17/rivers-in-england-fail-pollution-tests-due-to-sewage-and-chemicals

Locally, Ilkley Clean River Campaign have been valiantly fighting the inertia of Yorkshire Water and the authorities to reduce the shocking amount of raw sewage dumped into the river where many people swim and paddle.

https://sites.google.com/view/cleanwharfeilkley/home

So, it’s perhaps not a surprise that we have our own issues. In case you were thinking that our pristine Beck was …well, pristine, it’s perhaps time to publicise the fact that there are at least two places that we’re aware of where raw, untreated sewage also enters the Gill Beck.

Combined sewer overflow (CSO) at Tong Park: the grey slime emanating from these CSOs is made up of billions of bacteria -many of them antibiotic-resistant and potentially disease-causing. This outflow pipe runs from Baildon and actually goes under the lake before entering the Beck.

CSOs are a consequence of the design of our waste water system -often dating back to the Victorian era. Excess rainfall is channelled into the same pipes as sewage. As a safety valve in times of intense rainfall there is built-in allowance for overflow to run straight off into streams and rivers. In reality this happens at times of intense rainfall……and also at other times….or, in some cases, most of the time!

Fixing this problem is a big challenge and, in reality, requires a vast infrastructure investment programme with political backing. This is an uphill battle in the face of large, well-connected, privately-owned and profit-orientated water companies. I stand to be corrected but my impression is there’s not much the environment agency can do when you or I ring to say ‘there’s sewage flowing into our Beck’….because, to a degree, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

This summer we’ve seen an enormous number of families out enjoying the wild bits of the valley and playing in the stream.

Other potential sources of pollution include farming and industry. Fortunately, we’re lucky that, to the best of my knowledge, the farmers along the Gill Beck valley are very good in this respect.

Last week, alarmingly, the Beck looked like this…

Silt from groundworks upstream making the Beck run brown: mid-September 2020

In contrast to its usual clarity:

A more normal state of water clarity in the Beck at Otley Road

This silt stemmed from construction works upstream. The issue isn’t quite as disastrous as serious slurry pollution but it’s still not great for the Beck ecosystem. Silt at this level adversely affects invertebrate populations by smothering them. Obviously, fewer invertebrates leads to fewer fish, birds, mammals and so on.

Privately, our view is that some works and development is inevitable with the number of people living in the area but there are relatively straightforward technical ways of reducing this kind of problem when work is planned in advance. Since the success of businesses involved in leisure and tourism relies largely on the valley being a beautiful natural environment we’re surprised that those involved weren’t more careful.

On a positive note, this summer has seen work start on the final fish passes which will allow migratory fish such as Salmon and Sea Trout to get up into the Aire above Leeds for the first time in over a century.

https://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/18636454.next-step-starts-get-salmon-river-aire/

Smaller streams such as the Gill Beck are potential spawning grounds for these fish when they make it through. It’s really exciting to think that we could have Salmon spawning on our doorstep. It’s important the Beck is in decent shape for them. Happily, it’s mostly pretty good in comparison to other watercourses; we’ve seen Brown Trout up as far as the caravan park this summer. We regularly have Otters, Kingfishers and Dippers. However, the situation clearly needs watching.

If you have any concerns about pollution or water quality in the Beck then please get in touch. Together we can monitor the situation and take effective action when necessary.

More projects

Many thanks to the guys who laboured to put together Fin’s bridge and the new path across the swamp by the frog pond.

Cheaper than going to the gym: the sculpted physiques of the FoGBV team after a morning of wheelbarrowing aggregate up a muddy track.

Also many thanks to Bradford Countryside and Rights of Way team for their advice and practical assistance in providing raw materials for this endeavour.

Lockdown in the valley

A slightly belated update this one: due to lots of stuff going on. However, as life creeps inexorably back to normal it seems like a good time to pick up the reins of the Friends of Gill Beck project again.

Lockdown has seen an enormous increase in people, especially young families, using the valley -which is great. Fantastic for them all to be able to get out there and mess around in the beck and the woods. We’re incredibly lucky to have such an amazing place on our doorsteps.

The beach on the Gill Beck at Tong Park

Hopefully a connection with the local landscape and nature is a legacy of the current crisis. The flip side of this is a big increase in litter: I suspect that, for many people, there’s nowhere else to socialise. For several weeks we’ve been collecting bags of litter including vast numbers of bottles and cans from the bin by the dam. The owners have thankfully granted us vehicular access which means we can now drive down and pick it all up. Although sometimes it feels like a bit of a chore I think, at least, the party people are putting their trash in/next to the bin rather than in the bushes. I know that quite a few people have been helping to gather up some of the mess and put it ready for collection -which is a big help and much appreciated. We perhaps need a bigger bin!

It’s been suggested that we’re suckers for punishment taking on his job…but sometimes it’s good to have a purpose in life and I reckon there’s definitely less rubbish in the bushes since the advent of the FoGBV bin.

This is also the first run out for the FoGBV logo:

We are planning on using this, discretely, on some fence posts at entry points to the valley to generate some interest.

We’ve also been tackling the footpaths in one or two places. Mainly the heavily eroded section East of Spring wood.

Footpath engineering

This is going to be an ongoing project for a few months. Hopefully we can get it in decent shape before next winter. Bradford council have generously offered some aggregate to surface the path….but not a helicopter to get it to the bit where it’s needed. Muscle power is going to be required. A bit of socially-distanced labour should be possible I think.

Finally, a bit of a photo-gallery of recent bits and pieces:

Large Skipper on Vetch: Willow Lane 30/5
Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa Tong Park 31/5
Crosswort: Gill Beck 31/5
Yellow Pimpernel Spring Wood 31/5
Cuckoo flower on Hollins Hall golf course: making the most of the break in mowing
The dam is properly blue at the moment due to dye which the anglers use to control the growth of weed. As far as we know this is not directly harmful to wildlife. Obviously weed has its advantages for wildlife…but we an understand that too much weed is a problem for anglers.

Every cloud

I hope no-one is reading this confined to a small flat in London. It’s been a beautiful week in Yorkshire, notwithstanding the unfolding crisis. I’ve had the chance to visit some of the parts of the valley which I see less often.

Panorama of the valley of the Gill Beck from its northern watershed at Reva Hill on Hawksworth Moor.

Having just read the sobering accounts of Mark Cocker’s Our Place and Benedict Macdonald’s Rebirding I have new-found interest in some of the farmland birds which, thankfully, we still have up here. Although I guess we’ve all seen the stats, it’s only sinking in recently for me that birds like Lapwings are actually completely absent from large swathes of the country south from here. They’re also now absent from the lower parts of our valley.

The cattle- and sheep-grazed fringes of Rombald’s Moor at its eastern end are a relative oasis. It’s scruffy and marginal agricultural land but in brilliant spring sunshine this week the fields of Reva Hill are alive with drumming Snipe, Curlew, Lapwing, Skylark, Golden Plover and Grey Partridge: all of them priority conservation species.

Lapwing: on Reva Hill it’s as though the CAP never happened
Grey Partridge: they’re hanging on in the lower parts of the valley but are in danger of getting overwhelmed by released pheasants, dogs, cats and walkers. 20 years ago we had a covey on our back lawn in Guiseley during a cold spell. Up on the sheep pastures they’re still OK.

It would be great to do something to do something to preserve this habitat but maybe it’s not under immediate threat. Possibly the greatest danger is of inappropriate wholesale tree-planting in this particular area. It could take a bit more vegetation: some Rowan, Holly and Gorse would be fine.

Life goes on in the valley

Who knew that Elms had pink flowers! Just very small pink flowers

Spring is on the launchpad and ready to go at the next hint of warmth. It’s already quite dry but on the damp beck-sides there are Marsh Marigolds out-golding the adjacent saxifrage.

Marsh Marigolds
Bit of a yellow theme at this time of year: maybe there’s a reason for that? These celandines carpeting the roadside are technically just outside our area at Esholt.
Meanwhile, this clump of Cowslips are the only ones I’m aware of on the North side of the valley.

We’ve been a bit slack on the invertebrate front but these Ichneumon wasps mating on the dry stone wall at Tong Park are amazing. An alien-like parasite looking a bit out of place in Bradford in March! I’m amazed to find that there are over 2500 UK species of Ichneumonids.

Ophion scutellaris?

…so I’m certainly not qualified to identify these with any confidence. However, geographically and seasonally this seems potentially compatible with Ophion scutellaris:

https://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/ophion-scutellaris

On the gritty matter of litter, pollution and other things-to-be-done, the area east of the viaduct looms large.

Wild Garlic and wildly out of control litter situation

It’s difficult to know what to do with this lot. It certainly looks awful. On the other hand, some of the wildlife evidently doesn’t give a damn about living amid 200 years-worth of glass, plastic and goodness-only-knows what else. And it would be a major project to clean up. This conundrum is a theme of post-industrial landscapes.

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.