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

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

Bradford Urban Wildlife Group

Bradford Environmental Action Trust

Bradford Ornithological Group

Baildon Swift Group

Friends of the Earth 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….

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):

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

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

And a handful from Lancashire too:

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

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

Maples and Elms

There are numerous planted trees around the golf courses in the valley: mostly Hazel, Birch, Rowan and Ash.  Along the crumbling remnants of the ancient stone walls which crisscross the landscape between the fairways are an older generation of native trees.

maple upper
There are quite a few Field Maples hidden around the margins of the ancient field system which pre-dates the golf courses. This is the grandest: a geriatric who must be a couple of centuries old.
Characteristically, the bark is extravagantly gnarled.
The ‘keys’ are rather charmingly pink tinted.
It’s nice to see that there is at least one young tree bursting from the wall close by.

Similarly, Wych Elm doesn’t stand out like the big Oak, Ash and Beech but, when you start looking at each tree in turn along the walls you find there are plenty of medium -sized individuals.

I presume that any larger Elms will have succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease.  However, there are plenty of smaller specimens like this one behind the upper erratic boulder on the Hawksworth side.
The leaves are larger than on ‘English Elm’ but have the same asymmetric base.

Project Pied Flycatcher

In an echo of the global day of environmental demonstrations, we spent the day in the valley rigging up bird and bat boxes. The weather was idyllic, nobody fell out of any trees and Keith’s dance-floor injury didn’t hold him back.

The bird boxes all have hole sizes to suit Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers: both of which have bred in Spring Wood in the past and continue to do so within a few miles.

Mike tackles a bat box. Ladder, nails, hammer…what could possibly go wrong?
The bat boxes are constructed from joists which were formerly part of Roger’s roof
Whereas the bird boxes are a bit more professional
Richard and John in action
Spring Wood, Mike and John all looking beautiful in September sunshine
How would any self-respecting Flycatcher not want to nest in there?


There are still Swallows and House Martins hawking around the cows at Hawkstone today but they look restless. The last Swifts left on 31st of last month.

Chicken of the Woods

Last summer, being hot, was an absolute belter for Chicken of the Woods. I added several infected trees to my long term ‘watch list’. 2019 has been more normal; this beauty erupted within the last week.

Fairy-ring Champignons

This year has, however, been great for fairy-ring champs. It’s always a good year for something!

Yellow Swamp Russula: usually in wet birch woods
One of the huge old Beech trees lining the Beck between the dam and Tong Park Mills
Tong Park, Chicken of the woods, yellow swamp russula, beeches
The numerous carvings decorating the beeches bear witness to the fact that Tong Park
was an important place for local people going back decades

Black Poplar

This magnificent tree stands above the upper reservoir on the south side of the Beck.

Black Poplar: swampy, riverine habitat is the classic place to find them
The lower branches sweep down and then up again at the tip.
The leaves taper to a point and have rounded teeth along the edges

Native Black Poplar is a rare tree in the UK. There are probably fewer than 7000 individuals and only about 600 of these are female.

Yorkshire is at the northern edge of its range: there appear to be only a handful in the county.

Click to access FCRN034.pdf

The situation is clouded by the existence of hybrids (which are much commoner). However, these generally lack the downswept branch form and have rounder leaves. We will have to wait until spring to sort out whether this individual is male or female.

Miscellaneous reports

As the weather picks up again we have a few projects on the go:

The bin at the bridge by the dam: we are hoping that this will create somewhere for people to put odds and ends that they pick up when walking in the valley. And drop a hint to the general public that they could put their litter somewhere other than in the bushes. It’s been well-used since inception.

We fished a fridge out of the Beck last week in our little survey of the downstream stretch below the dam:

Must’ve taken quite a bit of effort to get it into the Beck in the first place!

We are preparing plans to tackle litter and plastics along the Beck more comprehensively in the coming months. And collecting wildflower seed to redistribute around the less flowered parts of the valley.

In the more salubrious parts of the valley, the final wildflower show of the summer is in bloom: banks of Scabious in the horse pastures.

Devil’s Bit Scabious: covered in butterflies and hoverflies
The name relates to its historical medicinal use in treating scabies

The swans have left the main lake at the dam and ventured to the more weedy pond on the golf course:

They’re pretty tame: you have to hope that they don’t fall foul of dogs in their travels. I imagine they must have walked over to the golf course.

It’s been a phenomenal summer for mushrooms: hot and intermittently wet.

Conifer Parasol
The Prince

Roe Buck

I think this is probably the same 3 year-old buck photographed by Ros earlier in the year: he’s lost a tine in the course of the summer.
Roe Deer were hunted to extinction in England in the 18th Century and have only increased in our bit of Yorkshire in the last few decades. The present population has expanded south from the remaining Scottish population and some which were reintroduced in East Anglia.