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.

Eels at Tong Park and fish in the Gill Beck and Aire generally

Eels occurred historically in the Aire and its tributaries but were greatly reduced, if not completely wiped out by the pollution associated with the industrial revolution. However, there are recent records which probably represent recolonisation..and possibly some reintroductions.

At least 6 or 7 Eels have been caught in the last few years in the dam at Tong Park:

Eel at Tong Park

It’s just amazing that this fish was probably born in the Sargasso Sea (round about Bermuda) and, in the subsequent 10-15 years will have travelled the Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, Humber, Aire and Gill Beck. Having declined by at least 90% in Europe, Eels are now classified as ‘critically endangered’.

The Gill Beck also supported healthy populations of Brown Trout and Bullhead when last surveyed by the Environment Agency. We look forward to the prospect of Salmon and Sea Trout making it past the weirs in Leeds next year when the last fish pass goes in…. thanks to the Aire Rivers Trust:

Early August

The big Beech at the camp

I find it quite nice, personally, that people still camp occasionally in the valley. Although it’s even better if the place is left in good shape afterwards.


The big meadow on the north side of the Beck remains un-mown and has become a refuge for innumerable pheasants, the Roe Deer and a growing number of Harebells. In previous years it has been cut early for silage which would have wiped these out before they seeded.

It’s becoming apparent that the important factor in keeping the wildflower meadows in their present, idyllic shape is the grazing of the horses which keeps the bushes at bay. These must be some of the few remaining fields in Bradford which haven’t been subjected to fertiliser, mowing or ploughing in recent times. Long may this management pattern continue! Parts of Tong Park remind me very much of the livestock-grazed landscape of the New Forest.

Red Bartsia on Tong Park meadows (Peter Kerr)
..and phenomenal carpets of Bog Asphodel slightly higher up the valley at Sconce (also by Peter Kerr)
Wormwood Artemisia absinthium growing along Willow Lane
Butcher’s Broom also on the north side of the valley
Devil’s-bit Scabious

Purple swathes

After being away for a few weeks it’s amazing to see the transformation from June to July in the valley.

Upper part of the amazing Tong Park estate: a sea of wildflowers

Instead of yellow Rattle and Birdsfoot Trefoil we’re now purple in a big way: Knapweed, Betony and Selfheal. Apart from the Ragwort…still nice.

The Knapweed especially is alive with Meadow Browns, Small Skippers, Gatekeepers and lots of Painted Ladies.

Painted Lady on Knapweed

There have been hundreds of thousands of migrant Painted Ladies on the east coast in the last few days and we must be getting some of those.

The three Mandarin ducklings all seem to have survived; as have five cygnets on Tong Park dam. Kingfishers have presumably fledged too since they can be heard up and down the beck all day.