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.

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 😉

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

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.
mapleleaf
Characteristically, the bark is extravagantly gnarled.
maplekeys
The ‘keys’ are rather charmingly pink tinted.
maple
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.

elmtree
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.
elm
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?

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.

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.

https://aireriverstrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/River-Aire-Fish-2012.pdf

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:

https://aireriverstrust.org.uk/