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.

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.

Stoatally amazing

I think both Stoats and Weasels are present in good numbers in the valley. The mixed edge habitats of old stone walls, fields, woods and hedges offers good cover and sources of prey.

They’re never easy to see though. So, this one captured with a trail cam last week is nice.



Amazing scenes at Tong Park dam last night as zillions of toadlets stage a mass walk-out into the surrounding vegetation. Obviously warm and humid is the signal. Honestly, it was difficult to progress for fear of squashing them.

OK, I did tag it as ‘froglets’ but I think, on consideration, they are probably toads. The fact that they are mostly walking rather than hopping and are very dark tends in that direction.

Mandarin ducks

The last three springs a pair of Mandarin ducks have toured the valley diligently inspecting every tree hole and nest box. Or, rather, the female inspected every hole and box while the male sat on an adjacent branch looking like Mr Average on a shopping trip for curtains.

Drake Mandarin duck below the viaduct at Tong Park

I’ve no idea which tree they eventually chose but, happily, this week three ducklings were on the Hollins Hall Golf course pond.

Mandarin Ducklings, Tong Park, June 2019

Roger W 23/6/19