We Need an Oasis of Tranquility

Notes from a Lancashire Country Man.

I consider myself to be fortunate to live within five minutes walking distance to a small but beautiful lake. This lake is situated just off a busy main road and is surrounded on three sides by arable land. Between the arable land and the lake there is wooded areas which include species such as sycamore, willow. poplar, horse chestnut, ash , alder, rowan, hawthorn and beech. There is also an under story of bramble, elder, hazel and rhododendron.

How tranquil on the eye is a body of water twinkling in the sunlight? Under the branches of water side trees, fish lie in wait for the numerous invertebrates which may fall onto the shimmering watery surface. trees in the vicinity of water always have birds about them and this locality attracts many species throughout the year. Marginal plants around the water include bulrush, hemlock water dropwort, water mint, bistort and brooklime. many other species of flora may also be encountered during the season such as cow parsley,bluebell,colt'sfoot, for-get-me-not, hedge woundwort, nipplewort, yellow pimpernel, enchanters nightshade, plantains, nettle, greater bird's foot trefoil, wood avens, ragwort, and the alien Himalayan balsam. At the southern end of the lake there is an area of grassland which plays host to orchids, marsh thistle, angelica and hawk weeds.

Of all the flora in this locality it is the Himalayan balsam that is causing concern. It was first recorded at the locality just five years ago, however, it is already causing a headache for the rangers who are responsible for the location. Himalayan balsam produces thousands of seeds per season that mature in a capsule. During autumn when the seeds are ripe the capsule explodes to scatter the seeds over a large area. Wherever there is water nearby the chances are high that some of the seeds will find its way into the system. At this particular lake there is an inlet stream at the southern end and an outlet stream at the northern end. The seeds have a high germination rate and it is not long before the species completely dominates an area at the expense of native flora . A major concern for the countryside Rangers is the fact that the outlet stream at the northern end of the lake meanders through countryside before entering a Semi- Ancient woodland { In the UK. this is a rare habitat in its own right.} some three miles away.

Any seed carried by the stream, will, during the course of its journey, become embedded in a sandy shallow or muddy projection, where it will germinate. Once the seedling has produced a flowering plant that is allowed to set seed another location is invaded. Thus in a matter of less than a decade the it is possible that the plant will have become established along the entire length of the stream. The worst possible outcome would be an invasion of the semi- ancient woodland, where a diverse range specialised flora may be threatened. The roots of this plant are shallow and do not anchor deep into the soil, thus they may be pulled out of the ground without to much exertion being required. The rangers' and volunteers have a balsam " pulling" day before the plant flowers in order to take out as many plants as possible before they can produce seed. However, this as become an annual battle, due to overlooked plants or undetected seeds from previous years.

Local Beauty to Savour

SEED PODS OF THE HIMALAYAN BALSAM
SEED PODS OF THE HIMALAYAN BALSAM
BISTORT ONE OF THE MANY MARGINAL PLANTS AROUND THE LAKE
BISTORT ONE OF THE MANY MARGINAL PLANTS AROUND THE LAKE
 AUTUMN AT THE LAKE
AUTUMN AT THE LAKE

Bird Life at the Lake

During the summer months the trees provide a leafy serenity a delightful scene in which to participate in the cool stillness of the evening amid such natural beauty. Water and trees are a magnet for bird life, and in this locality there is a wide variety of the feathered fraternity. The list includes great, blue, coal and long tailed tits, wren, greenfinch, chaffinch, bullfinch, dunnock, greater spotted woodpecker, magpie, wood pigeon, starling, tree creeper, tawny owl, mistle thrush , song thrush and goldcrest.

The largest bird that frequents the lake on a regular basis is the Grey Heron. I have often observed this bird in the early morning period. It has tendency to stand motionless for long periods, although it is ever watchful for a movement that will activate a lightning strike from its dagger- like beak. Another silent predator, just as deadly, lies in wait beneath the waters surface. The pike when full grown is an awesome killer. They are an especial danger to new born chicks of coot and water hen and also to new born ducklings. These inexperienced youngsters will be taken from beneath with only a moments turmoil in the water to mark their existence.

There is a population of mallard that tenants the lake and they number around 60 birds. This number as not fluctuated over the last twenty years. It is true that during the breeding season that there are many ducklings are seen and a small percentage of these grow to become adults. However, each January when I do the count 60 birds is the familiar total found. This is down to the balance of nature. For example if the two mallards have eight chicks making a total of ten birds in all, and at the start of January only two have survived ( it matters not which two) the balance of nature has been restored. If all ten survived and this 100% success rate was extended to the rest of the breeding mallards there would not be enough room on the water for the ducks to land, let alone to swim around.

The mallard is the most widespread wild duck occurring throughout Europe, Asia, North America and Australia. many species of domestic duck descend from them. However, in a locality such as this lake where they are fed regularly by visitors they become very tame and as a result they have lost of their instinctive call of the wild. Everyone is familiar with the mallard so I shall dispense with a description with the exception of when they are in full moult. Locally this occurs during August and September. At such times the males loose all their colourful plumage and they appear as dowdy as the females, making it very difficult to differentiate between the species. However, the bill remains the identifying feature. The male at all times sports a yellow coloured bill whereas the females' are always of a brown colour.

The mallard has given cause for concern in the U.K. where the number of over wintering birds has declined, according to the British trust of Ornithology's press release of January 2008. This stated that the Wetland Birds Survey shows that the decline in mallard numbers, first highlighted in the mid 1980s is continuing. The number of mallards spending the winter at the Ouse washes on the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk border , the only site in Britain that holds Internationally important numbers, has almost halved since 2002. During the winter of 2001/2002 --4,457 mallard were counted here. Over the winter of 2005/2006 the maximum count was 2,454. The reasons for this is not fully understood. One of the opinions put forward is that the birds are staying at local lakes (such as this one) rather than congregating at the coast as was the norm-this being due to the much milder winters over the last decade.

Mallard are surface feeding ducks which also feed by "up ending" with its feet splashing energetically to keep its balance in order to stretch its neck under water to reach aquatic plants, while its tail is raised above the surface. Ducks that feed in this manner are collectively known as dabbling ducks. Another frequent winter visitor at the lake is the tufted duck. This duck unlike the mallard is a diving duck which it does frequently in search of food.

Local beauty spots are often an oasis in urban jungles and worth conserving for they offer a port in life's stormy seas. An hectic world will still hustle and bustle all around them, but while they exist these havens of tranquility help sanity to prevail and lifts the spirit.


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Comments 2 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Thanks for your comment -much appreciated. Himalayan balsam is a bigger threat locally than giant hogweed. You might be interested in the article "parsley and time"


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 6 years ago from UK

Loved this hub, DAL:)

It was very interesting. I didn't know about the Himalayan Balsam and the dangers to the local flora. Sounds a bit like Giant Hogweed all over again!

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