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flowering bulbs garden photography garden ponds garden pools gardening gardens gardens open to the public National Trust ornamental trees and shrubs photography Shrewsbury Shropshire shrubs spring bulbs The National Trust trees water in the garden winter gardens woodland woodlands

A Walk in the Park – Attingham Park – The Woodland Walk

Back to our March visit to Attingham Park when we decided to take the Woodland Walk Trail.

As we left the walled garden clumps of the clearest yellow daffodils lit up shadows beneath shrubbery.

We were anticipating expanding buds on some shrubs and trees and maybe a few in early leaf. We both love the sticky, brittle toffee coloured buds which are early to burst. Other buds shone bright green!

     

  

We soon encountered signs of the work of Storm Doris, a huge mature tree had been ripped from the ground. We imagined  how  frightening the sounds of the tree being torn and wrenched from the ground must have been. The gardeners had been hard at work tidying up the mess of her destruction.

Places that usually look boggy looked much wetter on this visit with tiny ditches and streams full of water and flowing into larger areas of clear standing water with wetland plants looking full of life and thriving.

 

We passed beneath mature deciduous trees as we followed the woodland trail. On the ground beneath them the bright green freshness of this year’s herbaceous growth shone out. But an even brighter red patch caught our attention, a small group of fungi.

       

We came out into the open, which appeared much brighter as as we left the trees behind, and made our way back across the deer park back towards the house.

A bridge took us over the river which was flowing quickly in a light flood. Weeping willow branches were being swept along and the water was lapping at the feet of a row of elderly pollarded willows. The pollards looked so sculptural.

Next month’s visit to Attingham Park should feature more signs of spring becoming established.

Categories
countryside landscapes meadows trees

Somerset Willows

I love Salix (willows) – they are one of my favourite trees almost on a par with Betulas (Birches). I always have liked them, our own native species and the garden varieties we can grow. We have several at home in our garden and use them on our allotment communal gardens where we have a Withy Bed with 17 different varieties with different coloured stems and leaves. From these we have made a Fedge, which is a living hedge and a Willow Dome and Willow Tunnel for the children.

I used to like seeing them as a child when I fished a local stream. We moved from one ancient gnarled willow to another. Many were hollow pollarded specimens completely open on one side. We explored the hollow ones as we could often get inside them and look up at the sky. They were great shelters when rain showers stopped us fishing.

When we found ourselves in Somerset we realised that we were close to the Wetland and Willows Centre, so we just had to drop by and have a wander.

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We followed  a sign taking us for a tour around the productive land around the centre. We passed over a bridge with sides constructed from willow with decorative willow features within.

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The path took us to an area full of willow structures mainly places for children to explore, even including a willow snail!

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As we moved on we came across a willow drying fence where the harvested willows were hung out to dry. A little further on as we made our way through a wooded area we found this willow spider in its web, a beautiful hedgehog and a buzzard flying through the branches.

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Leaving the wood we found ourselves walking through the wetlands, the drainage of which was controlled by windmills, sluices and a series of ditches. Large areas were willow plantations, the productive heart of the wetlands.

 

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As we were reaching the end of our tour of the wetlands we discovered the drying racks where the harvested willow wands were left to dry.

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Before leaving we just had to look at the centre’s museum. We were amazed at how many things are made from willow and all the other items from the past. My first museum photo gives a taster of the delights in the museum. To find out more look through the gallery below. To enjoy my gallery just click on the first picture and use the arrows to negotiate your way through.

We enjoyed our visit to find out more about willows and came away simply amazed! We came away with this unusual willow bird table.

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Categories
conservation countryside flowering bulbs hedgerows landscapes light meadows nature reserves spring bulbs Wildlife Trusts

A Fritillary Meadow – North Meadow, Cricklade

We have a book at home where we list places we must go to, gardens we must visit and things we must do. A visit to the Fritillary Meadows in Wiltshire has been on our “Places to Visit” list for a few years now but we have been thwarted by the weather and the effect this has on these lovely flowering bulbs. This year we made it.

We drove down to Cricklade in Wiltshire and with great difficulty due to heavy downpours of rain making it hard to see, we found the first signs of where we were aiming for, The Fritillary Tearooms. The tearooms open each year when the Fritallaries are in full bloom and the proceeds go towards boosting the “Cricklade in Bloom” funds. Naturally we had to support them and so enjoyed a warming cup of coffee and a splendid cake before we embarked on our wet walk around the wet meadow. Apologies for the sloping photo of the tea shop but having one leg shorter than the other does sometimes result in strange sloping pics!

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We entered the reserve, called North Meadow, run jointly by English Nature and the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, via a bridge over the River Churn, one of the two rivers that skirt the wet meadow, the other being the Thames. In front of us lay an old, flower-rich hay meadow situated within the glacial flood plains of the two rivers. The meadow covers a vast area of 108 acres. It is designated a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Scientific Interest and is an internationally important reserve.

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We were never far from one or other river as we walked the reserve margins. It was good to see beautiful ancient pollarded willows much in evidence aligning the banks of both. Seeing these brings back memories of my childhood fishing my local brook “The Carrant” whose banks were lined with them. We hid inside them as many were hollow and loved looking up inside them spotting wildlife mostly spiders and beetles but on special occasions a roosting Tawny Owl. The willows were pollarded which involved pruning them hard back to their main trunks every few years to harvest the stems for basket making and hurdle manufacture.

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The reserve was one grand immense flat meadow which is flooded for a few months each year creating an unusual habitat for plants and all sorts of wildlife. At first glance we were amazed at the expanse of the meadow but somewhat disappointed at the relatively few numbers of Fritillaries visible. Seeing just one Fritillary is a treat though as it is such an unusual and beautiful flower. It is now sadly a “nationally scarce” plant.

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Even though the light was very dull we soon spotted more of the little beauties we had waited so long to see and realised that there were far more than we had first thought. We grow Fritillaria meleagris in our spring border at home and in the orchard meadows on the allotment communal gardens but we had never seen them growing in their true wild habitat, the wetland meadows. We wondered just how amazing they must look on a bright day. To begin with we found them in small clumps including the odd white flowers which although lacking the checkerboard patterning have a delicate beauty of their own.

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This wetland meadow habitat was home to other site specific species such as Comfrey and Kingcups, Lady’s Smock and Ragged Robin. Lovely old fashioned names for our native wildflowers. To maintain the special requirements of this collection of damp loving plants it is essential that the meadow is managed properly. It has to be grazed, used for hay and flooded for set periods.

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We were surprised to find one comfrey with yellow and green variegated foliage.

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Along the margins of the meadow we stumbled upon these little carved stones, looking like miniature milestones. We later found out that they marked the plots allotted to individual “commoners” for haymaking.

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As we reached about two-thirds of the way around the meadow the density of the fritillaries increased markedly and tall reeds grew on its margins.

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The last part of our wander around this wet meadow was alongside the river once again where Willow and Blackthorn trees grew happily in the damp soils.

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In a very damp patch we came across a clump of this very unusual looking sedge with its jet black flowers thus finishing off our visit to the field of Fritillaries with a mystery as we had no idea what it was.

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As we left the reserve we just had to stop and admire this old and very unusual toll cottage.

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Categories
bird watching birds canals conservation countryside landscapes nature reserves Norfolk wildlife

The Wonders of Wicken

I am not a fan of flat land, I love hills and mountains and views. The fens are just too flat for me. But we discovered a wonderful wildlife reserve a few years ago run by the National Trust, Wicken Fen. We were in the area again this September so we couldn’t resist a return visit. Last time we were there it was warm but wet. This time it was cold and wet.

We followed the boardwalk out into the fen and were amazed by the variety of wildflowers we could spot from the walkway.

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We enjoyed a few moments watching this spider attempting to build its web in the wet weather. He was most persistent and crafted a fine web.

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Stopping off for a coffee in a hide overlooking a pool with a bird feeding station close to the viewing windows gave us opportunities to watch common and less common birds busily feeding. Tree Sparrows were a delight to spot as they are becoming very scarce now due to habitat degradation and loss, as were a pair of Turtle Doves which are real rarities now. The biggest surprise here though was the Muntjac Deer which crept through the shrubbery knocked the feeders with its head and then ate the spilled food off the ground. It then disappeared just as quickly and quietly as it has arrived. It skulked away very quietly.

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We moved on through the fens along damp pathways and boardwalks where the ground was even wetter. We enjoyed the variety of flora that need these unusual conditions to thrive. This little plant, possibly a Water Mint, crept across the boards themselves so we had to watch where we put our boots.

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The water levels in the fens here are carefully controlled to create and maintain the different habitat types. This increases the variety of plants, insects, invertebates, mammals, fish and birds that set up home here. Windmills power the pumps. They stand tall and rigid above the low level of the herbage below.

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To help manage some areas some unusual lawnmowers are being used, these handsome Highland Cattle.

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The two critters below, later identified as a Greenbench and a Mrs Greenbench, tried many ways of hiding from the photography!

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