Darcy Lever Marshes: New Frontier

Pond Management 5th November 2023

This task is dedicated to our friend and fellow volunteer, Evelyn Egan, who sadly passed away on 25th October 2023 from vascular dementia. She will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her. Our condolences and best wishes go to Evelyn’s family now and always.

Darcy Lever Marshes is a new site for Bolton Conservation volunteers. The site is hidden between housing estates near Hollycroft Avenue, playing fields and Radcliffe road and if one of Bolton’s secret wildlife havens.

The marshes provide habitat for great crested newt and other amphibians, and potentially could benefit dragonflies. About 20 years ago Dave Orchard and the Amphibian and Reptile Group for South Lancashire developed the site but willow trees are now starting to take over and threatening the site’s usefulness, a process know as succession (to find out more about succession see this earlier post).

To help restore Darcy Lever Marshes BCV and Dave Orchard are removing willow trees. As this is privately owned land we had permission to burn all of the material we cut down, on this particular site this method of disposal was preferable to making habitat piles.

Many thanks to the site’s owner for allowing us to work on this site, our volunteers for working so hard, and to Dave Orchard for his expertise. Also thanks to Rick, Jeff, Mark and Jayne for bringing food.

Jumbles: Pond Restoration

Pond Restoration 21st May 2023

As well as a big reservoir Jumbles Country Park also has some smaller water bodies that are less well known. In May 2022 we began a restoration project, back then the ponds had become overgrown and shaded out by vegetation. The ponds were dredged to remove leaf litter and silt and oxygenating plants were introduced to the ponds. Brash and branches were cut back and used to create linear habitat piles, Himalayan balsam was pulled up or cut down.

On this visit the areas around the ponds had transformed from a lunar landscape to a carpet of flowers; the ponds themselves contained toad tadpoles. Today’s work involved uncovering a path, cutting back invasive vegetation, and planting marginal plants.. and a bit of pond dipping.

The ponds should attract frogs and toads as well as insects such as dragonflies. We will be coming back over the months to pull out more balsam. Thanks to everyone involved.

Darcy Lever Gravel Pits: Restoration

Pond restoration Sunday 12th February 2023

The Darcy Lever gravel pits were formed around 40 years ago when the site was used for the extraction of aggregate to be used in the construction of St.Peter ‘s Way; the construction crews left but the holes in the ground remained and soon filled with water. Over time the site matured and in the early noughties great crested newts were found on the site.

BCV at the Pits 2006
BCV at the Pits 2006

In 2003 a new conservation group was set up by Mike, Dave, Denis, and John to look after the site, the Gravel Pits Action Group (GPAG). Since then GPAG has been maintaining the gravel pits for its wealth of wildlife which includes great crested newt, palmate and smooth newts, common frog, common toad, 18 species of dragon and damselfly, deer, bats, foxes, a multitude of bird life, fungi, and a wide variety of plant life.

In recent years many of the 24 ponds on the site have been in decline, silting up and becoming dominated by typha. The good news is that GPAG obtained funding from English Nature and the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit to restore the site to its former greatness, these 2 bodies provided contractors to dig out several of the ponds in a project planned to run over the next few years.

BCV was involved in some of the early work on the site, but it’s been well over a decade since BCV and GPAG worked together. Well, we’re getting the band back together, GPAG and BCV are once again joining forces to help the gravel pits return to being arguably Bolton’s most biologically rich site.

Today’s task involved removing trees from around the pond, letting in more light to reduce the build up of leaf litter. More light means the oxygenating plants can function better, more sunlight also creates a warmer microclimate which will benefit dragonflies and amphibians. Removing trees also gave us the chance to try out our new piece of kit – a winch. On today’s task we used a hand operated winch to drag a felled tree out of the pond. No more bad backs.

Many thanks to Mike and the GPAG team for inviting us back to the pits, and thanks to BCV’s volunteers for taking part. More pond work can be found in the pond category.

Walmsley: Do Ponds Succeed?

Sunday January 1st 2023 – Pond Management

We began work at Walmsley Unitarian Chapel, Egerton, thirteen years ago, back then the area beneath the cemetery, called Spring Meadows, was dominated by willow and there was no open water to speak of. So on a cold snow covered day in January 2010 we began work clearing out the willow and prepping the site for pond digging, by the end of the day there were fewer willows and plenty of scope for improvement. In March the same year we got a big digger in to dig out the ponds we see today, the site was still pretty desolate at this point but the ponds quickly filled with water. We threw in a few aquatic plants and left the site to cook for a while and when we returned in August 2013 there was a new Eden; the ponds were established, the wildlife was thriving, and the transformation from desolation to restoration was complete.

2010: Walmsley Chapel, pond work begins.
2010: Walmsley Chapel, pond work begins.

But nothing in nature ever stays static. Ponds are temporary and through the process of succession will move from open water to dry land. This progression, called a hydrosere, has seven stages: phytoplankton stage, submerged stage, floating stage, reed swamp stage, sedge-meadow stage, woodland stage, and climax stage. Not all ponds will follow this idealised pattern, the size of the pond and other factors can mean that some stages are skipped or never reached. Spring Meadows has a long history of being wet and boggy, the name itself suggests that at one time the site may have been water meadow. When BCV first started work here the site had no open water and was mainly willow carr fed by springs and run-off from the surrounding land as has been the case for decades if not centuries, it would be unlikely for this area to ever dry out completely but the ponds could still disappear if not looked after.

Once created ponds take effort to maintain. One of the things we did in previous years was to install silt traps to stop the ponds being filled in by sediment. Periodically removing the self seeded reed mace (Typha latifolia) will also stop the ponds becoming drier. Drying out happens partly through transpiration, ie the plants act like water pumps sucking up moisture and drying out the edges creating more space for plants to grow. Also, by removing the Typha and other aquatics we can stop the build up of dead material which would otherwise reduce water quality, reduce the depth of water, and form more growth medium for future generations of plants. Digging out the silt traps and digging up the Typha were the main goals of today’s task.

Do ponds succeed? Only if we let them. Thanks to everyone involved for making this task a success.

The Barlow: Whole Lotta Mud

Ornamental Pond Sunday 10th July 2022

The Barlow Institute was opened in 1909, in Edgworth, for the health and well being of the local community. It was dedicated to the memory of James and Alice Barlow by their children, one of whom was Sir Thomas Barlow, Professor of Clinical Medicine at University College London and the Royal Physician to Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and George V. In 2009 we held one of our residential weekends on the site and over 48 hours cleared blocked drains, cleaned out silted up ponds and installed new drainage near the river. Although the site had huge potential for wildlife we didn’t get to go back to do any further work. Since then The Barlow Institute has been re-branded as The Barlow and they have plans to develop and improve the site. The original 10 acre plot contained an open air swimming pool and a boating lake. In 2021 we returned began work on a new pond on the site of the old boating lake (which is doing really well now), worked on the hedges and dug silt out of the ornamental pond.

2009: Barlow Institute, paths.
2009: Barlow Institute, paths.

Today’s task, as we chose to accept it, was the impossible mission of digging out silt from the Ornamental Pond. The design of the pond makes it a perfect silt trap which is great for water quality further downstream but detracts from its function as a pond long term. As we like ponds to behave like ponds and provide habitat for all manner of beasties we’re having another do at digging it out, and again we chose one of the hottest days of the year to do it on.

The pond has a concrete liner which is a good 2 feet, or 600mm for those who don’t have feet, below the level of the out flow. This means that there was that much silt to dig out and as we don’t have a mechanical digger we had to use volunteer diggers to do the digging. With spades, shovels, buckets and barrows BCV and Barlow volunteers spent the day sweating it out over silt, resulting in more alliteration than you can shake a stick at. The job was tiring and back breaking but by the very welcome end of the day we had dug out half of what nature had deposited there over many years. But still plenty left.

Well done to the diggers, barrowers, bucket passers, mud dumpers and shovel scrapers for giving it all your muddin’.
And happy birthday James.

Don’t forget to check the Wild things page to see the new photos.

Longsight Park: Mad Frogs and Volunteers

Pond Maintenance Sunday 20th March 2022

Spring time, for amphibians and BCV, means it’s time to look at ponds. This particular pond in Longsight Park, Harwood, was at first inspection thought to be in poor shape: it is surrounded by trees and very well shaded, leaf litter was silting up the pond, and yellow flag iris was spreading out from a patch at the north end. But when we started setting up on this the first warm and sunny task this year we found a decent sized clump of frog spawn, later we also found three large and sheepish looking common frogs who may have had something to do with it. We were happy for all concerned.

ut some of the trees but mostly at the other end of the pond, this will improve things but Ideally de-shading needs to be done at the southern end of the pond that is being shaded out. More sunlight reaching the pond will fuel primary production and let oxygenating aquatic plants to do their work, also frogs and their spawn tend to be happier and develop better in warmer water than they do in the cold and dark.

And the frog looked on.
And the frog looked on.

So, this is where we started work. We took down overhanging branches with either the long named and laboriously long-handled pruning saw, or zipped through them with the energetic long-handled chainsaw, or chainsaw on a stick as it is affectionately known. The results were the same, the branches fell into water and splashed anyone standing too close.

With some of the branches and smaller trees now out of the way we could start dragging stuff out of the water. Three intrepid volunteers braved the silliness of wearing waders and walked hip-deep into the pond. As well as pulling out the dead wood they also used rakes to dredge some of the leaf litter from the murky depths. Leaves falling into ponds do two things, they eventually silt up the pond turning it from a open water into a bog, and secondly they also use up the available oxygen as they decompose. Instead of a thriving pond you end up with a stagnant pool which is no use to anything except things that can live in oxygen poor conditions.

With more light and less sludge our pond was looking a lot better, but there’s still lots we can do to make it a froggy heaven. More plants will be added at a later date, maybe some water fleas as well to nibble their way through the algae. In turn these will be eaten themselves by other pond life that will eventually make this place their home. Circle of life.

All of the trees and branches that were cut down were used to make dead hedges, or linear habitat piles if you want to be PC, near by. In time these may be used as hibernacula for sleepy toads and newts, that is if they can bothered to find the pond in the first place.

Following on from one of the on task conversations that make us such a merry band, blue skies are caused by short wave light being scattered at right angles by atmospheric gases, chiefly nitrogen AND oxygen. Blue light being at the short end of the spectrum is scattered more readily by gas particles because of the gas particle size in comparison to the light’s wavelength (if I’ve read this right.) This is called Rayleigh Scattering after the clever bloke who worked it out; scattering by larger particulate matter is Mie Scattering, in honour of another clever bloke, and can be seen when the observer looks at light closer coming more directly from the Sun. Because of these scientific phenomenon we enjoyed our first blue sky in months and a nice sunset later on bringing to an end a really good task day.