Doffcocker Lodge: The Magic Pond

Pond Restoration 19/05/24

Ponds are magical places, places where the mortal and spirit worlds meet, where strange things happen and nature can see its own dark reflection mirrored the water’s shifting surface. But even with all this supernatural power we still couldn’t get water to run up hill.

Our task was to re-fill a pond by digging a channel from a nearby stream but it it didn’t quite go according to plan. We dug the channel and it filled with water and flowed towards the intended pond but halfway there it decided it had better things to do and went towards a different pond. There was only a slight difference in height between the ponds but it was enough to make a difference. Anyway, it wasn’t the only job we did today, we also cut back some branches, made a linear habitat pile and took down some balsam.

You canna break the laws of physics, Captain.

And now some photos with obscure captions. More pond stories here.

Eatock Lodge: Home from Home

Sunday 21st April 2024 – Habitat Management

Before Eatock was a Local Nature reserve it was just an abandoned industrial lodge, that lodge belonged to a colliery, before the colliery there was a farm, and before the farm there were open fields. The first record of the name Eatock in Westhoughton was in 1739, this and architectural evidence, place the building of Eatock’s Farm’s farm house at around the same time. The farm passed through several hands and was originally larger than it was in its final years, however, in 1862 some of the farm’s land was leased by Wigan Coal and Iron and in 1882 construction began on a new colliery. In 1890 Eatock Colliery started producing coal from its 1000 foot deep shafts, the mine continued to operate until 1936 when it finally closed and was then demolished. The closure was partly due to The Coalfields Act 1930 forcing the merger of collieries into larger amalgamated concerns, but also Eatock’s history of flooding and the fractured nature of its coal seams made it too expensive to continue.

Map of Eatock 1909 and 2022
Map of Eatock 1909 and 2022

At this time Eatock Farm was owned by John Gregory, who also owned nearby Hoskers Farm. In 1944, John Mather Snr, a former shunter driver at Eatock Colliery, purchased the farm from him. With his wife, Annie, their children, John and Jessie, and Annie’s sister Emily, John Snr. ran the farm for dairy, eggs and apples, serving the people of Daisy Hill and Westhoughton until 1973. Over this time the Mather family acted as stewards to the lodge and pit shafts keeping them safe from intruders. But in 1973 Eatock Farm closed after being served with a Compulsory Purchase Order by Manchester Council which had plans to develop the site. Once vacated the buildings were immediately demolished and the land left vacant until 1978, the area was then landscaped and the shafts filled in with the material from the spoil tips. The site was then left again until housing development began in the 1990s.

Eatock swans
Eatock swans

But the story didn’t end there. Just before the housing development began a team of ecologists, including BCV’s Rick Parker, did a torch-light search for amphibians and found over 1000 breeding toads on the site. This unprecedented find resulted in Eatock Lodge being designated a Site of Biological Importance Grade ‘B’ in 2000, and as a Local Nature Reserve in 2004. Eatock Lodge LNR is now home to toads, swans, heron, hedgehogs, and emperor dragonfly.

John and Annie’s daughter, daughter in-law, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren now live in London, Weymouth, Leigh, Bolton, and Westhoughton, and one even works with BCV. I’ll give you a guess who that is.

Today’s task at Eatock, with members of the Friends of Eatock Lodge group, involved digging drainage channels from the path. The recent wet weather has resulted the paths becoming muddy and difficult to negotiate. Hopefully the channels will help aleviate this. In the afternoon we created a dead hedge to stop people trespassing near the swan’s nest, disturbing the swans and damaging their eggs.

Thanks to Chris and the Friends of Eatock Lodge crew for having over.

Gravel Pits South: Disappearing Ponds

De-shading ponds April 7th 2024

The last time we were at this site was in 2018. Back then it was a fairly uneventful task- we came, we saw, we conquered, we went home. This year was a bit different.

Tom’s Land Rover, our version of Thunderbird 2, had a breakdown en route leaving us not only locked out of the site’s car park but also bereft of tools. As you can’t save the planet without tools it was a bit of a problem. Luckily Chris went and found our broken ‘bird and collected as many essentials as he could; Nathan collected the keys to the barrier as well so we did finally get started albeit a bit later than planned.

Setting off with the tools and other kit we journeyed into the wilds of Gravel Pits South, part of Moses Gate Country Park, next door to Darcy Lever Gravel pits. The plan was to de-shade the ponds by removing the surrounding trees, this would let more light get to the pond. But first we had to find the ponds. In the years since our last visit the trees had grown, like they do, hiding them from view. We trudged in the mud looking for ponds, walking past them once or twice before finally finding them totally obscured.

With 19 volunteers we began the job of de-shading. There was a lot of new growth and re-growth which was easy to get through as the stems were quite thin. Everything that was cut down was used to make a dead hedge around the site to deter intruders and off-road motor bikes.

While we were there Rick did a quick pond survey and found great crested newt eggs. If you want to find out more about ponds see ‘Do Ponds Succeed’ and the ponds category.

Thanks to everyone for doing a great job.

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.