By Adrian Leighton - 8th January 2020 6:09am
Our Own Wildlife Corridor
Over the past four years a record of wildlife sightings on the Audlem towpath and surrounds has been kept. The stretch covered is from Lock1 to Bridge74 (Hawksmore Bridge). I have undertaken a regular patrol along this stretch and together with other members of the Audlem Wildlife & Ecology Group (AWEG) and other local people have compiled a substantial list of Wild Plants, Birds, Insects, Reptiles and Animals. This bio-diversity is reliant upon each other and the canal towpath is a recognised important wildlife corridor.
So we began by formulating a maintenance plan with the Canal & River Trust to meet the needs of canal users and at the same time protecting, supporting and enabling wildlife to flourish. The major aspect of this plan was to let the banks and edges away from the canal remain undisturbed whilst still maintaining a good width of path. Previous to this heavy and aggressive strimming had rendered these edges barren. The results over the four years have been spectacular. Not only has there been a increase in the number of plant species but also extensive spread of some individual species including Snowdrops, English Bluebells and Early Violets ( both purple and white). Over the four years 154 different species of plant have been recorded with 110 recoded in 2019. This is the highest annual total and can be put down to the maintenance plan, our more experienced observation and the seasonal weather. The much lower number in 2018 was largely due to the cold wet Spring and hot dry Summer months which in nature's way helped the abundant flowering the following year.
With the plant food come the insects which during the barren years had greatly decreased, with bees, butterflies and damselflies all suffering. These over the four years have steadily increased and in 2019, more butterfly species than ever were recorded including for the first time Painted Lady, Brimstone and Holly Blue. Whilst it has not yet been possible to record precisely the bee species, observation has shown a slow but steady comeback with a good year in 2019.
Of the bird species found on the recording stretch of canal, Mallard and Moorhen are the most commonly seen throughout the year. In the Spring families of these can regularly be seen on the quieter parts of canal Between Lock3 (Bageley Road) and Bridge 74. In 2019 five families of Moorhen with up to six chicks and four families of Mallard with up to seven duckling were seen. As happens week by week the size of these families decreased although a number survived into the Autumn. Spring has also seen the arrival of summer visitors such as Swallow and House Martins with the largest number observed between Bridges 73-74. In the winter months large flocks of Fieldfares and Redwing are seen feeding on the bushes and, later fields, between Lock3 and Bridge 74. This area is where we have also been visited each year by Goosanders (usually a pair). Other species which can be seen from time to time throughout the year are Kingfishers, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Grey Wagtail, and amongst the other usual suspects in black, a Raven or two.
The final category of Reptiles, Mammals and Aquatics has produced some interesting sightings over the four years of recording. These have been very much dependent on the observer being RPRT ( in the Right Place at the Right Time). Notable sighting have been a Grass Snake, Great Crested Newt, Otter, Polecat and Water Vole. Of the aquatic creatures, Freshwater Mussels (seen when Locks were emptied for repair in 2017), Eel and four other variety of fish caught during a recent Angling Competition.
Such is the abundance of wildlife that can be seen, if you are lucky in some instants. I am grateful to all who have submitted observations to me and I am always interested to hear what anyone has seen something that has caught their eye whether considered common or more unusual. It all helps to build a picture of wildlife on our doorstep. If this article has interested you and you wish for further information please email me firstname.lastname@example.org
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