Saturday 16 October 2021

Wheldrake Ings

It is some time since I have visited Wheldrake but had a trip out with family earlier this week. 

For those who don't know, Wheldrake Ings is managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in partnership with other land managers and is part of the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve which extends all the way down the River Derwent to Bubwith. This area floods extensively in winter (and can at other times too) and is home to a huge variety of wildlife. Water levels on the site are managed for biodiversity. Thousands of overwintering ducks, geese and swans make their winter home there, warblers, cuckoos and hirundines breed there in summer and it is a stopover for many migrating species. The habitat supports a diverse range of other species too. 

Many farmers graze their animals on the meadows along the Lower Derwent (including Rosewood Farm), and there is currently a trial going on to look at where cattle are grazing and how this contributes to biodiversity. The cattle have been fitted with trackers for future analysis and to inform reserve management as well as being part of a "no fence" cattle management programme. 

We walked down through the reserve to the sight and sound of geese. The Pink-Footed Geese are back from the Arctic for the winter as well as the often more local Greylag and Canada Geese. The flight of a gaggle of Pink-Footed Geese is as if someone has told them that they should fly in v-shapes but no-one has told them how to do it! Greylags and Canada Geese have a much more defined v-shape to their flight pattern. 

On the right-hand side on the opposite bank of the river is Thicket Priory belonging to the Carmelite Order. This is a modern building with the original hall given to the Order now a wedding and event venue. In summer, walking down through the Ings in the evening is filled with the calls of warblers, and if you can hear them, Grasshopper Warblers, which emit a high pitched continuous reeling sound that I can only hear if the bird is facing away from me. I suspect the compression of sound waves if walking towards the bird when it is facing you pushes the call beyond the range of my hearing!

Turning a corner at the ancient creaky wind turbine brings you to the Pool Hide where we settled in for a while to identify the birds on the small lake there. In winter this is an extensive view over the wetlands and by mid-late November there will be thousands of Wigeon ducks whistling away. On our visit, a few Wigeon were present, some had small remnants of immature plumage. There were also Gadwall, Coot, Mallard and a family of Mute Swans with eight cygnets, the adults not taking kindly to visits by other adult swans. 

At the Pool Hide we were happy to see two (possibly three) Marsh Harriers swooping low over the field at the back of the lake. As large as Buzzards or Red Kites, these birds live and feed around reedbeds and inland lakes and also estuaries. 

These female birds have distinctive yellow crowns on their head which is one of the bird forms of identification at a distance, plus the low flying over the reedbed habitat. Several Marsh Harriers are known to live around Wheldrake Ings. 

The Ings have been managed traditionally for centuries, with livestock grazing and haymaking an integral part of that management. To remove these livestock to grow crops, which some seem intent on advocating as a general food production policy, would destroy this habitat as well as removing flood protection from communities further downstream. 

It is hard to believe that in a month or two, the field above will be underwater. From here going south and east, the landscape is largely flat, the skies big and the way is clear for the geese to find their wintering grounds all the way down the river as it merges with the Ouse, then the Aire, with the Trent forming the Humber and ultimately reaching the sea.

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