Still looking at models for the future wildlife habitats on Phase 1B we went to the Coombe Hill Nature Reserve managed by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT). With 260 acres (originally 50) of grazed wetland meadow alongside 3 miles of canal it was the obvious place to check out. The canal was built as wide as the Stroudwater, to take Severn barges of similar size from a lock at Wainlode. It was abandoned in 1876 as it left cargoes of Forest of Dean coal 5 miles short of Cheltenham and did not pay.
The area contains standing water, canal, fen, marsh & swamp lowland – with some quite uncommon species of plants flourishing thanks to rotational clearance and selective dredging. As always, it is a variety of habitats close together that gives the greatest diversity of wildlife. The towpaths are beside hedges with scrub areas and there are reed-beds in the canal, with some grazing by farm stock.
The first thing we saw on starting out was a great spraying of bulrush flower-heads, which turned out to be Reed Buntings feeding enthusiastically on the seeds. There was a good variety of hedgerow birds alongside the towpath with a peregrine, probably a juvenile, in the meadow. Paths were muddy even after a decent dry spell – a contrast with Alney Island where People have more priority (and gravelled paths with wheelchair friendly gates). Here it is Wildlife first. A compromise will be needed for Phase 1B between Wildlife needs and Visitor enjoyment.
A raised wooden walkway 100 yards long led through the tops of small trees to an enclosed hide overlooking a couple of large pools – and this is where we saw a variety of water birds: curlews, lapwings and more kinds of ducks than most people have heard of. It was amazing to think, as we sat 12 feet off the ground and two miles from the Severn, that the hide had been full of water during the floods.
Carrying on along the canal we had more good views across meadows and circular walks can be made which give a look at the far side of woods closer to the river. But we returned to the car park and half of the party rounded off the morning at ‘The Swan’ nearby (picture) on a very interesting day.
36 bird species seen [half of them water-birds] were: Peregrine Falcon, Cormorant, Mute Swan, Dunnock, Shelduck, Robin, Wigeon, Blackbird, Gadwall, Song Thrush, Teal, Chiffchaff, Mallard, Long-tailed Tit, Shoveler, Blue Tit, Tufted Duck, Great Tit, Moorhen, Tree Creeper, Coot, Magpie, Lapwing, Jackdaw, Curlew, Rook, Black-headed Gull, Crow, Stock Dove, Chaffinch, Woodpigeon, Greenfinch, Green Woodpecker, Goldfinch, Wren, Reed Bunting.
Our next trip is on March 13th at Sharpness Docks, where we will see how wildlife thrives alongside industry and sites awaiting a new use.
Please click on the link below for a full list of Wildlife Watch Sessions.