This Blog covers nature sightings and related news in the Calderdale area.
It includes all groups - Plants, animals and fungi with links to specialist sites.
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Saturday, 20 June 2015

Writing Competition 2015

The Competition is now closed, but blog readers can still send me articles/essays/comments on the subject below if they wish.

31st July, 2015. The Entries have been read and carefully thought about by members of Halifax Scientific Society Council.
While all of them were considered excellent, and it was hard to choose, most votes went to . . . . . Entry No. 2 written by Linda Kingsnorth, Mammal Recorder for HSS.
With many thanks to all who took part. Charlotte Weightman, also of HSS and Philip Marshall of Todmorden, a member of the Upper Calder Wildlife Network were the other two. 
All three gave us much food for thought. Linda's is also a challenge to us to spring into action.

Do you have any thoughts on the way the Natural Environment is being looked after by the Authorities in Calderdale?

If so, why not enter this competition? It's free to enter and the prize is a field guide of your choice up to the value of £16.99. Entrants must be registered members of
HSS, UCWN, CBWG or CBCG, i.e the Calderdale Groups concerned with wildlife conservation.

Deadline for entries was mid-day tomorrow, 21st June, but as I have been busy, I have extended it to mid-day on Thursday 25th June. It can be short or long, but please refrain from any libelous or inflammatory statements. (Over long pieces might turn off the judges.) Please email them to me at

It's not so much for the prize, but to encourage people to set down their thoughts and feelings about Wildlife and the Natural Environment in Calderdale. You can have your say about any part of Calderdale, not just Council owned land.

Entries will be read and the winner decided  by the Hx.Sci.Soc. Council members. (NOT Calderdale Council Staff.) Prize allocated by end of July 2015.

This competition is prompted by the 10 -page document which dropped in to some of our inboxes on 21st April from Calderdale Council's Business and Economy Department outlining many new proposals for Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve.

                                   SB photo

Please see below three entries already received.

ENTRY No.1 (Name supplied which will be added after judging.)
Everyone Needs a Home by Charlotte Weightman
We have voices.  We can speak.  We can discuss, put our point of view, argue our case.  Wildlife can’t.  But wildlife is the most optimistic of living creatures – they want to live, to reproduce, to continue their species, and will do their utmost to do so.  Look at the way brownfield sites suddenly spring into life with often the most extraordinary array of plants.  But if the specific habitat of a specific creature is taken away – by man’s intervention – then the optimism of a part of our natural world will be extinguished.
We are fortunate to live in an extraordinary area of England which has, within a relatively small area, a huge mixture of landscapes, and thus of wildlife.  You can be high on the moors with its own environment, assemblage of birds and plants and yet within 10 minutes be down in a woodland and river area with a completely different environment and range of species living there.  We have woods, wetlands, marshes, moors – all of which sustain very different forms of wildlife.  We in the South Pennines have the only nesting colonies of Twite in England.  We are also extraordinarily fortunate in having an industrial past – and present.  This means that vehicles carrying goods from other parts of the UK as well as abroad, bring into the area ‘hangers-on’ – seeds attached to vehicle wheels, insects hitching a ride in a cab.  After all, this is the way that Oxford Ragwort reached all parts of the UK when it escaped from the botanical gardens of Oxford, seeded near the railway lines and from there in the late 1800s, was carried to all corners of the UK.  No other Borough has this breadth of diversity within such a relatively small area.  It is vital that we keep it.
A respect and interest in wildlife has to be generated very early on in life.  A friend of mine is very knowledgeable about wild flowers – her grandmother taught her the names and species when she was a little girl.  Another friend learnt all the names of British butterflies – and in Latin too! – when he was 14, and now, over the age of 50, he still remembers them.  My own family of brother and cousins all love gardening – our maternal grandmother was a keen and experienced gardener and delighted to share her knowledge with us when we were children.
It often takes a situation – or a person – to make you realise that you are living in an area of very special and unique wildlife interest.  For years, I would drive down motorways and catch trains to urban environments for work and spend my free time walking and cycling, but only relatively recently did I realise how many thousands of different types of grasses there are,  or what a shrew sounds like when scuffling through the undergrowth.  For me, my eyes were opened through a change in career, but not everyone can do that.
We have to have respect for the countryside, but we needn’t necessarily know everything about it.  We can have respect for a surgeon, but we needn’t necessarily understand absolutely everything about the operation he or she is about to perform – we just want to know that it is being done properly.
And so with a refuge for wildlife.  At Cromwell Bottom, a team of experienced and dedicated volunteers, along with key members of the Calderdale Countryside Services, have put in a tremendous amount of energy and work into making Cromwell Bottom and especially the North Loop into an area which nurtures and safeguards wildlife – some of which is unique to this area, through its previous associations with brickwork factories and the conditions to the soil that these produced.  It is a Nature Reserve, not a park – and should not be turned into a park.
Create a climate of pride
Success breeds success.  Be proud of the fact that we do have this extraordinary landscape within Calderdale and thus a unique assemblage of wildlife.  Too often, we are fed dire stories of imminent extinction, but if the general public is told and shown how things can be improved, how they should act around wildlife and how, as Yorkshire people, we are ensuring that our wildlife does have a chance, then we can all take ownership and pride in what we have achieved.  But it has to be explained why it is so essential to have an area which isn’t basically a park, and which respects the needs of wildlife.  Wildlife and its intrinsic relationship with ourselves also has to be very clearly explained – why it is so necessary to preserve and nurture what we are fortunate enough to have in our locality.
Generational gifts of knowledge
An inspirational teacher, a grandparent or uncle or aunt, a family friend, can help stimulate the lasting interest of a young person in wildlife, its history and culture and why we need to care for it.  Through the proposed educational recourses for Cromwell Bottom, this could be achieved – through organised safaris (looking for different plants can be an adventure in itself!) and open days for clubs, schools, grandparents.  But it does have to be carefully managed so as not to overwhelm the wildlife inhabitants. The Cromwell Bottom group already work with young people, and this could be extended through Champions for Wildlife who could visit individual schools to tell them about specific aspects of wildlife.  Resources permitting, an inter-school competition could be set up to create their own ideal nature reserve.
 A case for studying
University departments, including PhD students, frequently need to carry out quite lengthy experiments and observations – I am currently involved with one for the University of Sussex on pollination – and make great use of so-called Citizen Science – i.e. they get the interested general public to do the tasks which need a wide range of data collection.  The Cromwell Bottom site could have a university or agricultural college link up which would ensure that areas of the site were kept specifically for the nurture of wildlife and thus gain the accreditation of being linked with a seat of learning and research.
Healthier lifestyles using the countryside
Whilst the inclusion of cycle paths, more footpaths and a general wish to get the public into the Great Outdoors can only be applauded, this must not be to the detriment of the fragile but intensely important wildlife that lives there.  By alerting the public to what they are passing through, they can be made aware of the fragile but optimistic mosaic of wildlife beneath their feet, around them and above their heads.  But just as you would not want the general public to have unlimited access to, for instance, a crèche, or an intensive care ward or a workplace carrying out sensitive work, so to should this apply to a nature reserve, and one which has been specifically created to care for and encourage delicate and sensitive organisms who have no voice of their own to state their case.

The Star of the Reserve
One species could be made into the ‘star’ of the Reserve – it could be the means of communicating messages to the general public –e.g.  ‘The Tawny Owl says……’ – in much the same way that other organisations use fictional creatures to get over their point about nature conservation.
Shout it from the treetops!
Just as plants in some garden centres include bee friendly stickers, so too could local businesses endorse the Nature Reserve as a very special place to be treated with enormous respect.  Regular articles could be written (by volunteers) for local magazines such as Go Local! to keep the Reserve to the forefront of people’s minds.  Social media could be used to a much greater extent – putting out good news stories.   A celebrity (who knows, Chris Packham could be asked – he can only say no!) could be used whenever there was an especially newsworthy story to promote.
Everyone needs a home
We all need a home, and that includes not just humans, but wildlife.  And like humans, wildlife has different needs, different requirements, different criteria.  And, like us, they don’t take kindly to people just barging in and sitting in their back yard, making a noise and disturbing the arduous task of bringing up a family.  Let the wildlife have their undisturbed area, and let us humans have ours with cafes and coach parks, but with the  privilege and opportunity to observe the wildlife home in a very controlled manner – through guided walks, through specific study times, through education.
In summary

We have a voice.  Wildlife doesn’t.  Let us speak on behalf of wildlife – we want the Cromwell Bottom site to be used sensitively for the benefit of wildlife and kept as a Nature Reserve with limited, controlled access for educational purposes to the general public - and not turned into a park which benefits humans, but not the wildlife which shares our landscape.


Entry No.2 (Name supplied which will be added after judging.)

Linda Kingsnorth

Calderdale is a beautiful part of Britain and we should be proud to live here, however, there are ways we could improve it and make it a showcase area for all its residents - and at little cost.

We are already lucky enough to have some rare species, wild areas, moors, nature reserves and open spaces, but we could lead by example by adding to this and creating a valley with a difference.

With climate change being a huge challenge for the world and with the decline of many species, not least of all the bee, who we rely on so heavily, there are changes Calderdale could make which would help both and which we could pride ourselves on.

Todmorden has ‘incredible edible’, which is an amazing project bringing plants, flowers, seeds and food to birds, bees and humans, what a good start.

Something that could be considered to add to this throughout Calderdale could be the making of a bee friendly corridor stretching along the valley from Todmorden to Elland. It’s a big challenge but is it too big? Not for us surely.

Areas of bee friendly flowering plants - bee worlds - could be created along canal side, in gardens, parks, nature reserves, community centres, roundabouts, cycle tracks, in window boxes, on bus shelter roofs - green roofs - stations, farms - this is only limited by people’s imagination and creativity -  we could show other areas what can be done if you care and council and people work together.

In addition to this, reducing our contribution to the climate problem and air pollution, which is a rising, worrying problem, needs serious consideration. Maybe Calderdale Council could reduce their use of petrol/diesel driven equipment for cutting verges etc. Not only are they polluting and emission giving they add to noise pollution in peaceful areas. Let’s go back to the traditional methods in some areas, back to scythes and sickles - healthier all round. Reducing verge side cutting and the cutting of grass in parks to 1m from the path/road side and leaving areas to grow for wildlife and flowers would enable this to be less arduous.

Encouraging farmers to reduce their use of harmful neonics which are harmful to insects, wildlife and more would be a helpful thing to do if possible.

We have a chance to shine nationally as a ‘green’ area that cares about the environment it supplies to its residents - and not just the human variety.

Set a standard for others to follow - lead the way Calderdale!



Entry No.3 (Name supplied, which will be added after judging.)
From Phillip Marshall

Can I suggest the places with the most potential for wildlife enhancement are our local woodlands, of which I believe 30% are owned by Calderdale Council. The reason we have wildflower meadows is because we fenced them round and called them 'fields'. There is no reason why these wildflowers should not be a part of our woodlands, which is where many came from originally. But first of all we have to realise that our modern concept of 'woodland' is far removed from any version that has existed for millennia.

We have lost the plot on what a woodland should look like. After thousands of years of frequent disturbance by people and large wild animals, we now have a situation where it is officially recognised that our woodlands are shadier than at any time in history. Not only that, they are also static and lacking in the disturbance that a wood requires in order to thrive and regenerate. Calderdale Council commissioned a report 30 years ago from the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, which advised that Calderdale's woodlands were derelict, even aged, excessively shaded, with poor habitats and urgent action was needed if they were to survive long term.

I have yet to see much happening in the woods since then and I doubt any present Councillor has even heard of this commissioned report. Where some management has occurred it has been done in a half-hearted manner and lacks the optimism that you can have trees as well as wildlife. With woodland management it is necessary to do enough to make a difference, to avoid the perception that trees are removed but nothing has changed.

The disappearance of flora and wildlife from our valley is not helped by obsessive tree planting in areas that are already good habitats. Many of these new 'woodlands' will end up emulating and perpetuating the present derelict ones, when the new trees are planted too close together without any design, or future purpose. Soils will be shaded and wildlife and flowers inhibited. Déjà vu all over again!

Opening up existing woodlands by creating gaps and clearings, by coppicing and pollarding suitable trees, is a quick way to get birds, butterflies, bees and flowers as well as good tree regeneration. The whole process provides good differential age structure within a wood. There is far too much 'up there' in our local woods which oppresses life on the ground. It is also bad for the trees. You look at any woodland edge habitat of trees grading into scrub and grasses; it is here you will find the most species. If birds and butterflies don't like it, you can be sure something is wrong. We need this woodland edge within. Also, don't forget that most woodland soils have not been disturbed by deep ploughing, or had any inputs such as nitrogen, or sprayed with chemicals. This is unusual for any soil in modern times and they will have dormant undisturbed seeds just waiting for more light to appear once again.

The reason why wildlife numbers and species are declining is because we have made them homeless and starved them to death. Create the conditions within our woods and within a few years the difference is amazing and believe me you would be amazed.

With the vast increase in numbers of deer, from near extinction a couple of centuries ago to now having more deer than at anytime in history, it is time for the old practice of pollarding to be brought back from near extinction. Most of our ancient trees have lasted so long and create such impressive living monuments because of this practice. The browsing teeth of innumerable deer cannot reach the re-growth and their lower crowns are just the right height for nesting birds and the decay is good for beetles and fungi. Fungi are not necessarily bad for a tree and most are of benefit or even essential for the health of a tree.

If people wish to plant trees, then concentrate on putting feature trees back in the landscape to replace all those ghosts that are quickly disappearing. You don't find ancient trees within ancient woods. Our Valley's old landscape trees are not thought about and are often treated shamefully but we will miss them when they are gone. 

If it is thought a new wood is essential, leave trees out of the scheme and instead plant Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Brambles----all else will follow in a succession of species and age groups that cannot be done by planting a 'Tubeville'.

Finally, just think of the huge areas of valley woodland in Calderdale, 30% of which is Council owned, and then consider the potential for a corridor of trees, woodland, shrubs, birdsong, butterflies and flowers along the whole length. Just get on with it.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Beech Tree in Gorpley Clough

Further to my post about the unusual shaped leaves of a common Beech; Steve's mention of different varieties prompted me to look in my copy of Bean's Trees and Shrubs, in which he describes one called 'Grandidentata'

I looked on the web and found this illustration of  'Grandidentata' which does look very similar to the one in Gorpley Clough. According to Krussman's book on trees, this variety originated in 1810.

The hooded leaves and cuneate base do suggest it is close to this variety, even though the edges are not quite as wavy. I will have a closer look at the whole tree in Gorpley Clough, which is maybe 170 years old, to see if there is any variation throughout the tree.

If it is a 'Grandidentata' it may be one of the earliest planted and largest in the country---by whom I wonder? It maybe growing on land owned by Calderdale Council or Yorkshire Water, I'm not sure where the dividing line is.

The photo below is from the National Botanic Garden in Belgium via Wikimedia. Check it out with my photo beneath this one--do they look similar?
Gorpley Clough

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Beech Tree

In Gorpley Clough at Todmorden there are quite a few old Beeches but one of them stands out as 'different'. It is quite obviously a common Beech, Fagus sylvatica but its leaves appear longer and more pear shaped, with the leaf base tapering for longer into the stem. Also the 'hooded' sides to the leaf. I suppose there is natural variation among Beech as in most plants but I can't say I have noticed one with leaves quite like this before.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Plants and a Flycatcher

This Pied Flycatcher (female) was easier to photo than a Spotted Flycatcher which was at the same site in a local wood. Thanks to DJS for giving me directions. Pied  flycatchers have been seen at two sites now, so could be anywhere in larger mature woodlands.

Easier because it stopped to preen quite a lot, but less sharp than some over on the Bird Blog due to low light levels.
click to enlarge

This white substance on some Yorkshire Fog Grass at Cromwell Bottom puzzled me.
Could it be a rust or a gall ? (It's a fungus spread by a fly - see Phillip's 2 comments.)

Common Whitlow-grass at the lock on the canal, on the cobbles of the bridge below Freemans Bridge, where chemical weed control actually seems to help it.
Only recorded here where I found it several years ago, and in the cobbles on Lion St., Todmorden.
One of the smallest of flowering plants. 

These are the normally bottom-rooted "Starfish" shaped linear leaves of the Floating Water-plantain, or Luronium natans, I am informed by an officer with the Canals and Rivers Trust. It is one of the most protected plants in the UK. These are loose having been dislodged by (probably) canal boating; but this may inadvertently help to spread it. On 25th June last year the very oval, floating leaves on long slender stalks had come to the top at this site. I've never seen the flowers, which are white with three petals, each with a yellow spot.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Fern leaved Beech tree

This is the only Fern-Leaved Beech in Centre Vale Park at Todmorden. It was a lovely tree a couple of years ago but this year is showing extreme crown die-back. I doubt it will have any leaves next year.

These Fagus sylvatica 'Asplenifolia' are graft chimaera of continental origin, so exhibit normal Beech leaves as well as the cut-leaved ones on the same tree. The photo shows how slender some of these are and very willow-like.

The original tree was planted in Surrey in 1826 but I think the one in Centre Vale was planted about 1869, probably by the famous landscaper Edward Kemp, who also designed the landscape at nearby Dobroyd Castle (where there is another Fern-leaved Beech).

If anyone wishes to see this tree in Centre Vale (adjacent to John Fielden statue) now is the time before its gone.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Talk next Tuesday at the Central Library

On 9th June Kara Jackson of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will be bringing us a presentation about the fabulous nature reserves the Trust takes care of and makes available for anyone to visit.

This is a free talk; come along and bring a friend or two. The monthly meetings are friendly casual evenings. A donation of about £3 from non-members helps us with room hire, etc.

They are held at Halifax Central Library in the plush downstairs lecture room. (Lift available - Andrew the caretaker is eager to help.)

Meetings starts at 7.15pm and we have the room until 9.15pm, though visitors can leave directly after the speaker if they wish. Young as well as mature visitors are welcome.

The items of the meeting after the speaker include Natural History Reports, when members tell of any exciting new sightings they have had in Calderdale recently; birds, mammals and plants. (And we don't use latin names ALL the time, only when we have to :)

Mare's Tail (Hippuris vulgaris)

Found this Mare's Tail tonight 4th June at Mytholmroyd at Scout Road Community garden where it has probably been recently introduced, but is the dominant plant in the pond. It is a native but the only local records are from the 18thC, when it was noted at Mixenden and Norland by James Bolton.

I thought it was the dreaded Parrot's Feather water plant which is very invasive; at the moment mostly in the south of England.

And something more colourful. A Southern Marsh Orchid, or possibly a hybrid, seen on a walk on Wednesday 3rd June with Peachysteve when we made a visit to the far south-western boundary areas of Calderdale (near Rishworth.)

For anyone new to the blog: a click on the pictures brings them up full size.