NO. 67

Watercress Wassail

Watercress Wassail

Although the weather was dull and drizzly, ninety people turned out for what is now an established WWA event.
The proceedings were livened up by the appearance of the Wicket Brood Morris who entertained everyone with their colourful costumes and fine displays of music and dance. The conditions were very difficult for them – there not being a hard flat surface on which to perform but they certainly rose to the occasion.

Sandy , once again, was the Master of Ceremonies and he carried out the role in his usual inimitable style!
There was the usual ‘rapping’ of the trees to awaken them, with cider poured onto the roots to nourish them, cider-soaked toast was hung in the branches to feed the Robins (the guardians of the Orchard) and finally a barrage of party poppers were fired to scare away bad spirits.

One highlight of the proceedings was the unveiling of the Green Man*, carved by local artist Catriona MacCann, (can you spot him in the picture below?)

The WWA committee had previously decided that this annual event would be to raise funds, not for the Association, but for outside charities. This year we raised £400 which went to Grove House and CancerBacup. Many thanks go to all those lovely people who helped make the event such a success, especially all the ‘supercooks’ in the neighbourhood.

The Wicket Brood expressed keen interest in returning for a midsummer event (around the Summer Solstice) so if there is enough interest and people willing to help, perhaps we could hold a barbeque/picnic/musical evening with guest slots for anyone wishing to perform.

If you have any views on what type of community summer event you would like to see held at the Reserve please contact the editor who will collate all ideas.

Annual General Meeting

Rapping the trees

Our next important event is the AGM where all the official business has to be dealt with, including electing the new committee for the following year. Any nominations must be sent to the General Secretary before the meeting.

The AGM for 2005 will be held in the Scout Hut in Riverside Road on Sunday 5th March at 11am. Tea and coffee are provided. Come along and hear about the work of the Association that was achieved last year.

Bud will be showing a video of the Wassail event during the coffee break and there will be displays of how the site has altered over the years.

Peter Tompkins (who was an authority at Rothamsted Research Station on all things apian) will give an illustrated talk - ‘The Beekeeping Year’ - which follows the workings of a typical hive throughout the year and he will also explain the process of honey production This is of particular interest to the WWA as our Treasurer has been keeping bees on the Reserve for many years.

Rapping the trees to awaken them

History of the Reserve

People often ask how the site evolved and how it used to be so we are continuing with a series of photos taken in the early days.

Steve , our Chairman, has been keeping a photographic record right from the start. If anyone has any pictures taken in the 1990’s, the Editor would be pleased to see them for possible publication in the newsletter or on the website.

The old bridge next to the Wild Spit
The old bridge next to the Wild Spit

Looking towards what is now the Wild Spit
Looking towards what is now the Wild Spit

* To find out more about the folklore of the Green Man go to the songwriter and comedian Mike Harding’s website (www.mikeharding.co.uk) and click on the Green Man button for informative articles on the subject.

Message from the Membership Secretary

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who have regularly supported the WWA through the years and would like to welcome all those who have recently joined. At present we have 187 households which is an all time record and the income that this generates is vital to fund ongoing projects to maintain and improve the Reserve.

The Association is run entirely by volunteers so it relies on the generosity of its members and occasional grants for major projects. The subscription fee has remained at £10 per household (£5 for senior citizens/students/unwaged) since we started in 1991 and we wish to peg it at this level so that membership is affordable to all, but we are always more than happy to accept any extra donations!


Unless you have attended an AGM and received the Treasurer's report, you may wonder where all the money goes so I thought I would list some of the larger expenses we have incurred during 2005.

Quite a large amount of tree work was necessary on our old willows and this required a chain saw operative so we employed the charity Earthworks to come and do the work for us. This alone cost £340 but will not require doing again for some years.

Another large outlay was the purchase of a colour laser printer as it is becoming increasingly necessary for the Association to be able to manage its own printing. Lee has done a marvellous job of publishing the newsletter for the last two years but his situation has changed and so the committee has decided to publish the newsletter itself. The printer (Konica Minolta 5430 DL) was very reasonably priced at £380 (including Vat + delivery) but the cost of the toner cartridges is as much again. This is still cheaper (and more convenient) than having the newsletter printed at Prontaprint or a similar shop.

In 2006 we are hoping to purchase more new tools and we will need to hire some heavy duty machinery for a couple of our planned projects including another long stretch of hedge planting, viewing points for bird watching and the excavation of a small scrape/pond to encourage dragonflies and amphibians.

A membership renewal form is included with this newsletter (except for those who joined after September - their membership runs through to 2007). Once again we are asking people to sign the Gift Aid form and although you may have done so before, in the interest of simplifying our accounting system it is easier for us if you sign annually. Thank you once again for your support and I hope you enjoy visiting the Reserve and watching how it develops.

Membership Secretary

The Mere Main Bridge

The original Committee naively thought they could move all the silt to one edge by hand but very quickly realized that this was somewhat optimistic! Luckily, one of the allotment holders at that time had access to a JCB digger with operative. Phew! What a relief. Thank you, John .

The silt was piled to the right of the picture, thus creating what is now known as the Wild Spit. There was already in place a small spit of flat land between the allotments and the lake but this dramatically increased the height. This was then planted with trees and shrubs and has been left undisturbed ever since for the benefit of wildlife.

A Water Rail has been sighted here on quite a few occasions over the years. The bridges were built later on by Mark Turner and staff from the Groundwork Trust who also funded the project for which we are very grateful.

Long Tailed Tits

These attractive birds are particularly noticeable at present on the Reserve and they are great fun to watch. You will often see them feeding within a tree, foraging close to the end of the branches, and then one individual will fly off with the others behind, in a 'follow-my-leader' fashion. This is particularly entertaining when the group encounter an open area that has to be crossed. Any individuals that become separated from the flock get quite agitated and call loudly as they search for the group.

Flocks can be identified by their distinct chirruping or twittering noise - they don't have a song as such and have a limited repertoire of calls. Flocking together has other uses, especially in winter, when individuals will huddle together to keep warm. Research has shown that the lower the temperature, the closer the birds get and it has been suggested that, because such communal roosting may be essential for survival in very cold weather, this is why these birds are so sociable in their behaviour. They are unlikely to be mistaken for any other bird with their distinctive round shape, black and white feathers tinted with pink, and of course a striking long, slender tail.

In the Midlands they are called 'bum barrels'. This actually refers to their beautiful and uniquely-shaped nest, which may take up to three weeks to build. It is a remarkable spherical construction of moss, bound together with spider's webs, camouflaged with lichen (or occasionally unusual items such as polystyrene fragments) and lined with up to 3,000 feathers. The nest also has a tiny entrance hole. It is usually found in the fork of a tree or bramble at head height and concealed in the foliage.

Long Tailed Tits usually produce one brood in early spring from a clutch of up to ten small white eggs. Although these birds are more insectivorous than the Blue and Great Tits (to which they are only distantly related) they are increasingly regular visitors to bird feeders, attracted to peanuts, fat and other fare.

Garden Birdwatch figures show that usage of gardens peaks during February and March when food may be scarce in other habitats. They are very acrobatic, often hanging by one foot and holding items of food in the other. Let's hope we can record them at the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch on the 29th January (see Dates for your diary).

The Pyghtle (or small enclosure)

This area, which was used as an allotment by the late Joe Masi, is now under development in accordance with our Management Plan. A large part of the area is being enclosed by mixed native hedging which will be beneficial for nesting birds. We hope to construct a raised viewing platform overlooking the enclosure and possibly make other viewing points at intervals around the perimeter as the hedge grows taller. This is to create an undisturbed haven for wildlife. It is also planned to utilise the low lying central area (behind the Bramley apple tree) to create a shallow, well - vegetated pool that will attract and support dragonflies, and amphibians.

The area around the pool will be cut in early June to try and encourage flowering species such as cuckoo flower, marsh marigolds and ragged robin and to discourage later flowering thistles, docks and other coarse herbs. Towards the far bank we will shortly be setting up a large 'feeding station' for the birds so there will always be something interesting for our visitors to see.


Recently a muntjac was sighted in this area and flocks of redpolls were seen last year on the dead willowherb so some areas will be left fairly wild as cover for wildlife. To the left of the new enclosure will be a mixture of habitat with rotting log piles, a small copse of mixed native trees and a mown grassy area for holding public events which may be incorporated into the Sanctuary in the future. Part of the current path will be re-routed to guide visitors through this new section, away from the Bog. This will be developed once the next section of hedge is in place. This hedge work is planned for the March working party and we need lots of help with this so if you can spare that morning please come along. The ground will be rotavated in readiness for the planting and Mypex (a weed suppressing woven roll) will be pegged in place. The saplings will be slot planted through the Mypex at pre-measured distances.

Water vole project update

Alison Washbrook (Water Vole Project Officer) invited involved landowners and other interested parties (including WWA Committee members) to Redbournbury Mill in January to hear an update on how the project is progressing. She stated that the situation on the Ver is still serious with no evidence of any surviving colonies of water voles, but the gamekeeper on the Gorhambury estate has reported that he is pretty sure he sighted a single water vole recently. He is experienced enough not to confuse the creature with a rat which is a common mistake.

Alison also found evidence of a feeding station along with a single dropping on the estate so she is hoping this is a water vole and not a bank vole (the signs are very similar). Alison will be monitoring this area particularly closely to try and find more evidence.

The mink raft scheme has been very successful so far and the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust are keen to continue with the project. More importantly, other Wildlife Trusts are involved in the scheme and mink rafts are being placed on rivers all around the country.

We are continuing to monitor the situation on the WWA Reserve but there has been no evidence of mink during the last 5 months.

On a different note, if anyone is interested in seeing Red Kites, the gamekeeper at Gorhambury has reported that they have been present around the estate. It's well worth a stroll through the estate to see if they are still in the area. There are also Buzzards at Gorhambury but the Red Kites are particularly distinctive with their V-shaped tails. The estate is closed on Saturdays throughout the winter months.

Dates for your diary

Annual General Meeting
Sunday 5th March 2005
Scout Hut - Riverside Road - St. Albans

Building the Bird Hide Bird hide

We have put new bird feeders in front of the viewing windows so now there is always something to see. It is a great place now to introduce children to birdwatching as there are identification charts inside and it is a warm and dry environment for beginners.

Please ensure the door and windows are closed on leaving for security reasons.


We have had two offers of help to 'adopt-a-bench' but still need one more volunteer. If you can spend a morning or two renovating a bench we would love to hear from you. This is probably best done in the spring when the weather is fine - this is a job that only needs doing annually so if you feel you could be the person for this year please contact Howard, the site manager.

WWA tandem cycling section

The committee has sent an application to 'Awards for All' - part of Lottery Funding - asking for just under £3,000 to purchase two fully equipped Landescape tandems (plus roof carriers), primarily for the use of our visually impaired Association members. The application went in on the 13th December 2005 and we should know if we have been successful within 8 weeks. Our visually impaired members will then have an opportunity to participate with other Association members on organised outings.

R.S.P.B. Big Garden Birdwatch 2006

Tame Robin

Once again the WWA will be participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch. All are welcome to join in and help record the number of birds and species on the Reserve between 11 a.m. and noon on Sunday 29th January. Forms and pencils will be provided; just bring yourselves and a pair of binoculars if you have them - see you there.

There has been an especially tame Robin that stays close to people at working parties, looking for insects and worms that are uncovered during various tasks. See if you can spot him when you next visit. Other birds that have been seen on the Reserve recently include Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, Dunnock, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Jay, Starling, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, ,Chaffinch, Goldcrest, Redwing, Mute Swan, Moorhen, Coot, Blue Tit and Great Tit. A Mistle Thrush has been seen and heard singing from a topmost branch of our 'Xmas tree' -they are one of the few birds in full song at this time of year, another being the Robin.

Working parties 2006

Sunday 12 February

Sunday 12 March

Sunday 9 April

WWA Website     www.watercress-net.org.uk

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