NO. 68


Annual General Meeting

The AGM took place on Sunday 5th March and was attended by the Mayor, Councillor Malcolm Macmillan. There were a lot of changes again this year within the Association's administration and it has been a difficult time for the remaining committee members to muddle through, but muddle through we have! Hopefully, we are now in a better position with the addition of some new committee members. A warm welcome was given to Anne who has taken over as Secretary, and to Laura who has taken over as Treasurer from Susan . Alison, Sam and Aaron were also nominated and voted onto the committee.

Thanks were given to Susan for all her involvement and hard work with the Association over the years. She was one of the founder members of the WWA and was instrumental in formulating the original Management Plan in collabaration with the Groundwork Trust. After some years, she took on the rôle of Treasurer, and continued for many years in this post. Susan is also the beekeeper on the Reserve and she hopes to be able to continue with this - if family commitments allow her! The Chairman wished Susan and her family well in their new home in Letchworth and hoped that she would keep in touch with the Association.

Bud and Derryn, once again, put on a DVD display of footage from the Wassail including coverage of the very colourful Wicket Brood Morris Dancers.

Peter Tomkins gave a fascinating illustrated talk on 'The Beekeeping Year' where he explained to the audience exactly what goes on from month to month inside a beehive. Peter worked for many years as an apiarist at Rothamsted Research Station in Harpenden but says he is still learning even after 40 years.

The WaterWheelers

Water Wheelers

In the last issue of 'Watercress' there was mention of a grant application by the WWA to obtain Lottery funding to purchase two fully-equipped 'Landescape' tandems for the benefit of our visually-impaired (V.I.) members. The committee are delighted to report that the bid was successful and the Association is now in possession of the two bikes.

One highlight of the AGM was the presentation by the Mayor of St. Albans (Councillor Malcolm Macmillan) of this 'Awards for All' certificate for £2839. The award has been given to enable the WWA to start and run our newly-formed 'WaterWheelers' tandem cycling section. This is going to be a facility for our visually-impaired members to be able to participate in a recreational facility which is unavailable in St. Albans at present.

A press release went out after the AGM about this new venture and already there has been some response with offers of help. All that is needed now are more volunteers who would like to take part in this scheme. At present, this project is in its infancy and we have three V.I. people who would like the opportunity to use this facility.

First of all, we need to train front riders - this will initially take place along the Alban Way until riders are completely confident in their ability to take out a V.I. person. Safety is an important issue here and all riders must be insured with RiderBike. The WWA has already set up an account with this firm - more details are available from the Editor. This costs £15.50 per annum but we are giving a year's free membership of the WWA as a bonus. What an irresistible deal!

Peter Bird (the designer of these tandems), and his wife Sarah, drove down from Ironbridge in Shropshire to deliver the bikes in person and also to give Committee members some personal tuition in how to handle the tandems.

Advice was given in how to get on and off a tandem, starting off safely and stopping without falling off! Riding a tandem is quite different from riding a solo bike and the two riders need to communicate well to cycle well together. But when you get it right, it's definitely a lot of fun!

Don't worry Mr. Mayor - you're quite safe with the Chairman at the front!

Are there any budding designers out there who could design a logo for the WaterWheelers?

Each rider must wear a high-visibility vest and it would be good to have a simple but catchy logo printed on the back. The design must include the name 'WaterWheelers' and possibly space for a contact number.

Why not have a go and see if your design is a winner. Send your ideas to the Editor and the committee will judge which is the most suitable/funny/catchy.

There will be an appropriate prize for the winner (to be decided at our next committee meeting).

Thanks go to Robert (one of our volunteer workers) for this month's featured bird species.

The Great Spotted woodpecker

Great vSpotted Woodpecker

Of all British woodpeckers, the Great Spotted is the species most likely to be heard drumming, whether to communicate or obtain food. This is because Pied (or Spotted) woodpeckers have more powerful bills than the Green woodpeckers. Great Spotted woodpeckers are black on top with a buff-coloured underside and a scarlet patch at the base of the tail. As the name implies, their back is dappled with bold white spots. Males can easily be distinguished from females by a second red patch at the back of their head.

Great Spotted woodpeckers are found in woodland areas throughout Europe and northern Asia, although they are not shy about living near urban areas. They are non-migratory and active throughout the year. Their diet is omnivorous, consisting of insects and insect larvae, sap, fruit, berries and sometimes even the eggs or brood of other birds. Usually solitary, they come together in springtime to mate and raise their young. Nests are made in the side of trees, a slit about 5 centimetres across and about 2.5 centimetres off the ground. In this, the female lays 4 to 7 smooth, white, glossy eggs. These will usually hatch 2 weeks after being laid and the chicks will be old enough to leave the nest some 3 weeks later.

If you keep watch on a nest containing the young, there will be no shortage of opportunities to see the parents. Since Great Spotted woodpeckers feed from the bill rather than from the crop, they visit the nest very often; about 40 times a day until the chicks are about 10 days old, then over 100 times a day thereafter.

On Sunday 12th February, our monthly working party was thrilled to hear the distinctive rapid drumming of a woodpecker in the nearby trees. Whether this was a Great Spotted is not certain, but with April coming, when the birds drum most often, it is worth keeping your eyes and ears open in the Reserve in case you see one. The birds have a distinctive, undulating flight, rising during periods of rapid wing beating and then dipping as they glide. If you live near the Reserve and have a bird table or bird feeder, you might even be lucky enough to have one visit your garden, especially if nuts or fat are on offer.

A small group of people took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch again this year, at the end of January. Species recorded were Black-headed gull, Blackbird, Blue tit, Carrion crow, Chaffinch, Collared dove, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Great Spotted woodpecker, Great tit, Greenfinch, House sparrow, Long-tailed tit, Magpie, Mallard, Moorhen, Robin, Woodpigeon and Wren.

Other interesting sightings have been Goldcrest, Jay, and a Sparrowhawk killing a Pigeon. There have been quite a few piles of feathers found around the Reserve and it is becoming very clear that the Sparrowhawk is responsible. Various local residents have also seen this bird in their gardens - there is an easy meal to be had at the bird feeders - and it's not peanuts or seeds! There have been no sightings of Kingfishers for months now and this is a great shame as the Reserve was always one place where it was almost certain to see one with a little patience. Hopefully, when the fish return to the Mere, so will the Kingfishers.

Spring seems to be later this year - perhaps because of the slightly colder winter than in recent years - and the daffodils are only just beginning to come into bud. The snowdrops were still in bloom in mid-March. Looking back at previous newsletters, it was noted that the daffodils were fully out in February 2004. Last year was similar to this one so it is hard to say whether permanent changes are taking place with flowering times. Marsh Marigolds are bursting into life but, surprisingly, there were one or two flowers out all through the winter months. Coltsfoot is giving a welcome splash of yellow in the Pyghtle. It is an unusual plant - the flowers show first, followed much later by its leaves.

There is a large mass of frog spawn in the Bog and this is about the same time that it appeared last year.

The new bird feeders are proving very popular and local photographer Keith Chapman has sent in a selection of recent pictures. Can you guess all the birds shown below? A bird feeder and starter pack of wild bird food goes to the youngest reader to guess them all (no cheating, of course!).
Answers on a postcard please, with your age, name and address, to the Editor by the 11th April.

1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10

If any reader has an interesting wildlife anecdote about the Reserve, or would simply like to contribute an article or photo, please contact the Editor who is getting increasingly desperate to find novel things to write about!

The Pyghtle

Many visitors have asked about the work that is happening on the old allotment (Joe's) but now renamed The Pyghtle ('small parcel of land or enclosure'). Just to re-iterate from previous newsletters, the long-term aim is to create a quiet, hedged, enclosed area to benefit wildlife by having as little disturbance as possible on this part of the Reserve.

Part of the hedge may be 'laid' in the future to make a thick barrier between the allotment and the river. This will create a quiet refuge and make the margins more attractive to water vole (if they ever return) and other species. This will take many years to develop but will eventually add more diversity to the wildlife interest on the Reserve.

Richard and Rebecca

Richard and Rebecca from Riverside Road have kindly provided all the funding (a very generous £200) for the latest -and final - stretch of hedging and all 400 plants were put in at the March working party. Thanks to you both. And thanks to all those who came and helped on the day - it was a record turn-out, with 18 volunteers prepared to get their hands dirty!

This latest section of hedge has been planted with some different varieties of plants than the first section. We have included some Guelder Rose, Wayfaring Trees (both are good for berries) and Alder Buckthorn (the food plant for the Brimstone butterfly). The remainder was a mixture of Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Field Maple. It was hard work but will be something to be proud of in years to come when the hedge has matured into a wildlife haven.

Numbers of cut logs (from the recently pollarded willows) have been moved and stacked in piles to be left to decay naturally. This deadwood (or saproxylic) habitat is very important for a great range of invertebrates and is generally in short supply on the Reserve, but the situation is now improving.

New committee members Sam and Aaron
helping with the hedge planting

A lot of saplings (Ash, Willow, Alder and Hazel) have already self-seeded since this area is no longer being cultivated. Without removal of these, the whole area will progress into a wood which is not in accordance with our current Management Plan. However, some new trees may be allowed to grow on to give cover and provide interest and height. Some small metal corrugated sheets are also hidden in the longer vegetation as these are often favoured as basking platforms for reptiles, including Slow Worm and Grass Snake.

There were some Hawthorn plants left over from the hedge planting and these have been put in the Sanctuary close to the river. We are trying to discourage people from making a path up to the river bank. There have been problems with anti-social behaviour in this corner and we are trying to make it difficult for certain youngsters to congregate there or cross from the other side of the river.

Signs of woodpecker activity in the carr wood

One piece of worrying news for the WWA is the amount of coppicing/pollarding work that may be happening directly across from the Reserve. As part of a Green Space Action Plan for Sopwell Nunnery, the Ver Valley Walk has been re-routed right through the centre of a piece of old, previously unmanaged wet, willow carr woodland.

Unfortunately, it appears that this now creates a safety issue with some of the trees deemed 'unsafe' so there is a strong possibility that these trees may be coppiced. This would seriously alter the whole aspect and view from our side of the river and will also damage much of the birdwatching potential. As the WWA are planning on putting up a bird hide/viewing platform looking out onto this wood there is a great deal of concern about what may happen next.

The Chairman, Site Manager and Editor were invited to a meeting with representatives from the Council, the Countryside Management Service and Sopwell Residents Association to discuss these matters. It was accepted at the meeting that there had been a lack of communication, especially towards the Allotment Society and the WWA, both of which may be adversely affected by the works.

Another meeting has been scheduled for the end of April where both Associations will have a chance to put forward their points of view about any future works. This old woodland has long been a nesting site for Great Spotted woodpeckers and is also a possible bat roost. Many bat sightings have taken place within yards of these old willows so, hopefully, any tree work should be done with due consideration.

To the right are some photos
taken around the Reserve to show that
spring has well and truly arrived. Can
you guess them all?


Bird Hide Bird hide

Please ensure that the windows and doors are securely closed on leaving. The bird watching is infinitely better from this hide now that the new feeders are in place, so pop in and see if you see anything unusual. Pictured right is the bird hide, just after completion, over a decade ago. It's amazing how bare the area around it seems compared to today.

Working parties

Working parties are held on the second Sunday of every month and always start at 11am and last around 2 hours. All tools and gloves are provided.
The next dates are as follows:

Dates for your diary

After the success of this year's Wassail and especially the entertainment provided by the Wicket Brood Morris, an idea was mooted that it would be fun to have the dancers back in the summer for some sort of midsummer event. They were keen to come along and so an idea has developed to hold a type of 'Larks in the park' event on the Reserve, at which local musicians, singers, dancers, storytellers, etc, can participate.

The idea is to keep things as simple as possible with people bringing their own picnic and rug/chair so that the WWA Committee don't have too much work to do! The WWA can provide a covered performance area and maybe set up a barbeque for people to use. The main ethos behind the event is 'community involvement' so that residents can get together and have a good time - with music, food and drink, but most of all to have some fun.

If you are interested in coming to an event like this, either as a performer or someone who can help out with the organisation, please contact the Editor who will collate ideas and see if it is feasible. A tentative date (nearest to midsummer's day) is the weekend of the 24/25th June. The weekend before is the London to Brighton charity bike ride in which some of the WWA committee are involved so this is not a suitable date.

The event could possibly start in mid-afternoon and follow on through to an evening barbeque so that families with children have a chance to join in. Of course, why stick to just music? Are you a performance artist, a mime freak, a juggler perhaps? Whatever talent you may have - we'd be pleased to hear from you!

This event will only happen if we have plenty of help as it is unfair to expect the (busy) committee to have to arrange everything, but quite a lot of interest has already been shown and it is a lovely venue to hold such an event on a glorious summer's day!

The event could also be used to raise funds for the 'WaterWheelers' by perhaps charging a small entrance fee.

All these issues are up for discussion and firstly, I have to persuade the committee that this is a brilliant idea!! If we have a good number of performers come forward and other residents offer their services, then this should be a doddle…..?


The WaterWheelers trying out the tandems for size          

The Association has been given a tandem (from Mike of Hatch End). Mike has a son, Robin, who has the condition Retinitis Pigmentosa. Robin was registered blind at the age of 27 and had to give up cycling but colleagues of Mike, at IBM, raised money to buy the Orbit Tandem for Robin who had learned to ride this type of bike at a rehabilitation course for the blind.

After many enjoyable years of tandeming together, the pair can no longer continue because of various health problems but want the bike to go to someone in a similar situation.

The WWA will make sure this bike is well used and will benefit a visually impaired rider, as is their wish. There will be more on this story in the next newsletter.

WWA Website     www.watercress-net.org.uk

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