Wildlife Abounding

Spring has accelerated in the last fortnight, with virtually no rain and plenty of sun. Last week, our nearest meadow was a sea of yellow, but now it looks all white thanks to the covering of dandelion-clocks, all apparently well-synchronised.

The last fortnight has also been preparation for the newly-restored Studley Grange section of the Wilts & Berks Canal before it can be opened to the public. On Wednesday 12th, we finished concreting posts ready for information boards, and also concreting the remaining brass-rubbing posts. It’s amazing stuff – the concrete sets in half an hour or so, which concentrates the mind. Our final task that day was to dig holes for the first of four wooden benches to be anchored to the ground, as seen below. The combined weight of Richard, Stuart, me and John was enough to make sure it wouldn’t move.

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The petrol-driven Auger had proved its worth when preparing holes for the posts, but we found that we could just as easily dig rectanguler holes for the benches with special narrow spades, so the Auger wouldn’t be needed for the 19th.

Our final task of the day was to help Mrs. Duck to retrieve her wayward ducklings, most of whom had ended up in the stream running behind the spill-weir. She was frantic. We managed to save three ducklings and feared for the safety of the other six.

This Wednesday, the 19th, we were relieved to see that eight of the nine ducklings had eventually been rounded up. We completed installing the remaining wooden benches and preparing the information board mountings ready for use. They won’t be put into place until the just before the stretch is ready to open, because we’ve suffered from mindless vandalism towards the end of the Easter holidays. ‘Wild life’ of a sort, I suppose.

20170419_143254The remainder of the day had been spent retrieving something a bit more concrete than the previous week. Teenagers had managed to lift a 2 feet square concrete slab covering a side chamber at the lock; it’s 6 inches thick, so it must have required some effort to get it to the edge of the lock before dropping it onto the cill, smashing one corner off. It certainly made them 20170419_144552thirsty judging by the sheer number of soft-drink bottles floating in the base of the lock.

They evidently had a sweet tooth, because they’d smashed their way into the equipment compound and then into the caravan where we have our tea, and chucked the tin containing the sugar into the lock. We retrieved the slab, bottles and sugar tin, but fear that we won’t be using it for our sugar in future.

At least the wildlife doesn’t cause mindless mayhem, but the cuckoo in the woods at Studley Grange might have driven us to distraction had it not flown off. Another brood of ducklings – a whole dozen with their Mum – followed us along as we installed the benches, which we transported by our four-wheeled hand-truck seen below. Just after this shot was taken, the offside rear wheel suffered yet another puncture from the blackthorns on the towpath; thorns can be really vicious.

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Wednesday also saw the delivery of a hired portable loo and a gazebo. Canal work-parties don’t need a loo; we make do with the bushes. The loo and gazebo were for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, who were going to plant 25,000 water-loving plants along the base of the canal banks over the next four days.

Today, I joined WWT for the morning. Dress code was dictated by WWT rules rather than ours; anyway, we didn’t strictly need hard hats or hi-viz, but we all needed to don life-jackets. 10,000 plants were already in place, and during the morning I must have added another few hundred right at the water’s edge. Much of the time, I was lying face-down on the towpath prodding the plants into their spludgy clay holes. They won’t need watering.

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Our team of four included three volunteers from the Canal Trust, plus a young Italian lady from Swindon, who came well-prepared with a pair of waders. We were serenaded by the cuckoo again.

John and I finished at lunchtime, and said goodbye to the rest of the volunteers and employees at their gazebo. In this photo, the portable loo can just be seen hiding in the bushes at the edge of the site, on Bincknoll Lane.

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20170421_125726-002As we crossed Bincknoll Lane, a weasel whizzed across from west to east; too quick to take a snap.

Returning to our compound at Chaddington, we noticed yet more vandalism – a landing stage made of old railway sleepers had been wrenched from its base and was floating in the canal. Is this increase in vandalism connected with the gross reduction in the number of Youth Workers employed by Wiltshire Council?

Luckily, the vandals hadn’t disturbed the ducklings or the swans’ nest; another two pairs of another variety of duck – the drakes being black and white – had flown in to join the throng.

What with another brood of Mallard ducklings hatched in the last day or so at Templar’s Firs, we are well and truly blessed along our wildlife corridor.

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