Monday, 24 June 2013

Water Meadows

All along the Rivers Test and Itchen are water meadows or, strictly speaking, the remains of what used to be intensively-managed water meadows.  They were an important part of the agricultural scene, pasture that was deliberately flooded to encourage grass growth, using a system of side-channels known as "carriers", from which water was flooded over the meadow using a series of sluices and hatches.  Down by the river near Twyford you can still see them, little brick arches half-buried in the lush grass, like hump-backed bridges in some Beatrix Potter fantasy of trouser-wearing rabbits.

Although their agricultural importance has diminished, they are important habitats for wildlife.  What you can't see in these photographs are the dozens of swifts, martins and swallows skimming the grass at improbable speeds for insects in a mesmerizing aerobatic display. The Prof and I like to lean on a gate and watch them together for what seems like hours.  It seems incredible that so much energy can be generated from eating insects.  Insects! It also seems so unfair that the laws of gravity have been suspended just for them.

If you're lucky, a kingfisher will zip by, a blue spark sensed more than seen.  Not this weekend, though.  On a casual walk on Sunday we did see several herons, reed warblers, water voles, and various other species of what are technically-known as "brown jobbies" -- those small, furtive brown birds that are impossible to differentiate without binoculars (we'd forgotten them, again), an identification guide, and years of dedicated watching.  At times, you can appreciate the Victorian naturalist's approach to identification:  just shoot the bugger and take it home.

The highlight was a large, chestnut brown raptor that went up as we entered some trees -- not a buzzard, not a kite.  "Marsh Harrier" were the words that sprang to mind, but it was gone before I could get a good shot at of it.


Struan said...

I spent the weekend celebrating midsummer with friends in an area southeast of Gothenburg which also has extensive remains of older agriculture, including meadows and grassland. Photographically they're tough, especially if you want to show the flowers as part of the overall scheme, rather than zooming in for portraits.

When was mucking about in the Itchen water meadows as a nipper, they tended to be referred to in rather dippy hushed tones (Hello skies!) as remnants of immemorial practice. Or at least medieval. What you see today though is the remains of C19th industrialised agriculture. No less interesting for that, but the purpose was profit, not heritage.

Mike C. said...

A degree of altitude is the answer (a tall step-ladder, or ideally a mobile cherry-picker). Or maybe a kite -- I've always wanted to try that.