Thursday, 18 December 2014

South Pond - the heart of the town

What a dull dreary day it is today; overcast and grey, and damp from last night's rain. It is very tempting to stay snuggled on the sofa for the day, but a short walk, some fresh air and a stretch, will do us good. 

The colours are subdued, road verge mud splattered, and only the ivy retains it's glossy gleam where it's leaves have been washed clean by the rain. The dark boughs of douglas firs and scots pines are bold against the pale sky. This pine belt marks the northerly route of the disused railway I mentioned in a previous blog when we explored Pitsham Farm. It is often my first stop on my way into town, and there is always life here. The deep masses of pine needles knit together to form a long blanket, protecting the gap between them and the trunks of the trees from the worst of the weather all year long. Small birds, such as parties of tits (blue tit, great tit, and coal tit are the three most common here) forage for insects and spiders between the needles, bouncing in groups across the sky. My favourite is the goldcrest. Our smallest bird in the UK the goldcrest weighs about the same as a 20pence coin, and loves pine trees. Listen out for their very high pitched, thin and squeaky calls; I invariably hear these little characters before I spot them flitting and hovering around the branches!

Now, the gardens and streets of the housing estate we have to walk through to get to the destination for today's outing, can be great for birds such as sparrow, starling and collard dove, but I think today we will hurry past and head straight down to South Pond. 

Leaves on the wind, or flocks of finches?

South Pond is in the centre of Midhurst, overlooked by the community centre and car park, and was originally made over 800 years ago as a fishing resource for the local landowning families. The pond, and the woodland along the rife that feeds it, are the focus of a community led project working to restore the area to its former glory and for its future sustainability. Historic, and a valuable community asset, South Pond should be a beauty spot, a community resource and great for wildlife, but neglect has seen this area become unloved and degraded over recent years. The ambitious project includes community engagement, dredging works, planting of wildflowers/native water plants, establishing a reed-bed, improving the physical environment and much more!

Today we will reach the pond from the south, via Jubilee Path, a footpath that follows the route of the rife. This is the same stream that crosses Pitsham Farm, and it flows on from the pond, down The Warfe (where it was channeled to form Midhurst's long forgotten canal) to join the River Rother at the foot of St Ann's Hill. This path is likely to be the first place we see orange tip butterflies in the spring, and hear returning summer migrants such as willow warbler and chiffchaff singing. A Community Orchard has been planted by the Rotary Club on an open patch of ground half way along the path - a scrumped plum from here is one of the best tastes of late summer! 

Blue tit
Today, the path is busy with dog walkers and cyclists on their way to or from the shops or work in town. But we still see a few birds: there is a flock of goldfinches singing and feeding in the top of the tallest alder trees, blue tits call, and that rustle was a blackbird turning over the fallen leaves. A christmas-card-robin is perched in the holly, above the big fallen log that lies in the grass at the end of the path, as the pond itself comes into view. A wooden footbridge crosses the point where the rife enters the pond, the path leading either side of the pond or off into the car park and towards the shops. The north-eastern edge of the pond is bordered by the old Chichester road, once the main route through the town. Water pours over a weir in the corner of the pond, and is tunnelled under the road to roar over a steep drop into a deep still pool on the far side, surrounded by high shear sandstone banks with over hanging vegetation - perfect for kingfishers to nest. A kingfisher does come through here, a zooming flash of blue, but I rarely see it. The pool is next to a house that was once a working mill, and the water pouring down would have provided power. 

Let's go and stand on this road bridge and have a good look at the pond, we can see clearly from there. 

Two islands squat in the muddy waters, both swamped by willow scrub, and one containing an impressive lone swamp cypress tree that towers above the pond. Mallard ducks and black headed gulls are squabbling over some crumbs left on the bank by a passer by. Between the islands is a narrow, shallow channel, where a tall shadowy grey figure stalks. It's a grey heron, a regular visitor to South Pond and one of the many species that will benefit from the South Pond Group's project. 

Grey heron

Canada geese

The restoration work is well underway and we can already see the start of many changes. Birch faggots have been made by local school children on the nearby commons, and are being used to re-enforce the banks and mark out the edges of the new reed bed. The silt being dredged from the bottom of the pond, where it has built up over the past decade or so, is being pumped behind these faggot barriers to create a perfect bed for planting native wetland plants and flowers.  

We will follow the developments of South Pond as the restoration continues, as this is an exciting time for wildlife in the centre of my patch. It will be interesting to see what new species are attracted to the pond during the next year as the planting establishes.

But for now it is getting a bit gloomy and starting to drizzle, so I reckon its time to head back for a cup of tea, a piece of fruit cake, and finish of writing those christmas cards!

This is the third and central section of my patch, with Pitsham Lane and farmland to the southerly directions, and St Ann's hill and the Cowdray Meadows to the north. It is possible to visit all three in one walk, but more often, time allows just a short walk and a few moments in one or the other. I hope you have enjoyed exploring my patch with me and will continue to join me in watching the wildlife and changing seasons across this patch through the coming months. 

Sunday 21st is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. From this day on, the hours of light slowly stretch out, through the sweet joys of Spring, the first flowers and the warming weather, to the endless days of Summer, before the darkness returns bringing the fruits and mellow mists of Autumn. For nature, this is New Year, and a great time to start watching a Local Patch. Perhaps you will see some similar wildlife in your area, as we find around Midhurst, or discover something wonderful of your own to share. 

Orange-tip butterfly, "The happiest butterfly of Spring", something to look forward to on the patch

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Hello! Thank you for viewing my blogs and profile. I am passionate about the countryside and british wildlife and I hope that this comes through in my blog. I am a nature writer and have been pursuing photography since early teenage years, whilst building a career in conservation. Helping people to reconnect with the natural world is very important to me, whether through direct hands on interaction, education or literature. Please also visit my website, for more information, my current CV, and further examples of writing and photography. You can contact me or keep up to date with new blog posts via Twitter @SophiEcoWild and/or Feedback, comments and audience participation are always welcome! Sophie May Lewis