Posted by: lensweb | March 18, 2020

Re-wilding by the Erewash Canal

National Cycle Route 67 runs alongside the towpath of the Erewash Canal from Long Eaton alongside the wet meadows of Toton Washlands, past the beautiful Sandiacre waterfront, alongside Sandiacre Marsh, past Trowell Boards through Ilkeston to Langley Mill. The route passes some eye-catching scenery and there is always the chance to spot wildlife; moorhens, mallards, coots, and even a vivid blue kingfisher. The cycle path is really well used and the cyclists act with consideration to the many walkers on the trail. But, successive improvement of the cycle path means there is no longer a crude footpath but a sophisticated tarmacked track more than a metre wide, an improvement for cyclists, but reducing biodiversity.

An intensive mowing regime means that a smooth green sward has replaced the wildflowers that used to grow there. To mitigate the loss of greenery, the Canal and River Trust have attached bank extensions, coir rolls impregnated with wildflowers along some sections and these have been very successful, colourful flowers of Purple Loosestrife, Hemp Agrimony, Yellow Iris and Jewel Weed to cheer us, but long term they may not be the solution due to problems of detachment.

Dave Pinney had already expressed his concern that the wildflower areas by the cycle path were being mowed before the flowers came out and set seed. In the summer he had been plant recording with the U3A Wild Flower Group, but to their disappointment, all the flowers had been cut. He discussed this issue with Len Harvey at DaNES Insect Show and Len set up an open air meeting for LENS Wildlife Group to discuss the mowing regime with the Canal and River Trust Ecologist Imogen Wilde. After meeting up and admiring a Medlar Tree in a garden on Lock Lane, we slowly walked along the canal from Sandiacre Lock to Sandiacre Marsh, Bridge No 12 to see what could be done.

Dry brown seedy stems of purple loosestrife stood tall among Great Pond Sedge, Len smelt the expanding leaf rosettes of Meadow Sweet and Water Figwort. The strap-like underwater leaves of arrowhead waved back and forth in the gentle current. Disturbed ducks scrambled into the canal, swimming for refuge, it was delightful to see a rough-hewn ramp so the ducks could waddle onto the far bank with ease, away from human and dog interference. Under the hedge, leaves soft and pale, floppy purple stems of Upright Hedge Parsley lurked with the green ferny leaves of Ladies Lace, Delicately perfumed deep purple Sweet Violets flowered in the sun, while the broad blue dog violet blooms sheltered under hawthorn.

The Canal and River Trust have recently relaid the hawthorn hedge alongside Toton Washlands, although only half of it was completed, the whole hedge was cut back and this suited the Field Garlic, a nationally rare plant which has spread. Unlike other wild flowers, field garlic propagates from the base by bulbs, but it would be interesting to see it flower.

We looked at the site where the round fruited rush used to grow, it was now a smooth green lawn, the only site in Derbyshire for this slender rush, we had a duty of care.
Further along, the towpath is quite narrow and the hedge grows over the path, rambling Chinese Honeysuckle grasping tendrils choking hawthorn and elder. Close to the lock gates there are black and white cast iron mooring posts and on the smooth grass a Collared Dove lay dead beside the track, a sparrowhawk had been disturbed and dropped his lunch.

After discussion we all agreed that the canalside needed to have the appearance of being managed. If possible, the grassy areas around the mooring posts should be mowed regularly, the east side of the path next to the hedge should be mowed twice, once in April and once in September and the hedge clipped back. The west side of the path next to the canal should also be mowed twice, once in April and once in September. A narrow, 25 cm strip next to the track either side should be regularly mowed to stop grass growing over the track. Imogen mapped the track using an app on her phone while three Buzzards circled in the sky and the Sparrowhawk retrieved his lunch.

Let us hope our Ecologist is able to argue the case for re-wilding. It will not only cut costs for the Canal and River Trust, but to see a profusion of wildflowers will lift the spirits of all path users. Long grass and flowers at the edge of the towpath allows water voles and other small animals to shelter from predatory birds. Bees and butterflies will increase as once more there will be natural stands of native wild flowers for cyclists and walkers to enjoy, close to where they live, as they use this vital green link route.

Marion Bryce 18 March 2020

 


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