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CHR Totem

at Oswestry and Llynclys

Thinking on the Wild Side

pre-2014 Reports

Read about the Cambrian Orchard here.

Summer 2013

Snow at the Orchard - March 13

Snow on the Cambrian Railways Orchard in late March (railway track to the right).

It is an open question if butterflies will make any sort of recovery from a disastrous 2012 with the majority of species in decline nation wide. Do join in the Big Butterfly Count (http://www.bigbutterflycount.org) before August 11th. It is quick, easy and satisfying and will help to generate vital data on how these beautiful creatures are faring, both regionally and nationally.

YellowTail Moth Caterpillar

Yellow Tail Moth Caterpillar on deciduous Elaeagnus at CROP.

There has been substantial variation in the weather this year, with deep snow as recently as late March and a hot July that reminds us of old fashioned summers. Thus ‘May’ Blossom on hawthorn did not appear in some places along the railway till June and the Elder Flower although plentiful has been late.

Mixed Flora at the Orchard site

Mixed flora on the Orchard site including thistle, rosebay, ragwort, burdock and nettle. All of which provide food for a huge variety of pollinating insects.

Honey bees have been much in the news, with the UK Government reluctantly accepting the Europe-wide ban on some pesticides that are believed to be contributing to the worrying fall in numbers. It was the Welsh Assembly which was the first this year to announce a national plan to reverse bee decline and for which ‘Friends of the Earth’ in particular, have campaigned so successfully. Bumble bees, however, seem to be having a field day so far this year.

Southern Hawker Dragonfly

Southern Hawker Dragonfly spotted between Gasworks Bridge and Plas Fynnon in Oswestry in Summer 2012.

Many of these aspects of our local ecology have been acted out on the Cambrian Orchard (CROP) on Gobowen Road where some 100 fruit trees are now thriving with blossom on many this year and a minority bearing their first fruit.

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Winter 2012/13

A key step in the reinstatement of an operating preserved line will be the Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO), which is legislation that will enable the CHR to carry passengers over and under bridges and across highways. Considerable resources of time and funds are currently being spent on this, with an application submission expected during April 2013.

An essential component of the TWAO is a Phase One Environmental report which has been compiled by local expert Andrew Angus for the CHR, and makes interesting and reassuring reading. Whilst the line plays host to some relatively unusual flora and fauna, none are likely to present a problem of management or indeed anything but a healthy co-existence. Indeed, the largest range of wildflowers can be found between Llynclys Station South and Pen-Y-Garreg Lane, one reason for which is that overgrowth with scrub in this transect has been well managed as this is currently the busiest section on the line.

Pale Toadflax at Llynclys
Boarding the first Bat Train

Boarding the first Bat Train - August 2012.

Several species, including the common and soprano Pipistrelles, Daubenton, Noctule and lesser Horseshoe, were detected (Click Here for a sonar recording of a Lesser Horseshoe Bat) though numbers were less than hoped perhaps because the insects on which they feed voraciously have had such a struggle this year, the wettest on record in the last 100 years. On that evening however, the star of the event was a trackside female glow-worm. These creatures are actually beetles and have been recorded in a number of other sites along the line.

Pale Toadflax at Llynclys (an example of an ‘axiophyte’, that is a plant not necessarily rare, but indicative of a habitat worthy of conservation.

Furthermore and now confirmed by a detailed supplementary report compiled in September 2012, up to seven species of bats inhabit the line in several sites where they feed, mate and socialise, enjoying the corridor warmed by the trackbed ballast. Although these mammals are protected by the Wildlife and Country Act of 1981, the report again emphasises that there is little likelihood of disturbing them, with perhaps the exception of a roost in the goods shed at Weston Wharf. The CHR was pleased to have run a first Bat Train in August 2012 which proved very popular. The Shropshire Wildlife Trust publicised the event and experts from Shropshire Bat Group introduced and guided the night time walk and provided the bat detectors.

Flashlit Glow-Worm

A Flashlit glow-worm showing her underside.

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Summer 2012

Llynclys bike stands

A key part of the CHR’s ecology is the contribution it can make towards sustainable transport. This includes:

  • our stated aim to connect to the mainline at Gobowen as a means of public transport for both locals and those from further afield
  • catering for tourists, including those who might otherwise have flown abroad but instead are holidaying in Britain and discovering Shropshire
  • encouraging pedestrians, hikers and cyclists.

To this end we have installed bike stands, provided by Shropshire Council, at both Oswestry and Llynclys stations. These were put up just in time to be used, for example, by the Cycle Oswestry Gently group when they rendezvoused at Oswestry Station in December 2011 and visited Llynclys Station in May 2012.

Bike stands in use at Llynclys

This year Oswestry was awarded Walkers are Welcome status and a sunny weekend of events to celebrate this, and the opening of the Oswestry Loop of the Shropshire Way, was held in early May. At Llynclys, free train rides were offered to those arriving other than by car, and what proved to be a very popular lead by David Hardwick of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust took a group by train to Pen-y-Garreg Lane. From there and via the canal tow path, under the busy A483 at Pant and up the incline to the old lime quarries they were able to reach Llynclys Common with its spectacular views and wildlife delights before returning via Dolgoch.

Welsh Hills from Llynclys Common
Inspecting Whittington Road Bridge

Richard Harman (Shropshire Council) with Richard Jones and Roger Date (Board Members of CHR) inspecting Whittington Road bridge.

There are moves afoot in Oswestry to improve planting strategy to encourage more pollinating insects whose numbers have been falling UK-wide over over the last 25 years. CHR is doing its bit with Bob Evans growing herbs in Oswestry Station yard with advice and plants from local gardening enthusiasts. New planters for the up-platform were installed in time for the Royal Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June.

View of the Welsh hills to the west from Llynclys Common

Furthermore, CHR has been actively engaged with Shropshire Council over the construction of a cycle walkway alongside the line, where that is possible, using allocated funding from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, as seen by the picture to the left.

Bumble Bee in Oswestry Station

Flowering Sage in Oswestry Station being visited by a buff-tail bumble bee.

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Winter 2011/12

The Railway has been awarded support from the Big Lottery Fund to develop a community orchard on redundant railway land. The site is just to the North-East of Oswestry sandwiched between the line and the Gobowen Road, opposite Oldport Farm and in the lea of the Hill Fort.

The CHR holds the lease for the land, which has not been exposed to track-bed contamination, and together with Tom Adams (see here) will offer local volunteers opportunities to fulfill the aims of the project which include; highlighting the usefulness of reinstating the line between Oswestry and Gobowen; raising funds for the CHR through growing more local varieties of fruit for local consumption; working with local craftsmen to provide education and training in the development of a sustainable and bio-diverse environment..

Orchard Site From the Air

The Orchard Site from the air, courtesy of a Lindstrand hot-air balloon, Oct 2009 (Grid Ref. SJ29992 30964)

Orchard Site Clearance

Stage 1 manual clearance with vegetation piles for chipping, green compost and winter habitat - Dec 2011

Aided by the grant of 10k, volunteer work started in November 2011 with litter and ground clearance. This was followed by tree surgery (with log sales generating funds for the CHR) and courses are planned for hedge planting and laying, fruit tree propagation, and construction of a shelter for volunteers and for collecting rainwater for irrigation.

The project will see the introduction of land management on the site for which the CHR has responsibility and a visible improvement in the appearance of the area in keeping with other locally funded initiatives on this section of the railway.

It should help to broaden the appeal of the CHR as a community initiative and has already brought in several new members.

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Summer 2011

A particular problem that some heritage railways face is the management of invasive species of plants. The most common are Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam, both of which are present on CHR land. The former has nothing to commend it and although Himalayan Balsam (Fig.1) is popular with bees, both species of imported plants spread inexorably and pose a serious threat to native species. Also, both can damage embankments and even buildings.

Japanese-Knotweed
Himalayan-Balsam

Fig.1 - Himalayan Balsam with its flower and ‘exploding’ seed pod.

Some manual clearance of Himalayan Balsam is being undertaken at Gwern y Brenin to the south, whilst over the last 3 years CHR has undertaken a programme of eradication of Japanese Knotweed. This has required using Glyphosate with a marker dye when the plant is in leaf and applied by a licensed sprayer to tackle the 6 separate sites where it is present on the railway in Oswestry (Fig. 2).

Fig.2 - A large patch of Japanese Knotweed at Gasworks Bridge in 2009, now virtually eradicated.

For the second year running, observations of butterflies have been undertaken during July as part of the nationwide “Big Butterfly Count”. At the time of submission it was already becoming clear that Peacock numbers were low nationally in 2011. So it was pleasing to report that once again this spectacular invertebrate was numerous in Oswestry around the Buddleia and often to be seen with other species on the warm ballast and sleepers (Figs. 3 and 4)

Peacock

Fig.3 - Peacock butterfly, sunning itself at Llynclys.

Speckled-Wood

Fig.4 -A Speckled Wood on ballast near Weston Wharf.

The island platform in Oswestry was rotavated in stages during 2010 and early 2011 and seeded with grass! This has meant that mowing has been possible to keep it tidier, especially during running weekends (Fig. 5).

Island-Platform

Fig.5 - Oswestry’s grassed island platform; in the background part of the old Works Buildings recently opened as a new medical centre.

Although no wild flowers were sown, several species persist or have arrived in this area alongside the Town Green, including common vetch, pale toadflax, broom and common ragwort. The area remains hospitable to many insects including day flying moths and grass hoppers, and birds including the hedge sparrow.

Talking of sparrows, a flock of around 35 house sparrows was observed in the shrubs around Coney Green on an August evening.

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Spring 2011

Image-1

Fig.1 - ImageMatch workers using a trolley to move felled trees for sale as firewood.

Based on a survey undertaken in 2009, which showed that bats were, as expected, present in Oswestry between Middleton Road and Gasworks bridges, bat boxes made by a volunteer in Llanymynech were put up near Plas Ffynnon park (Fig 2.) This is on part of the line which has been selectively cleared according to a biodiversity management plan which is expected to have improved the area as a corridor for bats, and indeed butterflies.

In early 2011, well before the nesting season, some sycamore trees growing out of and threatening the stability of original railway walls south of Middleton Road bridge were felled, and as chord lengths, sold locally for firewood to help raise funds for further clearance work(Fig 1.).

Image-2

Fig.2 - Angus Andrew (licensed bat worker and tree climber) putting up bat boxes at around 20ft. elevation.

Image-3 Image-4

Figs.3 & 4 - Penygarreg Lane footpath at two stages of development.

At Penygarreg Lane south of Llynclys, vegetation clearance was completed during the winter aspiring to allow the laying of a wheelchair friendly footpath in the early spring between the tow-path of the Montgomery Canal (currently ‘dry’ at this point) and the new Halt, which is now nearing completion and already allowing a growing number of passengers to alight and board timetabled trains from Llynclys South Station (Figs. 3 & 4)

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Winter 2010/11

The period between September and March is the optimal time for vegetation clearance as it is out of the nesting season, the leaves are off the trees and visibility is best. Much of the track between Blodwel and Porthywaen crossing was cleared by volunteers back in October and attention has now turned to the line North of Oswestry as CHR policy now includes the aspiration to re-establish a passenger link to the mainline at Gobowen.

Whittington-Road-Bridge-Before
Whittington-Road-Bridge-After

In the pictures above you can see before and after shots of the view from Whittington Road bridge looking North towards Gobowen. Showing the clearance work performed so far.

Further necessary felling and chipping has also been undertaken south of Middleton Road Bridge where a young Ash was threatening the integrity of the Railway wall. Logs from both sites have been sold raising valuable funds towards some of the costs involved.

But it’s not all about cutting things down! The rest of the Island platform at Oswestry has been rotavated and will be grass seeded very soon. This should make it manageable and a complement to the grassed banks, and pond, on the Wilfred Owen Town Green, which is about to experience its first Spring since opening last year.

Bird boxes along the line, in town, have been cleaned, and the first three bat boxes have been put up in an appropriate site between Middleton Road and Gasworks Bridges.

On the right can be seen one of the bird-nesting boxes during cleaning. A metal plate around the entrance hole is a squirrel deterrent.

Bird-Nesting-Box

In March, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers will generously bring their manpower, tools and around 400 young trees to continue the process of establishing a 200 meters length of hedge alongside the track and behind the new flats on the Gobowen Road in town.

Meanwhile, several of the ecological reports compiled in the last 2 years are being used as part of the application for the Transport and Works Act Order. This is the vital documentation without which it will not be possible to carry passengers over or under bridges, or indeed across the A5 and A483.

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Summer 2010

Fig-1

Fig.1 - Vegetation North of Gasworks Bridge, Sep.2009

Fig-3

Fig.3 - Same view July 2010 awaiting spraying of the track.

In the early part of this year professional arborists took on vegetation clearance between Middleton Road and Gasworks Bridges in Oswestry (see figs. 1-3)

This has has all been carried out in accordance with a Bio-diversity Management Plan developed in conjunction with Shropshire Wildlife Trust (SWT).

Fig-2

Fig.2 - Tree felling, early March 2010 before the nesting season in the same area.

Part of this policy is to replant where appropriate and thanks to the Hedge Fund (!) we were able, with a lot of volunteer help, to plant nearly 600 hedge whips in three different sites within the town along the line. (Fig.4) seen below.

There have also been several major litter picking parties of British Trust for Conservation Volunteers with the Shropshire Council again helpfully collecting all the rubbish.

Meanwhile down in Llynclys, the work done on clearing the embankments of Bramble and Wild Clematis last autumn, mainly by SWT, paid dividends this this spring with a beautiful array of Primroses, Cowslips and Dog Violets followed more recently by Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchids. The annual plant survey reveals that this year close to 100 species (some 20 more than last year) were identified in the Llynclys area, including Ragged Robin. (Fig.5) below.

Fig-4

Fig.4 - Newly planted hedge, south of Plas Ffynnon.

Fig-5

Fig.5 - Ragged Robin

We have also just received the first ever report on birdlife along the whole 8 miles of the CHR track. Allan Dawes of the British Trust for Ornithology has shown that the green corridor along the railway is a rich territory sustaining a good cross-section of resident and migratory birds (34 species) and is especially valuable out along the more rural parts of the line where it passes through cropped and grazed fields. The report strongly endorses the CHR policy of seeking to avoid any rapid and radical clearance of vegetation. So when clearance is required it should be carefully phased giving birds, and indeed all wildlife, a chance to adapt. His report can be read here.

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Summer 2009

Common-Toadflax

Although there have been wildlife surveys along the seven miles of track from Gobowen to Pen-y-Garreg Lane, the most recent was in 2005, and all were in the days before the Trust took on the ownership of the lease in April 2009. At a recent lecture, Robin Mager of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust(SWT) , gave a talk detailing just how few areas there are within the Oswestry Borough that are currently Local Nature Reserves. 

The Common Toadflax

This spring and summer SWT volunteers, who are currently involved with nearby Llynclys Common, have brought their surveying skills to bear on the stretch of the line south of Llynclys Junction in the first instance. This fits comfortably with the Ecological Management Plan for the Railway and should contribute to the likelihood of successful grant bids. It is an important step in securing an up-to-date account of just what flowers, butterflies, birds and creepy-crawlies we can expect to be sharing the line with, once trains are running the full length of the track. 

Yellow-Iris-and-Red-Campion

Yellow Iris & Red Campion

Obviously, a significant amount of vegetation on and by the track still needs to be cut back and managed, but this needs to be done responsibly to get the line more widely recognised as a ‘green corridor’ and possibly even designated as a ‘Country Wildlife Park’

Who knows, one day we may be attracting visitors to ride on a ‘Wildlife Express’ from town via Llynclys Junction to Porth-y-Waen Halt and/or the line itself offering a foretaste of what nature lovers will find at Dolgoch Quarry, Sweeney Fen, Llynclys Common and beyond....

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