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CHR Totem

at Oswestry and Llynclys

Thinking on the Wild Side

Read about the Cambrian Orchard here.

Winter 2016/17

The reinstated track from Middleton Road Bridge to Gasworks Bridge accompanied by the new pedestrian/cycle ‘Greenway’ has been experiencing its first winter. Figs. 1 and 2 taken 7 years apart indicate how it has been possible to rebuild the railway and a path alongside it without drastic vegetation clearance. At the same time the biodiversity of a corridor site within the town has been enhanced, and which now provides a healthy, quiet and altogether pleasant off-road access route.

Work has already begun on the next section of the line to the south from Gasworks Bridge to our buildings at Weston Wharf with the added bonus of the Stonehouse Brewery next door. Incidentally, the brewery has built its own on-site cider orchard which is as far to the south of the town centre as our own orchard is to the north.

Once again we will seek to strike a balance between green continuity and an operating railway, particularly on the eastern side where much of the vegetation can be used to ‘mask’ the Maesbury industrial park. On the western side however, future train passengers will be getting their first distant vista being able to gaze out across the fields once past the cemetery.

Fig 1

Fig1. Looking north from Gasworks Bridge April 2010

Fig 2

Fig2. Looking north from Gasworks Bridge Feb 2017

Whilst the track work can continue as the weather improves, the imminence of the bird nesting season means that any significant vegetation clearance on the track side will cease for this year until September. However, planning for that work has begun using the management policy derived with Shropshire Wildlife Trust (SWT) which includes ‘scalloping’ where clearing of sections up to 30 metres occur next to similar size sections that are left untouched. Meanwhile, trees e.g. hazel of intermediate age and height can be laid to form hedges supplemented by whips of native deciduous trees provided by The Woodland Trust.

Fig 3

Fig3. Meadow Brown butterfly at Pen-y-Garreg Lane July 2016

Fig 4

Fig4. Several twayblades (an orchid) and self heal (a herb; purple flower bottom left) Pen-y-Garreg Lane

In no time at all it seems, the local branch of Wildlife Trust were back during December at Pen-y-garreg Lane halt at the southern end of the line undertaking another vigourous taking back of the overgrowth on the limestone meadow and the quarry pond surrounds, Fig 5. However, in July 2016 see Figs 3 & 4.

Fig 5

However, in July 2016 at the height of the wildflower season the Trust undertook a comprehensive plant survey and were able to list 83 different species of wildflowers in the meadow including 6 axiophytes. These are plants which, whilst not necessarily rare, are indicative of a site that is worthy of significant conservation potential, and also, as has been said, make botanists go “Oooh!”

The complete list can be seen here

Fig5. Cleared Meadow at Penygarreg Lane Dec 2016

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Summer 2016

A significant development has taken place from the Coney Green pedestrian crossing of our line and Gasworks Bridge in Oswestry between which sites Shropshire Council has this year constructed and opened a cycle/footpath (Greenway). It runs alongside the 350 yards of line south of Oswestry Station on which the concurrent and near completed work by CHR volunteers has required over 400 replacement sleepers and the re-fitting of 40 panels of track!

Brimstone Butterfly

Fig.1 Brimstone Butterfly warming on Ivy strewn ballast

It is gratifying to see so many folk of all ages with prams, bikes and mobility vehicles and trains using this new and verdant facility connecting south eastern Oswestry via Plas Ffynnon Park. But it is also rewarding to know what else is sharing this space.

Red Tail Bumble Bee

Fig.3 Red Tail Bumble Bee on Weld

Referencing the biodiversity management plan developed with Shropshire Wildlife Trust and put into play since 2006, we can now see the emergence of a true transport innovation in which a green corridor can readily host the ‘off road’ travelling public whilst linking a number of intra-urban wildlife sites.

Tree Bumble Bee

Fig.2 Tree Bumble Bee queen emerging in the spring sunshine

Some of the wildlife observed during the early stages of the work is shown in Figs. 1&2. Necessary tree felling was underwritten by a generous donation from the neighbouring Penda Industrial Estate and revenue will be raised by selling the timber for firewood. Mitigation measures for the felling (mostly of Sycamore) include more bird (already occupied by Blue Tits) and Bat boxes, are being applied using a grant from the Green Shropshire Xchange including hedge planting this winter which will lead in time to further enhancement of the corridor.

Up the line between Oswestry and Gobowen, wild flowers have grown prolifically this year on spoil moved from in front of the Works buildings to the Railway Orchard entrance area (Figs. 3-5). Honey and Bumble Bees seem to have been drawn this year in particular by Weld, and large numbers of Red-Tailed and Common Carder Bumble Bees have been evident this year at this site.

Buff Tail Bumble Bee

Fig.4 Buff Tail Bumble Bee with laden pollen sacs

Lineside Wild Flowers

Fig.5 Lineside wild flower including Wild Carrot, Poppy, Ox Eye, Teasel and Viper’s Bugloss

Click here to see a short video of a female Bullfinch feeding on buds below Gasworks Bridge in March 2016. The singing of a Wren close at hand followed by a more distant Blackbird, can be heard above the traffic noise.

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Spring 2016

In the 2013/14 entry we reported that the winter was the wettest on record. Now that record has been overtaken not only by rainfall, but by ‘mildness’. One result of this has been the filling with water to levels we have not seen for some time of the old quarry pool opposite the platform at Pen-y-Garreg Lane Halt in Pant.

When it was recognised that the trees around the pool, and indeed the small meadow abutting it, were heavily overgrown, an approach was made to the owner Sylvia Kynaston for permission to clear both during the winter, to which she kindly agreed. The Shropshire Wildlife Trust plant expert Fiona Gomersall had made a visit and confirmed the substantial potential of the combined site to host a wide range of limestone loving wild flowers. As such, it felt this could assist the site in complimenting several other interconnecting locations nearby which the Wildlife Trust has been managing in a scheme funded by a grant from Wren Waste.

View of the Halt in Nov 2015

Fig 1. - Looking down on Pen-y-Garreg Halt before work starts in November 2015.

View of the Halt in Dec 2015

On a weekend in December a Trust working party took back the overgrowing brash to a degree not seen for many years. (figs.1&2) We are confident that planned review in June 2016 will be rewarded by a panoply of flowers in this small meadow next to the pond with its own improved wildlife (fig. 4). How many such sites one wonders, closely accessible and indeed clearly visible from a heritage train, are there in the country!?

Fig 2. - The same view of Pen-y-Garreg Halt in December 2015, following work by SWT Volunteers.

Pond opened up to view from train A Mallard Brood on the pool

Fig 3. - The view of the pool is now opened up from the train.

Fig 4. - A brood of Mallards in the pool at Pen-Y-Garreg Halt.

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 Summer/Autumn 2015

Since 1950,half Britain’s hedges have been lost, but belatedly by the 1990s the value of this integral and essential part of the Uk’s green ‘capital’ has been recognised. Remarkably, around half a million miles of hedges contain 15% of our stock of native trees and are a haven for wildflowers, invertebrates, birds and mammals. Hedges were of course originally for stock proofing and their barrier function can also be seen alongside railways combined with fencing.

Figure 1

Replanting mainly with hawthorn and hazel is also necessary where there has been overgrowth by species of trees that cannot be readily be laid. These processes have been applied by CHR over the last few years. Indeed, over 200 metres of hedge have been planted within Oswestry itself between Gasworks and Whittington Rd. bridges. None is yet quite ready to be laid, but progress can be seen if you look back to another image of planting south of Plas Ffynnon (see Summer 2010) compared with how it looks this year (Fig. 1)

Fig 1. - Line side maturing hedge, south of Plas Ffynon park and consisting of hawthorn, blackthorn, guelder rose and hazel.

Not only do hedges provide a vital part of the connection between wider green spaces, they are of themselves a food source (Fig.2),and a habitable margin to the air space above railway track along which all the ‘Bs’; birds, bees, bats, and butterflies may choose to fly. It is hedging whips that are to be planted to replace trees that need to be felled or thinned close to the line south of Middleton Road as CHR reinstates the line from Oswestry Station towards Weston Wharf.

Figure 2

Fig 2. - Guelder Rose berries, food for local wildlife.

Figure 3

Ragwort is a plant that gets many unnecessarily vexed over its toxicity to horses. Less known is the fact that it is attractive to over 30 species of pollinating insect, the best known being the cinnabar day flying moth whose larval form is entirely dependent on it (Fig 3.)

Fig 3. - Ragwort with 8 hover flies in attendance.

Back in 2012 volunteers started planting a new hedge alongside the newly built flats along the line in Gobowen Road, heading north towards Gobowen.

3w.

Fig 4. - Part of a 200 metre length hedge behind the Gobowen Road flats, planted in 2012

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Spring 2015

The British have a long established tradition of ‘phenology’, the observation of cyclical changes in animal and plant life according to seasons.

Although spring 2015 has been later than last year, the overall trend has been for a progressively earlier spring even since the Woodland Trust’s benchmark year of 2001.

This Easter, the BBC’s Springwatch TV program put out a call for members of the public to submit observations on five specific harbingers of spring. When the program was broadcast in 12 episodes in late May and early June, it was able to report on returns from the 17,000 signed up observers on how and when spring had arrived in the UK.

Fig1
Fig2

Female and Male Orange Tip Butterflies

Regular volunteer Judy Lyon here in Oswestry was amongst those on the look-out for these markers and duly made online submissions of her observations to the Woodland Trust based on when the following were first seen at the Railway Orchard (dated observed in brackets); 7 spot ladybirds (April 9th), arrival of swallows (April 25th), and orange tip butterflies (May 8th), plus fully open oak leaves and May blossom (May 10th).

Full leaves on a pollarded oak tree at CROP

It is the first time that such a national study has been undertaken plotting the progress of spring’s arrival in this country and as it moved from the south west to the north east at a slow walking pace of around 2 miles an hour, or 45 miles a day. As changes in the arrival and progress of spring are plotted each year, naturalists will be able to study the effect such changes have on the availability of food for different species of wild life.

Fig3

Mating 7-spot ladybirds

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Winter 2014/15

Fig-1.-Feb-2015

The importance of Cambrian Heritage Railways’ line as a semi-natural habitat has long been recognised. Over the last 5 years, CHR has emphasised the importance of the Railway as a valuable and in places largely undisturbed wildlife corridor, most notably in the south including in the Dolgoch area.

Wildlife sites are areas identified and selected for their nature conservation value and include threatened habitats and species within a national, regional and local context.

In 2013, the Shropshire Wildlife Trust (SWT) was awarded a grant from WREN, which is funding work on nature reserves and wildlife sites in the Oswestry area for the next 5 years.

Combined CHR and SWT working party in action at Dolgoch Feb. 2015

The aim of this project is to restore and connect species-rich limestone grassland and increase butterfly populations throughout a series of core sites and wildlife corridors. By linking butterfly colonies, a much stronger chance of survival is expanded; where populations are isolated, they become weakened through inbreeding and are then vulnerable to local extinction.

The length of railway line running past Dolgoch Quarry is the last of CHR’s 9 miles to have the track kept clear due to places where the track and/or sleepers are missing, which prevents routine spraying of the track bed. In February, CHR took up the opportunity to work with SWT in clearing the track bed and actively managing the margins of the line which in places is heavily overgrown with scrub and overhung by tree branches. This combined approach has opened up and improved the corridor to wildlife and links between important limestone sites.

In this way and to mutual advantage, a significant amount of work was completed making the track bed easier to maintain and ready for relaying with rail and sleepers, allowing annual spraying of the track bed.

The SWT advises further selective tree felling to open up the corridor both to improve flight paths for butterflies and bats, and in combination with suitable cutting regimes to promote growth of understorey and limestone loving flora where this can be accommodated away from the track bed. Reduction of the tree canopy will facilitate track maintenance by reducing leaf fall and damp and help to render the line operational in due course.

These collaborative measures could even allow the inclusion of this short section of track in the Oswestry Hills Grasslands and Butterflies project (WREN).

Fig-2.

Volunteer’s bike and the kissing gate access to Dolgoch Quarry by crossing the track.

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Summer 2014

 

A second annual Wildlife walk took place on May 17th, guided by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust (SWT) with whom CHR has worked over a number of years. It was a glorious spring day and walkers took the first train from Llynclys South Station at 11:00 alighting at Pen-Y-Garreg Halt, down the old tramway to the Montgomery Canal. Although it is dry at this point, the canal is now ‘in water’ up to nearby Pryce’s bridge since June, thanks to the efforts of the Montgomery Canal Partnership.

The group made their way along the towpath, skirting Pant, before climbing up to and returning via Llynclys Common. For images of what they found there see the Flickr site here.

Starlings at Llynclys Station
SWT led Walkers

SWT led walkers leave Pen-Y-Garreg Halt Station

There is a rich variety of birds to be seen at various points along our 9 miles of line with members reporting Kestrels and more recently Red Kites, as these distinctive raptors continue to extend from their established bases in Wales.

Volunteers on the Orchard are routinely recording wildlife during their weekly sessions. As well as regulars such as Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens, Goldfinches, Chiff-Chaffs and Hedge Sparrows, Yellow Hammers have been seen for the first time near Oldport Farm flying off up to the Hill Fort nearby. The site is often overflown by Crows, Magpies, Buzzards, Seagulls in certain weathers, and even a Swan!

Starlings in a tree at Llynclys Station

Oswestry’s Swifts returned from Africa to the town as expected in early May. They can often be seen and heard screaming (at up to 100mph!) around Oswestry Station area where there are two nests. They will be around till the beginning of August and an SWT group is keeping a watch on their numbers and nesting sites in town.

The grass on the north end of the Station platform has been allowed to grow because of a good range of wild flowers and insects including Grashoppers, and because of the proximity of Wilfred Owen Green which is maturing well. Railway volunteers have helped with litter clearance and worked in this locality with Shropshire Council Outdoor Recreation Department in the planting and management of trees in order to assist with the enhancement of green spaces in Eastern Oswestry for which the railway is a contributory link.

3.FEB-2012

Aerial view of Oswestry Station area in 2012 showing Shelf Bank and the Town Green with its maze.

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Winter 2013/14

Track Clearance

This winter has been the wettest on record though compared to the Somerset Levels and the Thames Valley, Shropshire, including the Severn Plain, got off lightly. It has also been the stormiest winter for 20 years according to the Met. Office. Hundreds of thousands of properties nationwide suffered power cuts between December and February. However, in February 2014, a record 11% of the UK’s electricity, enough for 6.5 million homes, was generated by wind power!

There was an exceptional storm on February 12th. with many trees down across the region. Some of these were encountered and cleared by Kevin Kingsley’s large working party of volunteers in March when they were working on the line between Gasworks Bridge and Weston Wharf.

Track clearance south of Gasworks Bridge in Oswestry

Their regular monthly working weekends over the years have been essential in keeping the trackbed and a margin of some 2 metres either side of the trackbed clear. This not only protects sleepers, but indicates where repairs are required and most importantly makes it possible to spray as much as possible of our 9 miles of trackbed using our motorised trolley.

The warm summer months of 2013 were excellent for bees, but it remains to be seen how well bumble bees have fared during their ground hibernation during the exceptionally wet winter. A first colony of British honey bees at CROP appears to have survived its first winter and there are plans to set up another, if and when a local swarm becomes available through local apiarist Richard Lewis.

Coming into spring, the railway orchard (CROP) was invited to have a stall at the Bee Day organised by Oswestry Friends of the Earth at Hermon Chapel, Oswestry.

Beehive at CROP

A first beehive at the Orchard Project

Click here to read pre-2014 Ecology Reports

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