Friday, 2 March 2018

News Catch-up on 2017 and into 2018

Welcome to the first post for six months.  This is due to the environment around Houghton Regis deteriorating so much that I was despondent and unable to find much positive to record.  Let me tell it in pictures:
The replanted hedge held out hope of reducing traffic noise in years to come but it wasn't long before all the canes had been removed and were scattered all over the grass, many broken.  Even if it survives it is too close to the knee-rail.  The weight of the plastic protectors is too much for the saplings to bear so many are lying on the ground.  I tried replacing the canes but after the first frost the ground was too hard to push them in.  Thousands of plants, hedges, trees and shrubs have been planted all over the Woodside Link site and many hedging plants have been flattened by wind and snow once the canes have been removed by vandals. The trees have sturdier protectors but even these are scattered widely.  Below shows the remaining trees that were planted in the borrow pit before it flooded and their stakes and protectors floating around the edges.  There should be rows of trees filling the space in the middle.  It wasn't supposed to flood.  Clearly the drainage isn't sorted yet.
Incongruously, these lovely cornflowers have managed to survive and even flourish on the bank of one of the ponds, but there has been no sign of any other wildflowers springing up yet.  Even this spot has been spoiled by rubbish now and most of the photographs I take are to report fly-tipping to the council.  It was sad to watch the workmen treading through rubbish to plant trees and bushes to beautify the landscape.  The cycle-paths and fields became off limits as traveller encampments sprung up, blocking paths and leaving piles of rubbish every time they were moved on.  This lasted from August to December when finally, after they had all left, permanent bollards were put in place along the cycle paths to prevent further incursions.  But the damage had been done, verges rutted and rubbish buried in the mud of a very wet winter or sunk in the stream bed. 

Rubbish emanates from various sources, but someone is always responsible for dropping it in the street or countryside, whether intentionally or carelessly, so I believe our behaviour needs to change as well as reducing the amount of plastic packaging in use.  As a child I thought the rubbish on the streets and in the countryside (mostly tiny waxed paper sweet wrappers and paper cigarette packets) was bad but it was nothing like it is today. 
This egret is trapped by what looks to me like a Chinese lantern or lampshade wound round its leg.  Perhaps it approached thinking it was another egret and got caught, the high wind wrapping the wires tightly round its leg.  I couldn't go closer because it just got more agitated. I rang the RSPCA but fortunately the wind died down so the bird was able to free itself before they arrived.  
Rubbish dropped in the countryside becomes the landowners' responsibility but rubbish on private land near here is still there months after it was deposited by travellers.  Rubbish in the stream is another matter.  Whilst the road contractors used to clear it when I reported it, now the work is finished, whatever 'falls' into the stream remains there with nobody apparently taking responsibility for clearing it.  I am still hoping that something can be done about it before the house builders start messing things up again. 

(above) Car engine parts were dumped here when travellers left.

(left) The green and yellow in the stream is an inflatable turtle.  Not the right place for inflatables.

These fencing clips and panels below left by contractors could trip up dog-walkers and there are also hose pipes and fence bases hidden in the long grass.


Plans are to start building houses at the northern end of the site away from the stream.  However, at present there are two more bridges over the stream on the masterplan.  Bridges shade the stream preventing greenery growing, reducing its value to wildlife for food and protection from predators.  The large area of concrete is an open invitation to graffiti artists, who have already 'decorated' the Woodside Link Bridge, making it look like an inner-city underpass.  The process of building a bridge leads to pollution and more littering as well as the inevitable loss of more mature trees.  Ironically, down in Luton the plans for a new football stadium include de-culverting the River Lea, which currently runs underground through Luton, to create an attractive feature at the front of the development.  And now they want to put more concrete over Houghton Brook, which is not absolutely necessary.  With a little thought and realisation of the environmental implications, it is possible to avoid both planned bridges.
The Environment Agency also has plans to build a retention bank across the site to control the flow of water in Houghton Brook to prevent flooding in Luton.  This will be achieved by diverting the stream and putting a sluice gate in the bank.  I have asked, and am still waiting to hear, how that can be judged compatible with encouraging water voles to spread upstream from Luton where there are still some in the River Lea.  In my view a sluice gate is an obstacle to the free movement of river animals, and should not be permitted.  I do understand the need for flood prevention though, just not like this.  The EA will clear Himalayan Balsam which is a good thing.  The EA project means re-routing the brand new cycle path away from the stream. 
The good news (thank you for reading this far!) is that Groundwork is running RiverLution courses in water monitoring, and a colleague and I will be starting to do this in Houghton Brook in a few weeks' time!  This is very exciting as it has been on my list for a long time.  This is the spot we have chosen, as it should not be impacted by the projects above, and the banks have been re-profiled and vegetation removed during the road-building works, which makes it easier to access, as well as having a handy rail to hold onto!  I have waders if necessary but I doubt we'll need them unless the silt is very deep.  We will record physical, chemical and biological data. 

From this side of the brook it looks fairly clean at present and it is lovely to see the sun shining on the water again as it has been so full of weed all last summer one wouldn't know there was any water in it.  Groundwork, based in Luton, organises litter clearances in the River Lea so hopefully they may organise one for Houghton Brook.

On 31st January the Blue Moon shone down on the still unfinished recreation spaces, reflected in the flooded chalk meadow.  The footpaths are still uneven, rutted tracks deep enough to turn an ankle, roughly cut through bramble and thicket with stems sticking up to trip you up.  They are supposed to be smooth mown paths between longer meadow grasses to encourage butterflies and insects.  No effort has been made to remove the roots or stems so in a month these will start springing up again all over, obscuring the uneven ground underneath.  With the failed wildflower seeding, the vandalised hedges, the unsafe footpaths, the promise of the proposed landscaping is not being fulfilled. 

I wonder what birds spring will bring to the depleted hedgerows and scrub to sing and breed this year?  Will the willow warblers return?  I am hopeful that a stand of young self-seeded willows will be left intact as that's where I filmed the whitethroat singing last year, however, I have a feeling that's where a bridge is destined to stand.  I have missed the golden and little ringed plovers and only heard redwings and fieldfares as there are few trees left for them to feed on.  However, I have seen a heron, three egrets, and red kites overhead. 

This fox has found a safe haven for now in the last remaining patch of scrubby hawthorn bushes and brambles. 

This photo was taken from the bridge on Sundon Road over the A5-M1 link which is now the entrance to Houghton Regis from the east
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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

July and August - Changing Flowers and Changing Scenes


Clump of black poplars silhouetted against the setting sun.  Houghton Brook in the foreground is so full of plants now the water is rarely visible except under bridges or where vegetation has been cleared for the works. 

Blows Down viewed from the Woodside Link (in May actually!).  The housing in these fields will mask this view.  The cycle ways flood in places, in one spot it has become permanent.

To the left of the bridge is a patch of weeds typical of those that grow on waste ground which are completely different from what was growing here before.  I have been able to recognise a few but these are not definitive identifications and were made from photos, not in the field:

Thistle (not sure which), sorrel, plantain, poppy, and members of the goosefoot family (possibly Fat Hen which is abundant on disturbed ground).
The little pink flower is called Redshank and grows on bare ground often near water.  The leaves have a dark spot which is clearest in the middle of the picture.

The brambles around the base of the pylon at the bottom of Parkside Drive have produced a bumper crop of large, sweet, juicy blackberries which are easy to pick. 

Don't miss this opportunity for free food!


Blue arrows on the fence mark the line of the hedge to be planted on the boundary of the Bellcross Homes site.

I had to include this one of marjoram on the Bellcross Homes land because of all the skippers, at least four of them, flying around and feeding on the fragrant flowers. 

Grasses seem to have taken over the verges of the stream path and embankments. 

Reed-mace often called Bulrush, suddenly appeared in the borrow pit this spring, by accident or planted?  But the water has disappeared!  I was told it would be refilled but apart from a few puddles due to the rain it is still empty while the smaller ponds are now full.  So there's nothing interesting to see on the water. 

I think this must be the contractor's logo because I see it everywhere! 

Back to Parkside Drive and another super sunset.    

Friday, 2 June 2017

All Change

Time has passed so fast in May with daily changes on the new roads that I've not been able to keep up with nature observations.  Looking at my photos, of which there are hundreds, I find they were mostly taken to report rubbish and other matters to the council and contractors.  This post therefore is mostly for the benefit of my distant friends who don't live locally yet follow this blog faithfully.  So I hope you get a picture of the changes to the landscape.  In this picture is the newly dug section of stream, and beyond the bridge is the original channel.  Recently, I stood on this attractive wooden bridge between 9.00pm and 10.00pm and observed bats flying around me, just as they used to do.  According to the survey done in 2010 these are common pipistrelle.

Looking in the opposite direction towards the Parkside Link bridge showing the black poplar just peeping over the fencing.  Lots of cyclists, including me, have been enjoying the wide, sloping cycle paths alongside the roads.  The crossings are wide and spacious too, good for pedestrians and cyclists.

This is the Parkside Link and bridge over the stream.  The doggy bin is a marker for where the hedge used to be and where it should be replanted.  Remember this?

I wonder how long it will take to grow back to this? 

A forest of lampposts lines the NCN6 cycle path alongside the stream, beyond which is the borrow pit then the M1.  Photo taken from the bridge over the stream. 

As nature takes over, I fear a lot of items like this cone discarded by the contractors will just become part of the new landscape, or get buried under topsoil being prepared for planting trees, wildflower meadows, shrubs and scrub plants. 

Red admiral loves this sunny brick wall, but it needs flowers to feed on.  The wildflower meadows promised have still to be sown.  Is your garden butterfly friendly?
Broomrape on Shanly fields.  It lives on other plants and doesn't make its own food, hence the lack of green.  It is an unusual plant and I saw a lot before the digging started. 

An early morning view of the group of black poplars, with Blows Down behind and an inviting footpath. This has not changed, though a hedge has gone which means the houses on Pastures Way are now more visible.  There are still a few small spots like this where the camera may select a familiar favourite view without new sights intruding. 

With all three new roads open, one might hope the end of the works might be in sight but far from it, the landscaping has a long way to go, the large areas of topsoil asking to be planted up with trees and shrubs to screen the future developments and existing housing from the roads.  

Saturday, 8 April 2017

March into April

Spring is busy on the borrow pit and along Houghton Brook.  A pair of Canada geese have dropped into the borrow pit and a little ringed plover is back again.

On the adjacent field I saw six skylarks chasing around the Kane digger and this one stopped to pose for me.  At least they are free to nest for a few more years as HRN1 is not going to be built there yet.  It is a relief to know that I will still hear the song of the skylark when I walk by the stream.  I couldn't imagine life without it.

A beautiful combination of yellow pussy willows and white blackthorn in the hedge.

I wish the whole length of the stream looked as clean and healthy as this spot, but sadly that's not the case.  However, a recent clear-up by the contractors has made an improvement and I hope it will now stay clear of visible rubbish at least.  Under water there is more to be cleared and the new spring growth covers other items.  New visitors to the stream include a moorhen, and the mallard seemed very relaxed when I snapped him.  I long to remove the plastic sack in the background.

I've also seen a muntjac and a fox down by the stream.

There is an update on the Luton Lea project including Houghton Brook which you can read on the River Lea Catchment website on the link below: 
This blackcap may have over-wintered and I have heard chiff-chaffs as well.  I do miss the willow warblers though that used to sing from the copse by the bus-link.  I heard lots in the Chalk Pit though, a wonderful place to hear birds singing and to video them because it's so quiet.  Once the Woodside Link is open it will be too noisy to video bird song there.
We shall just have to wait and see how the traffic affects the wildlife.  I welcome comments from your own observations.  The landscaping will continue for some time yet with more trees to be planted and grass to be sown along with wild flowers.  When the Parkside Link is finished the hedge will be replanted.  The embankment of the road next to the stream will be planted with bushes and it should look very attractive when completed and old and new have grown together.  I still can't bring myself to change the title picture of this blog.  Perhaps when the bushes begin to grow up to hide the fence, the hedge on the Parkside Link regrows, and newly planted trees mature to fill in the gaps. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

March Sightings

It's a very long time since I've spotted one of these, a mistle thrush, so I was delighted when it flew over and landed close by for me to appreciate it's beautiful speckled breast.  It is perched on the edge of the new section of Houghton Brook at the end of Parkside.

Then a pair of stonechat, first observed here by me in 2014, came to pose on  the Bellcross Homes land.  These are such handsome birds and I hope they stay.

Below three linnets are perched on a fence as the power lines have been removed.  They were chattering non-stop!

A new path over a drainage ditch enables one to see the planting that has been going on recently on the embankment of the Woodside Link, and bordering the cycle/footpath along the stream.  I also saw three kites and a kingfisher!

Lastly, a closer look at the drainage ditch revealed frogspawn, lots of it!

I have also taken photos of the rubbish in the stream, both contractors' and from the public and will not post them here to spoil your pleasure.  But have sent them to the appropriate place to be dealt with. 

Please pick up any rubbish you happen to drop and take it home to dispose of in the proper place.  All litter spoils the pleasure of the countryside for other people and endangers wildlife, as well as blocking the flow of water in the stream and risking causing flooding.  Please don't spoil this beauty.