Urban diary: Wildlife in Worcester

p1180184There could be a debate about whether the areas to the south and west of Worcester city centre genuinely qualify as urban: there’s a cathedral, a county cricket ground – once considered the most picturesque of all the first-class grounds – and the Severn meandering in a leisurely manner (today at least, if not always so) towards its confluence with the Teme. The Malvern hills are barely eight miles distant, and look closer.

We rarely drive to Worcester, or indeed to Malvern: for a day strolling the city, or a longer one walking the hills, the train is by far the preferred option. The walk from Foregate Street station to the riverside paths takes you right past the Cornish Bakehouse, purveyor of fine and varied pasties. Lunch is easily taken care of; all that remains is to choose from one of the wide selection of benches adjacent to the river. Stick to the cathedral side and any time from mid-morning on you’ll be catching the sun, if sun there is to be caught.

As well as the road bridge carrying the A44 there are two pedestrian footbridges crossing the river within easy walking distance of the city centre. The most recently constructed – just past Diglis weir on the southern side – added the final link in a pleasant, undemanding, circular walking route.

p1180135With the river low and slow-moving – consequence of an extended dry spell – a grey heron waded further from the bank than would usually be possible; repeatedly spearing and swallowing morsels too small to identify. There are some relatively new kids on this particular block – cormorants: there was a time, not so long ago, when they would have been a rarity this far upstream; these days they’re a fixture and their appetites are said to be prodigious by those who study these things. They will certainly be competing with the herons for food, possibly also for nesting sites. As of now, herons generally appear to be doing well; testimony to their adaptability and instinct for finding first water, then fish.

p1180101Speaking of which – fish that is – they could be forgiven a certain amount of paranoia: to further complicate their already hazardous existence, a kingfisher was patrolling a stretch of the river immediately south of the bridge. It was disinclined to pose for the camera – waiting part-hidden among the vegetation at the water’s edge. Seeing without being seen; not an easy trick for such a brightly-coloured bird.

Crossing the bridge and turning back in the direction of the city we found some of the plumpest wild blackberries we’d seen for a good few years; fully ripened and the size of large raspberries. Unfortunately a posse of hornets – the European variety, not the Asian ones which are the source of so much concern – had found the blackberries first. Risk seemed to outweigh reward, so we moved on. Last week in October and the hornets looked a long way from slowing down their activity.

p1180137There was still time for the day to throw us  one final surprise: a decent-sized salmon – exhausted from the look of it – making a few tired attempts to climb the weir, never really managing to get fully clear of the water. Eventually we lost sight of it, partly a consequence of being distracted by the brief drumming of a woodpecker before it flew away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban diary: Buzzards

imagesThe picture is of the Tesco in Cradley Heath. Anybody who knows the Black Country would tell you that the environs of the Cradley Heath Tesco are about as definitively urban as it gets.

A few days ago, we were just around the corner, browsing Motor Market’s forecourts in the hope of finding a nice Fiesta-sized car for the household’s newest driver. From above came the insistent, repetitive calls which mean only one thing – buzzards, plural.

In fact there were four: all similarly sized, circling in a tight group and climbing steadily over an area where greenery is in short supply. Then it was five: a much larger bird arrived and – flying considerably higher – it too began to circle, seemingly waiting for the others to climb and rendezvous. Possibly a female rejoining a family group of male partner and this year’s brood. Only a few years back, such a sight, in this place, would have been unthinkable.

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Buzzard – Source: Brittanica

But the recovery of this sometimes underrated raptor, welcome though it is to most of us who love to see them climbing on updraughts (and despite being by no means complete) is far from meeting with universal appreciation. The sources of the dissent are unsurprising; the lines of argument predictable. The Countryside Alliance believes that the “(buzzard) population is becoming unsustainable, and in some instances is having an adverse impact on other wildlife”; apparently our track record of intervention and eradication of apex predators isn’t enough to persuade them that keeping well out of it might be for the best. This is an organisation which employs a ‘Head of Shooting’; is it possible to imagine a more wretched job title?

Meanwhile, a report for the British Association of Shooting and Conservation – hardly a neutral broker when it comes to these issues – estimated that on average between 1% and 2% of pheasant poults were killed by birds of prey. Between one and two per-cent! and that’s an “estimate” by an organisation with an axe to grind. I wonder if there are any “estimates” available for the percentage of nests trampled by open-grazed livestock? Or by a deer population, completely out of control as a direct consequence of our inability to co-exist (yes, really) with apex predators? Like those buzzards climbing over Cradley Heath, we seem to be going round in circles…