Whilst the meadows are nominally a wetland, in the dry heat of spring and summer the surface becomes very much dry land. This has meant that the many small ponds on site have tended to dry out annually – a concern for a site managed for breeding dragonflies and damselflies. Thankfully this year the rains returned in late summer so that water levels started to recover earlier than in recent years. Whatever the weather though I am used to the steady rise in the water table in November and that is what we see as I write. The winter experience at the meadows has its own seasonal charm and my message to you dear visitor is – it’s wet, so wear wellies, and come.
Those who ventured here in August would have witnessed nature’s explosive colour palette on the marshy grassland on the south-eastern side of the reserve – a veritable riot of colour from loosestrife, willowherb, meadowsweet, fleabane, angelica et al, which was a breath-taking vista and vibrant with insect life. As I pick through the tangled herbage I am always excited when I find ‘new’ plants. I was walking with a botanist friend and proclaimed with great authority, “I can’t understand why there is no greater birds-foot trefoil on site” only to glance down as the words tripped off my tongue to find a few plants of the elusive species smiling at me wryly. Well, dear reader, I imagined they were smiling. A week or two later I realised that the marsh bedstraw I had recorded in my notebook revealed itself, when I condescended to actually check, as fen bedstraw. A couple of lessons to keep one humble, I thought.
Now, as the water table rises through the autumn, the striking summer colour is reduced to more sombre hues yet still beautiful. The bird life changes too. Gone now are most of our summer warblers although chiff-chaff song still rings out on occasion and I eagerly await the winter visitors to arrive. We will see the zig-zag of snipe as they are flushed from the vegetation by our clumsy approach to wheel around frantically until they drop back into cover.
Siskin are already being spotted flocking high in the trees on the Glemsford bank of the River Stour. I will keep on watching and listening for some of the more occasional species, hoping for redpoll perhaps, delicately picking out seeds from willowherb. I remember in 2016 hearing the pinging calls of bearded tits and watching their energetic movements through the reed canary-grass stands. Will we be treated with their presence again? I hope so.
Look hard and you might still find the tennis ball nests of harvest mouse in the unmown areas. Until December and if the sun shines, keep your eyes open for one or two common darter dragonflies still hanging on to remind us that summer will return again.
During this year of pandemic many have come for the first time – of all ages, alone, with friends, in family groups and from many different backgrounds. “I never knew this hidden gem was here” was a common refrain. The gem of Foxearth Meadows is still there for all to enjoy. Come and find a little restoration for your soul. It’s worth it!
Written by Mark Prina, Reserve Manager at Foxearth Meadows. First published in “Parish News” for Borley, Foxearth, Liston and Pentlow (December 2020-January 2021 edition)