Sunday, 7 February 2016

St Aidans, Swilington Ings, Fairburn .. wildlife and industrial history, HS2 and dog walkers!

I can't remember the last time I visited Swillington Ings in the Lower Airedale Valley, but it was well over 20 years ago and at that time the adjacent open cast mining operation was in full swing and obviously 'out of bounds'. It's potential was evident even then with Avocets moving in after a major flood inundated the open cast in 1988. Mining operations ceased around the turn of the century and now the whole area has been transformed, similar in nature to nearby Fairburn Ings, with lakes, lagoons and reed beds replacing the coal seams. Swillington Ings remains of course but the expanded reclaimed area has now been renamed St Aidan's and although there are a number of ongoing land management and access issues, the RSPB has been involved in the management of this site for some time now and with good reason - its a haven for wildlife within a highly urbanised area.

You can get a good overview of the area from this aerial pic lifted from The Swillington Ings Bird Group site which also provides all of the history and sightings from this highly interesting site.
St Aidans, aerial view

What struck me the most was the surprising size of the place ... one minute you're dodging school run traffic in the heart of West Yorkshire, the next minute you hop over a bank and you're into this sort of thing...
St Aidans, 05/02/16

St Aidans, 05/02/16

St Aidans, 05/02/16

Lots of tracks and cycle paths - I think it's destined to become a country park, and why not, but for the sake of the wildlife I do hope some common sense prevails and some restrictions are put on dog walkers. Whilst we were there I witnessed at least 10 dogs off leads and heading into reedbeds! I'm not sure how much dog owners understand or care about the impact dogs 'off leads' have on wildlife but its massive, especially in sensitive areas such as this. Don't get me wrong, I like dogs, I've been a dog owner, but with so many now in the UK they've become a major threat to many ground nesting birds. Common sense dictates that all dogs on places like this should be kept on leads.

Dayglow cyclists, St Aidans
Having said that, I wonder what would scare a bird more - a rampaging dog or the shock of this sort of glare....!!

Hey, tongue firmly in cheek, these old geezers were doing no harm (except to our eyes!)

Ok, my socio/political rant over, here's some 'non predated' birds at St Aidan's for you to enjoy

Curlew, St Aidans, 5/02/16

Nuthatch singing, St Aidans, 05/02/16

Goosander (male), St Aidans, 05/02/16

Goosanders (pair), St Aidans, 05/02/16

Common Kestrel, St Aidans, 05/02/16
Wigeon (pair) + Teal (male), St Aidans, 05/02/16

Lots of wildfowl here of course with many Tufted Ducks, Pochard, Wigeon, Teal and Mallard present along with 20 or so Goldeneye. A Greenland White Fronted Goose evaded us but there were plenty of Greylags and a couple of skein of Pinkfeet passed over during the day. Not much of a chance to get close but here's a couple of Wigeon and a male Teal caught in a shaft of sunlight ..

Male Pochard, St Aidans, 05/02/16
Small birds were in short supply - speaking to some of the locals, the recent floods saw a mass exodus of many birds because the food supply was suddenly underwater! Bearded Tits and Cettis Warblers were 2 of the most lamented but I think they'll be back. Stonechats were still there however and quite confiding they were too ..

Stonechat, StAidans, 05/02/16
Short Eared Owls are a speciality bird here but again recently departed because all the voles presumably perished in the floods. We did see a single Marsh Harrier though plus Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk. Other notable species seen included a single Oystercatcher, Red Kite, c200 Golden Plover and a probable over wintering Chiffcaff
'Oddball', the dragline at St Aidans
Any visitor to St Aidans cannot fail to be struck by the imposing 'dragline' sited at the entrance to the place. Basically this is a huge piece of kit, commonly used in open cast mining operations to drag or remove surface material away from the coal seam. Some totally immense examples in the US but this one is pretty impressive to any Tonka toy lovin boy or gal! I like this pic of the one at St Aidan's (affectionally penned 'Oddball')

 .....and my own pics of the same beast
'Oddball', the dragline at St Aidans

'Oddball', the dragline at St Aidans
 Awesome piece of kit!! If you're a devotee of our industrial heritage 'Oddball' is open to the public twice a year (see here for details - Dragline open days )

River Aire deposited rubbish following the 2015/16 floods

Not so awesome, in fact downright unsightly is the amount of rubbish (plastic mainly) that has been deposited on the banks of the River Aire after the floods. If Leeds city council is at all bothered about conservation tourism (and it should be) then some effort, and I know it will be major undertaking, is surely in order

We popped into Fairburn Ings afterwards - added Little Egret, Little Grebe and Linnet to the species day list and since we're on the subject of industrial heritage here's a couple of pics I took of the old Victorian railway bridge over the River Aire.

Victorian railway bridge at Fairburn, 05/02/16

Victorian railway bridge at Fairburn, 05/02/16

To some folk its just a wasteland but, like many others of my generation, I see something else; and as others like me gaze at these strangely evocative relics of industrial glory and the wildlife that has taken it over, I wonder what effect a big new engineering enterprise like HS2 will have on the this landscape. Hopefully minimal, but realistically it'll do for many areas of natural beauty and their attendant wildlife. Have a look at the proposed route here and anticipated impact on biodiversity.
HS2 Potential impact on biodiversity

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