Thursday, 17 November 2016

'Beating the bounds', 'Between the Oaks, along the hedge and down by the brook', and other walks

'Beating the bounds' is a traditional Ascension Day ritual in which the whole parish territorially walked its perimeter and beat children so they wouldn't forget the precise features. There's probably a better explanation than this elsewhere but those are the points I remember.

'Between the Oaks, along the hedge and down by the brook' conjures an impression of bygone rural pedestrian days when meeting someone was arranged with reference to well known landscape features. In Colley Gate for example we had the 'Water Stile', 'The Gulley', 'Lutley Gutter' - a green lane, the Razzle Dazzle - a perilous, sloping brick paved cut through which was treacherous in icy conditions, the 70 Steps - to this day dividing opinion as to the exact number; all wonderfully nostalgic, echoing a time shift identity and a society of character born out of toil and hardship.
A Black Country Rural Idyl from the early-mid 20th Century

Nostalgia is a 'return to suffering or pain', but many of us view the old days and the old ways as something lost yet wonderful, and I think in many cases its the loss of simplicity combined with modern complexities in our day to day lives that creates a yearning for something closer to nature.

Exploring the locality in which we live can be a rewarding experience with positive mental and physical health benefits, especially if carried out on foot with a number of friends or like minded people. The exploration combined with research at the local archives is a most satisfying exercise and one which helps us bond with the land whether it be new or old territory.

A recent publication entitled 'Hidden Histories' provides a wealth of ideas and places to visit, prompting exploration and investigation of the British landscape.
We hope to have a hidden history walk with the writer at Highbury Park early in the new year. Highbury lends itself perfectly to the topic with heat shattered stones from a Bronze Age Burnt Mound, Mediaeval Ridge and Furrow, The Henbury Estate, Highbury - Joeseph Chamberlain's home from 1880-1914 and much more. 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Lifford - William Dargue - A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames

Lifford Woods

An area of land bordering the River Rea at Allens Croft, with a pathway to Lifford Reservoir and Lifford Hall.

The linear woodland runs either side of the river with willows and alders thriving.

The site is little used today, with most people passing along the walkway, whilst much of the area is out of the public domain, cut off by railway embankment and the river. 

In terms of wildlife, I guess this is under recorded, as are most sites, all records should be submitted to EcoRecord and twitter is a good way of doing this. 

Lifford Woods and surrounds

The account below is taken from "Lifford - William Dargue - A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames"

B30 - Grid reference SP055796

la Ford: first record 1250

Lifford stands close to the ford across the River Rea. As the red clay on the east side of Birmingham became slimy and slippery in wet weather, a place where the river ran over a firmer bed would have been a draw for local people and for longer-distance travellers for thousands of years. This ford where Lifford Lane now bridges the river is likely to be pre-Roman, but it was was certainly in use 2000 years ago on the route of Icknield Street. This was a Roman road which left the Fosse Way at Bourton-on-the-Water, passed via the Roman town of Alcester and on through Stirchley whose Anglo-Saxon name actually means '(Roman) road clearing'. It then follows the Pershore Road to Bournville Lane, after which its route to Metchley fort in Edgbaston is uncertain.
However, although Adam de la Ford is recorded as living near here in 1275, the name Lifford probably has no connection with the river ford or with Adam. 

Lifford Hall is a Grade II Listed building which was erected in 1604 on the site of an earlier medieval building. In 1781 it was the home of James Hewitt of Coventry, who became Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He took Viscount Lifford as his title apparently named from Lifford near Londonderry, Whether this was a coincidence or was deliberately done with reference to the ford is open to conjecture. On Lifford's death the hall was bought by John Dobbs, the engineer of the adjacent Worcester & Birmingham Canal.
The hall is built of red brick with stone dressings but is now stuccoed. It has 18th-century gothick embattled stone walls and an octagonal watchtower folly. There are 18th- and 19th-century additions. The building was renovated in the 1950s and new office blocks were added in the early 1990s.

Archaeological excavations on the front lawn of the hall in advance of building work revealed evidence of Lifford Mill, a post-medieval watermill which stood here on the River Rea until the early 19th century. The remains were unearthed of a water tunnel leaving the mill and of the tail race to the river.

Documentary evidence shows that there was an earlier medieval mill downstream nearer to the reservoir (which was not there at that time) dating from the 14th century. 
Take a look. Lifford Reservoir was built by the Worcester & Birmingham Canal company in 1815 in order to compensate the mill for water lost to the canal. This lake is a surprise and worth a detour to visit. Nearby Sherbourne Mill on Lifford Lane was a paper mill from c1835 until 1965 producing amongst other things gun wadding. The mill pool and millrace survive, as does the building which used to house the Patrick Collection Motor Museum. 

Well worth a visit. There are some interesting features on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal here. Alongside Kings Norton playing fields is Kings Norton Junction with the Stratford Canal, and opposite is Junction House. Built in 1796 this was the first office of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Company and doubled as a toll house. Twenty-three years in the making, the canal finally reached Worcester in 1815. In the same year the completed Stratford-upon-Avon Canal was also opened; this had taken fifteen years to cut.
Just off Lifford Lane is the Lifford Guillotine Lock, an unusual stop lock designed to stop water flowing from one canal to the other. There was a 15cm difference in water levels between the two waterways which continued until the canals were nationalised in 1948. Water was an expensive commodity for canal companies and its supply was jealously guarded by this brick-lined lock.

A guillotine gate here is operated by a hand-winched counterweighted chain mechanism within a tall cast-iron framework. The present gates are probably 19th-century replacements, but all other parts are original and the lock has the status of a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The Lifford Swing Bridge close by is also an unusual survival.

The Railways
After crossing the River Rea and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, the B&G from New Street via Moseley passes through the site of Lifford Station which closed over half a century ago. This station, on the east side of Lifford Lane, opened with the line in 1840.

The other line through Lifford, the Birmingham West Suburban Railway, the BSWR had been promoted by an independent company in collaboration with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and closely follows that canal from the B&G at Lifford via Edgbaston to Granville Street and into Birmingham New Street. One year before the line opened in 1876 it was bought by the Midland Railway who closed the B&G Lifford Station and opened the BWSR Lifford Station west of Lifford Lane.

In 1885 the Midland Railway built loops between the two lines to create a circular route between Lifford and New Street. The BWSR Lifford Station was closed and the B&G Lifford Station reopened. This circular commuter route ran until 1940. The original BWSR line had followed the canal to join the B&G Railway at Queens Drive, a track later known as the Canal Branch which closed in 1962.

The present route laid in 1892 was called the Stirchley Street & Bournville to Kings Norton Deviation Line, now the Lifford Curve, and meets the B&G at Lifford West Junction near Rowheath Road. When the BWSR was made double-track in 1885 it became the Midland Railway's mainline route from Bristol and Gloucester, the B&G being used only for local services and freight. It is now used only for freight and diverted traffic.

The immediate area around Lifford Lane may be described as Lifford, but the name is used as a location and is not in general use as a district name.
William Dargue 03.04.09/ 02.08.2010

The wider area of Lifford with connecting green space at Dawberry Fields and Tunnel Lane Fields

Friday, 7 October 2016

B&BCWT - Kingfisher, Water Vole Stickleback and Bullhead Records on the River Rea

Our attention now turns to trees and woodland

 Our attention now turns to trees and woodland - 
The woodland season begins with an introduction to managing small wooded areas, with topics involving -
  • coppicing (practice and theory)
  • tools - bowsaw, billhook, axe
  • health and safety
  • biodiversity
  • species identification
  • 'crafting the woodland'
  • managing access
  • public relations
  • interpretation
This year's chosen coppicing plot at Highbury- 
The area was chosen because of the presence of hazel, previously cut around 10-15 years ago, poor ground flora, poor structure, some regeneration, including holly, rowan and cherry.

The aim is to improve species diversity by increasing light levels and introducing ground flora, such as bluebell, primrose, wild daffodil, red campion and wood melick.

Coppice - To cut

Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. 

In a coppiced wood, which is called a copse, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. 

In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again. 

Pollarding is a similar process carried out at a higher level on the tree. (Wiki)

Friday, 23 September 2016

2016-17 - update and plan

A new active season begins in October following a Summer of walking, talking and planning around the Rea Valley. The weekly 'Woodland Wednesdays' at Highbury Park have been well attended and feedback to these regular gatherings is positive.

To add variety to our Wednesday gatherings we have been supported by the B&BC Wildlife Trust 'Nature Improvement Programme', which enabled us to work on a scheme to improve the grassland at Highbury Park.

During August we took delivery of four bales of wildflower rich hay from Eades Meadow;
The lower part of the meadow, adjacent to Shutlock Lane, was treated prior to delivery, this was  followed by hay strewing and yellow rattle seed broadcasting a couple of weeks later, we wait for next year to see the results.

Hay Strewing at Highbury
Four of these bales were deposited at Highbury Meadows

The bales were then rolled, broken and scattered so that the hay could be hand strewn over the prepared site
The proposal was sent out for consultation
Our attention now turns to trees and woodland - 
The woodland season begins with an introduction to managing small wooded areas, with topics involving - 

  • coppicing (practice and theory)
  • tools - bowsaw, billhook, axe
  • health and safety
  • biodiversity
  • species identification
  • 'crafting the woodland'
  • managing access
  • public relations
  • interpretation

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Midsummer bioblitz at Stirchley Park

21st June 2016

Graffiti mural
Stirchley Park 1 hour bioblitz and a very pleasant evening 
Check out the following link for a recent story of the above graffiti mural
Wood pigeon
Pied Wagtail
Woody nightshade
White clover
Red Clover
Broadleaf plantain
Ribwort plantain
Creeping buttercup
Rye Grass
Yorkshire Fog
Grass sp x1
Grass sp x1
Sheperd’s purse
Common Lime x 2
Plane x 6
Oak x1
Sea Buckthorn x 3
Rose sp
Rose sp
Russian vine
Bumblebee sp
Fly sp
Ichneumon sp
Ladybird larvae sp
Ladybird larvae sp
11 spot Ladybird
22 spot ladybird
Green orb weaver spider

Friday, 10 June 2016


"In 2001, a research paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology found that 80 per cent of the hawthorn plants supplied by the UK horticultural trade in 1997 came from Germany or Hungary where plants are adapted to substantially different growing conditions."

Hawthorn Beetle 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Hedgerow info for Cannon Hill

The Hedgelayer or Hedge Plasher
Hedgelaying is a grand old autumn/winter practice for managing a hedge and is applicable for most broadleaf hedge types.

 The stem of each tree/shrub is partially cut, or 'pleached' near the base, this allows it to remain attached to the root  and laid to one side, prevented from grounding by the previous stem or a stake. The pleacher remains alive and new growth begins from the base the following spring
Hedge laying demonstration at Cannon Hill in 2010
The hedge today is broad, dense and tall, supporting and harbouring many animals and plants. 

Up to 2010 the hedge had been routinely shorn each year forming a gappy condition at the base of the stems with a layer of entangled growth at 3 feet. Fair to say not great, if not useless, as a habitat.

6 years of growth and it has developed into a decent hedgerow with around 40 species of plant  recorded in this time, many herbaceous plants have been found at the base as a result of reduced grass mowing.

The hedge peasant

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Beetles we have found and what do we know?

`Lesser Stag Beetle found at the base of a Beech Tree at Holders Woods

Information from


The Lesser Stag Beetle may be smaller than its famous cousin, but it is still a relatively large beetle with large jaws. Adults can be found in woodland, parks and along hedgerows during the summer, often resting in the sun on tree trunks. The larvae depend on old trees and rotting wood to live in and feed on, and both adults and larvae can be found in the decaying wood of Ash, Beech and apple. The adults can be seen flying about at night, sometimes coming to outside lights. They mate and lay their eggs in a suitable piece of decaying wood.

How to identify

The Lesser Stag Beetle is a large beetle with a broad head and large jaws. It can be distinguished from the male Stag Beetle by its smaller mandibles and distinctively knobbed antennae, and from the small-jawed female Stag Beetle by its all-black wing cases.

Where to find it

Found across England and Wales.

Rhinoceros Beetle found in old rotting trunk at Holders Woods

Name: Sinodendron cylindricum
Months seen:  May to October

Habitat:  Woodlands, hedgerows and parks

Food:  Tree sap.  The larvae feed on rotting wood

Special features:  Rhinoceros Beetles have shiny blue-black bodies which are glossy and very pitted.  The males are easily recognised by the rhinoceros horn-like projection on their heads.  Female Rhinoceros Beetles have just a small bump (tubercle).  They are eqipped with wings and are able to fly.

Although mostly nocturnal, they can sometimes be found in the daytime sunning themselves on deciduous trees or rotting stumps.  They have a preference for Beech trees.

Rhinoceros Beetles are sometimes called 'Least Stag Beetles'.

Monday, 6 June 2016

The River

'Canalised and sunken, hard edged and sterile'
 Rea at Cannon Hill outside the MAC

At Balsall Heath
At Digbeth

An interesting blog featuring rivers of the UK

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Holders Woods survey June 2016

Great day in the woods

Hot sunny day, nicley shaded under the canopy of Beech and Oak

Bugs and beasts in the undergrowth

A better day couldn't have been wished for - 
Plenty of activity in the woods to keep us enthralled, especially Tree Creepers and Woodpeckers.

Perhaps the star of the day was the Rhinoceros Beetle.

"Looking forward to further wildlife days in the woods" -

The lofty canopy  - "the woodland cathedral"

Rhinoceros Beetle in old well rotted trunk at Holders Woods
High rise dead oak, riddled with nooks and crannies, hollows and cavities;
ideal for bats, birds and many other beasts of the woodland


Thursday, 2 June 2016

Highbury Heritage

Exciting prospects for Highbury - 

The recently formed Chamberlain Highbury Trust is planning an event for Heritage Week, September 11th 2016.

Check out their Facebook

Also National Heritage Week details can be found here  -

More details to follow but I've been planning my contribution along the lines of the following (work in progress)

A Heritage Walk
The Oaks of Highbury Park
(evoking the past)

A mapping walk ‘Between the Oaks’ of Highbury, linking the park today to the estate of Joseph Chamberlain and beyond to England in the reign of William III and Mary II.
  • The Oaks in Highbury are the most common of the mature trees on site
  • The oldest tree in the park is Oak (Circa 1693)
  • There is a plantation of Millennium Oaks at Highbury Park planted in 1999-2000
  • The Oak is often reported to support more species than any other UK tree
The walk features trees over a century old that were either in their prime during the early years of the 20th Century or beginning life as mature trees. 
Our oldest tree, ‘the veteran’ is estimated to be over 300 years old and has witnessed the ravages of wind, rain, ice, snow and possibly a lightening strike in the mid 2000’s, together with a range of temperatures anywhere between -20 to 30+ degrees.
There are 7 oaks (over 350 cm in girth) listed in the Highbury Park Veteran Tree Survey thus-
  • Tree No 4, area 3 = 365 cm; Approx 196 years, Circa 1820
  • Tree No 59, area 3 = 370 cm; Approx 197 years, Circa 1819
  • Tree No 74, area 3 =370 cm; Approx 197 years, Circa 1819
  • Tree No 90, area 3 = 427 cm; Approx 246 years, Circa 1770
  • Tree No 251, area 3 = 374 cm; Approx 207 years, Circa 1809
  • Tree No 294, area 4 = 515 cm; Approx 323 years, Circa 1693
  • Tree No 296, area 4 = 417 cm; Approx 235 years, Circa 1781
Joseph Chamberlain lived in Highbury from 1880, therefore all trees over 136 years were present before his residency and the development of the Highbury Estate.
  • 48 Oaks are listed in total; it is the most common of the mature tree species listed on site
  • 20 Oaks over 280cm girth are listed (280cm = approx 136 years)
  • 28 Oaks are less than 136 years (approx 280 cm girth) and therefore began life during or since Chamberlain’s residency at Highbury.
  • The smallest Oak in the survey is 192 cm in girth (approx 90 years old)
  • The largest Oak is 515 cm girth (approx 323 years)
  • 8 Oaks are less than 230 cm girth
A 100 year old Oak growing in open park conditions is around 230-250 cm in girth.
192 cm = 1 Oak
193 - 229 cm = 7 Oaks (>90 years)
230-250 cm = 7 Oaks (>100 years)
251 - 300  cm = 9 Oaks (>115 years)
301 - 350 cm = 13 Oaks (>143 years)
351 - 400 cm = 4 Oaks (>177 years)
> 401 cm = 2 Oaks (>216 years)

> 500 cm = 1 Oak (>310 years)

Ok there are 4 missing!

Check out the new Highbury Park Friends website, featuring 2007 tree survey data

The Highbury Veteran (Circa 1693)

If you want a thorough account of Highbury Heritage refer to these  - 

 These documents can be viewed along with other excellent and informative resources on the Highbury Friends website - see link above

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A Woodland Wednesday at Highbury Park

Another Woodland Wednesday and another day of discovery at Highbury Park. Jay's displaying but silently, Great Spotted Woodpeckers' feeding their young, a Jackdaw drinking from the stream, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes singing all around and not a peep from the Ringed Neck Parakeets.
Parakeet at Highbury 2014 (photo by Ron)

Woodland Wednesdays are the perfect way to hold consultation with parks users and there sure is plenty to talk about. On the whole our interests are biological but other factors are in play not least the exciting possibilities posed by the recently formed Chamberlain Highbury Trust.

cheeky Jackdaw came down to drink from the steam just a few yards in front of the group (photo by Ron)
A cool day, yet dry, so nothing to complain of, on the contarary, it was a day for standing around and watching nature at play in the park.

A pair of Jays danced through the Veteran Oak without a word or a squawk or a screech, but silently hopping and gracefully flying between the beams. It seemed as if it was silent aggression, possibly a territorial dispute between two males, but rather one sided with little demonstration and rather more mischief on the part of the intruder.
RSPB image

Little will be seen of the Jays over the next few weeks, as they secretly feed their young in their hidden nestaways.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Cannon Hill hedgerow

The hedge at Cannon Hill is in fine form for the 7th growing year since laying in Winter 2010
Alder buckthorn is thriving, providing food plant for the Brimstone butterfly

The width of the hedge is now around 2.5 metres, developing the habitat, which consists of more than the shrubs.

The density of the hedge, together with its shading and sheltering potential, currently makes it particularly suitable for nesting birds such as Blackbird, Song Thrush and Dunnock. Nests from previous years can be seen during winter.

As the hedge grows, and thus thins out at the base, laying will be considered once again, this should occur around 2020.

For a jolly good account on hedgerows this latest publication is well worth a read
Hedgerow fingerpost
Many wildflowers grow alongside and underneath the overhang - the last count recorded around 40 different plant species.
Hawthorn in bloom, May 2016

Friday, 20 May 2016

Ten Acres Revisited

late 19th century

Sections of the old river course are evident in places and the previous meanders are quite noticeable