Trip reports

Visit to Hay Bridge Nature Reserve

Adult female blackbird on garden lawn
RSPB Images

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Our September outdoor meeting took us to the Hay Bridge reserve near the village of Bouth in the southern Lake District. This 220 acre private nature reserve is owned and managed by the John Strutt Conservation Foundation. Our host that day was the warden Keith Loxam who provided us with an enjoyable and informative guided walk. The area encompasses a variety of habitats including several tarns, deciduous woodland, peat bog and woodland pasture. Our morning began at the Study Centre, where we were able to examine the previous night's catch of a mercury vapour moth trap. Apart from a myriad of midges (thankfully for us they were all dead!) the trap revealed the presence of several species of moth including the green carpet and the Hebrew character. In the garden adjacent to the Centre we were also able to see a red admiral and two small copper butterflies that were basking in the early autumn sunshine.

On our guided walk Keith explained that in years gone by, the Rusland Valley (where Hay Bridge lies) was very much an industrial area with activities such as coppicing oak for charcoal burning, supplying bark for tanning along with harvesting ash for tool handles and wheel spokes, and birch for making the bobbins used in the Lancashire textile industry. It was interesting to discover how these industries, along with the grazing and browsing by wild animals such as red deer as well as domesticated livestock, had brought about the
landscape that we saw that day. We were intrigued to see a replica charcoal burner's hut - a strange looking earth-clad conical structure that was built upon a wigwam timber frame. In times gone by, these huts provided essential accommodation, so enabling charcoal makers to keep vigil over their kilns.

Hay Bridge can boast a good complement of woodland birds from the diminutive gold crest to raptors such as the sparrowhawk. No doubt in springtime, the woodlands and adjacent clearings will be alive with birdsong. Of course, at the time of this September visit, a virtual silence prevailed and this brought home to us the absence of man-made noise in the area - something of a rarity in other parts of Britain. The birds that we saw or heard that day included great, blue and marsh tit, robin, blackbird, nuthatch, greater spotted woodpecker and buzzard.

Hay Bridge Reserve is without doubt a fascinating place for lovers of nature, whether one's interest is birds, mammals, wild flowers or invertebrate life, it is well worth a visit.

Michael Gardner