Mammals along Grantham Canal

I had the opportunity to borrow a trailcam last year and I took the opportunity to see what wildlife could be recorded along the banks of Grantham Canal. The trailcam triggers when it detects movement and can record at night so placing it along animal trails allowed me to see what creatures used them.

Below are a few clips of some of the animals I recorded. These show how important the Grantham Canal is to a wide range of wildlife, not just in terms of the aquatic habitats it provides but the hedgerows, trees and shrubs which run alongside it – ten different mammal species were recorded over a few weeks of deployment and this is alongside at least five species of bat which I recorded last September – you can read more about the bats along Grantham Canal here.

Muntjac Deer

I recorded muntjac deer on a number of occasions. These are small deer, around the same size as a medium-sized dog. They are not a native species – they are originally from China but were introduced to the UK in Bedfordshire and have since spread to be present throughout the British Isles. Other deer such as roe deer are also present in the wider landscape around Grantham Canal but I did not record any on the trailcam.

Foxes

Foxes make use of the habitats along the Grantham Canal with the trailcam recording both adult and juveniles. The traditional agricultural view of foxes is that they are vermin, but they are a native species of mammal in the UK, fulfilling quite an unique niche now that we have exterminated the wolves, lynx, wildcats and other larger predators which historically existed in the UK. In the first clip of the recordings, you can see a younger fox mark its territory as it walks past.

Badgers

Badgers move out from their main setts each night and find food within the wider countryside. Foraging areas change throughout the year depending on the use of the land and the conditions. Sheltered linear features such as the canal banks provide an important connective route to allow them to reach these foraging areas. The habitats within the canal corridor are also likely to provide important foraging areas in their own right.

Hares

Hares differ from rabbits in that they do not use burrows – rather they rest in ‘forms’ which are low depressions in the land, often under the cover of long grasses or other vegetation. They forage and spend much of their active times in the arable fields which bound the canal through much of its course, but the trees and shrubs within the canal corridor provide an important place of rest and shelter during the daytime.

Rabbits

Rabbits shelter in burrows and many of these burrows can be found along the banks of the Grantham Canal. The slope of the banks mean that they can tunnel sideways rather than down to create their warrens, which requires less energy and is therefore more efficient. They graze upon low growing vegetation within the Canal Corridor but also use the wider arable fields which bound much of the canal.

Stoat

I only recorded one instance of a stoat along the Grantham Canal. These are small predators, larger than a weasel but smaller than a ferret or a polecat. As you can see from the clip, they are very agile and feed on other small mammals such as rats and rabbits which are plentiful along the canal route.

Grey Squirrel

The grey squirrel is another invasive species which will be familiar to everybody, whether you live in the city or the countryside. In the autumn, the squirrels kept very busy gathering nuts and storing them away underground to be unearthed through the winter and spring when food was scarce. The horse chestnut, hazel and beech trees along the Canal would provide a good source of nuts to store away, whilst the glut of berries from the hawthorn, blackthorn and rose bushes would keep them in good health whilst they work.

Mink

The American Mink is another species which is not native and yet has found itself a home along the Grantham Canal, along with many other rivers and watercourses across the UK. I was very surprised to catch this one descending a tree just in front of the trailcam – not usual behaviour but something which they are known to do, especially when escaping a predator or perhaps when seeking food such as birds nests. The second piece of footage, showing the mink skulking away with its high arched back is more characteristic.

Other species recorded by the trailcam include rats, mice, herons and a variety of other small birds such as blue tits, great tits, chaffinches and blackbirds. Pheasants too often stroll along the banks and scratch for food morsels within the soil.

Red-eared Terrapin in Grantham Canal

I had something of a surprise when out walking along the Grantham Canal at the weekend. A friend posted a cracking photograph of a mink on twitter (and now on her blog which you can read here) which was seen along the stretch between Harlaxton and Denton. This is a non-native species and can cause serious damage to the ecosystem through their predation on native species of fish, birds and water vole. However, it is argued that, as these are all food sources for the native otter, the non-native mink is filling a currently vacant ecological niche for a semi-aquatic carnivorous mammal in our waterways. Whilst the grey squirrel competed with the native red in a similar way to the detriment of the reds, there is good evidence to suggest that the re-colonisation of a watercourse by otters will lead to the displacement of the smaller mink and so the native species would win out in the end. Whilst we wait, and hope, for otter to continue their spread through our native watercourses, the mink could be seen as its understudy. They can however cause serious problems in some locations, especially where they prey upon the eggs of sensitive bird species, and eradication programmes are in place in a number of locations to remove them. I have only once seen a mink along the canal, on the stretch by Woolesthorpe some years ago, and was keen to see another.

I was scanning the edge of the canal as we walked along and was taken aback to see a completely different non-native species instead – a red-eared terrapin (Trechemys scripta elegans) basking out of the water on a log! This individual was around 30-40cm which is adult sized. These reptiles, originally from the Americas, were popular pets in the 1980’s and 1990’s following the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on childrens’ TV. They tended to out-grow their confinements and many of the more irresponsible owners simply released them into the wild. They can live for several decades and so this specimen could have been in the canal for a long period of time. The sale of these species does continue however so it could be a more recent arrival.

Red eared terrpin in British canal - Grantham Canal, Lincolnshire, UK

The terrapins feed on aquatic invertebrates and amphibians and so, like the mink, are a cause for concern in British waterways. Whilst the mink is quite able to breed and spread throughout the UK, there is less concern about the terrapins at present – they require around 100 days of >27 degrees or 60 days of >30 degrees for the eggs to successfully hatch and the young to develop which is rarely achieved in a British summer. This puts the terrapin into a different category to the mink – whilst they are not desirable, they are at least naturally controlled by the climate and they should not increase under their own steam. This means that there is not currently a requirement to control them in the wild; rather better controls on the sale of these species should ensure that they do not continue to be a problem once the individuals at large have died out naturally. That said, increased temperatures as a result of climate change could see this whole situation change! A juvenile was spotted Regent’s Canal in London last year and this caused concern that they might have found conditions warm enough to breed in our unusually hot summer.

The individual spotted in Grantham canal may even be the only one present – if no others were released alongside it. There is a record of an European Pond Turtle in the canal from 2006 which may be a misidentification of the same individual I saw, or it could be that this non-native species is also present along the waterway.

Next time you are walking along the canal, keep an eye and you might just spot something unexpected!

Harlaxton to Woolesthorpe – a 9 mile walk via woods, water and Vikings

For something a little bit different, I thought I would share a walk which is one of my favourites in the area. It starts from the village of Harlaxton to the west of Grantham and takes you out across farmland, through woods, around Denton Reservoir, follows the canal for a while as well as a taking in stretch of the ancient track – the Viking Way. Best of all, the mid-way point of the walk has a choice of two different pubs where you can stop for lunch!

The walk is 9.3 miles in total and can be shortened in a few places if you consult an OS map. This includes cutting up the Viking Way to avoid the village of Woolesthorpe (and both of its pubs!) and starting in Denton rather than Harlaxton.

The numbers on the instructions relate to the map. I have also put in italics a few points of interest along the way.

Harlaxton to Woolesthorpe Walk Map
Harlaxton to Woolesthorpe Walk Map

I hope you enjoy this walk and that all the instructions are clear – let me know if you try the route out and anything interesting you see along the way!

Point 1

Start the walk in Harlaxton village – there is a layby where you can park opposite the medieval monument and phone box which are just beside the village shop. To reach the starting point from the A607, turn left into the main village (if you are coming from Grantham) and follow the road round until you find this location.

To begin the walk, head back up towards the A607 on the High Street.

As you pass the shop, you can see a field on the left-hand side which is an old orchard often grazed by a diminutive pony. There are often interesting wildflowers such as greater celendine to be seen along this edge in the summer months, as well as spring flowers such as forget-me-not earlier in the year.

Point 2

When you reach the A607, turn left and walk west for a few minutes until you reach the see a wide layby on the opposite side of the road. At the nearest end of this, you will see a metal gate and a footpath sign pointing you north along a track signed Peashill Lane. Take this track, being careful to close the gate properly behind you, continue past a farmstead and follow a rough track down a gentle slope.

There are a number of old ash trees lining this track as well as interesting wildflowers with the purple flowers of common vetch and black knapweed on the verge mingling with more arable weeds such as pineapple mayweed and field poppies on the edge of the crops.

When the footpath forks to the left or the right, take the right to do a slight kink but continue down towards the canal in the same direction as previously.

Point 3

On reaching the canal, turn left through a gate and head diagonally across to the opposite corner of the field where you will find a gate allowing you onto a wooden footbridge over a ditch.

This field is a great spot to see fieldfares and redwings which migrate into the country in the winter time and can be seen from around October onwards. They forage in the open countryside and will quickly strip the remaining red and purple berries from hawthorn and blackthorn.

Point 4

Having passed over the ditch, continue straight ahead to the right of the hedgerow before you until you pass over a stream and up a set of steps to reach Denton Reservoir.

Denton Reservoir is one of the best spots for waterfowl in the area – many species such as mallards, great crested grebes, coots and moorhens can be seen all year round but are joined by large numbers of tufted ducks and pochard during the winter. You might also spot cormorants and herons on this waterbody.

The reservoir is favoured by anglers and you might be lucky enough to spot species including pike and perch if you keep an eye on the water as you walk around.

At night, this is a great spot for bats with Daubenton’s and soprano pipistrelle foraging across the water. They can be best seen during a visit around half an hour after sunset on any warm evening between May and September. The much larger noctule bat flies high over the hedgerows and field edges which run around the perimeter of the reservoir, hunting insects on high rather than taking those which arise from the water.

Walk to the right around the edge of the reservoir, taking care as there are no rails or fences, until you reach a path which drops down to your right in a gentle slope to bring you to a little brook which leaves the reservoir here.

Point 5

Take this path down and then follow the brook away from the reservoir until you reach a point where the path turns left or right. Take the path to the left. Quite quickly, when the woods end on your right hand side, turn right along the boundary between the trees and the field.

Walk along the woodland edge for the length of a field, then pass into the next. Here, cross the field diagonally along a well trodden path until you reach a small carpark area and a bridge which passes over Grantham Canal.

Point 6

Cross over this bridge and then turn left to follow the tow-path of Grantham Canal as it winds through the landscape.

Grantham Canal
Grantham Canal

The canal is an excellent way to ‘reveal’ the landscape it passes through. It was built to be as flat as possible, to minimise the need for locks, cuttings or embankments. With this in mind, the meandering route and wide loops which the canal takes reveal quite subtle undulations in the landscape, as well as more prominent landforms. As you leave the bridge, you will notice a wide loop which the canal takes around a field and, looking back, you notice the way that this farmland rises up.

You will pass under 3 more bridges as you proceed. The first is the road bridge for Casthorpe Road which links Denton and Sedgebrook. The second is an old canal bridge similar to the first which you can take left to follow the Viking Way up Brewers Grave – this route will take you all the way to Oakham to the left or Hull to the right. The third is a small footbridge which takes a footpath up to the road between Denton and Woolesthorpe.

The hedgerows which flank the towpath to the right provide a feast of blackberries and sloes in the autumn. There are also hawthorn berries which are also edible although not entirely pleasant in my experience!

If you look to the water, you can often spot shoals of juvenile fish including roach and dace as well as their larger parents further out into the channel.

Dragonflies and damselflies are to be found in abundance along here in the summer right through to September. The dragonflies are usually much more substantial, and hold their wings out flat when at rest, as though they were soaking up the sun. Damselflies, often an iridescent blue, hold their wings together, as though they were making themselves as unobtrusive as possible.

Walk along the canal until you pass the locks and reach another bridge, just before the pub.

Point 7

Cross the bridge just before the Rutland Arms (or the Dirty Duck depending on your preference).

The pub does good standard pub food and offers a range of ales and other drinks for refreshment – a stop on one of their canal-side picnic benches is often a welcome rest at this point. This pub can get very busy, especially on nice days, so bear in mind that there is also another pub at Point 8.

Then follow the track away from the canal up to the road where you will turn left towards the main village of Woolesthorpe. There is a pavement along this section. Cross and continue in the same direction when you reach a crossroads and turn left when you reach Worthington Lane.

Point 8

Walk up Worthington Lane until you come to a second pub called The Chequers.

The Chequers offers a slightly more refined fare than the Rutland Arms – think ciabatta rather than sandwich! They also do a good range of drinks and there is a large beer garden at the back which is always a pleasant place to sit for an hour or two.

If you walk past the frontage of the pub, you will see a very optimistic cricket pitch ahead of you – walk down the right-hand side of this until you reach a stile. Cross the stile and head up the hill, keeping the woodland on your left hand side.

This is a steep section but offers fantastic views back across Woolesthorpe and out across the Vale of Belvoir. You can see just how flat the land is all the way out to the Trent to the east. Straight ahead, you can see Belvoir Castle on the top of the hill.

View from the top of Woolesthorpe Hill
View from the top of Woolesthorpe Hill

Point 9

When you reach a stile on your left hand side, go through it and follow the footpath past an area of recently cleared woodland. When you reach the road, turn right and follow it to a bend. This section does not have a pavement and cars can travel quite fast along it so walking on the wide grass verge is recommended! Luckily the walk only takes a minute or two.

Point 10

When you reach an s-bend in the road, you will see a house on your right and ornamental gates which lead into the Belvoir Estate. On your left is a track which takes you down to the canal – this is where the bridge we encountered along the canal would bring you to. Instead, we want to take the track to the right which takes you away from the canal and through an area of young woodland. This is the Viking Way.

The track winds along between arable fields, bordered by hedgerows with sweet chestnut trees as standards all along. If you like chestnuts, it is well worth bringing a bag along to fill if you are planning a walk along here in late September or early October.

The ease of walking along here does vary, depending largely on whether the various 4×4’s or trail bikes have been obeying the signs and keeping off. The restrictions on them vary but they are often permitted to use the route at certain times of the year when the disturbance and damage they cause can be enough to make it tough going for much of the rest of the year.

Point 11

The track will soon reach a railway bridge and a row of houses will appear just afterwards on the right hand side. Cross over the bridge and turn immediately left to drop down the bank and follow the path of the old railway to the left.

You will pass a damp pine plantation to the left where woodpeckers can often be heard drumming on the trees or cackling their cry. On the right hand side soon after, you will pass a lake where you might be lucky enough to spot a heron stalking the shallows.

On the approach to a second bridge, where we leave this section, you will see a lot of young ash trees lining the sides of the old railway line and forming a light canopy over the track. Ash is a relatively quick growing species and often colonises abandoned locations such as this. Walking along this section, take a moment to consider how different the landscape would be if ash were to go the way of English Elm as a result of Ash Dieback disease.

View across the fields to Denton Church
View across the fields to Denton Church

Point 12

When you reach another bridge, take the track which brings you up to the right of it, just before the bridge itself, and come back out onto the road. Turn right and follow the road down and into the village of Denton. Again, we are on a stretch of road with no pavement and potentially fast cars so do be careful for a few hundred metres until you reach the pavements which carry you safely through the village.

As you enter the village, just beside the Denton sign, there is a patch of butterbur on the left hand side. The great wide leaves and tall flower spikes look rather prehistoric and are very noticeable in May when they are in flower. This is a species often associated with wet habitats and the stream which passes just beside these plants explains their position here.

As you pass through the village, you will see the village hall on the right hand side. This is one of the buildings from the WWI encampment at Belton Estate during the war when a machine gun training ground was located there.

The road will bend left, then shortly right to head uphill towards the A607. Walk along until you see a footpath sign indicating you to turn off to the left.

Point 13

Follow the footpath down a narrow jitty between two hedgerows and out into a field. Walk ahead and slightly right to cross a stream at the bottom of the field where there is a bridge to the right of dense willow. There are often cows in this field so be sure to keep dogs on leads.

As you enter the field, take a look to the left where you can see an impressive old oak in a private field behind the houses as well as a beech on the field boundary.

After crossing the stream, head back uphill to a stile which opens onto a track.

Point 14

Turn right along the track for about 20m, then leave it again over a stile to your left. Follow the path diagonally across the field to reach a gap in the hedgerow at the far corner.

If you look to your left as you walk, you can see the canal which you just walked and another nice view out across the Vale of Belvoir.

View from the A607 - the ladybird balloon is a familar sight on nice summer's evening across the Vale of Belvoir
View from the A607 – the ladybird balloon is a familar sight on nice summer’s evening across the Vale of Belvoir

Go through the gap, (carefully!) cross the A607 and go straight over the stile into the field opposite. Then take the track diagonally to your left to cut off the corner of the field and reach a gate which will bring you back into the village of Harlaxton. Walk through the two gates and then continue along the road which the footpath becomes.

Point 15

When you meet another road at a T-junction, instead cross over and go through a gate into the field. Cross this field along the footpath and go through two more gates to bring you out into the churchyard of Harlaxton Church.

Walk across the front of the 13th Centuary church (look out for the gargoyles as you go) towards a large copper beech.

This is recorded in the Woodland Trust register of coronation trees which were planted to mark the coronation of the queen in 1963.

To the left of the beech is a small carpark and, just to the left of this, a track which leads you down the side and brings you back out opposite the monument at the start of your walk.

Mistletoe in the Vale of Belvoir

On a walk along the Grantham canal through Redmile in the Vale of Belvoir, we spotted this very distinctive shape in a tree growing somewhere in the village – sadly it looked to be on private property. The photograph is terrible but this is mistletoe, a very common species in the south and west of the country but not something I have ever seen around Grantham before – the populations along the main road running through Burton Joyce was the closest colony I was aware of.

image

Mistletoe – latin name Viscum album is a hemi-parasitic plant, a half parasite if you will. Unlike some parasites, it does some of the work for itself, hence the green pigmentation of the chlorophyll. It does however take a range of other nutrients from the tree it is growing upon although they are unlikely to do damage to an established tree. The common name gives a clue about its mode of establishment – ‘mistle’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for dung and ‘tan’ derives from the word for twig* . Birds, most notably the mistle thrush but also species such as the blackcap, eat the berries and excrete them onto the branch afterwards. The seeds germinate here and the distinctive globe of mistletoe develops.

The distribution of mistletoe in the UK is very much to the south and west where it can be very common, particularly favouring apple orchards which has led to the myth that the predominance of orchards in the west country explains the distribution. This is not the case however -apple is one of the most favoured hosts and also happens to be grown in the way which suits mistletoe best – in open spaces rather than denser woodlands. Around 200 tree species can act as hosts however the tolerance of mistletoe for the less optimal ones declines as the suitability of other conditions deteriorate. It is these other conditions – the winter minimum and summer maximum temperatures – which actually limit the plant to a rarity in much of the country*. The mistletoe likes true seasons, cold winrers and hot summers as well as humid springs to germinate.

This awful quality photograoh is not the only record of mistletoe in the area fortunately, this website has photographs of a number of other specimens in the area, noteably in Bottesford only a few miles away. Why they have developed here and where the population origionated from, I do not know. But it is a lovely sight – this time of year is ideal to get out and spot them but hurry, it won’t be long until they’re lost amongst the leaves of their hosts!

Autumnal Walk along Grantham Canal and Denton Reservoir

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog – everything interesting I’ve seen recently has been far from Grantham, and usually in the dark as bat surveys have filled most of my time! So expect some bat related posts in the near future…

September scene

To get going again; this post is just a few photographs from a walk along Grantham Canal and around Denton Reservoir on a sunny, dew-damp September morning. A little bit of everything! It’s sad to see so many of the wildflowers going over, how can autumn be upon us while we’re still waiting for summer to begin? Still, a few flowers are still hanging on:

Black knapweed (Centaura nigra)

Black knapweed (Centaura nigra) is a favourite with the bees and butterflies and a few are still in flower.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a native which you may even have growing in your lawn, or one of the ornamental coloured varieties in the flowerbeds. Look out for the feathery fronds of leaves beneath.

Autumn hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis)

There are several hawkbit (Leontodon spp.) species – I believe this one is the appropriately named autumn hawkbit. They are in the same family as the dandelion – the daisy or compositae family – but are a much finer, more delicate species.

Ragwort (Senecio vulgaris)

Ever-ebullient ragwort (Senecio jacobaea). There seems to be a fair bit of debate at the moment on whether it really is dangerous for livestock, but it’s another brilliant species for invertebrates. Look out for the yellow-and-black striped caterpillars of the cinnabar moth in July and August.

Creeping thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) is another species with a long flowering season.

Rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium)

Rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium) flowers later in the season and brightens up the countryside, especially around water. This photo was taken beside Denton Reservoir.

Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)

Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) is a species I was not expecting to encounter – this was growing within a sheep-grazed field to the south of Denton. It is a delicate flower often found in more dry, nutrient poor grasslands and heathland, Sherwood forest is a good area to spot them. A welcome addition to the day!

The fields look as though they are on fire from a distance as clouds of dust rise like smoke from the combines. With the crops gone and the stubble remaining, it’s a good chance to look for a few arable plants. There are a number of species which are well adapted to arable conditions and are growing rather rarer these days thanks to the intensification of agriculture. Below are photographs of scentless mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum) and common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) – not rare but attractive, I especially love the texture of the poppy flower!

Scentless mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum)

Common poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

I spotted a fair few birds within the hedgerows and arable margins, it’s getting to the time of year when large numbers descend on the feast of berries which are ripening. Plenty of blackbirds along with mixed-tit flocks, yellowhammers, chaffinches and an attendant kestrel. This stretch of farmland is a great spot for fieldfares and redwings when then arrive for the winter too.

Yellowhammer

The last few butterflies were still floating and resting in patches of sunlight; red admirals, comma’s and speckled wood all in evidence. Below is a comma (Polygonia c-album) sunning itself on a bunch of ripening blackberries!

Comma butterfly on blackberries

Dragonflies and damsel-flies were spaced out along the edge of the reservoir, the dragonflies jealously guarding their patches. This was my first attempt at a dragonfly in flight, I’m quite pleased with it! I am not 100% confident on the ID but this is certainly a hawker dragonfly, probably a southern hawker (Aeshna affinis) judging by the amount of green on the thorax but please feel free to set me straight if it’s a common!

Southern hawker dragonfly