Spring on the River Stour

By Thomas Hartland Smith | February 28 2021

Spring on the River Stour

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    Welcome back! Can we believe another month has passed so quickly? But what a month of change it has been, from the coldest days of our winter, to the warmth rolling in on the Spring air. As we all wait anxiously for positive news about the easing of lockdown, we can all feel the positivity and ‘buzz’ in the air from the odd emerging queen bumble bee. The increasing day length and the warmth that the Spring sunshine brings is really noticeable.

    This month I wanted to write about all of the signs of Spring that can be found on the site in Cradley, well at least some of the signs I have spotted on my wanderings. But before I delve into another visual walk through the site, a number of people have got in contact with me, asking exactly where this site is in Cradley? If you were to look on a map, the site sits roughly between the old market town of Halesowen and Quarry Bank, as the crow flies. If you were to search for Butchers Lane, the site runs alongside it and can be easily spotted on Google, as it has the river running through it. In addition, if you use ‘What Three Words’ then search ///system.shout.sailor; or traditional grid references, you can search SO 94431 85289. Look out for a for a newly digitised map on my next blog.

    One of the memorable enquiries I have had recently, was from a lovely gentleman in Essex asking where about the site is on the River Stour. I had to chuckle that the distance might be an issue if he wanted to come and look at the site. We both discovered that there is more than one River Stour. I was interested to find out the origin of the name ‘River Stour’. From a quick search online it appears the word originates from the Celtic word meaning, ‘strong’ or ‘powerful’. This historic name is actually bestowed on five River Stours across the UK, and a couple within mainland Europe as well. This got me thinking into how there could be tens of thousands of people, who hold a River Stour close to their hearts. But why do we hold rivers close to our hearts? I think it Is because we all find peace whilst in nature. It’s like when we look into a flame and get mesmerised, the same peace and immersion can be found, in the ripples of a river.

    ***

    In Spring, the sap starts rising in the trees to burst the buds; and the wildlife awakens into a frenzy, after the long dormancy of winter. The difference of a couple of hours of daylight, or a few notches on the thermometer, was instantly evident from my previous winter walks on site. The hard ground has become soft underfoot; the colours of the leaves and buds on the trees are richer; the greens are just so much more brilliant in the sunlight.

    My aim on going down to the site today, was to capture some photographs to accompany this blog. I cannot encourage you all enough, to give it a go! With just a phone camera and a clip on macro lens, I think I have managed to really capture the feel of Spring. Whilst contemplating what makes Spring, Spring, I was consistently distracted by the bird song that had seemingly increased tenfold over the last few weeks. The sound track was rich and full. The loud ‘Teacher-Teacher’ projected close by and afar, was male Great Tits Parus major setting up and defending their territories. These loud calls were clearly audible over all the others. This to me is a true sign Spring is here.

    As I wrote in my last blog about the amazing bird life that can be found, I thought it would be great to focus on the interesting plant life that is now bursting into life. It is a little sad that plants can commonly be over looked. What we need to remember is, the broad diversity of plants are not only interesting to look at, but are also the primary source of food and shelter for many of the other species that are living there.

    The Ramson Allium ursinum, which is also commonly known as wild garlic, is very common along the River Stour corridor. It is one of the first plants to grow in Spring. This is because it has stored all the energy it needs, from the sun in the previous year, underground in a bulb. If you accidently damage any of the leaves of this plant whilst out walking, it is unmistakable by its rich garlic aroma. When it first breaks through the ground, the leaves are a brilliant green. They become darker green as the season progresses. You can find a few photographs I have taken below.

    There are a couple of other bulbs that can be spotted: Crocus, Snow Drops, Spanish Bluebells and Daffodils. Look out for any others as Spring progresses.

    Even more overlooked than the plants underfoot, can be the amazing reproductive structures of the trees. which have also responded to the increase in day length. Both the Hazel Corylus avellana and Common Alder Alnus glutinosa, are easily spotted by the dangling male catkins. These extend in Spring and use the wind to carry pollen to the female flowers. The male catkins adorning the trees, almost look like wedding decorations hanging from branches when they catch the sunlight. The flower of the Hazel is the pièce de résistance! A macro camera lens opens up a whole new world. The iridescent pink tentacles blossoming from the bud are called ‘styles’. Personally these little hidden delights of a Spring walk, really lift my spirits. Why don’t you have a look for them the next time you are out walking? Hazel flowers are normally a couple of buds back from the dangling male catkins.

    Another delight for me is the Lesser Celandine Ficaria verna, a common woodland plant that can be seen clinging to the banks of the River Stour. It has a special place in my heart, as when I started my career in conservation, one of my mentors Chris Parry, wrote an article about the Lesser Celandine. The article was so descriptive. It made me realise how the words you write, can reach out of a page and make people feel what you are seeing. I do not have the exact words that he wrote, but it went a little like this – ‘the bright yellow glistening stars of the woodland floor, all around like collections of small galaxies’.

    The Celandine is so indicative of Spring that it is actually used as a sign in, ‘The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe’, when Aslan returns to the woodland, the floor was covered in… Celandine.

    All of these signs of Spring are a real delight to write about. On a personal level, I can say that I walked down to the river today to look for the signs of Spring, but I found myself in a completely immersive experience. I came away truly feeling refreshed, having worked the previous four days indoors. It’s an important lesson to us all to get out into nature and enjoy the little things. Maybe this oasis in the centre of our community can inspire you to write, paint or give you the space to step away for a moments peace?

    ***

    I have now set up a Facebook group for the Cradley Reedbed Project and site, to allow people to see more frequent updates on what is happening. All are welcome. Please do drop in and say hello, or send a message to the group.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/riverstour/

     

    Tara-a-bit,

    Your Urban Rivers Officer,

    Tom.

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Thomas Hartland Smith

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