Freeman’s Marsh – Bird Nesting Season

a black Glossy Ibis wading in shallow water on Freeman's Marsh in Hungerford

It’s now several years since the Trustees of the Town & Manor of Hungerford launched a long term conservation programme to arrest a depleting wild bird population, constant damage by the cattle to the water courses and vandalism to the structures in the Marsh. We should ask what if anything has been achieved and has this big effort and cost been justified so far?

See our short Glossy Ibis video, a rare visitor to these parts

Fencing of the rivers has limited the invasion by our cattle grazing the water plants and stopped them eroding the banks, prevented the daily visits of dogs that disturbed the water fowl and water voles and made access difficult to wading by unthinking people. Furthermore the riverside has since grown up with indigenous plants to the area giving cover to the river life, fish and a vast population of insects, the major source of food for the birds and fish. A carefully conducted survey of the water voles, an endangered species, was completed last year to ascertain the effect of the work on them. The result was a significant increase in numbers which is contrary to other areas in Berkshire and nationally.

Building protective hazelwood groynes

Rebuilding of the hatches and weir has enabled the Water Keeper to adjust the distribution of water flow between the two arms of the River Dun. This is particularly important in seasons of low flow. Groynes of Hazel bundles have been fixed in the river upstream of the Ash Pool to raise the velocity of the flow of the river to maintain a clean gravel bottom, and to give the right conditions for water weed to flourish, particularly Ranunculous or River Crowfoot and Water Cress in the areas of slack flow. We are very grateful to the volunteers of Freeman’s Marsh Conservation Group for their help with this work.

Mute swan with cygnets

The canal had big works carried out early in 2011, re-instatement of the banks and towpath with back-fill dredging and fencing. The pre-planted indigenous plants in the coir rolls fixed to the sides of the canal have flourished and has established a new and “environmental super space” for birds, animals, fish and insect life. The boats now travel in the middle of the pounds as there is no silt, and do not damage the banks. Marsh Lock is being re-built by British Waterways, shortly to be re-named Canal and River Trust, a national charity. Cobblers Lock was refurbished in 2007, so this stretch of the Canal should be in good order for some 20/25 years.

Coppicing and fencing the hedge row beside the River Dun in Rootes Meadow between the aqueduct and the railway bridge was completed in the 2011 winter and has grown up well. The footpath is back in its proper place and also a site which will develop into a good habitat for wildlife and for a mixed area of trees and shrubs.

Bullfinch

Bullfinch

For the future we hope to set up wild bird recording and ringing by a team from BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) to establish the population of birds both resident and migrants birds and hope this will start in April.

There are many visitors with their dogs walking daily in the Marsh and it’s important during the bird nesting season, 1st March to 31st July, that dogs are kept on a lead while in the area north of the Canal, which is the area designated SSSI ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’.

Please bear in mind that dogs may be run free south of the Canal during the nesting season.

It’s pleasing to note that more and more dog walkers are respecting the need for the code of ‘walking their dogs on short leads’ while within the SSSI. For that the Trustees are grateful to those who are setting this new countryside standard, for it’s so important that each of us helps to raise the environmental standards and encourage biodiversity in this unique piece of England. The alternative beggars belief that it will be lost as a trampled piece of Hungerford, denuded of any wild life for future generations.

Robert James
Hon Secretary of the Commons Committee and Trustee of the Town & Manor of Hungerford