A return to the good old Days?

The interesting article by Jean Roberts in the last news letter on visible migration from four fixed points in our area, set me thinking back to earlier days at the observation site that won hands down on number of species that is the Crag View Point.

For those who donít know where the Crag ViewPoint is let me put them out of their misery. It is a small open grassland area within the RSPB property of Barrow Scout wood perched on the top of a small mainly wooded cliff. Access is from the Crag Foot to Warton road on the right a short distance on from the summit of the hill rising from Crag Foot. Parking at the entrance is very difficult, with really only space for one car. If you want to visit it is best to park at the entrance to the Occupation Lane right at the summit of the Crag Foot hill and walk ca 75 metres towards Warton. A short rough and rather rocky narrow path leads to the view point The views across to the Inner Marsh and out to Morecambe Bay are superb, although to do any serious birding you certainly need a telescope and it is very exposed to all the weather.

I first bird watched from there in 1948 when I got me first pair of 8x 25 binos. The view then was very different to today. The Inner Marsh had very few pools and no real bird concentrations, indeed any birds there were really out of the range of my binos. But the fields between the road and the railway known to locals like myself as the Crag Foot fields (since more appropriately re-christened Barrow Scout Fields by RSPB staff) were well within my field of view. How different from the unnaturally green monoculture that one sees today. At present birds other than greylag are only present in any numbers when heavy rain produces flooding, attracting numbers of waders especially redshank, oystercatcher and curlew and occasionally other species such as the now famous dowitcher. But the floods are all too quickly drawn down by the efficient pumping system. Here lies the clue as to the cause of the changes from the early period to today. An efficient system of drains linked to an electric pump was installed in the late 1970ís. Now drainage and silage cutting have produced a larger sterile area as far as breeding birds are concerned. Lapwings have returned on occasions after a field has been ploughed and re-seeded but usually leave as the fertilized grass gets too dense.

Prior to drainage the area was only summer grazed. Much was covered by large juncus tussocks, and for much of the year almost all the fields were wet with two quite large shallow pools which only dried up in the severest of droughts. Add to this some over grown hedges and a semi circle of mature mainly hawthorns along the drier higher sections and you had a most interesting bird area.

Breeding birds included good numbers of lapwing, redshank and smaller numbers of snipe. Reed buntings favoured the juncus areas along with a few sedge warblers, and each field had its quota of yellow wagtails. Moorhen and mallard were abundant and smaller numbers of shoveler bred. From behind, one could hear yellowhammers  singing on the scrubby areas across the road.  At passage periods large numbers of meadow pipits and wagtails used the wet fields as a re-fuelling halt. The large numbers of emerging insects attracted good numbers of swifts, swallows and martins. Passage waders also occurred especially greenshank, and I saw my first black-tailed godwit and green sandpiper there. In winter wildfowl were not often seen as the area was regularly shot, but it was an excellent place to see barn owl hunting at dusk and occasionally during the day, and on occasions I disturbed a roosting bird from one of the old hawthorns. The dry hilly southern tip was a regular little owl site, while shelduck nested in the abundant rabbit burrows on this very dry section. Flocks of redwing and fieldfare stripped the abundant hawthorn berries,

Shooting though was something of a problem, I remember meeting a wildfowler who was somewhat distressed, he had been holed up under one of the hedges, a bird came low over his head and his straining reflexes produced a quick and accurate shot. But when he went to pick the bird it was a barn owl! Like so many other farmland areas, wildlife as suffered as modern farming methods advance

But things are about to change, subject to planning permission the RSPB are about to reverse the drainage, re-creating a wetland once again. Perhaps not re-creating the habitat as it was in the 1960ís, the main idea is to produce a small version of Leighton Moss, a reedbed with dykes and meres to attract bitterns and bearded tits. Reed already grows strongly along the railway, encroaching into the fields but some planting will probably be needed. But remember all the areas to the seaward of Griesdale and Jackson hide at Leighton were grazed and juncus dominated in the early 1970ís, and less than 10 years after the cessation of grazing reed was dominant, so it can take over very rapidly if conditions are right.

It will be interesting to watch the effect on birds, my guess is that as the water rises, breeding waders will move in quite quickly and with no shooting it will attract numbers of wildfowl in winter and as the reed gets going, reed and sedge warblers along with reed bunting will move in quite quickly followed hopefully by bearded tit and bittern.

So visits to the Crag ViewPoint will be even more interesting in the future. Robin has promised a drink of your choice for the first bittern sighting, so Iíll be watching.

John Wilson.

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