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Nature walk on the Hertfordshire/Essex border taking in Wall Wood and Rushy Mead Essex Wildlife Trust Reserve





Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...

A week last Monday dawned with a heavy mist, so I checked the forecast and it was predicted all to clear by 11am. I had planned a walk from Woodside Green down to the River Stort at Spellbrook and then back via Great Hallingbury.

I set off in good-quality mist to Woodside Green, parked and wandered into Wall Wood. Visibility down to 10 metres and no point using the camera for anything but close-up shots. After an hour, I abandoned the plan and returned home. The only photos worthwhile were ones of spiders' webs highlighted by the early-morning dew. The golden colours of hornbeam and beech were somewhat muted by the mist, but were still good to observe.

Heavy sky at Woodside Green (60727768)
Heavy sky at Woodside Green (60727768)

Tuesday began bright, but by 8am it was heavy drizzle. I put my walk on hold. At 2pm the sun was out so off to Wall Wood again, but the light faded and dark clouds came over the green so I headed home again!

I had, however, managed a few photos of fungi species within this ancient woodland. Plenty of coppicing and old oak stumps are attractive to fungi species such as oak-stump bonnet cap, stag's horn fungi and several polypore fungi (bracket fungus).

I arrived at Wednesday with an email from the editor requesting my copy ASAP. It was chucking it down and the forecast was not pleasing, but, as luck would have it, the skies cleared around lunchtime so I was off out with camera, lenses and binoculars.

Polypore fungus species (60727869)
Polypore fungus species (60727869)

I parked in the car park near Twyford Lock and wandered north up the tow path to Rushy Mead Essex Wildlife Trust Reserve. Mallards paddled the river, moorhens crossed like Channel ferries, coal tits bounced into willows and goldfinches called from alders.

A grey squirrel munched upon an acorn as I arrived at Jenkins Lane and continued past the water treatment works and on to a footpath that led towards the M11. Very muddy. A flock of redwings exited a hawthorn tree as I approached Hanging Hill Brook and a very rickety concrete footbridge that is slowly sinking into the soft earth. At this point I noticed just how successful the rose hips have been this year. Indeed, many fruits have had a really good year considering the drought of July and early August.

A common buzzard mewed as I entered the tunnel under the motorway and then followed the path to Great Hallingbury churchyard. Several skylarks ascended from the field, carrion crows probed for insects and, overhead, a kestrel hovered.

I sat awhile in the churchyard where a goldcrest called from a conifer, unseen, whilst blue and great tits commuted through the lime trees. A peaceful place and I giggled at a sign on the compost heap: "If God made it, leave it here, if man made it, take it home." I discussed The Almighty's approach to recycling over the millennia in my head and wandered off.

Grey squirrel (60727753)
Grey squirrel (60727753)

Long-tailed tits called and moved around a hedgerow as I headed towards the M11 bridge by the Woodside Green turning. My original plan had been to continue back towards Wall Wood, but the forecast hinted at rain within the hour so I cut short the wander and crossed the motorway. On the right-hand side, in the verge, I noticed a plaque dedicated to John Rosebrook, who died at this spot on August 10, 1866 having been struck by lightning. I have walked along here on many occasions and never noted this sign before. Thank you to whoever cut back the verge to make this visible. What a wonderful piece of local history.

A little further along I stopped to enjoy the view towards Stortford. The St Michael's church spire rose adjacent to several cranes that are working around the station. From this viewpoint it looked like all three were set within a large forest. A worthy photo.

I carried on and eventually came across a gate where there is a footpath. I climbed over the very broken and dodgy stile and found myself in a field. Goldfinches flew from a berry tree, robins called, wrens rattled and, from bramble, two bullfinches called their squeaky call. This is reminiscent of an unoiled gate hinge squeaking in the breeze. Best of all, a woodcock flew from a mud patch under hazel trees. My first of the autumn. I tried to find the track of the footpath, but just continually ended up being faced by brambles or a fast-flowing Hanging Hill Brook. I headed back to the road as rabbits scurried away into heavy bramble.

St Michael's church tower looking like it is set in a forest (60727994)
St Michael's church tower looking like it is set in a forest (60727994)

I soon came across the Hallingbury Road, crossed and wandered along Pig Lane, back towards the car park. Another flock of Scandinavian thrushes overhead, this time the "chack chack" call of fieldfares. I dodged traffic before arriving at Twyford Lock gates and scanned both north and south along the Stort Navigation. A Cetti's warbler called from deep vegetation plus more mallards and moorhens whilst a patch of unseasonably-late chamomile daisies lit up a verge. The light was still pleasing and the willow reflections upon the water were worth looking at.

In the verge near the river, a tree stump held a good stand of stag's horn fungus. A small white growth that, as it expands, takes on the shape of deer antlers. I sat upon a bench waiting for the resident grey wagtail to drop in, but today was not the day so back to the car and home, relieved to have completed a wander before deadline. This is the latest I have been in five years.

Stag's horn fungus (60727996)
Stag's horn fungus (60727996)

You may remember that some time back in the summer I reported from the old A120 – Tesco roundabout to Little Hadham – and I commented upon the unnecessary cutting back of grass verges whilst also, ironically, noting that some of the hedgerow along the pavement from Hadham Hall to town was so overgrown that pedestrians had to actually step into the road.

Over the last fortnight I have been pleased to see council contractors have cut back the hedge, unearthed the pavement and made it far more accessible. I was particularly pleased with the hedge flailing that appears to have only been carried out where absolutely essential.

Chamomile daisy (60728013)
Chamomile daisy (60728013)

More council consideration to hedgerows and grass verges will be great to see next summer as so many insects rely upon habitats such as these to survive. The verges hold their larval food plants as well as offering numerous nectar-bearing flowering plants upon which they can feed.

In this day and age of cutbacks and financial black holes, it seems crazy to me that money is spent on cutting grass verges for no apparent reason and that it actually does so much harm to our dwindling insect population. Hopefully the old road to Little Hadham will remain unflailed and unmowed for years to come.

Colourful beech leaves (60728026)
Colourful beech leaves (60728026)
Dew-covered spiders' webs in Wall Wood (60728034)
Dew-covered spiders' webs in Wall Wood (60728034)
Drake mallard in fine plumage (60727730)
Drake mallard in fine plumage (60727730)
Long-tailed tit (60727770)
Long-tailed tit (60727770)
Oak-stump bonnet cap fungus (60727782)
Oak-stump bonnet cap fungus (60727782)
Path through Wall Wood (60727838)
Path through Wall Wood (60727838)
Reflections on the Stort Navigation (60727910)
Reflections on the Stort Navigation (60727910)
Roadside plaque near motorway bridge in Great Hallingbury (60727977)
Roadside plaque near motorway bridge in Great Hallingbury (60727977)
Dew-covered spiders' webs in Wall Wood (60727720)
Dew-covered spiders' webs in Wall Wood (60727720)

Got a story for the Stortford Indie? Email us at newsdesk@bishopsstortfordindependent.co.uk.



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