Lots of wildlife to spot on a walk around Thremhall Park Business Centre in Hertfordshire
Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop's Stortford...
Several articles ago I reported from a walk beginning at Birchanger village and taking the Herts Sustrans footpath over the M11 and along to Stane Street and the Flitch Way. Soon afterwards I received an invite to visit Thremhall Park, just a few hundred yards along the road from where the footpath crosses Stane Street and deposits the rambler on the Flitch Way.
Consequently, the weekend before last I monitored the forecast and deemed Monday to be a better day for a visit. I arrived with the car thermometer flashing 2C, heavy grey cloud and a slight mist. Awful light for photos. I returned home, having seen plenty, and processed over 170 shots to find only a handful were of any real value. Another trip was required and, amazingly, the Tuesday dawned with good sunlight and copious amounts of blue sky. Much better for photographing quick-moving birds. This report is, therefore, a mix of both visits.
Whilst I was aware of Thremhall Park, I had never visited before and I was surprised by the biodiversity the 12 acres of parkland offers.
It was originally a Franciscan priory before becoming a Georgian house with outbuildings including a moat house. This fell into total disrepair before being acquired by a company called Mantle, which has done a superb job of bringing the buildings back to former grandeur, and these are now used as offices and conference centres. An on-site café offers visitors refreshments, presently with limited opening times and a reduced menu.
I parked, registered my car at reception and headed off to an area of woodland near the entrance, opposite Kearsley Airways, and immediately picked up several bird calls: blue tits, great tits, nuthatches and treecreepers in particular.
Higher in the canopy, wood pigeons and jackdaws roosted before a three-note wisping call had me searching conifers; a goldcrest and, as always, fast moving as I fired off several hopeful shots. A wonderful start.
I wandered further around and encountered the old moat, a crescent of deepish water holding three pairs of mallards and several moorhens. A chiffchaff flitted by as more wood pigeons came in from the airport runway direction. The sun shone brightly on one mallard drake's iridescent green head plumage, worthy of a photo.
This woodland area is well established and shows good signs of maintenance. Log piles were worth rooting around in, whereupon I disturbed several spider species and plenty of woodlice. There are nearly 40 species of these crustacea group in the UK, some very rare. Today's examples were the more common Philoscia muscorum.
On the woodland floor, dog mercury and lords-and-ladies were in good numbers, adding a green tint to the leaf litter. A wide variety of trees, both deciduous and coniferous, offer birds a range of habitats.
Another check on the conifers gave a fleeting glimpse of a coal tit.Nuthatches continued to burble from on high, treecreepers spiralled up trunks of beech and oak and wrens darted for cover into the wood piles, before I moved on to check the splendidly formal walled garden.
A robin sang vociferously from a security light by the café, the lady working there informing me that it is a regular visitor. A pied wagtail paraded across the roof of the large and impressive neo-Georgian, grade II listed building before I took a few gravelled paths to an area where I encountered a pond and a reed bed area.
A pheasant rose noisily from the reeds as I checked the slots (footprints) of both muntjac and fallow deer. The former prints looked fresh so I followed them to the far corner of the park and was lucky enough to watch as the muntjac darted into dense vegetation. In the trees overhead, a large party of goldfinches squabbled noisily as a huge 747 appeared upon take-off from the runway just the other side of the A120.
A more exhaustive check on the pond near the car park gave up little, due to the season more than any other reason. Clearly several plant species reside here, including rosebay willowherb, so I expect this to be a popular area for insects in summer. Certainly a fair few dragonfly species will be found along with a good selection of butterfly species. I shall pencil in a return visit for high summer to see what else will be about.
I returned to the café, which is presently a takeaway service with plenty of benches on the well-kept lawns. I changed the lens on my camera from the large zoom to the smaller 50mm so I could get a few shots of the information boards inside. Here, before-and-after photos of the buildings illustrate just how much work was needed. As is always the case, no sooner do I remove the large lens then a good bird appears. Today, a common buzzard eased its way directly overhead. I watched where it went into roost in a large oak with a view to track it down later.
I had noted plenty of security lights as well as lights to brighten the paths between buildings, so went off to check these for any roosting insects attracted to them overnight. A few hibernating seven-spot ladybirds and, best of all, a pale brindled beauty, a regular moth of late winter and early spring showing a yellow and black hooped abdomen. A pleasing find.
Now for that buzzard. I stalked quietly towards where I had last seen him and, sure enough, there it was in a tangle of twigs right at the top of the tree and in no way photogenic. Fortunately, he clocked my presence and was off, so I managed a few flight shots before he was gone.
Another circuit of the wood, this time searching for fungi species: jelly ear on branches of elder, white polypore crust fungi on a dead twig and some impressive turkeytail fungi on a tree stump.
Next to the woodland area and running parallel to the entrance lane is a ditch, presently water-filled, where snowdrops were in full bloom whilst common ground ivy was just coming into leaf. Amazingly, this narrow lane used to be the main route to Stansted Airport before the A120 dual carriageway was built and the new terminal opened. How times have changed!
Thremhall Park can be found by turning left at the traffic lights on the B1256 (the old A120) from the M11 roundabout. This small but diverse habitat lends itself admirably to bird and nature watching for young enthusiasts. A great place to begin studying bird calls as the area is open enough to permit visual connection with the birds once they have been heard.
The café is open to all – presently 10am-2pm on weekdays and 9.30am-12.30pm at weekends. The grounds are open to the public and, in a few months, when hopefully restrictions will be partially lifted, a great local place to have a wander, exercise the dog and enjoy a coffee.
I enjoyed a coffee on the lawn outside the café whereupon a small, colourful hoverfly alighted upon my hand. Episyrphus balteatus, the marmalade hoverfly, my first hover of 2021, with its presence indicating the temperatures had indeed been good for early February.
Following my refreshment, I decided to have one final wander around the site. By now, cloud cover was moving in but still good nature to be found. Carrion crows, magpies and a jay were all added to the list whilst the regular call of fieldfare and redwing could be heard over towards the runway.
Thanks to Jo Hart, the Mantle group's development and marketing manager, for inviting me and giving up her time to show me around. A place I shall revisit through the seasons to see what else I encounter.
If readers know of any other areas such as this then do get in contact via the Indie and I can pay a reconnaissance visit to see what may be on offer.