Photo above – Simpson Manor Field, with cattle
A walk around Simpson led by Peter Barnes and Rebecca Hiorns, looking at a variety of habitats and the parish council’s initiatives to understand and enhance them, in line with their commitment to help address climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
The evening was warm and dry when, just after 7pm, 30 members and guests set off from the Parks Trust car park off Walton Road and headed north down the path beside the River Ouzel. It was difficult to see the river with all the ruderal growth but when a cry of ‘Greater Dodder!’ went up from Julian Lambley – the nettles entwined with the parasite suddenly became much more interesting.
Proceeding back towards the village Stock Dove were spotted and a pair of Mute Swans flew overhead low enough to hear their wings beat, a beautiful sight against the bright blue sky.
Our first stop was St Thomas’ churchyard, a complex habitat supporting a wide range of species, some not seen anywhere else in the parish. These include plants, fungi and invertebrates associated with the old grassland, the tall mature trees and the church walls, which provide nesting space for several species of solitary bee and a colony of wild honeybees. The older sandstone and limestone gravestones are covered in rich patterns of lichen and mosses. The Parish Council has initiated a project to help manage and enhance the habitats, hoping that species will repopulate other areas of the parish. A record is being made of the flowering plants and compared with the species list compiled by Roy Maycock for his survey of all the churchyards in Buckinghamshire, in the early 1980s.
This year, a revised mowing regime has enabled grassland around the older graves to grow as a meadow. This has benefitted many pollinators and enabled plants to flower that haven’t been seen in recent years, including 24 Bee Orchids and one Pyramidal Orchid, which was a delightful surprise when it revealed itself just before our visit.
During our visit Harry Appleyard spotted a Scarlet Tiger Moth, Common Blue Damselfly and Purple Hairstreak and Mike LeRoy and Justin Long reported a Waxcap Hygrocybe conica.
We then proceeded across the stream via the small wooden bridge stopping to look at the otter footprints adjacent to the water’s edge.
Walking into the Simpson Manor Field (managed by The Parks Trust as pasture) views open up to the Greensand Ridge. We stopped and Peter was explaining the history of the manor, medieval fishponds and moat and later manor house with landscaped gardens, when the cattle, which had been grazing peacefully on the other side of the field, started galloping in our direction. Any disquiet was momentary as Mike LeRoy stepped forward, engaged with them and instantly calmed the ‘bored and unruly class of teenagers’.
We next proceeded to the sluice to look down over the field and river from the higher ground. Peter related the number of bird species to be seen on the lake, including Great Northern Diver, Goosander and Mandarin Duck, and the week-long visit of a pair of Cattle Egret in Simpson Manor Field in May 2020. No Cattle Egret were seen, but views of a Little Egret fishing along the river were enjoyed by all. It is not known how well eels are doing in this section of river, but nationally eel numbers have declined by around 95% in the last 25 years.
To avoid our ‘herd’ unsettling the cattle again, we skipped the planned route through to Lissel Road, an area where the Parish Council’s new working arrangement with SERCO (MKC land) has enabled residents to enhance habitats. This has included, creating leaf and log piles with hedgehog nesting spaces, putting up 10 bird boxes (one hoping to encourage the frequently heard Tawny Owls), building a bug hotel and managing areas as meadow. Projects have also started to improve the ground flora of the copse and support pollinators early in the year.
We stopped briefly at Lickorish bridge to hear about the history of the area and to look down over the canal. The woodland was the first to be planted by the Development Corporation, it is now reaching early maturity and has just had its first major thinning.
We then proceeded down to the area adjacent to the ‘Cattle Creep’, a tunnel under the Grand Union Canal built to enable farmers to move their cattle across the canal. The tunnel is now used as a bat roost. The canal and its embankments provide a connected habitat over a hundred miles. Within the parish, its banks are particularly associated with crab apple trees.
Our final stop was at Bowler’s Bridge where Peter described how bats have been finding roosting and nesting spaces within the houses on Hanmer Road, built in 1973, including his own where, at the end of May, he counted as many as 400 Soprano Pipistrelles exiting at dusk.
Birds – 17 Species
2 Greylag Goose
20 Black-headed Gull
Emperor Dragonfly (Male)
5 Banded Demoiselle
Common Blue Damselfly (Churchyard)
Scarlet Tiger Moth (Churchyard)
Purple Hairstreak (Churchyard)
Waxcap – Hygrocybe conica
Our thanks to Harry Appleyard for his photographs and species list.