Above: Bee Orchid (All photos © Peter Barnes)
The Society’s last outdoor event was on Sunday afternoon 2nd February 2020 at the Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve some 16 months earlier, so the summer walk on Tuesday evening 1st June 2021 had a particular importance in our calendar. On a glorious summer evening 28 members and 1 visitor (just within the Covid rules maximum allowed) met at Bancroft Park Parks Trust car park to enjoy the wildlife of Milton Keynes, to view some historic landmarks, and to renew face-to-face contact with fellow members. Paul Lund was on hand to act as co-leader should it have proved necessary to divide participants into two groups but that was not necessary. Covid and other risks were rehearsed before the start of the walk.
North Loughton Valley Park is managed by the Parks Trust and forms one of many parks along the green corridor that stretches from Tattenhoe in the south west to New Bradwell in the north where the Loughton Brook joins the Great Ouse. This section of the valley consists of five main habitats all heavily influenced by the development of Milton Keynes: the Brook itself and its surrounding wetlands; thickets of Blackthorn, Wild Plum, Hawthorn, and Elder; mown grass and managed meadows lined by trees and bushes; and an area of rough grass, damp land with scrub above, which makes up the wet/dry balancing lakes which control the run-off to manage the risk of flooding in New Bradwell. The fifth habitat was outside the Park on the east bank of Grafton Street where it cuts through the Boulder Clay and Jurassic Cornbrash (limestone) sub strata and is an important habitat for wildlife in its own right. There is no evidence of habitats that predate the development of Milton Keynes other than Loughton Brook itself.
We walked through each of these areas, stopping occasionally. The focus of the walk was the observation, identification, and recording of flowering plants, birds, and invertebrate species.
The route started from the Bancroft Park car park. Our first stop was to note Marsh Marigold still in flower in a boggy area near the edge of the Brook and to hear Chiffchaff, Blackcap, and Song Thrush in full song in the surrounding thicket and trees. Crossing the Brook took us to the mown and managed meadow grass of the eastern slope of the valley with its backing of trees and bushes. The managed meadows of grasses, Meadow Buttercup, Red Clover, and the semi- parasitic Yellow Rattle were in flower – a wonderful display of colour and flowing contours. There appear to be no pre-Milton Keynes tree species in the Park: those planted are mainly of willows, alder, and ash.
The wet/dry balancing lakes are divided by a substantial broad earth dam. The middle of this was a good stopping place to look across the enclosed area. Some of us had a glimpse of Common Whitethroat in the scrub area below the dam, and Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeon were flying back and forth. Goatsbeard and Birdsfoot Trefoil were just coming into flower on the slopes of the dam.
A Redway bridge took us over Grafton Street with good views of the Grand Union Canal aqueduct to one side and looking down on the cutting bank that we were to visit on the other. A brief detour gave us views of the magnificent Bradwell Windmill which opened in 1803, closed in 1876, and is now restored and run by volunteers.
The bank of the cutting next to the Redway was our longest stop. It looks roughly west and was still in partial sun for our visit. A stretch of about 100 metres has been planted as a flower-rich habitat to attract pollinators and includes Birdsfoot Trefoil, Common Vetch, Grass Vetchling, Germander Speedwell, Ribwort Plantain, Cut-leaved Cranesbill and Bee Orchid. Flowering was 2 to 3 weeks later than in 2020 when I prepared a virtual walk of this route during lockdown. Only five Bee Orchids were found in flower for our visit and the impression is that overall numbers will be down greatly from even last year. The mown rough grass area on the other side of the Redway added one further Bee Orchid about to flower and the leaf rosettes of a few more. Several Burnet Companion moths were flying, and Two- and Seven-spot Ladybird, Red-tailed Bumblebee, and Solitary Wasp were identified.
Our return route followed that of the outward one. It concluded with a short stop at the stone outline of the Bancroft Roman Villa. This was built in the late Third Century AD replacing an earlier Iron Age farm settlement and demolished in the Fifth Century. Interpretation Boards explain the history of the site. A passing Kestrel which paused briefly to hover ahead of us over the site was a fitting finale to the walk.
My thanks to Mary Sarre and Linda Murphy for putting together the plant list; to Paul Lund for providing back up for me as leader and participating in two reconnaissance visits; to Simon Bunker for contributing the invertebrate species list; to Matt Andrews for his additions to the bird list; and to Peter Barnes for his photographs.
Joe Clinch, Walk Leader
Annex to Trip Report North Loughton Valley Park 1st June 2021
|Flowering Plants (not all yet in flower)|
|Bulbous Buttercup||Marsh Marigold|
|Creeping Buttercup||Meadow ButterCup|
|Cuckoo Flower||Garlic Mustard|
|Birdsfoot Trefoil||Hairy Tare|
|Red Clover||Grass Vetchling|
|White Clover||Zigzag Clover|
|Herb Robert||Black Meddick|
|Cut-Leaved Cranesbill||Dovesfoot Cranesbill|
|Common Cleavers||Great Willowherb|
|Common Field Speedwell||Wall Speedwell|
|Field forget me not||Hedge Bedstraw|
|White Dead Nettle||Ground Ivy|
|Yellow Rattle||Common Figwort|
|Guelder Rose||Ribwort Plantain|
|Beaked Hawksbeard||Orange Hawkweed|
|Bee Orchid||Bristly Ox Tongue|
|Birds (seen or heard)|
|Lesser Black Backed Gull||Little Egret|
|Green Woodpecker||Wood Pigeon|
|Common Blue (butterfly)||Earwig|
|Burnet Companion (moth)||Rousel’s Bush Cricket (first nymph stage)|
|Two Spot Ladybird||Grasshopper (sp.) (first nymph stage)|
|Seven Spot Ladybird||Common Blue (?) Damselfly|
|Solitary Wasp||Red Tailed Bumblebee|
|Common Rough Woodlouse||Pill Woodlouse|