When we first move to Knutsford in 1986 there was no generally recognised problem of blue green algae or cyanobacteria. There was a small sandy beach by the lake in Tatton Park, where people would go to picnic and bathe in the lakewater. Dogs swam in the lake without problem; even daughter’s Westie put his toes in.
Then, in the early nineties, notices began to appear about blooms of blue green algae in the water; dogs should not go in and people should definitely not bathe. They appeared with increasing frequency, and are now a permanent feature. The sandy beach is long gone.
Almost everywhere you go in Britain these algae seem to have got a hold, with a detrimental effect on other wildlife. Last year we witnessed dead Canada geese being removed from Shakerley Mere because of poisoning, suspected to be the very evident blue green algae.
Close up the resulting scum can appear ugly, but can sometimes give almost beautiful effects, as in the following picture.
So what causes these algal blooms and what changed?
The mass of yellow flowers and pungent aroma are long gone, and the rapeseed is left to ripen in the field by a favourite walk. The plants are not generally regarded as visually attractive at this stage, but the setting sun and cloudscape in the background give a helping hand, resulting in a pleasing image.
The red deer at Tatton Park are just now coming into velvet, starting to grow their antlers ready for the battles of autumn. On a hot June afternoon they’re content to rest in the long grass, awaiting the cool of evening.
The early rape fields have been in flower for some time now, a great splash of yellow with an almost overwhelming aroma. Photographically they are rather boring; but the neat intermediate hedge gives some interest to the featured image, looking over farmed fields towards nearby woodland.
Hawthorn hedges and trees are also in full flower (‘May blossom’), giving the opportunity for the following pleasing juxtaposition.
Magpies are common in UK, and can be a bit of a pest, thieving food intended for other birds. But catch them in the right light and they can be rather beautiful, like the above recent shot from Tatton Park.
They are particularly active in spring, with spells of amorous behaviour interspersed with avid feeding from what they can find in the ground.
The featured image could be of a swamp in Texas, but it’s actually alongside the small lake known as Booths Mere in Knutsford. We’ve known this lake exists for many years, but only recently got to see it close up, as we discovered a short stretch of the bank that is accessible.
Otherwise, it’s private land reserved for fishing. This is a great shame, as it could be a valuable local amenity for walkers. Maybe one day…
You can see a small jetty, presumably used for fishing purposes.
There are some venerable trees around the bank, this one with magnificent roots visible.
It’s spring blossom time. One of the first out in the hedgerows was the blackthorn. Contrary to the similar hawthorn, blackthorn gets the flowers out first, with leaves following later. At a distance, there is an ephemeral feeling to the vista presented by blackthorn en masse, as in the featured image from Anderton Country Park.
Closer in the individual branches have their own lacy beauty, especially set against the recent blue sky.
Blackthorn is also called sloe, and its fruits are used to make sloe gin. And the wood was traditionally found suitable for making walking sticks.
The weeping willows by Knutsford’s Moor Pool are now well out, and trees and hedgerows are covered with new hawthorn leaves. Third in line of the big deciduous trees to come out with leaves is… the horse chestnut.
The lockdown goes on. Knutsford’s King Street is full of restaurants and usually (ie pre-covid) very busy early evening as people size up where to eat or drink. Now deserted and, apart from this short stretch, largely in darkness.
My phone’s camera has made a fair go at conveying the extreme contrast in lighting, but its representation of the sky is rather optimistic, better than the real thing!
The current UK government roadmap says we return to ‘normal’ opening of restaurants on 17 May. We shall see!
With the lighter days, some shrubs are beginning to show leaf. Most trees are still bare, some with catkins, like the featured pussy willow. But now the hawthorn is coming into leaf, second only to the willow (earlier post).
Soon all will be covered in leaves, all in the rush of the new energies of rapidly increasing light, of the spring equinox.
The county of Cheshire contains a number of smallish lakes, or meres. Many date back to the glacial period of the last ice age, ‘occupying hollows in the glacial drift surface of the Cheshire Plain’ (see itemised list). The lake in Tatton Park, known as Tatton Mere, is one of these meres of glacial origin.
Just north west of the top of Tatton Mere lies a smaller lake, named Melchett Mere, but at a noticeably lower elevation. Is this another glacial lake? It seems not. Cheshire also has a history of salt extraction and mining, notably in the area around nearby Northwich and Wincham from the 17th century. Uncontrolled mining activity led to great subsidences of ground and the formation of lakes, such as the notorious Ashton’s and Neumann’s flashes near Wincham.
Effects of the salt mining activites, and particularly wild brine pumping, were often felt many miles away. According to the National Trust, Melchett Mere in Tatton Park was formed by a sudden collapse in 1922. The resulting lake was named by Lord Egerton after the then chairman of the extractive company he believed to have been responsible (presumably Henry Mond, 2nd Baron Melchett, who became deputy chairman of ICI in the 1940s).
Subsidence due to brine pumping activities is serious business in Cheshire, as evidence by the existence of the Brine Subsidence Compensation Board. Some of the land in this area is still subsiding. Notably this lies on the proposed route for the HS2 high speed train. I hope those guys know what they’re getting into!
Thank God the days are gone when dead trees were removed from the landscape, part of an obsession with tidiness that took little account of the web of life in which we are embedded. The dead tree is an ecosystem containing countless organisms and fungi, all about the miraculous job of reducing solid wood back to the soil it came from.
Our National Trust now usually leaves trees where they fall in the landscape. This one at Tatton Park was probably once a spectacular oak tree, now gracefully yet vulnerably declining back to its origins.
Thus individual life emerges from the collective, lives and flourishes, and eventually dies and returns home.
The recent spell of dry sunny weather has seen ever increasing signs of the coming of new life in the spring. Many crocuses and daffodils are already past their best. As usual, the willow is the first tree to show signs of life, while the branches of others are still bare.
This year, more than most, we psychologically need the boost of burgeoning life that comes with spring.
There is no time like Spring, When life’s alive in everything,
Moorhens are one of our commonest water birds, and indeed are quite common worldwide, under names such as marsh hen or common gallinule. These members of the rail family appear fairly undistinguished, so are not first choice photographic subjects. I’ve tried over the years, but he result is usually not particularly impressive.
Here a strong low afternoon sun brought out the brown colours in the body, which usually appears black.
Their gait is quite ungainly, which does make for an interesting profile when backlit.