Despite a forecast of heavy rain, 12 members turned up on the morning of Sunday 22 September for a walk round Southcote Meadows with Adrian Lawson and his young dog Luna. The walk started out south-westwards along a track which led through woodland to a bridge under the Reading to Newbury railway line. Pink Himalayan Balsam and Orange Balsam were in flower beside the track, while Green Spleenwort, Rustyback and Hart’s-tongue Ferns were all growing in the brickwork of the bridge. Looking over the meadow across the Holy Brook, a young Buzzard was perched on a cable and a Green Woodpecker was on a post beyond. The walk continued eastwards along the bank of the Holy Brook, where there had been some recent tree-felling work. On the other side of the channel, a large limb had split almost completely from a big Crack Willow. After crossing the Holy Brook, the route led southwards across a wet meadow towards Southcote Mill. The meadow was dotted with scattered Hawthorns, Buckthorns and willows. The track was built up higher than the field, forming a barrier to drainage, so that the meadow was wetter on the upstream side than on the downstream side. Adrian explained that conservation volunteers would be working on an almost dried out pond next to the track. They would be clearing Bulrush plants from the middle of the pond and cutting back willows from the edges. The walk continued to Southcote Mill, over the narrow Milkmaid’s Bridge across the mill stream, over the bridge across the Kennet and on upstream beside a side channel. Blue Water-forget-me-not was in flower at the water’s edge and a young Toad was spotted beside the path. Overhead, the sky darkened. Adrian pointed out the mixed flock of House Martins and Sand Martins which was hunting in front of the approaching weather front. Next to the path was an area of dense woodland which marked the site of a former gravel pit. It had been filled with inert material and restored to meadow, but a dense growth of Alder had rapidly taken over. The path led through the wood to an open meadow area next to the Reading to Southampton railway line. This was another gravel pit which had been restored to meadow and sown with a wildflower mixture. Many Ash seedlings were growing up through the grass. The field is cut annually to control woody growth, but the cuttings are left behind, vigorous grasses are taking over and the flowers are being overwhelmed. Common Fleabane and Common Ragwort were still in flower and there were seed heads on the Teasels. The explosive call of a Cetti’s Warbler was heard and another Buzzard was perching on an overhead wire. The rain set in in earnest, and by common consent, everyone headed back to the cars.
Pictures by Laurie Haseler