Sue Bradley from the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust discovers the wilder side of Tewkesbury
The meeting of two rivers are just one of the factors that single out Tewkesbury as a special place for wildlife.
The Severn and The Avon and their associated flood plains attract a variety of bird life; swans are a familiar sight in these parts but the area is also rich in water fowl. River mammals such as otters are also known to use the waterways.
Since 2014 there has been a great deal of work by volunteers to create a thriving nature reserve between Prior’s Park and Wheatpieces. The 118-acre (46 hectare) site, which lies alongside the Tewkesbury bypass and sits opposite Morrison’s supermarket, is a short walk from the town centre along Barton Street.
Tewkesbury Nature Reserve performs a dual role of providing a habitat for wildlife as well as improving urban drainage, an especially important consideration after the hardships endured by many residents during the flood of 2007.
Volunteers there have made improvements to the River Swilgate, including the creation of meanders to lessen the speed of the water, increase habitat diversity for fish to reproduce and allow the river to clean itself. Backwaters, which are used by spawning fish and provide refuge from predators, and reed beds have been made to provide food sources for fish, birds and bats, while wild flower meadows have been sown to increase the range of insects.
The reserve, previously used for grazing cattle, is now a popular area for walkers, runners and dog exercising. Some 80 different types of birds have already been recorded there, ranging from gulls to song thrush, linnet and the cuckoo. Meanwhile some 87 different invertebrates have been found on the site, along with bats such as the common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle and noctule, and brown trout.
Another important wildlife-rich part of Tewkesbury is Severn Ham, an ancient water meadow that’s reached by a small footbridge from the centre of the town.
The area, one of the best examples of the few remaining hams in the UK, supports wild flowers, such as the parasitic greater madder (rubia), along with insects and birds, including the curlew. It is a splendid place to enjoy stunning views of Tewkesbury Abbey and the Malvern Hills.
Fields to the south west of the town close to its historic abbey are now a peaceful spot but in 1471 they were the scene of ferocious fighting. The location of the Battle of Tewkesbury is now registered as a battle site and used for grazing cattle, although the keen-sighted visitor may find the odd horseradish plant and even the odd patch of mustard growing there, a reminder of the town’s years manufacturing a fiery condiment so famous that it’s mentioned in a play by William Shakespeare.
While Tewkesbury’s rivers, flood plains and meadows are prime places to find wildlife, there’s also a great deal to be found around its historic buildings. The 12th century abbey, like many old structures, attracts a number of bats, while its grounds – including its secret garden - are a haven for plants and insects. Another religious house, the old Baptist chapel, also supports a great variety of species in its graveyard.
Many people in Tewkesbury have embraced the idea of wildlife-friendly gardening and the town even has a special training area in Priors Park, owned by Severn Vale Housing Society and run by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.
Other prime spots just outside the town include Ashleworth Ham, another wetland that’s used by many species of overwintering wildfowl, and Coombe Hill, with its canal and meadows. Both of these sites are managed by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and are considered so valuable that they’ve been designated Special Sites of Scientific Interest.
COTSWOLD GREATS: BLUEBELLS
A sea of blue awaits visitors to Gloucestershire’s woodlands this month. Carpets of bluebells are a feast for the nose as well as the eyes, filling the air with delicate perfume. Almost half of the global population of common bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scipta, can be found in the UK. These dainty flowers can be told apart from their Spanish relative Hyacinthoides hispanica by the way their bells droop distinctly to one side of their stalks rather than being arranged all the way round. One of the biggest threats to Britain’s woodland bluebells comes from hybridisation and it’s for this reason that gardeners living near such sites are encouraged to stick to native bulbs. Bluebells are an important species for wildlife as they provide rich nectar for a variety of insects, including butterflies. The common bluebell is a protected species and is particularly associated with ancient woodlands; areas of trees that predate the 1600s.
INTO THE BLUE – 10 TOP SPOTS FOR BLUEBELLS IN GLOUCESTERSHIRE:
Betty Daw’s Wood, near Dymock Chosen Hill near Churchdown Collin Park Wood near Upleadon Frith Wood – Slad Valley Lower Woods, near Wickwar Midger Wood near Hillesley Mythe Railway near Tewkesbury Ridley Bottom near Stroat Siccaridge Wood near Sapperton Three Groves Wood between Oakridge and France Lynch
5 PLACES TO HEAR THE DAWN CHORUS
May is a great month to hear the avian orchestra in full voice. Here are a few spots to enjoy their early morning concerts. The music starts just before sunrise. - Robinswood Hill Country Park, Gloucester, GL4 6SX - Lower Woods Nature Reserve, off Inglestone Common, GL9 1BY. - Midger Wood Nature Reserve near Lower and Upper Kilcott on the A46 close to Wotton-under–edge - Siccaridge Wood, near Sapperton GL7 6LN - Collin Park Wood between Gloucester and Newent GL18 1ED
Bluebells at Lower Woods
Bluebells at Midger