Search for otter uncovers many amazing stories
AFTER a quick mooch around Leighton Moss Reserve last weekend, and ticking off a few of the classics, including bittern, bearded tit and marsh harrier, I thought I’d chance my arm for an otter to make it a straight four.
However, it soon became obvious I was pushing my luck, and in twitcher-parlance, I dipped out. Fortunately there is always compensation if you make the effort, and armed with a map, I came across a beautiful white-washed cottage, with an old stone chimney attached at the side. Curiosity aroused, it turns out the chimney is all that remains of a pumping house built in the early 19th century to drain the marshes; this project was abandoned at the end of the First World War and the area has slowly reverted to a moss, which is of course, is great news for the birds and the number one reason why this area is a hot-spot for rarities such as the avocet and the occasional great white egret.
After the last ice age, the Leighton Moss valley floor, known as a ‘polje’, would have been lower and would have experienced periodic flooding of the sea depositing a layer of impervious clay over the limestone valley floor. At the same time, water flowing into the valley from the surrounding land was unable to drain away and a large area of marsh developed similar to salt marsh and mudflats. The gradual rise of the land since the last ice age and the intervention of man have produced the landscape you see here.
In 1830, the Gillow family of Leighton Hall built a substantial embankment – 1km in length – across the valley from the foot of Heald Brow to the base of Warton Crag, and then installed an engine with a paddle-wheel pump near Crag Foot, hence the chimney.
This pump-drained water from behind the embankment to provide land for growing crops. Whilst the pump was in operation, the soil proved to be exceptionally fertile and large quantities of crops were produced and the valley earned the title, ‘Golden Vale’.
The tall chimney is the only surviving landmark and the pump became redundant in 1917 because of difficulties in finding fuel supplies.
I also discovered that the ancestors of George Washington originated from Warton, and that the family coat of arms, three mullets and two bars, can be found in the church and is said to have inspired the design of the flag of the US.
A flag was donated to the village after US soldiers had visited the village during the Second World War and having returned to the US, contacted their state senator about the birthplace of the Washington family. The donated flag was one of which had flown above the Capitol Building in Washington DC, and is now flown every July 4.
That little snippet may be interesting, but nothing compared to the ‘find’ of Darren Webster in September 2011. After five minutes of starting up his new metal detector there was a very clear signal for silver. Two minutes of frantic digging later, and bingo, The Silverdale Viking Hoard was discovered, a significant find containing a total of 201 silver objects, and a well-preserved lead container.
The hoard contained a previously unrecorded coin type, probably carrying the name of an otherwise unknown Viking ruler in northern England. One side of the coin has the words DNS – Dominus - REX, arranged in the form of a cross, reflecting the fact that many Vikings had converted to Christianity within a generation of settling in Britain.
The other side has the enigmatic inscription ‘Airdeconut’, which appears to be an attempt to represent the Scandinavian name Harthacnut.
The design of the coin relates to known coins of the kings Siefredus and Cnut, who ruled the Viking kingdom of Northumbria around AD 900. It’s amazing what you can find when looking for an otter.
The Silverdale Viking Hoard which was found by Darren Webster in September 2011