Country diary: a waterlogged world reverting to the wild

St Dominic, Tamar Valley: A fresh approach to this water-prone area has brought plant and animal life flooding back to the land

On the parish’s edge, adjoining Viverdon Down and overlooked by Kit Hill, a 10-acre enclosure of wet ground is reverting to a wilder state, steered by new owners. The 1840 tithe map shows six small plots here, all called “moor”, although two of the three tiny fields then used for crops were named as “Brick Moor” perhaps a reference to the rich brown earth or the clayey subsoil. A concrete culvert, draining water from the nearby main road, has damaged much older field drains lined with slabs of indigenous chert; use of heavy machinery for silage making has also caused collapses, so the land is prone to seasonal waterlogging and surface runoff.

Just after last Christmas, swathes of saplings were planted, staked and guarded against browsing deer and rabbits. Rutted ways from adjoining arable fields have been blocked off, and previously flailed bushy growth on hedgebanks will now be left to thicken up to provide some shelter from wind and occasional spray drift. Gnarled thorns, ash, holly and oak line the stream on the eastern side; the lowest, rough and boggy ground, difficult to access, is overhung by sturdy branches of willow, and brambles creep out, fostering regenerating scrub.

Central to the whole enclave, a mature, lopsided oak leans away from prevailing westerlies; it used to shade the dairy herd when it was turned out for summer grazing. This autumn, red admiral butterflies and hornets bask in late warmth on the sunny side of the furrowed trunk; a barn owl hunts regularly across surrounding tussocky grass and has prospected the new owl box. Seeding knapweed, plantain, dock, rush and thistle attract charms of foraging goldfinches. Recently dug ponds now retain spring water and slow runoff, and, as soon as the largest filled, it became a focus for gathering swallows; mallards and a heron have already dabbled and waded in the open water.

A new, rudimentary shelter has been named “Larkrise Halt” in the hope that skylarks will come here; it also reminds that this land had been on the proposed route of the Callington light railway towards Saltash. That venture was abandoned; if it had gone ahead, the area might have been built over by now and become a suburb for commuters travelling towards Plymouth.


Virginia Spiers

The GuardianTramp

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