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  • Julie Muller


Updated: Jan 29, 2022

(Nearest post code - WR6 5HR)

Visited by Shep

Today was a very unusual day because I had to go on a long walk without Zak. Poor Zak has sprained his shoulder running up the garden.

Shep, a Border Collie sheep dog waits patiently by a gate whilst walking in Knapp and Paper Mill Nature Reserve in Worcestershire
Shep waits by a gate at Knapp and Paper Mill Nature Reserve in Worcestershire

We went to a nature reserve which is owned and managed by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and so we had to be extra careful not to disturb the animals and plants that live there.

The official name for this reserve is the Leigh Brook valley named after the brook that runs through it. The brook runs through a steep sided valley and it seems to have different tempos along its length. In some places it trickles quickly over the stony bed producing a happy gurgling sound. In other places it flows slowly and lingers in deeper channels.

Today the sun was shining, and a lovely dappled light illuminated the water. It looked so inviting but Julie wouldn’t let me in even for a drink. As we stopped to look and listen a flash of wings flew past us along the line of the river and then raced back again . Two pale yellow and black birds landed on a fallen trees stump spanning the brook. I watched them as they wagged their tails - a pair of grey wagtails which had come to feed on the aquatic invertebrates which are living in on near to the water. Julie was very excited because they are quite rare. Julie had hoped that we would see a dipper picking over the stones in the water but sadly, not today.

This special place holds many secrets. If you ever came here at dawn or dusk, and are very, very quiet, you might see otters . These crepuscular animals like to forage under cover of twilight feeding on fish, frogs and small mammals depending on which is easiest to catch.

Of course, there is another reason why we should stay out of the water. All of us, humans and animals alike, carry foreign bodies on our feet or paws so there is always the danger that we might carry something harmful into the water if we go in for a splish splash.

The water in the brook is actually very pure and unpolluted and surveys have revealed a wealth of aquatic invertebrates that live in it.

This explains why it supports such an amazing assemblage of wildlife.

A Border Collie sheep dog watches the water of the Leigh Brook flowing past in Knapp and Paper Mill Nature Reserve in Worcestershire
Shep looks wistfully at the Leigh Brook in Knapp and Paper Mill Nature Reserve in Worcestershire

The sides of the Leigh Brook are quite steep and there are some really exciting paths up to and through the woods which Zak and I love to explore. I don’t think that Zak could have managed the steep steps today. At the very top of the slope were a large number of wild service tree which were laden with berries. These trees, together with the springtime flowers of dogs mercury, ramsons and bluebells suggest that woods have been here for a very long time. Of course, you find lots of other trees here including sessile oak, ash, maple, beech and lime. The combinations of tree that grow depend upon their position on the slope. At this time of the year they cast a cool green shade and the only noises are the gentle drone of insects and the melodious chorus of birdsong. I must admit that I am always on the lookout for squirrels. Zak usually sees them well before me but as he wasn't here today, I had to be extra watchful.

As we emerged into the meadow, we were bathed in warm late summer sunshine. Many of the trees were laden with berries and fruits and the ground was strewn with acorns and wind-blown crab apples which crunched beneath my paws. In past years there have been cattle here to chomp through the vegetation after the hay has been cut – but there is no sign of hay cut or animals this year. I was quite glad really. The cattle are really friendly, but they are so much bigger than Zak and me and I didn’t have Zak to protect me today.

The grasses in the other meadow – ‘Big Meadow ‘ were also tall and strong and there was a profusion of wildflowers although many of them had gone to seed. I would have liked to have a run through the grasses, but it would be so easy to disturb any wildlife living or nesting in there.

Overhead a buzzard soared high in the sky, wing tips pointing upwards as it caught the thermals. Earlier in the summer the meadow would have been abuzz with butterflies and moths and just a glance blow to the grasses growing at the edge of the meadow would have produced a cloud of flying insects. Today there were still a few on the wing.

The final part of our walk led us through an old orchard where the trees were all laden with fruit and the ground was strewn with windfalls.

My nostrils were assailed with the sweet smell of gently fermenting fruit - and something else too - Such a stockpile of food could not fail to tempt all of the opportunistic omnivores of the reserve. My nose was glued to the ground in the distant hope of finding them.

I wonder how many badgers will come to feast tonight.

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