The Other Side of the Fence

IT SEEMED rather drastic when, a few years ago, spiked fences went up around the old colliery railway embankment that crosses the valley floor between the canal and the river at Addingford. It blocked off an unofficial walk that I had enjoyed since the tracks were taken up in the late 1960s and, alarmingly, a number of Silver Birches were chainsawed and left lying where they fell, but from the official public footpath, which runs along the foot of the embankent, I can now see this from the birds’ point of view.

The fence, I realise, isn’t designed to keep humans out; well it does keep them out but whoever put up the fence has gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure that the four-legged friends of humans can’t get in there to enjoy snuffling around in the undergrowth. Bad news for dogs but good news for ground-nesting birds.

Even the felling of a dozen birch trees isn’t necessarily a disaster for wildlife; it has opened up sunny spaces on the banking which should encourage the growth of wild flowers, which in turn should attract butterflies. Ants should also be active on this sunny slope which provide food for a bird that I’ve seen for years near the old railway; the Green Woodpecker.

Leaving the birch trunks where they fell also makes good sense; dead wood is so often cleared away from public spaces and forestery plantations, removing a potential habitat for all sorts of wildlife.

I noticed that several of of the birch trunks, sawn off at chest-height, which is not the approved way to coppice them, have been adopted as bird feeding stations by having planks nailed to them. The resident Robins seemed happy with this arrangement.

The fenced-off embankement wouldn’t walk away with the gold medal for a wildlife garden at Chelsea but as far as habitat goes it’s shaping up to be an improvement for birds, butterflies, wild flowers and fungi.