March 2001

Thursday 1st March – North Lincolnshire – The thinnest dusting of snow contrasts with the much heavier falls to the west. The Lapwing flocks are breaking up now, it is uncommon to see more than a dozen together now. Rooks carry twigs back to the large rookeries in small woods near the motorway. The gull numbers have also reduced and are mainly Black-headed Gulls now. Grey clouds loom in the west and to the north, the clouds are being enlargened by billows of white steam rising from the cooling towers of Ferrybridge and Drax power stations.

Saturday 3rd March – Yorkshire – All public footpaths, canal tow-paths, nature reserves and open land are now closed to the public as the Foot and Mouth outbreak spreads. Despite the brilliant sunshine, the countryside is deserted. Weirdly, people are getting close to panic buying meat, despite the growing concerns at the way it is being produced here. The Ministry for Farming and Fisheries seem to be spending their time devising “safe” ways of getting animals to slaughterhouses. There have been comments from government about culling wild animals to stop the spread of the disease. Strange times getting stranger!

Wednesday 7th March – Home – Suddenly the weather becomes milder. It rains overnight and the last of the snow vanishes. By mid afternoon the temperature has risen to 15°C. The ice has melted on the water features and the goldfish emerges. There is a pair of toads clasped in springtime rapture. Daffodils are close to flowering and many other shoots and seed leaves are appearing. Returning from the pub, a large frog hops away along the driveway.

Sunday 11th March – River Don, Sheffield – We join the Five Weirs Walk along the River Don at Salmon Pastures. Beside the path is a carved wooden salmon signed by J Thompson 1998. A large stone plaque with the inscription “City of Sheffield Education Committee Salmon Pastures Schools 1908” is set into a bank. The site of the schools is now rough ground covered by Silver Birch and industrial premises. Catkins hang from Willows. Another Thompson carving, this time a seat depicting a salmon swimming through a tyre after a large hook. Many of the trees beside the river have been either chopped down or greatly pruned. The river is bordered by decaying stone walls with large factories, some emitting the sounds of clanking and metal working. An island below Burton Weir has flattened vegetation. One of the factories has wire grills surrounding the drainpipes. Vegetation trapped in the grills shows that the water in last year’s floods rose many feet above the current river level. It also explains the flattened vegetation and lopped or downed trees. Across the Norfolk Bridge built in 1856 and we lose the riverside path. The route into the city centre leads along streets of industrial buildings. A stone railway arch has been widened by laying a platform across the bridge supported by cast iron pillars and a decorative frieze. A few pairs of Mallard swim the river and a Moorhen is heard but not seen. On leaving Sheffield, a Sky Lark can be heard high above the slopes leading to the airport.

Monday 12th March – The Fleets – Willowbank remains closed because of the Foot and Mouth crisis. However across the road is a fishing lake called the Fleets. Three Goosander, a male and a pair of females glide across the still water. Black-headed Gulls are developing their chocolate brown heads. Rings of water ripple out as fish rise to the bright cool morning air. A sharp wind cools my cheeks. Jaunty Great Tits hop through still bare Ashes, their rusty bicycle song ringing out. Blackbirds and Robins sing lustily. A pair of Dunnocks display display to each other in the hedgerow.

Home – A large ball of frog’s spawn has appeared in the pond. A loud plop greets anyone emerging from the back door as the frog dives under a mat of waterweed. A pair of frogs was observed mating in the other pond a few days ago, although any success at spawning here may be seriously compromised by the large goldfish that inhabits this water. Things are growing faster now. The garlic is over six inches high. Broad Beans have been planted out. Crocus and Snowdrops are in flower, soon to be followed by Daffodils. And, of course, the weeds are pushing through rapidly.

Monday 19th March – North Lincolnshire – Clouds are moving almost imperceptively across the sky. Small patches of snow linger on sheltered banks. More is threatened. A Great Crested Grebe dives on one of the channels crossing the flat landscape. Canada Geese and Mallard fly across the fields. Drake Mallard are squabbling and chasing up and down the channel. There is little colour here, banks of brambles and reed beds are all dull ochre. Bright copper shines from a ditch as a male Common Pheasant searches the grassy banks.

Saturday 24th March – Barnsley Canal – One of the few stretches of the canal tow-path that remains open to the public lies under Harborough Hill and leads towards the Dearne Valley Park before disappearing at the Pontefract Road. It is not the most exciting bit of canal, a pair of Mallard and a lone Moorhen are the only waterfowl around. A Robin sings strongly from the park.

Cawthorne – A village to the north-west of Barnsley. All the footpaths leading out of the village are closed. There are several old drinking fountains around the village. One near the church is a stone cross with dragons carved down the upright and another dragon curled around the base – a strange combination of Christian and Norse imagery. Another is below street level and a short flight of stone steps leads down to a stone basin, sadly half full of stagnant water. Yet another is an iron lion’s head. Turning an iron knob above the head releases a dribble of water that can be caught in a heavy iron cup chained to the wall. The Barnsley Co-operative Society shop is now an antiques shop. Cars and out of town supermarkets have rendered the Co-ops untenable.

Home – There are now several large masses of frogs’ spawn in the pond. In the kitchen some is in a little aquarium, where the warmer temperature has accelerated their development. In a week they have turned from full stops into commas and wiggle occasionally. Daffodils buds are about to burst, but the dull, cool weather is not encouraging them. A Goldcrest darts around evergreens in next door’s garden.