Guest blogpost: Baby Moorhens in the Park

Alisons picture of the chicks

Success story: the three #southislandchicks using Hugo’s ramp

Between a dog and a three year old, I’m in the park two to three times a day, so I tend to notice the arrival of some new baby waterfowl.  A few weeks back, on a trip to the playground, I noticed two baby moorhen near the north island, peeping away in the water while their mother walked along the edge of the island.  Before the ramps to the islands were removed during the clearing of the lake a few months ago, baby chicks could easily access dry land.  When I walked the dog later in the day, both were beginning to look unwell.   Once in the water, they had no way out: they were too small either to get on to the island or out on to the pavement.  I made a makeshift raft by tying some sticks together with bits of long grass and managed to scoop one on, but the other was too far away.

Uncertain what else to do, I called the RSPCA – their officer was too busy to get to the park before nightfall, and in any case I don’t think they quite grasped the situation I was describing (they reassured me that it’s natural for moorhen chicks to go in the water not long after they are born; I tried to explain I was less concerned with them being in the water than I was with the fact that they couldn’t get out).  They asked me to call in the morning if the chicks were still there and seemed to need help; when I checked on them an hour later, both had already drowned, having swum to exhaustion.

It was at this point that I contacted the Friends of Rowntree Park, to ask what had happened to the ramps.  Cath answered my email swiftly and shared my concerns; when a new group of moorhen chicks ended up in the same situation last week, I went straight to Cath to see if the Friends could help.  Walking through the park again an hour and half later (armed with sticks and a bit of scrap wood I found on my walk so that, in case she hadn’t received my email, I could attempt to help them myself somehow), I was delighted to find Cath, along with Rosemary and Hugo, mid-rescue operation.  They managed to get three chicks back on to the south island, and one on to the north island (a second by the north island had already died).  The next day in the park, I gathered some large sticks in the hopes of propping them by the edge of the lake so at the very least they could get a break from swimming, and hopefully on to dry land a bit.  As I was doing so, I bumped into Hugo and Rosemary with some new ramps they had made, and Cath made a makeshift nest of sticks on a couple of bricks for them, too.  A few hours later I spotted the chicks on Cath’s nest, and a day or two later I spotted them – and one of the smaller ducklings – making good use of the ramp to get on and off the island.  After what had happened before, this felt a wonderful success story.

To make a long story short – it was amazing to see such a swift response from the Friends in helping out some of the inhabitants of the park.  At a time when budget cuts mean the park depends more and more on volunteers to maintain it, it’s wonderful to see what a dedicated team the Friends are; they’ve certainly inspired me to look into more ways to get involved.

Guest post by Alison

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Swimming in Rowntree Park

This blogpost is by Rose and June, Friends of Rowntree Park and local residents for many years. They remember the swimming pool in the park as being an important part of growing up in York. We welcome more contributions from people who remember the park – and from people who use the park now.

We both spent our childhoods in York in the fifties and early sixties. Like many York children, Rowntree Park was where we could go to play on the swings, roundabout, seesaw and, in the warmer months, we could go to Rowntree Park swimming pool. The play equipment was where the table tennis tables now stand and the swimming pool was where the car park is. [It closed in the 1980s, I think]

Looking back, we realize we have different standards of health, safety and comfort nowadays. The play equipment stood on a concrete floor. What happened if you hurt yourself? We can’t recall but I doubt if the council was blamed.

The entrance to the open-air swimming pool was at the north end. A lady took your money and gave you a ticket. Then you went to a cubicle to change. Males went to the right of the pool, females to the left but the cubicles didn’t have keys. We think you could bolt them from the inside but, as you simply left your clothes in them along with other people’s on a busy day, you had to trust no one would steal your belongings. Probably the lady at the till would look after valuables. An amendment to the sign telling females to wear bathing caps was made when males started to have long hair. Now it read “..females and males with long hair.”

There was a terrace up a flight of steps which surrounded the pool. On a sunny day you could sunbathe in some discomfort as this surface was also concrete. The water was unheated and we can remember hovering at the edge of the pool knowing that the first few seconds would be a challenge. At the deep end were springboards. The steps up to the high one were wooden and could become slippery but we can’t recall protests about this – though people did sometimes hurt themselves.

I (Rose) learnt to swim there as did many other York children. It was the one sport I was a success at and I represented our school, Mill Mount Grammar School For Girls (where we met each other in the first form), at the swimming gala.

We agree that it would be good to have a swimming pool in Rowntree Park again, though this time with less slippery steps up to the diving board….


Wild and wonderful corner of the Park

Five years ago, the Friends had just finished creating the wildlife pond, in Butcher Terrace Field; we’re delighted to be able to say that the pond has attracted a lot of frogs, dragonflies, water snails, water boatmen – and plenty of human visitors!

Around the same time, we also planted some apple trees, along the edge of the Field, and these have been quietly getting on with growing and fruiting. They now need a bit of attention, and we would like to give them a winter prune soon; any offers of help with this?

The apple trees have some interesting names. These are (from north to south): Discovery, Rajka, Annie Elizabeth, Ingrid Marie, Bramley Clone, Chivers’ Delight, Sunset, Grenadier, Ribston Pippin, Warner’s King, Greensleeves, Balsam.


The issue of geese in the park

The Canada geese have had another very successful breeding season and there are dozens of geese families in the park. The geese parents are highly-protective of the baby goslings, and often hiss or peck at anyone who comes too close. This is one of the many reasons that we stress that there are issues in feeding the wild birds in the park. Another important issue is the sheer quantity of droppings, which make the paths and grass unpleasant; ‘goose poo’ in the park is the major source of complaints about the park.

Canada geese were introduced into the country and have no natural predators. Rowntree Park is just one of hundreds of parks and open spaces in the UK that have a problem with too many Canada geese. Like hundreds of other Friends’ groups, the Friends of Rowntree Park discuss the issue of the geese on a regular basis, often collaborating with the Council. In 2010, the Friends and Council worked together to commission and fund a report on the Canada geese.

Careful reading of the report shows that there have been many studies, all seeking to find a way to control geese, or to prevent them from having such an annoying impact on the amenity value of parks and open spaces. It is clear that there is no one simple, cheap and universally-acceptable solution to the problem. Specifically, the Friends are often asked “why can’t the geese just be moved or culled?'”, but the cleared area would swiftly be filled up with geese from elsewhere in the York region. There are a number of possible ways in which some specific areas of the park could be made less attractive to the geese, and these may be something to concentrate on, if practical (and if funds are available).

The Friends are once more revisiting the subject, at the Friends meeting on Thursday 18th June. A member of Council staff will be present. All are welcome to take part in these discussions but we would ask that you read the report before attending, so that we don’t have to spend valuable discussion time, retracing our steps over existing information.


Could 2015 be the year that you help us make the Park even more wonderful?

Step up! Make it happen!

The Friends of Rowntree Park aim to:

  • promote the well-being of the Park and its users
  • support increased and diverse uses of the park, by all sections of the community
  • represent the views of the park’s users.

A very small group of volunteers work together to support these aims. They also work to enable the Friends to exist as an organisation, by publishing and circulating newsletters, this blog, the Facebook site, the Twitter account (@Fr_RowntreePark), keeping the membership informed of developments, doing the admin for the group (collecting subs and maintaining membership details) etc.

There is plenty of scope for more activities under the Friends’ banner – whether it be related to conservation, creative/arts, sports, young people or something else completely new – but we need more active Friends to take on co-ordinating and promoting such activities. If you have ideas about more ‘stuff’ happening in Rowntree Park, and can take on an active role to make it happen, get in touch with the Friends!


Progress at the reading cafe

Foxglove: Meredith Stewart 2008

Work to create the new reading cafe is proceeding at top speed, with the aim of getting it ready in time for the summer. The Friends and the council team are very excited about the prospect, the layout and the furnishings look lovely, and a huge list of books, newspapers and journals has been submitted by the Friends! Andy Laslett has forwarded his most recent progress report, which includes a plea for ideas of activities which might boost visitor numbers, particularly over the winter months, when any cafe in a park is likely to be quieter. Please forward any ideas to the Friends.


Work starts at the cafe – jobs alert too!

Carving detail, Emma Drakes

The work’s starting at the cafe, with the old kitchen being taken out this week. The library staff are still keen to hear what books we’d like to see stocked – see this month’s newsletter, and the council are looking to recruit staff, full- and part-time, the details are here.