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
Guest post, from Emma Farley (from “littlesilverhedgehog”)
Now that Spring has sprung, hedgehogs are starting to emerge from hibernation. It is great news that there are already hedgehog houses in Rowntree Park tucked away for spiky residents. Please remember that a hedgehog out in the day is not okay. If you see one in daylight in the park or elsewhere in York, please capture it and place it in a high sided box, keep it warm and contact a hedgehog rescue. Dogs can also attack hedgehogs so please be vigilant and, if an attack happens, it is vital to seek urgent treatment for the hedgehog. You can help York to be a haven for hedgehogs by making your garden and street hedgehog friendly. Avoid using pesticides and slug pellets, check carefully before you strim or mow, ensure there are gaps in fences to enable hedgehogs to travel between gardens and leave out food and water. You will find lots of tips about helping hedgehogs in York at www.facebook.com/littlesilverhedgehog and www.littlesilverhedgehog.wordpress.com
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.
We had a lovely time at our October meet up for Very Young Friends playing with leaves. Sadly not enough leaves had fallen for us to make a giant leaf pile for jumping in but we still had fun looking for leaves and autumn colours on our leaf treasure hunt. We also really enjoyed making autumn crowns by weaving willow branches into a ring and tucking leaves and other lovely finds into them.
However, some of us – my very own very young friend especially – remembered that willow is good for lots of things and began making new adventures. Willow lends itself to outdoor play very well because its so flexible and there are usually lots of long lengths of it under the trees (called whips). You can twist it, wave it, tie it and anything else you can think of. These are some of our favourite things to play with willow:
- Hours have gone by while my little explorers have dipped long lengths of willow in and out of the lake attempting to catch fish. Unsurprisingly they’ve never caught one but it doesn’t seem to deter them!
- Scooter modifications. Take a piece of willow, tie it to a scooter and voila! A go-faster leaver. A teddy bear holder. Use it to tie sticks on for extra features, maybe breaks or booster buttons. And if you run out of power, a hanging willow branch makes for a excellent petrol pump.
- Weave more crowns like we did, or bracelets, or mini Christmas wreaths. Make a stick frame and weave a picture. Use other nature treasures to decorate them, maybe some coloured leaves or pine cones.
- Some of those willow whips are really long. If you find a nice flexible one (and you’re not very big!) you can use it as a skipping rope.
- Waving. The ultimate in entertainment if you’re a toddler. Grab a willow whip. Wave it about. Job done
Have a go next time you’re in the park. Remember to only take willow from the ground and keep the trees healthy.
Next month we’ll be thinking about hibernation and getting ready for winter. Come along to find out about the sleepy animals in the park and make some lovely hedgehogs to take home. Join us on 3rd November at 11.30 by the log circle in the woods.
Christine Potter and the Very Young Friends
Pssssst. If you like making things with willow look out for a special December event for all ages where you can make your own Christmas wreaths. Saturday 3rd Dec, 10-12. £5 per wreath.
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.
The council have arranged for putting to be available on one of the bowling greens at the park. For £1 (payable at the little orange kiosk), you get a putter, a golf ball and a score card, and the chance to get very frustrated when an ‘easy par 2’ turns into an eight-stroke saga. In the sunshine yesterday, the green was full of people trying their luck.
Also new this year, somewhere slightly more suitable for frogs to hang out. This one was spotted hopping towards our new pond, past a flourishing tansy plant – thanks for this seal of approval! The pond and the new planting seem to have survived their first flooding (last week) with no problem.