GNS Field Meeting at Minsterworth Ham on 20 March 2016

A small group of members took part in a field meeting at Minsterworth Ham on Sunday 20 March.  This is one of the “Severn Hams”, the large grassy meadows in the floodplain of the Severn, which take up winter floodwater, and are cultivated, mainly as hay meadows, in summer; other Severn Hams include Ashleworth Ham, Coombe Hill Meadows and the Severn Ham at Tewkesbury, all popular and well covered by naturalists.  Minsterworth Ham (which also includes the so-called “Corn Ham”), on the other hand, has been rather neglected, perhaps because it is rather isolated (in the large southward bend in the course of the Severn between Minsterworth and Over), though it is hardly remote, being only a few miles from the centre of the City of Gloucester.  Being very close to the course of the Severn, a number of birds pass over the site, which has regularly been mentioned as a possible for wetland restoration.

The participants used public footpaths to walk down to the river through the Corn Ham, returning by a parallel footpath.  The landscape is one of very wide open spaces, punctuated by very deep drainage ditches, with hedges of hawthorn, willow and oak; one of the attractions of the site is the chance to see well known features from a new angle – not just the Cathedral, but the looming presence of the Landfill Site, the reserve at Hempsted, and Windmill Hill and Elmore Back.

Initial impressions were that much of the present grassland has at some stage in the past been ploughed up, so that the botanical interest of the vegetation may be limited (but more visits later in the flowering season will be required to confirm this).  One of the birds being sought was Curlew, for which a breeding survey is being organised this spring in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, as well as other lowland counties; no display flights were noted, and only a single bird was heard (though it was a cold windy day and conditions may not have been perfect).  A couple of Lapwings showed signs of breeding display, and about a dozen Shelducks, mainly in pairs, may well have been seeking nesting sites in holes such as rabbit holes or pollarded willow boles.    Half a dozen Cormorants, some in flashy summer plumage, were loafing in a tree on the river bank.  One unexpected finding was a couple of male Ruff, feeding round a shallow pool remaining from the winter floods; a few of this species have recently been seen round floodwater at Ashleworth and Coombe Hill, no doubt migrants on their way to breeding grounds further north in continental Europe.  Minsterworth Ham used to be popular as a resting place for gulls from the Landfill Site across the river; with the decreasing numbers of gulls present at the Landfill Site nowadays, only a couple of hundred were found during the GNS visit, some Black-headed Gulls coming into summer plumage and a few Common Gulls, as well as the ubiquitous Lesser Blackbacks and Herring Gulls.   A large flock of some 500 Fieldfares was feeding on the grass, so there were clearly plenty of invertebrates in the soil.

A number of Lichen records were made, some frog spawn was noted in one ditch, and the mammals seen included fox, rabbit and grey squirrel.

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