Autumn in the Three Brooks nature reserve

By Sara Messenger of Bradley Stoke’s Three Brooks Nature Conservation Group.

Despite the challenges of 2020, we have been making some progress on the reserve. Some were teeny tiny steps like replacing orienteering post no. 4 or sending in our limited newt survey returns. While others, like Green Gym’s return to weekly workdays, or the improved paths project, were giant strides towards us making the best we can of the reserve and this strange year.

Improved paths

Hopefully, you will have experienced for yourself the new paths that snake through Savages Wood. Although on the first couple of days the site looked as though a giant demented mole had run amok leaving giant sandy piles everywhere, they were soon transformed into dry and safe walkways. When I popped down to see the finished job, the paths were already remarkably busy and were being enjoyed by both young and old and all those in between. Progress often has its price and this project’s price was the loss of some of the ash trees and a small wooden bridge removed to make way for the vehicles. As I and several other Green Gym members helped make that bridge, we were none too pleased to see all our hard work ripped out and tossed aside and promised dire retribution should it go! However, seeing the low sun slanting through the trees and the leaves gently falling on the dappled path as a young couple used it to soothe their new baby into sleep, we may just concede it was worth it. But please don’t tell SGC I said that!

Photo of a family making use of the recently improved paths.
A family making use of the recently improved paths in Savages Wood.

Green Gym

Green Gym may now have to do without their mid-morning coffee and biscuits, but nothing gets them down for long and they have achieved much in the last couple of months. For the fourth year running we took part in Bristol Avon WaterBlitz, which aims to monitor the health of the rivers and waterways. This year, 313 ‘citizen scientists’ took part and collected samples at 266 locations giving Bristol Avon Rivers Trust a fantastic spread of data across its catchment areas.

We were also able to survey our dormouse boxes. Although we have no dormice, I discovered they are not unused. Much to the annoyance of the three field mice who, in one of them, had been happily snoozing and dreaming of fat juicy corn. Somehow a reproachful look seems so much harsher when it’s coming from something that small!

We have had several ‘away days’ – one at Jubilee Green where we tidied the empty Davis Pond and the area around it and bagged up a huge pile of bark chippings given to us by BSTC. As a thank you, we first weeded and covered their gardens and the netball court side area with some of the chippings so that waiting parents could more easily socially distance. Another away day was the pond on Dewfalls Drive which is now also empty although we do not know the reason for this. Dewfalls required a herculean effort to return it to a tidy state but we managed. You may wonder why we left the fence edges so bare but this is so that when this winter we return to plant a new hedge we will not be disturbing any of the protected great crested newts that were once found here in abundance. We were told a few years ago that this used to also be a farm pond which was cobbled, although previously we dug down a couple of feet we were unable to find any and so dismissed the idea. However, some animal has dug it’s own den here and a few cobbles have been unearthed so perhaps we just didn’t go deep enough. If anyone has any knowledge or pictures of this pond before the surrounding houses were built, we’d be very interested in them getting in touch.

The Common East

This area is jointly managed between Green Gym and the ‘in Bloom’ group and we spent another two weeks here and there wasn’t a lot we didn’t do: bramble bashing, putting up signs, attending to the insect hotel, adding bark to the path, pond maintenance, scything and tree trimming & removal, to name just a few!

Many of the trees on the path between here and Cornfield Close have died and several have come down onto residents’ fences. We have reported the trees to SGC and although they arranged for the fallen ones to be removed the others have yet to be dealt with so we donned our hard hats and took down all those that are within our limits, while another group trimmed back the willow that appears to be on the losing side of its weekly battle with the bin men’s lorry!

Two of the group headed off to Primrose Bridge to bramble bash and to clean the bridge’s nameplate, a task we think had not been done since the bridge was installed, as amazed walkers said they had been coming that way for over a decade and had never seen it before!

Photo of a volunteer standing by the sign on Primrose Footbridge.
A volunteer from the Three Brooks Nature Conservation Group cleans the nameplate on Primrose Footbridge.

Our other big task was giving the pond some attention. As I and some other young naturalists have found newts in this pond, we are unable to do any maintenance during the warmer months. Although October may seem a little early, we were careful to return immediately to the pond any wildlife we found and to ensure that the rest of the plants were placed at the very edge of the water so that anything we missed could find it’s own way back in. Although this pond no longer has any stickleback fish in it, it does have many ramshorn snails which are an indicator of a healthy pond.

Lake desilting

The plans for the lake to be desilted are slowly progressing, although the start date has yet to be set. Robocut has again been in and cleared ‘the bun’, which is where the silt will be deposited. Professional ornithologists have told me that, in their experience, if the lake is just scooped out and left as a large deep basin, we will loose all our wading birds, the ducks, the herons and the egrets, as they all require shallow areas to feed. In addition I think the conservation group will have to clear the islands of some vegetation as at the moment the ducks roost safely on top of the silt and when that is removed they will have nowhere to go other than the islands or floating platforms. Although I haven’t measured the platforms recently, I’m fairly sure they won’t hold all of our 94 ducks!

The group has yet to see the proposed plans or be told which ecologist is advising SGC, but I am confident that we will all be able to work together to deliver a project that is beneficial to both humans and the wildlife that depends on us.

• How to contact the Three Brooks Nature Conservation Group…

t: 07497 006676
Facebook: Three Brooks Nature Conservation Group

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on pages 24 & 25). The magazine is delivered FREE, nine times a year, to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

Update on the Three Brooks Lake desilting

Desilting of the Three Brooks Lake is due to take place between November 2020 and February 2021.

A spokesperson for South Gloucestershire Council said:

“We are currently working with the Environment Agency on preliminary work required before carrying out the desilting. Once that has been completed, we will be in a position to provide further information on the details, and a timescale for the work.”

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