10th June 2021 – Reedies and farming past

It’s one of those days when I can’t really settle to anything; much better to stop trying and set off on an adventure. I’ve been planning to visit Beddington Farmland nature reserve in Sutton for a few weeks now.

Hackbridge is a rather soul-less and traffic-busy place but, as I leave the main road for a Cow-Parsley-lined path over the rail-line, the road hum finally fades and Jackdaws chack above me. The gates onto the nascent reserve are clearly shut, and a lone excavator clanks on the hill between me and the hazy incinerator complex on the horizon. It sounds like lethargy is the issue here, with the incineration firm, Viridor, slow to deliver on the reserve development it committed to when planning permission was granted. Until it’s finished, access to the reserve is limited, and I peek through the ugly metal gate.

Following the boundary fence north, I reach a hide overlooking the North Lake. Strangely the approach is covered with noisy gravel so I have to comedy tiptoe to not disturb the two men and a retriever already in residence. They chat briefly and then man with dog leaves.

A Reed Warbler feeds a fledgling a few metres away and flies back and forth at an astonishing rate. The friendly young man remaining seems satisfied with his photos, and I commiserate with him about the teasing Cetti’s which streaks across the hide window too fast to capture.

“It’s not supposed to be a good time of year for birds”, he tells me, but we agree that all depends on what kind of birder you are. There are always some birds after all.

The track back to the rail bridge is verged with plants which echo the area’s farming past. There’s Couch Grass, and Alsike Cover which is a new one for me, as well as down Soft Brome and what I think is Six-rowed Barley. It’s midday and too hot to stay much longer in the open so I collect some samples of other grasses to identify at home and make for the station.

Just before the main road, a wagtail lingers on the path in front of me, its lemon chest vibrant even in the shade. I’m hoping it’s a Yellow but don’t have time to check my field guide before it’s gone.

I just can’t leave grasses alone at the moment and once again have a bag full of stalks. Even from the train, I decide I’m reasonably confident that the nodding heads along the track are False Oat-grass, rather than just the amorphous green smudge I used to see them as.

But why grasses? From wetland giants & scaffold, to sticky rice & toast. Dune makers & tiny quakers, and, here around my feet, delicate dancing fescue anthers. Roots which crept from a fertile crescent, braided sweetly with our descent. And that’s why grasses.

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