Calderdale comes to life!
From Willow Warblers to Brimstone Butterflies, Cromwell Bottom near Brighouse in Calderdale was showing all the signs of Spring when we joined two people in the know to find out how Spring had really sprung!
Paul Talbot, Chairman of conservation group The Friends of Cromwell Bottom, and Jonathan Hart-Woods from British Waterways, know a thing or two about the area. In fact, as the cliche goes, what they don't know about Cromwell Bottom probably isn't worth knowing! That's a good thing because it's a big area and is as diverse as they come. It's got a river, a canal - even a railway...and that's before we even get to the really natural side of things!
Jonathan and Paul @ Cromwell Bottom
Just now, Cromwell Bottom is teeming with signs of Spring, but it's not only the obvious things like flowers blooming or loud birdsong that give it away. Paul says there are more subtle signs that Spring has finally sprung: "It's the greenness of the trees and also the fact that there's very little damage. They've not got any stress damage because we've had a drought or because we've had any particularly bad weather. There's also not much sign of damage from the literally millions of caterpillars that occur down here every year. If you look at the leaves they're nearly all complete and looking pristine."
This all comes as a relief to Paul and Jonathan. After all, it's been a long slog to get as far as this after a Winter which, it's hard to forget, seemed as though it was never going to end! Paul's out every day at Cromwell Bottom - keeping an eye on things - and he says he's noticed that things are finally getting back to 'normal' for this time of year: "Because early Spring, March and April, were so unseasonably cold and somewhat wetter than normal, everything tends to be delayed. What happens is that six weeks ago the vegetation was a month back from where it should've been. There were no leaves on the trees, no vegetation regrowth, nothing. The thing is, though, that it can catch up quite quickly so when we had a couple of decent weeks in early May and now we're at the situation we'd expect to be at this time of year...We've actually caught up!"
Paul finds a Red and Black Leafhopper!
One of the most impressive and attractive signs that Spring has finally arrived in West Yorkshire is the emergence of butterflies. As we walk along one of the trails at Cromwell Bottom, they're all over the place! They're not as visible as they might be on a warmer day, or a little later in the Spring - but they certainly make their presence felt. Jonathan spots an Orange Tip: "It's a really good indicator of Spring, but a lot of people overlook it. They just see the white and just assume it's a Large White butterfly, but it's actually easily identified as it has orange tips on its wings. Its food plant is Cuckoo Flower and Hedge Garlic which flower at the moment. They're an early flower, so that's a good one to look out for. I saw one flying along earlier. When you see a species like the Orange Tip it says that Spring's here and Summer's on the way. We get a lot of early flying butterflies now that have overwintered here like Peacock and Small Tortoiseshells and people see those as well. To people who spend a lot of time outside, those are really signs that things are kicking in now and that Spring has sprung!"
It's a matter of keeping your ears as well as your eyes open if you want to catch a few more hints that Spring is here at Cromwell Bottom in Calderdale. Paul's keen ears pick out one particular birdsong: "We can hear a Willow Warbler singing and they're definitely a migratory species. They usually start arriving in April sometime in this area. So from some of the birdsongs you can tell it's Spring, but because of the changing global climate, birds that were once considered migrants we now tend to get them resident the whole year round. The Willow Warbler isn't one of them, though!"
Male Toad, Cromwell Bottom, Spring 2006
Jonathan adds that though it's obviously nice to hear so much birdsong, there is of course a serious purpose behind all this racket!: "Birds are nesting now and setting up their territories. It's a very active time for birds, to attract breeding females and it's an easy way of identifying what you've got on your patch as it's very hard to see a lot of birds...If you don't know songs of birds like the Chiffchaff or the Willow Warbler then you're going to be lucky to see them now. Once the leaves start to cover them then you only hear them. You can have a lot of fun just trying to work out what's about."
The amphibians also get their starring moment at this time of year. We've moved on from early Spring, the time of year when West Yorkshire's ponds are teeming with frog spawn. Jonathan says: "Now, you'll probably see Palmate Newts, Smooth Newts, Common Toads and Common Frogs...It's been a reasonable year this year. We do have an amphibian recorder who does a survey each year. I'm not sure what his final totals are this year, but it seems to be suggesting it'll be a normal year with the number of frogs. But on the short term average over the past decade they were ten days late spawning this year which shows you how far behind Spring has been this year!"
Brimstone Butterfly @ Cromwell Bottom
And, as we come to the end of our walk at Cromwell Bottom in Calderdale, nature presents us with one of its little surprises: the sudden appearance of a Brimstone Butterfly. Paul seems genuinely surprised and happy to see this green butterfly flitting around the undergrowth - after all, he's never seen one here before!: "It's highly unusual for Calderdale. In fact it's the first I've ever seen at Cromwell Bottom. They breed on Alder Buckthorn, but we don't really have that. It's mainly Hawthorn in Calderdale. In Huddersfield they're highly unusual, in fact that could be the first one ever recorded on this site! It's not an uncommon butterfly, it's just not common here..."
So there you have it! Every season has its moments and the sighting of an unusual butterfly in an unusual place like Cromwell Bottom is certainly one to remember. Of course, the only way you can really experience Spring in West Yorkshire for yourself is to GET OUT THERE. After all, we seem to have a bit of everything right on our doorsteps!
last updated: 18/03/2008 at 11:56
Look closer at Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale and Wakefield!