I have recently started to become a volunteer wildlife surveyor at Hughenden Manor, a site located in High Wycombe. This site is owned by the National Trust and comprises of a manor house surrounded by a beautiful estate. To enter the site you have to go over a bridge over a stream, which happens to be my favourite part of the site. The reason why I love it so much is because this stream is not like any other stream, it is a chalk steam.
Chalk streams are extremely rare with only around 200 chalk streams worldwide, 85% of which are in England. Most of these streams unfortunately are in an unfavourable condition although this one, in my opinion, doesn’t look too bad. As the name suggests, chalk streams are found in calcareous habitats. Chalk streams are so special because they are fed from groundwater aquifers which makes the water especially clear and clean. These waters host some rather rare species including insects such as the Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale). This in turn supports other animals such as white clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), otters (Lutra lutra) and water voles (Arvicola amphibius). These streams also support some rather special plants, which due to the time of year, were the main species that I managed to record on site.
In the photo above you can see that the water is covered in vegetation. This is a mixture of water cress (Nasturtium officinale) and fool’s water cress (Apium nodiflorum). Look closer under the water and there are water starworts (Callitriche species) and stream water crowfoot (Ranunculus penicillatus).
I wonder how many of the 100,000 visitors to Hughenden Manor each year appreciate the stream that they are driving over. In this modern world we rush from place to place and often fail to appreciate the wonders around us. Apart from the dogs in and out of the stream when I was there, the air was full of the sounds of the babbling stream flowing through the estate and the ancient oaks blowing in the wind. A grey wagtail calls as it undulates its tail overhead. Squirrels and jays scramble around collecting acorns to prepare for winter while the mallards swimming along the stream optimistically court one another. It is these simple wonders that we miss. These simple wonders that our whole world relies upon.
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner
– Charles Darwin