The Ings of Yorkshire

The city of York may be well known for its history with its impressive minster, Roman walls, trains and Jorvic Viking centre but it is another Viking name which is just as important but totally missed by the millions of tourists and often locals as well and that is the word Ings. How many towns and villages around the country would have wanted one of these protecting them from the floods of 2014! Yes these are the ancient flood plains and meadows surrounding our river systems but the word is very much a North of England word given the long association with those Norse men over a 1000 years ago.

York is surrounded by these Ings but only one to the north helps to save the 18,000 house under threat from flooding from the River Ouse. This is the Clifton Ings. Not so noted for its bird life but very important for its flower meadows harvested for hay since Roman times. 47% 0f these meadows have been lost in the last 30 years around the UK. Species like Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank still breed on this Ings and the tiny Tansy Beetle has its UK stronghold here.

The Derwent Ings is found to the south east of the city with 1,636.91 acres to lower the flood potential of the River Derwent. Birds here can be counted in the winter in the 1000s. The area is managed between the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust with its Wheldrake Ings and Natural England with access to Bank Island and North Duffield Carrs. Winter sees vast numbers of duck, geese, swans and waders while the dryer summer scene sees the majority of the water turn to grassland with breeding waders and a great flora display along with the dragonflies along the dykes.

Visitors here have the choice of 7 hides starting in the north at Bank Island. Here you will also find the office of Natural England’s management team which is open to the public during office hours for information. The two hides look over open areas of water with large numbers of winter Wigeon and Teal with smaller numbers of Gadwall and Shoveler with the odd Pintail. Both Black necked Grebe and Spotted Crake have used the areas in summer with young Black necked Grebes seen in 2012 and singing Spotted Crakes most years.

A mixture of gulls have been seen including Sabine’s, Yellow legged and Glaucous while a Great Skua must have been amazing inland. Waders like Avocet, Red necked Pharlope and Spotted Redshank have been found while Great white Egret and Spoonbill have called in. Red rumped Swallow has skimmed the decreasing water while Honey Buzzard and Montague’s Harrier have graced the skies above.

Wheldrake Ings takes up a quarter of the area and a walk takes you along the River Derwent itself moved by the monks of Fountains Abbey way back in the 12th century to widen the flood plain. A large Black headed Gull colony here can attract the Black necked Grebes in summer. There are also numerous sightings of Hobby and Marsh Harrier. Grasshopper Warblers sing out their bicycle wheel tune while Whimbrel feed up in spring for their migration to Iceland. Several have been trapped here and fitted with satellites to follow their movements to and from Africa. [http://www.whimbrel.info/]

Several American duck have brought the birders with Ring necked Duck, Green winged and Blue winged Teal and American Wigeon. Common Cranes have passed through the area with regular Ospreys on the move while a Rough legged Buzzard was a great find. A mixture of waders pass through including Black tailed Godwit, Ruff and Wood Sandpiper. A Yellow browed warbler was viewed both here and Bank Island.

North Duffield Carrs seems badly named as yet again the main views from the 2 hides are across the Bubwith and Aughton Ings with few signs of invading willow and alder which would make the wet woodland that carrs are [another Norse word!]. Whooper Swans prefer this Ings and can number over 100 birds while even Bewick’s Swans have been found here. In 2013 a party of 60 Yellow Wagtails contained a Blue headed race of this attractive wagtail. Over 100 Pintail were found on my visit in March 2014 and Teal and Wigeon ran into 4 figures. Both Taiga and Tundra Bean geese have been found along with Smew and even a passing Gannet probable from Bempton Cliffs! Great Grey and even Red backed Shrike have graced the area with Corncrake a possible breeder for the future. American Golden Plover and Bar tailed Godwit were recent birds here.

Another Yorkshire river with some great Ings to bird on is the Aire. Fairburn Ings has been a pull for birds for many years and the landscape is different to the Derwent due to coal mining. From slag heaps planted with trees to Ings becoming deep water due to subsidence Fairburn has it all. A group of locals [Charlie Winn, Bob Dickins and Doug Pickup] first looked after the area before the RSPB came into the area in 1977.

Deeper water means diving ducks like Tufted, Pochard and Goldeneye but also Smew, Goosander and even Long tailed duck have enjoyed the area not to mention dabblers like Black Duck and even an inland Brent Goose. The big Black headed Gull colony once had a breeding Little Gull, one of only 4 attempts in the UK but sadly the male bird was shot even in modern times! Great crested Grebes were once drowned and eaten by a Great Black backed Gull called ‘Fred’ by the locals as it came back year after year to do the same trick.

Inland movements of Arctic Terns and Kittiwake were mainly in the spring with waders like Pectoral Sandpiper and Temminch’s Stint bringing the crowds. Cormorants are a recent coloniser with Grey Herons next door viewed from the road in Newton hamlet west of the centre. Clouds of Swifts can appear especially in June cruising the waters after insects and the once bear slag heaps now attract many woodland species even a Siberian Chiffchaff.

Just upstream from here is the Swillington Ings and like Fairburn local birders have used the area even before 1939. They formed their own group [http://sibg1.wordpress.com/] and even encouraged the coal board working the area to erect a hide for their use. Little Ringed Plover was a first for Yorkshire breeding here in 1946. This bird has been adopted as the Group’s logo. Open cast had been the main form of coal extraction and now an area of 1000 acres has been developed for bird habitats by the RSPB. There are over 7.5 miles (12 km) of footpaths, bridleways and cycle routes on site connect the surrounding communities, with links to national footpath and cycle networks [route 67 & 697].

The RSPB are leasing the site via Leeds City Council and the open cast/UK Coal calling the site St Aidan’s. The scheme is presently at a stand still as UK Coal has gone in administration. I visited the site parking outside the main entrance and walking in via the already constructed path ways. From on high you see this massive potential with pools, reed beds and grassland. Skylarks were singing their heart out as a Kestrel hovered over the area and Meadow Pipits were on the move heading for the uplands.

A Little Egret was fishing while the first Sand Martins for me were hunting for insects in the cool breeze. Already a wide variety of birds have been found with all 3 divers, White winged Tern, Slavonian Grebe, Citrine Wagtail and Water Pipit. Bitterns have bred and Bearded Tits have been seen. A least known site, Mickletown Ings lies close by at the conference of the River Aire and the Calder again effected by subsidence from the mining with another mixture of ducks, grebes and rarities.

Further into South Yorkshire is the complex of Ings around the River Dearne centred around Old Moor which was the farm now owned by the RSPB. The potential of the area was first recognised by Harold Crookes and with a band of local birders first secured Wath Ings as a local nature reserve via the Barnsley Council. Harold was so proud of his ‘patch’ that he used to chase of unwanted folk that might do damage to the area. Pollution was so bad in the area in the 1970s and 1980s that the area was once called ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. Harold was made honorary warden once the RSPB took over until his death. A plaque now sits outside the hide named after him.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust briefly looked at the site before the RSPB came in 11 years ago. They now own 7 reserves in the area most of them related to flood defences. This was shown in June 2007 when the South Yorkshire was hit by almost a month's rain in 12 hours. The reserve areas held back vast amounts of water for up to 6 weeks to prevent flooding to parts of Rotherham and Doncaster. There was so much water that the highest level just peaked below the farm buildings.

The reserve has a wide variety of birds throughout the year with Avocets breeding for the first time in 2012 along with Bitterns, Little and Great crested Grebes, Black headed Gulls, Gadwall and a wide range of warblers. Recent rarities have included Night Heron, both Grey and Red necked Phalarope and American Golden Plover. Broomhill Flash to the north east has had Hobby, Whiskered Tern, Bewick’s Swan and Hawfinch. Wombwell Ings has had Temminch’s Stint, Short eared Owl Dark bellied Brent Goose and Jack Snipe.

Only 20 minutes away is Potteric Carr [Yorkshire Naturalist Trust] on the south end of Doncaster. This is definitely a Carr with reed beds, open water and encroaching wet woodland but again acted as flood defence in 2007 protecting part of Doncaster. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust predict that wetlands around Britain save £4 billion in flood defences and given that over £100 million is to be spent just on the Somerset levels how many of the visitors to these Yorkshire Ings say ‘ this wetland helped to save my house from flooding’!!

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