Waterside Natural History Society visit Swanwick Nature Reserve

Swanwick is usually associated with the site of the National Air Traffic Services which provides a good point of reference to locate the reserve.

Driving up to the NATS heavily guarded security gate you could be forgiven for thinking you are at the wrong place until at the last minute you see a wooden sign for the reserve off to the right.

The site is managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust who have succeeded in producing a textbook reserve layout with a visitor centre and gravel paths around woods, meadows and lakes over quite a small area.

The reserve owes much to the Bursledon brickworks which opened in 1897.

Originally bricks were made from clay produced around the site at Bursledon but as time went on the clay had to be dug from further away.

Clay for brick making eventually came from Swanwick and was transported to Bursledon by overhead cable.

Brickmaking ceased at Bursledon in 1974 due in part to the building of the M27 which cut off supply of clay from Swanwick but also the expense of making bricks in an old unsafe factory.

The old clay pits have filled with water to form lakes and the spoils used as landscaping to make mounds and low hills.

Planting of trees, provision of footpaths and a visitor centre have produced the reserve that is seen today. Apart from the Centre Lake the lakes to the east have been stocked with fish and are used by an Angling club.

Many of the visitors to the reserve are dog walkers or anglers so the small group from the Waterside Natural History Society seemed out of place for the walk on a fine but autumnal September day.

The reserve has been provided with circular trails of red, blue or yellow marker posts but none of the trails take longer than thirty minutes to walk so it was decided to try all three.

It did not take long to realise that the marked paths followed simple routes and with little chance of getting lost wandering along the minor tracks provided the more interesting option.

September is the month when plants and animals are looking tired after the summer and are getting ready for the winter.

It is also the time when fruits and berries are at their best and this year has been particularly prolific.

Blackberries, known as the ‘Devils Fruit’, have had a long season and are ideal for the recent trend of foraging in the countryside. Sloes, the fruit of the Blackthorn, can be used for flavouring Gin but are little used and are left to fall off the bushes.

Birds tend to favour the smaller red berries of Hawthorn or Mountain Ash when available but will take anything during a bad winter.

Crab apples can be gathered in the Forest although larger apples on the reserve at Swanwick could have grown from a discarded apple core.

The fruit of the Spindle tree has a distinctive four segmented shape and pink in colour so is easy to spot in the hedgerow.

Sweet Chestnut and Horse Chestnut fruits have begun to burst out of their green casing and the bunches of Ash keys are starting to go brown.

It really has been a bonanza for the birds and animals able to take advantage at this time of year.

Wild flowers are coming to the end of their flowering season but a few cling on until the frosts.

Agrimony still has a few flowers at the top of the spike of seed pods waiting for animals or humans to brush past and cling to their clothes or fur.

Apart from the Devils Fruit the Devil also gets a mention in Devilsbit Scabious whose blue flowers sprinkle the meadow.

Legend has it that the Devil rose up from beneath the earth and bit off the root of the Scabious leaving a short stump.

A few Evening Primrose were in flower close to the information centre as were a clump of Gypsywort.

Trees and shrubs were not the only source of food for birds as Teasels abound over the man made mound of New Hill. Goldfinches are a sociable bird and flocks of them like to eat together at the Teasel seed heads.

Swanwick LakesSome things stick in the mind long after the event has passed and the sight of an Angler catching a large fish from the lake was one such memory.

Another was eating lunch on one of the fishermen’s jetties hidden from sight of the pathway by reeds and rushes.

The warm autumn sun shining over the lake gave a feeling of contentment, peace and ‘all’s right with the world’ that only nature can provide.