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Lovell Hill Ponds, Guisborough by Steve Norman

Background

Lovell Hill Pond itself (the present area is named after it) was situated about 500 metres to the north of the two large pools visible from Wilton Lane. It was a large body of water, probably about the size of a small lake, but, unfortunately, a small child drowned here in the 1940s and it was subsequently drained. This area is now covered in Pine trees.

 

 

The present site is set within an undulating, well-wooded agricultural landscape and is situated on the east side of Wilton Back Lane between Wilton and Guisborough. It is the result of flooded mine workings and consists of two main pools with small islands, ideal for breeding waterfowl. These pools are situated at the northern end and are edged with great reed mace, sedge and rushes. The main scrubby vegetation consists of damp willow carr, hawthorn and blackthorn, with occasional silver birch, ash, sycamore and oak trees.

Unfortunately, the main area is on private land owned, I believe, by ICI but leased to a local farmer. The area is fenced off and isolated from the agricultural fields surrounding it and is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest under the auspices of Natural England. Its SSSI citation in 1999 was based on the outstanding assemblage of dragonflies and damselflies it contains. The range of habitats is ideal for flying insects in general and Odonata dragonflies and damselflies, in particular. The following species are known to breed at the site: Azure Damselfly, Variable Damselfly (nationally scarce and on the northeastern edge of its range here), Common Blue Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Emerald Damselfly, Southern Hawker, Common Hawker, Four-spotted Chaser, Ruddy Darter and Common Darter. The pools and surrounding habitats also support populations of both Great Crested and Smooth Newts.

Access

As the site is privately owned, access is restricted and safe parking is non-existent unless key access is obtained. The area is patrolled by a gamekeeper of the local shooting syndicate and, during the late autumn/winter, regular shoots are undertaken, with as many as 20 guns present, so if you are visiting the farm pond during this period take care.

The site can be viewed from a small, unofficial pull-in off Wilton Lane, which is accessed off Bolckow Street, Guisborough, just before the former Maternity Hospital. If approaching from the north, off the A174, follow the signs to Wilton (near the former ICI Wilton Works main entrance) and drive southwards down Wilton Lane to view the ponds on your left.

There are no well-worn tracks through the area but viewing of the main ponds from the central track (an old railway line), which bisects the 2 northern ponds is an ideal location. However, as mentioned, this would entail walking across private agricultural land to gain access.

 

 

Birds

The present site is the main breeding area for Sedge and Grasshopper Warblers and Reed Bunting, and the prime area for all waterside birds recorded at Lovell Hill. Moving south through the area are ditches and small ponds, now sadly overgrown with mainly blackthorn and hawthorn bushes. The south end is more open, an area I try to keep free of incursions by hawthorn and blackthorn and, of course, bramble. There are two medium-sized ponds edged with reed mace, sedges, rushes and the main body of horsetails present on the marsh. This area is also good for Sedge and Grasshopper Warblers and is ideal for breeding Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat. Another large pond (known as the ‘Farm Pond’) is situated behind what used to be Dunsdale Farm (demolished in the 1970s), now replaced with cow sheds, and is accessible as a right of way runs from Wilton Lane, opposite Court Green Farm entrance, to Dunsdale. Parking is still difficult, however, though good views of the pond are possible from this track. Little Grebe (occasionally) and Tufted Duck (regularly) breed here and a pair of Ruddy Ducks were present for 4 weeks in 2007

Natural History studies commenced in 1970 and bird ringing from 1972 onwards, and is still ongoing. Over the years, 152 bird species have been recorded, with 3 new ones added this year alone: Marsh Harrier (2), Red Kite and Yellow-browed Warbler (2). Sixty-one species have bred, 34 on a more or less regular basis and 14 irregularly, the best of the latter probably being Water Rail, Shoveler, Garganey and Little Grebe. Fifteen species of warbler have been recorded, of which 8 usually breed annually.

 

 

From 1970 to 1986, dragonflies and damselflies were studied and identified; however, the person with expertise in this field moved out of the area in 1987 and the total of 18 species could well be increased if a similar expert could be found to investigate them further. In a good year, butterflies include Green-veined White, Common Blue, Orange-Tip and, in the last few years, Speckled Wood, Comma , Ringlet and Clouded Yellow.

Being an isolated site makes it ideal for bird studies and over the years around 18 papers have been published on different aspects of the biological lives of principally the warbler species. Some studies are still ongoing for future publication.

Steve Norman

 

 


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