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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

12/8/09: Cray clean-up - plastic ain't fantastic

River Cray, Foots Cray Meadows, south of Bexley village.

I spent four hours today with Riverkeeper Ashe Hurst, and 3 other volunteers, clearing plant debris and litter trapped in the weir under the arches of Five Arches bridge. This event was part of the Thames21 programme. See here for other events across London:

I used to muck around here, and on the Cray at Hall Place when I was a kid. After listening to the obligatory Health and Safety talk I couldn't help thinking it made the fact I've managed to survive so many years sound like something of a minor miracle. Then it was into a chest high wading outfit and lifejacket.

My rather younger partner and I were tasked going into the arches and picking out litter - before those below raked out the plant debris from the downstream side and dragged it to the bank. One thing the H+S warnings had glossed over was the back-ache resulting from being bent over at an uncomfortable angle for rather a long time !

Given the birds on the lake, it was rather ironic that our first find was a concrete duck with its head missing. Apart from a number of decomposed tennis balls, most of the litter was bits of plastic wrapper and plastic bags. Some of it had become distinctly green and was both hard to spot and a fiddle to extricate from the piles of sticks and bits of reed. Definititely not fantastic. In fact a real pain in the ar*e.

Once we'd finished the job, I had a proper look round, and was pleased to see that a significant proportion of the meadows are now being left unmown.

A short distance upstream from the bridge was a large clump of Hemp Agrimony, my first find of the species in the Borough.

Five Arches bridge on the River Cray, looking downstream, with Hemp Agrimony front centre

There was also quite a lot of Gypsywort, with its whorls of flowers at the leaf nodes (above).

The highlight was seeing my first ever Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)damselflies. Pictures here:

By wading in the river I was able to get close views as they flew along the edge of a bed of Reeds and Great Reedmace (pictured below). There were 2 or 3 males with their superb purple-patched wings, which really show up the flight action. I also witnessed one take up a copulating position with a female.

Banded Demoiselles were active along the margin of this reed bed to the right of the bridge.

The reed bed (above) had 'bays' in it, which appeared to be attractive to these insects.

Plants in the meadows included Silverweed, Spotted Medick and this rather distinctly 'candy-striped' specimen of Field Bindweed.

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