If you look north-east, you will see the tower of St Peter’s church in Irthlingborough. This distinctive lantern tower was erected around 1400, before the Nene Valley was bridged or drained. In those days, a river ford was the only way to get between Irthlingborough and Higham Ferrers and thick fog was commonplace above the marsh. The story goes that local monks built matching lantern towers in Irthlingborough and Higham Ferrers to house beacons that would guide travellers safely across the boggy ground.
Habitats and species
From this point, you have a good view of the large areas of floodplain meadows that make the reserve so important.
In the winter, large numbers of grazing birds such as wigeon, teal and greylag geese can be seen feeding in the meadows.
As spring arrives, the cuckoo flowers provide a valuable nectar source for the early butterflies, such as brimstones, whilst in summer, buttercups, great burnet and ragged robin create a riot of colour. Also look out for skylarks which can sometimes be heard defending their territories from on high (listen below).
As well as the meadows, this area also contains ditches and several patches of scrub. The ditches are home to lots of freshwater invertebrates, including dragonfly and damselfly larvae. On sunny days, look out for them emerging from their exuviae (larval skins) on the reeds next to the water. Reed buntings are also often seen here, flitting between the bushes and reeds.
Eventually, we hope to use cattle to graze the meadows. These reduce the height of the grass and create the ideal habitat for many ground nesting birds to raise their young as well as helping many of our wetland flower species to thrive. In the meantime, machines are used to top the vegetation in Autumn, promoting new growth in the spring.
The ditches alongside the path help to drain excess water during the winter and are periodically cleared to prevent them getting too overgrown.
I remember… pressing flowers like daisies – some used flower presses, some used newspaper with something heavy on top.”
-Stanwick Chatterbox Group
“People would go ice-skating on the meadows when they were in flood. Back then, skates had wooden blades.”
-Stanwick Chatterbox Group
“I was born in Irthlingborough and I remember walking through the fields, going down to Ditchford, families picnicking, playing at Ebbw Vale Quarry, sliding down the banks, and coming home dirty, getting told off.”
“I remember…building houses with the straw in the fields. The farmer never saw us!”
– Anon (Rushden Cordwainers Group)
“The girls used to try and make rose petal perfume, although it would usually end up smelling horrid! Children also used to make mud pies and would sometimes try and encourage others to eat them! Skipping was another activity that used to be very popular.”
“I remember my four children playing in the hay in the big meadow at the end of the lane. Happy days!”
– Margaret Freeslane