Monday, 11 June 2018

Sheffield and Tinsley canal

Sheffield & Tinsley Canal
10th June 2018
Leader: Ken Balkow

Ken Balkow
Les Coe 


Louise Hill 
John Scott 

 The Tinsley Canal offers a diverse collection of flora and fauna, such that in a single visit one will only scratch the surface of what is on offer. As the walk could pass through six tetrads, it would not possible to record everything in each of them with our limited resources, so we decided instead to appreciate the flora (and fauna) on offer. In Ken we have a knowledgeable leader who is extremely familiar with this Canal’s natural environment. 

Despite traveling through the industrial east-end of Sheffield, the canal affords that get-away-from-it-all feeling of peace and tranquility. The waterway, which not so long ago served the industry of Sheffield, is now given over to pleasure pursuits; one can take a tour of the canal on passenger barges while the towpath offers a pleasant route for walkers and cyclist wishing to access the city centre without suffering the fumes and noise of other road users. Fishermen can also enjoy their sport in pleasant surroundings. 

On a pleasant warm sunny day, the group met in an unusually quiet Meadowhall to begin the survey. Even before reaching the start where the River Don and the Canal pass under the M1 Tinsley viaduct, there were a wide variety of native and alien plants are to be encountered. In an area that has been left to nature there is great competition for dominance of space from Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), Great Bindweed (Calystegia sylvatica) and Russian Vine (Fallopia baldschuanica), with a False Acacia Tree (Robinia pseudoacacia) also distributing its saplings in order to also establish a niche for itself. 

Despite this, we found plants filling every other available space. Hoary Mustard (Hirschfeldia incana), Fodder Vetch (Vicia villosa), Cut-leaved Crane's-bill (Geranium dissectum), Sweet Vernal-grass (Anthoxanthum adoratum) were all to be found by the tram stop. Beaked Hawkweed (Crepis versicaria) already going over, Black Medick (Medicago lupulina), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a hybrid Campion (Silene hampeana), Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) not yet in flower, Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles japonica), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Oxford Ragwort (Senecio squalidus) and Narrow-leaved Ragwort (S. inaequidens), Melilot (Melilotus sp.), Thyme-leaved Sandwort (Arenaria serpyllifolia), Curled Dock (Rumex crispus), Goat's Rue (Galega officinalis) growing by the fence, Hedge Bedstraw (Galium album), Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa) and Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) were established along the walkway leading to the canal towpath. Also noted was possibly Balkan Clary (Salvia nemorosa) but this has to be confirmed. 

Balkan Clary (Salvia nemorosa)

At the start of the canal walk we found growing in or at the edge of the canal Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata), Broad-leaved Pondweed (Potamogeton natans), Curled Pondweed (Potamogeton crispus), Narrow-leaved Water Plantain (Alisma lanceolatum), Reed Sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima), Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus), Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), a species of Water Cress (Nasturtium sp.) and Hedgerow Crane's-bill (Geranium pyrenaicum). 

 A canal side building had some artfully drawn murals, some of which had unfortunately become defaced. 

 Along the canal towpath plants were growing in any and every available space, be that at the water’s edge, on the walls of locks, lock gates or even in the thin strip of land between the footpath and water. At various points along the canal, adjacent land, being neglected, had also been colonised by the flora. In here Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) were to be found growing in the shade. Common Spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsia) were being admired by bank-side fishermen as they sat waiting for the fish to bite, and further along Southern Marsh-orchid (D. praetermissa) also growing alongside the towpath, had unfortunately been trod upon. 

Where cuttings had been made for the canal, the tree lined sides also afforded suitable sites for shade loving plants. Here ferns were well established; Heart's-tongue (Aspenium scolopendrium), Male-fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), Golden-scaled Male-fern (D. affinis), Broad-leaved Buckler-fern(D. dilatata) and Hard Shield-fern (Polystrichum aculeatum) and Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum agg.), with Male-fern even spreading down to colonise the retaining wall at the water’s edge. 

Many trees and bushes have found suitable places to become well established alongside the canal, with many introductions, both by man and bird, with some wind-blown seeds from nearby plantings by local business premises around their car parks and gardens. We noted along the way Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles japonica), False Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia), a member of the pea family, Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia), was in full blossom and is quite common in Sheffield, Bird Cherry (Prunus padus), Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa) and Italian Alder (A. cordata), with saplings of Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) and Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) growing at the water’s edge. Fig Trees (Ficus carica) which have become established along the canal having grown from seeds discarded by people. The warmer micro-climate created by the heavy industry contributed to the success of this tree. However, all the trees are infertile as the wasp that normally pollinates the flowers is only to be found in the Mediterranean. One of the Fig trees passed on this walk is a very old specimen having grown to 10mts high and 20mts wide. Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) and Butterfly Bush (Buddleja sp.) had colonised waste ground adjacent to the towpath, Honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) and Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) scrambled through the low bushes while the Grey Poplar (Populus canescens) was throwing up lots of suckers. 

Two species of Broom were noted, as well as the common Broom (Cytisus scoparius) the Hairy-fruited Broom (C. striatus) was found, distinguished from the former by having pods hairy all over, rather than hairy edged. The sweet-smelling white flowered Many-flowered Rose (Rosa multiflora), Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) and Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana), which still had flowers on it, Spindle (Euonymus europaeus), and Cockspurthorn (Crataegus crus-galli) a species of Hawthorn native to eastern North America, were all on display. An old wooden post in the canal even had a small Birch Tree (Betula sp.) growing from it. A Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii) and Snowberry (Symphoricarpos sp.), a shrub in the Honeysuckle family, a Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster sp.), Darwin’s Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) was seen on the opposite side of the canal. Bladder Senna (Colutea arborescens), whose flowers are yellow and form into the butterfly-like shape that is common for many members of the pea family, rounded off an exercise in tree watching, a much under-subscribed hobby. 

A variety of grasses and sedge were to be found growing alongside the towpath, Remote Sedge (Carex remota) is a common waterside plant along this canal, with False Fox-sedge (C. otrubae), Oval Sedge (C. ovalis), Red Fescue (Festuca rubra), Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) with its pink striped pyjamas, Barren Brome (Anisantha sterilis), Oval Sedge (Carex leporina), Rat's-tail Fescue (Vulpia myuros), Wall Barley (Hordeum murinum), Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne), Reed Sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima), Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca), Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis), False Oat-grass (Arrhenatherum elatius), Common Couch (Elytrigia repens). 

Water plants are able to establish themselves despite the frequent boat movements, by occupying the water margins. Some of these plants were quite exotic; notably the Altar Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) found growing at the water’s edge in the Marina when lunch was taken. 

Marina on Sheffield & Tinsley Canal

Here also, a plant of “well-trodden places” Lesser Swine-cress (Lepidium didymus) was to be found growing between the cracks in the pavement. Hemlock (Conium maculatum) with the coloured stems, growing to 2mts high path-side along with Hedge Parsley (Torilis japonica). A fine tall display of Fox-and-cubs (Pilosella aurantiaca) growing alongside Great Willowherb (Epilobium parviflorum), Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium), Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula) around the edge of the marina. These shared space with Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) and Hairy Tare (V. hirsuta), whilst in the water floated Greater Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza) with in the margins was established Shade Horsetail (Equisetum pratense), a hybrid between Field Horsetail (E. arvense) and Water Horsetail (E. fluvatile) despite one of the parents not being present. Also in the vicinity of the Marina was Shining Crane's-bill (Geranium lucidum), Hemlock Water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata), Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata), Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus) and Marsh Yellow-cress (Rorippa palustris)

The passing of a barge carrying passengers under Broughton Lane bridge and sightings of Banded Damoiselles (Calopteryx splendens) flitting over the Bulrushes (Typha latifolia) provided an interlude to the botanising. Three species of Water-lily can be found growing in the canal, White Water-lily (Nymphaea alba), Yellow Water-lily (Nuphar lutea) and Fringed Water-lily (Nymphoides peltata). 

Whilst Ivy was quite common amongst the waterside trees, there was also a cousin present in the form of Persian Ivy (Hedera colchica), which does lacks the winter beauty of our Common Ivy (Hedera helix). Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), a stand of the flattened seed pods of Honesty (Lunaria annua), Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), Narrow-leaved Water Plantain (Alisma lanceolatum), Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), a handsome blue flowered Meadow Crane's-bill (Geranium pratense), Broad-leaved Everlasting-pea (Lathyrus latifolius), Bittersweet, or if you prefer, Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), Prickly Sowthistle (Sonchus asper), and Short-fruited Willowherb (Epilobium obscurum). 

Here we watched a pair of mating Damselflies on a Yellow Water-lily that constantly sank below the water as the leaf upon which they rested rose and fell, but they stuck to their task regardless. Also patrolling across the water was a Dragonfly (unidentified) with a green Damselfly, probably a female Common Blue (Enallagma cyathigerum), keeping to the bank-side vegetation. 

Brown Bayley Mooring had flowering Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa), Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense), Cat's-ear (Hypochaeris radicata), and Common Vetch (Vicia sativa), with the leaves of Unbranched Bur-reed (Sparganium emersum) floating on the water. 

A diversion away from the canal to an area which might have once been a car park, it still having tall lighting towers and a fully tarmacked hard-standing, which, despite this hostile environment, plants had still managed to establish themselves in cracks and crevices, with Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber) relishing the dry conditions. Eastern Rocket (Sisymbrium orientale), was to be found growing against a wall, while Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) and the tall yellow flowered Weld (Reseda luteola) were happily growing through the tarmac, and Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolate) was at home in what would appear to be hostile conditions. 

Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber)
Finally, now nearing the end of the tour there were still plants a plenty to be found. Crossing the Darnall Road aqueduct Purple Toadflax (Linaria purpurea) was spotted growing on the opposite bank, with Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Wall Lettuce (Mycelis muralis), more Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) and the leaves of the early flowering Colt's-foot (Tussilago farfara) growing at the canal side. Here, poor drainage had led to the path becoming somewhat muddy now (but even worse in the winter months), but where the Shade Horsetail (Equisetium pratense)had found a home. A white form of Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and a Many-flowered Rose (Rosa multiflora) brightened up the shaded cutting, with an Iris (Iris sp.), having broad leaves and purple flowers needed further consultation before an ID could be established (but probably Iris germanica

 On leaving the canal to catch a tram to make the return journey to Meadowhall, growing at the curb side we noted Horse-radish (Armoracia rusticana), Wall Speedwell (Veronica arvensis), Common Whitlowgrass (Eropila verna agg.) and Common Field Speedwell (V. persica). The quantity and variety of flora found alongside or adjacent to the canal was most impressive, with trees and shrubs, ferns, flowers, grasses, sedges and water plants providing stimulation for the botanist; dragonfly and damselfly for the odonatist; Bird song accompanied us throughout the tour, while butterflies and moths did entertained us, but could prove illusive for ID purposes. This is a walk to be recommended to anyone with an interest in all things nature.

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