Monday, 30 January 2017

The Coal-yard

The Coal-yard That Became Housing

Restharrow - Ononis repens (Photo: Public Domain)

Today, I am going to write about somewhere my family called “The Coal-yard.” It was on the other side of the railway line and railway bank behind where we lived. As a child fascinated by nature, I used to go there to look for wildflowers, butterflies, moths and once common reptiles. The coal-yard was a wonderful unrecognised nature reserve because it supported so many species of wildlife. It was presumably viewed by the local authorities as little more than waste ground, of no use now the coal mines were no longer a thriving business and British Railways were no longer using it. What was once my coal-yard was destroyed and became a site for housing and a short road, together with the almost obligatory lawns.
All of the wildflowers and wildlife have gone, including the common lizards that lived there.

Small Copper (Photo: Public Domain) 

I recently blogged about habitat destruction and natural environments that I have seen destroyed and vanish locally. The same picture is happening globally. Just think about how many woods, fields, ponds or other wild places that have gone from the area you live in. I am sure you will know what I mean.


Here is a poem I wrote describing the coal-yard and what was once there.

Common Lizard (photo: Public Domain)

The Coal-yard of my Vanishing World

The coal-yard has long gone,
Once there were wildflowers in the abandoned sidings,
Pink restharrow, golden bird’s-foot trefoil and purplish tufted vetch
Added colour to the picture
And nectar for the bees and butterflies;
Small heath, small copper,
Common blue, grayling,
Wall brown, meadow brown,
Small tortoiseshell, and the day-flying burnet moths,
Once added their beauty on the wing,
Flitting from one floral delight to the next,
Basking in the sunlight.
Lizards sunned on sleepers and anthill mounds,
Slow-worms slithered under rusty corrugated iron;
Catch them if you can, and I often did.
It was a boy naturalist’s paradise,
Over the railway bank,
A secret heaven,
A pasture of delights.
Now apartment blocks, a cul-de-sac
And manicured lawns are the replacements.
Plums and apples fall in season
And rot on the grass,
Where tenants leave them,
And passers-by pass by.
People are starving elsewhere in my vanishing world.

About the Butterflies
Several species of the butterflies mentioned are now recognised as being in a serious decline in numbers throughout the UK. The small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) is, as its name implies, a small butterfly and fairly inconspicuous with its yellowish-brown wings. It likes a grassy area and its caterpillars feed on various grasses. It was once very plentiful, and although still widely distributed, many of its former colonies have gone.

The wall brown, or simply wall butterfly (Lasiomammata megera) was once very common but has suffered serious declines, although Climate Change is thought to be a reason behind its disappearance. Like the small heath, its caterpillars feed on grasses, so lack of food-plants is not a problem for these species.
Small Tortoiseshell (Photo: Public Domain)

The small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) was once one of the most common British butterflies and was found in a  wide range of habitats, including our gardens. Over the past decades, however, it has experienced a dramatic slump in its number. This is not adequately explained because its food-plant is the stinging nettle and there are plenty of these plants about. It is thought that changes in weather brought about by Climate Change are negatively affecting this pretty butterfly.

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