The Main Entrance to Brierydale
Bird Cherry, Swedish Whitebeam, various Willow species together with occasional Ivy, Raspberry, Nettle and Hop create a natural screen from the main road. Once through the main gate, 'The Rezzer' appears in view together with the many ducks and wildfowl that thrive in the shallow waters. The Mallard is the most common species of duck here. The mole or 'drake' is more striking with its dark green head and yellow bill whilst the female is mostly light brown with an orange bill. Winter sees an influx of additional Mallards as migratory birds return from colder regions.
Of particular interest is the increasing amount of 'wading' birds seen in and around the shallow margins. The large quantity of soft silt that has formed islands and shallow lagoons has created an ideal habitat for these birds. Redshank is common in the winter months with very occasional visits from Ringed Plover and Dublin during very harsh weather. Waders typically have characteristic long bills and probe the soft sediments for aquatic invertebrates. A Scarlet Ibis, normally found near swamps in ports of South America, was sighted recently. This large pink bird appeared as if at home on 'The Rezzer' yet had probably escaped from a zoo or simply got lost.
Warm summer days and early evenings are probably the best time to see, and hear, most wildlife around the reservoir. The season really kicks off around early March when birds are spurning to look for new breeding territories and attracting partners. Listen out for the Chiff Chaff, one of the many visiting 'warblers' that hove migrated from as far away as Africa, although increasing numbers appear to be spending the winter in the UK. This bird's song sounds exactly like its name: ''chiff chaff'' ''chiff chaff'', heard from the tops of trees or ends of branches.
The extensive willows that grow around the water are home to many species of invertebrates, providing protein rich food for birds. Bullfinch, Blue and Great Tits, Wren and Blackbird are common in this habitat throughout the summer.
Dragon and damselflies are on the wing around late summer. These magnificent creatures have actually spent the majority of there life-cycle under the surface of the water, in some cases for up to two years. Underwater, dragonfly larvae are ferocious predators, taking just about anything that moves, including fish bigger than themselves. The Common Hawker is the most common species of dragonfly found at Harrington.
The shallow margins around the water are home to a specialized group of plants known as 'marginals'. As the name suggests, plants including Water Mint, Marsh Marigold and Hemlock Water Dropwort survive in very marshy conditions on the waters edge. Coot and particularly Moorhen, with its black body and yellow and orange bill, will often be seen in and around this habitat. Ongoing management of the many willow trees on the margins of 'The Rezzer' by coppicing or in some cases removing completely should encourage more marginal plants thereby enhancing this wildlife rich habitat.
From the main entrance walk approximately 100m and follow the path north up the Ellerbeck. Stop at 'Willow Bridge', named by local school children because it is situated next to Willow Carr, and look into the clear waters below the bridge. Here, tiny fish or 'minnows' are common whilst the Grey Heron may be nearby on the look out for food.
The foundations of the old wooden bridge can still be seen, some eighteen inches below the new bridge. Changes to farming practices, housing development drainage systems and urban run-off have meant that the river channel is unable to drain water quickly enough, thereby causing water levels in the Ellerbeck to rise above the level of above the old bridge. In addition, some of the effects associated with human induced global warming, including more intensive and prolonged precipitation has also necessitated the need to raise the level of this bridge.
One of Harrington's best habitats, unimproved rough meadow, is situated on the higher ground to the right of the bridge. A visit here during the summer months is a must as the meadow is covered in wild flowers and insects including many species of butterflies. Below the thick grasses small mammals including Shrews and Voles make 'runs' out of reach of predatory animals including Kestrels and occasional Weasel.
The attractive Yellowhammer successfully raised young during the summer of 2005. These yellow and brown birds have experienced a decline in numbers over recent years and therefore to see and hear them at Harrington Nature Reserve is always pleasing.
The stone path walk from 'Willow bridge' to the Brierydale entrance can be quite interesting due to the many interconnecting habitats in the area; Willow Carr merges with open and running water, whilst there are many shallow pools and damp areas either side of the footpath. Tall herbs and willow provide seeds and insects for birds, including; Long-tailed Tit, Linnet, Robin and Wren together with 'warbler' species, including; Chiff Chaff, Blackcap, Sedge, Grasshopper and Willow Warblers.
From late February until October butterflies are attracted to the damp, open and sunny conditions that include their preferred food plants. The Orange Tip Butterfly, so-called because of the orange tip on the wing of the male (the female has a black tip) is common around spring time due to the presence of this particular butterflies favourite food plants; Cuckoo Flower and Garlic Mustard.
Brierydale to Viewpoint
Tall herbs including Stinging Nettle, Greater Willowherb and Creeping Thistle dominate the footpath verges behind Brierydale. Despite appearing unkempt and overgrown this is still a valuable habitat. The thistle heads for example provide valuable feeding for Goldfinches, groups of which are known as 'Charms' and up to twenty birds occasionally descend onto patches of tall herbs on their march across the countryside.
Similarly, the nearby streamside habitat is also thickly vegetated, providing nesting sites for Mallard and other wildfowl. The Grey Heron and occasional Kingfisher are often seen searching for small fish. The latter will either be perched on an overhanging branch or more than likely seen as a brilliant blue flash.
The visitor has a choice of two paths once passed the housing at Brierydale. The steep steps that head up the western valley side lead to a path sandwiched between both factory and nature reserve. This long, straight path is useful as a short cut from Brierydale to the Cycleway whilst also suitable for those unable to climb steep steps as this higher path connects with other paths and entrances without steep inclines.
The lower path is unquestionably the more interesting as it passes open sunny glades, dramatic descents down to the Ellerbeck, fern, moss and lichen covered woodland and during spring, the reserve's specialty: carpets of Bluebells, Lesser Celandines, Dog's Mercury Wood Sorrel, Ramsons and Wood Anemone. March through to May is the best time to visit this part of the reserve, for the wild flowers at least.
The plant assemblage found here indicates that this woodland is possibly ancient. That is, the vegetation has been here for at least a few hundred years and possibly a lot more! Ancient woodland plant indicators such as those listed above are by most plants standards, inefficient at dispersing their seeds, instead producing seeds that tend to land close to the parent plant. These plants are therefore unlikely to have established naturally at Harrington Nature Reserve, particularly so as this reserve is completely surrounded by factories and intensively managed farmland and thus effective barriers to this type of seed dispersal. There are also no other habitats of this type in the area surrounding the reserve, further reducing the potential for these plants to establish. This ancient 'relict' community is one of many reasons why Harrington Nature Reserve is such on important place.
The dawn chorus, best heard at 5am in mid May is another highlight in the nature calendar. Individual bird species are difficult to identify as there are so many singing together. More obvious sounding calls include the Blue Tit, Great Tit and Blackbird, whilst the latter is actually best heard at dusk.
Despite the reserves proximity to factories and housing the only sounds the visitor will hear include bird song, running water and the drum and buzz of flying insects. The new wooden bench overlooking the Ellerbeck is a great place to take all this in.
The area surrounding Harrington Reservoir Local Nature Reserve was once mined for coal. Indeed, much of West Cambria sits on a huge coal seam, formed millions of years ago when the area consisted of swampy, tropical woodland. It's hard to believe but much of this area was once situated close to the equator! One of the legacies associated with coal mining is the presence of ochre, a rusty-coloured iron based substance that has completely changed the colour of stream bed stones in places along the Ellerbeck.
Up until the late 1990's, the lower path continued along a series of footbridges and boardwalks along the lower bunks of the Ellerbeck. However flash flooding has washed away foundations and left the remaining features rotten and unsafe. Fortunately, new access paths, steps and bridges have replaced the old ones though the path now takes a slightly different route. From the lower path follow the Ellerbeck and climb some steps before turning right and heading north to the newly erected seating and viewpoint. From here there are stunning views over the woodland canopy toward Great Clifton, Lillyhall and the Lakeland Fells.
Viewpoint to the Cycleway Entrance
Take some time to enjoy the scenery before heading back down into the Ellerbeck Valley. Alternatively, the upper path sandwiched between the reserve and the factory may be more suitable for persons less inclined to climb the steps. The upper and lower paths eventually rejoin of the northern boundary of the reserve and can form part of a rewording circular walk from the Viewpoint. Descend down the new steps, across the new bridge and follow a crushed stone path that winds its way through wet meadow, scrub and mature stream side trees.
Many species of shrubs and trees in this area produce berries in late summer with September being the optimum berry producing month. Other food sources include Hazel Nuts and Beech Nuts or 'Musts'.
Beech trees are stunning all year round. When not actually in leaf, the ground beneath Beech trees is usually quite barren, a result of this trees ability to cost a lot of shade and thus prevent ground flora establishment. The fallen Beech leaves are beautiful in their own right, often keeping their shape and rusty colour well into winter due to the slow breakdown of leaf material. In spring, red buds appear at the ends of branches before producing varying shades of green leaves. Once the tiny flowers have been fertilized, 'Masts' develop and eventually split open to release the nut inside. Striking Jays and various finches feast on this bounty around autumn and early winter.
Unlike the drier and coarser meadow nearest 'The Rezzer', the meadow in this section is wetter and contains species more adapted to wet conditions, including; Marsh Thistle, Meadowsweet, Sawort and Common Valerian. This marshy grassland represents the most botanically rich part of the reserve and its most important habitat. Habitats of this quality are now rare not only across West Cumbria but most of the UK. Again, the meadow is best visited in late summer when most plants are in flower.
The damper conditions are suitable for amphibians including the Common Toad. The Common Toad tends to be more 'warty' than the often confused frog and consists of a green, brown or grey colour. Common toads can even secrete a powerful toxin to deter would be predators... beware!
The path continues to wind its way along the Ellerbeck, passing Oak, Alder and Ash trees. The lost bridge across the Ellerbeck is a good place to see a perched Kingfisher. Here the deeper water and overhanging trees provide good perching positions from which these birds catch a potential meal.
The path crosses a small footbridge before climbing a small rise and rejoins the footpath beside the factory. Turn right to finish at the West Cumbria Cycleway or head left and back toward the viewpoint to complete a fine circular walk.
The walk can be extended at the Cycleway by turning right and heading toward High Harringion and Whitehaven or turning left to travel back toward Moorclose and Workington. Workington's other Local Nature Reserve, Siddick Ponds, is less than two mites along the Cycleway heading through Workington.