Monday, 20 September 2021

Whether on boat or bank, you'll see fascinating range of wildlife on river

IF you take the 4.15pm steamer from the Henley prom to Shiplake lock, you can walk back in the evening light among the damsel flies and swallows, swooping along the margins beyond the railway bridge.

These seem to be both demoiselle agrion and banded agrion, blue and green, folding their wings above their bodies as butterflies do. The dragonflies keep their wings horizontal at all times. Both species eat insects and, indeed, each other.

Just before Marsh lock there are paddling bays where girls in wetsuits were launching themselves to swim last week. It is here that I have watched a dragonfly nymph creep up the bank, split out of its case and rest on a reed as its wings unfurled and hardened, preparing to fly. It is so important that sections of bank remain “unimproved” for the sake of the wildlife.

Feeling stronger? Gallop the eight miles along the Thames Path and take the
l o’clock boat home from Marlow — there are refreshments at Hurley and Temple locks and on the boat. From the vantage point of the upper deck, you look down on the nests of the waterfowl and the wonderful variety of riverside gardens and houses.

Watch the coots teaching their chicks to dive, accompanied by the “kryik, kryik” of the ringneck parrakeets which have colonised the Thames and are now visiting our gardens for cherries.

If you are exhausted and full of cares, try a restful day out going from Wallingford Bridge to Abingdon and back with a sandwich and a newspaper — nothing can reach you! Timetables are available from the town hall and at

The “dreadfully messy” Greys Road bank is now spangled with wildflowers, the wide white of ox-eye daisies and convolvulus, the fearsome bindweed, which we must pull from our gardens but leave here, where it shelters and feeds the insects.

Walk slowly by and you may spot the purple gem of a pyramidal orchid down towards the scout hut. This is our very own jungle — if you sit in an “unimproved meadow”, which this is, you will quickly be colonised by tiny spiders and beetles.

The recreation ground above is cut as playspace, as it should be, but let our rough spaces become a refuge for birds and insects as our gardens have become for the birds driven out of farmland by spraying. Even speeding by you can appreciate the flowering blackberries, privet and elder in the “overgrown” hedges.

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