Rob Duffy: Sidewalk Botanist Goes Brookside: A short excursion down Court Hey Brook

Pools of the Brook, Court Hey Park (Rob Duffy)



Court Hey Brook is some 680 metres long within its Park and is crossed by two footbridges, one in the “middle” and the other at the southern end. It was never a boundary within the Victorian estate which ran uphill to the present Rimmer Avenue and it barely appears on any maps.

It is hard to believe that its hydrology was significantly altered about a decade ago (United Utilities); designed to protect the east bank’s back gardens from being undercut by waters that have subsequently failed, the remnant sandbanks seem now arcane relics.

It receives drainage from the slightly higher land to its west (within the Park) and grey water from the housing to its east (which has existed these last 70 years) which is a mixed blessing in lieu of a source which has been progressively diminished by the construction of the M62 in 1975 and the”Summerhill Park” estate (Thingwall Hall) these last few years.

A few hundred metres downstream, beyond the Park, it is “gated off” from its hinterland by a screen (which offends the eye but may offer protection from the rampaging Himalayan Balsam).

The omens for its existence as a brook and source of floral diversity thus seem poor, although there are sections that are difficult of passage- even in drought- and should act as a wildlife sanctuary.

I was therefore surprised on my recent excursion that- even after 2 months of very little rain- there is a still a flow, here and there, like a ‘thready’ heartbeat. There remain deep pools (see photo), over 1 foot (30cm) deep, interspersed with 10’s of metres of dry bed. These will never dry out.

Floristic diversity is confined to the sections, within 100 metres or so, north and south, of the middle bridge, but they are quite different in aspect. It was slightly bizarre on the southern side to see Hogweed leaves 1 foot across and Flag Iris 5 feet high, while Stachys palustris (Marsh Woundwort),  twisted  itself  upwards and Glyceria maxima (Reed sweet Grass) towered overhead.

This botanical ‘hothouse’, with its swampy, stream bed, fly infested, was trying but rewarding: Apium nodiflorum (Fool’s Water cress), Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum (Watercress), Veronica anagallis –aquatica (Blue Water Speedwell), Myosotis scorpioides (Water Forget-me-not) all grow within a few yards of each other.

To the north of the bridge there are a variety of ferns, including Polystichums, but also our very own Japanese Knotweed colony, which, while small, begs the questions-where are you from and should you be got rid of?

Rob Duffy 8th July 2018