Mountsorrel Railway – part 2 by Dr D A C McNeil

So there I was again, searching for the entrance to the Hunckley Hill station site at Rothley. It was all change from the last time I was there when I wrote a report on the progress of the branch from the Great Central, though this time, as I had promised, I was going to look at the associated nature reserve. So what had changed? For a start the entrance was now marked by a gate and a wire fence, behind which a mechanical digger was busily moving a large pile of mud. Then there was a well laid out car park beside a neat building which will become a museum. The place where I parked the car last time is now occupied by a railway line leading to a shed. Also, there is a concrete path joining the car park to the completed platform, though there was one point where I had to paddle. I was, however, assured that “it will be all right on the day” – the 25th of April, when train services start in earnest. 

The path leading up to the reserve is guarded by a stout wooden fence and a gate. At this point I need to say that this is not the only entry to the reserve – there is another which is situated alongside the road and does not pass over the railway at all. The path is well tended and is in the form of a distorted loop which leads to all parts of the reserve, clearly marked out with natural wooden poles and consisting of bark chippings. At strategic intervals information boards tell you about what can be seen; good solid benches are also well placed for those who are not so young; and occasional wood carvings for those of an artistic disposition. 

The reserve is in fact shaped like an inverted “L”, the road running along the base and the railway along the vertical side. At the very tip on the base lies the road entrance; that from the railway is part way along the vertical side. At its ‘top’ (or bottom, if you can invert the L mentally) is a picnic table with benches. The reserve is formed from a small deciduous wood with a variety of shrubs and small trees; when I was there it was still early April, so there were no leaves on the trees, and those on the bushes were only just beginning to break through. The ground will be covered eventually by plants though very few were in flower then. Let it be said that some ‘help’ has been forthcoming in this, in that there is in one place, unashamedly, a tag which reads “So-and-so’s WILD FLOWER SEED MIX”. On some trees there are bird nesting boxes, on one tree which is marked ‘Owl Tree’ there is an owl nesting box, and at ground level there are a number of bug hotels. These are open-ended boxes filled with twigs and bits of wood, to encourage insect and other forms of invertebrate life that need that sort of environment. 

The ground has always been in the form of a low hill, the picnic area being lower than that near the road. At the latter end it is clear that rabbits have been busy. I did see one racing out of my way when I was walking round. Lastly, of course, where would any wood be which did not have its grey squirrels? I saw two. 

To the more seriously minded this is more of a nature show-case than the nature reserve they may crave. There is nothing wrong in that. If the general public, especially those who do not have a particular interest in nature, can visit this reserve and come to appreciate its life, then they will better understand climate change, environmental damage and pollution, topics which are aired every day ad nauseum on the television. 

What did I see in my ramblings? To start with, I will declare that I am no botanist, so I am sure to have missed the first leafs of some exotic which was not yet in flower. Also April is a little early for insects. I did see my first brimstone butterfly this week in my garden, whilst I saw my first bee, of all places, in the Bell Foundary in Loughborough in March. Having said this the most obvious flowers were bluebells and primroses both of which had the air of ‘just planted’. There were a few other more wild (if I dare use that term) examples, including lesser celandines. Even from these it is clear that later in this season there will be much to see; thankfully there were only a few places with stinging nettles, not to be confused with other places where there were dead-nettles. 

The bushes were a little more spectacular, though much more difficult to photograph. Elder, hawthorn, blackthorn (in flower) and gorse (ditto) are at their best this time of year. Sadly I cannot identify trees from their bark alone. This brings us to the birds. A chiffchaff, a wren, one or two blackbirds and a chorus of robins were in song. Great and blue tits skipped through the hedges and in one place a pair of goldfinches were resting in a tree. I heard pheasant, green and great spotted woodpeckers and a jackdaw calling, but my best catch of the day was a song thrush singing further away in the village. 

It was fitting that as I was wandering along the path looking for photographs (it was a nice, sunny day before I started. First rule of photography – it will cloud over as soon as you start) I chanced upon a tiny chocolate egg. It seems that at Easter they had had an egg-hunt for the kidiwinks and this one had got away. A good day’s work?