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Manea Woods

Dog-walkers and other Manea residents enjoying the peace and tranquility of Manea Wood recently were alarmed to hear the angry buzz of chainsaws ringing through the wood. Upon encountering piles of felled tree trunks and discarded branches, they wondered who was vandalising the wood and disturbing the wildlife.

In fact the work, carried out by contractors on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council, is the first extensive maintenance to be carried out on the woodland, which was established in 1997 with trees such as Field Maple, Ash, Oak, Birch, Alder and White Willow. Work will be complete by the time you read this, to ensure that nesting birds remain undisturbed.

Left to their own devices, the more vigorous trees such as Willow rapidly crowd out slower-growing varieties, denying them light and competing for nutrients and moisture. The increasing density of leaf cover also reduces the amount of natural light reaching the woodland floor, greatly reducing the diversity of flora and fauna which might otherwise colonise the wood.

The work has created 'layers' of different habitats, from open areas where paths have been widened, creating ideal conditions for butterflies and small mammals, to denser areas of woodland where birds and larger creatures can feel secure.

Cutting back stimulates re-growth, and a maintenance schedule of 3 to 5 years, should ensure that Manea Wood remains a desirable place for wildlife and walkers alike.

Les

Wildlife in Manea

Further to my article on our nesting pair of Great Crested Grebes at Manea Pit, I am pleased to report that the pair produced a single healthy youngster, which I was able to photograph back in June, by which time it was already almost full-grown. On the same day that I spotted the Grebe chick, one of Manea Pit's resident Grey Squirrels was kind enough to pose for a new camera I was trying out.

Manea's Greys are still quite shy, as they encounter far fewer people than their urban cousins, which can sometimes be fed by hand.

It never ceases to amaze me how birds can quickly home in on their favourite food. I love to see Goldfinches, but we see them only rarely in our Station Road garden. So I bought a Niger seed feeder, which dispenses tiny black Niger seeds via very small feeding holes. Within a day or so we had a pair of these beautiful little birds sampling our offerings, and hopefully we'll see a lot more as word gets around on the Goldfinch grapevine ~ or should that be the Niger seed vine?

Les

Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Servic

Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service has issued the following advice for residents as we move out of Winter:-
Get sweeping: Chimney's should be professionally swept and brickwork inspected at least once a year to prevent chimney fires. Our advice is to check yours before and after the winter period.

Push the button: Everyone should have a correctly fitted, working smoke alarm in their home. You should test it at least once a week by pushing the button. If you have forgotten to do yours recently, why not test it when you turn your clocks forward?

School Holidays: Arson can often increase during the school holidays. Stay vigilant and call 999 if you see a crime taking place. Do not attempt to put the fire out yourself. If you are a parent, speak to your child about the dangers of playing with fire.

It's DIY time: We frequently receive an increase in calls relating to homeowners getting into accidents associated with DIY. These can involve electrical equipment which has been stored in a damp shed over the winter, and heavy-duty garden equipment. Be careful, read the instructions and take expert advice from a DIY store.

For free home fire safety advice, log on to www.cambsfire.gov.uk. Like our fan page on Facebook by searching Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue, and follow us on Twitter @cambsfrs. To find out if you are eligible for a free home fire safety check, call 0800 917 99 94.

Wildlife in Manea

Oh Deer - Strolling through Manea Wood with my little dog one fine evening last summer, I noticed a larger dog on the path ahead. Chestnut brown in colour, the animal looked a bit odd, and as it stood staring at us, I realised that it was in fact a Muntjac deer. It was around 20 metres away, and we stood staring at each other for a good few minutes. My dog, Bonnie, a compact Bichon Frise who can barely see over foot-high grass, had not even noticed the animal!

Muntjacs are an Asian species, introduced into Britain around 1900 at Woburn. They soon escaped from captivity and began colonising the rest of England ~ a process which has proved extremely successful, and which has brought them to a point where they are now considered a pest in some quarters, due to their destructive nature regarding native plants, and possible destruction of bird nesting habitats, such as shrubs.

Muntjacs are small, so can easily hide out undetected in dense undergrowth and established gardens. It is rumoured that certain Manea residents have even 'adopted' Muntjacs which have found their way into the garden.

The slightly ungainly 'backside-heavy' appearance of this little deer, compared with say Roe or Fallow deer clearly does not make them any less appealing.

Pop Goes the Weasel - Many people will go through life without ever seeing a Weasel. Sometimes, however, several will come along at once ~ a bit like buses.

In early Autumn we were driving along Wimblington Road close to Manea when a Weasel snaked rapidly across the road in front of our vehicle. I expected the little creature to be well clear before we reached the spot, but it stopped in the middle of the road and turned to run back. Sadly, the Weasel was no match for a 2 tonne Toyota Lucida people carrier, and I was unable to stop in time.

The very next day, going out of the other end of the village, another Weasel shot across the road in front of us. This one was gone almost before we had registered its presence, and was clearly luckier ~ or cleverer ~ than the first.

Les

Wildlife in Manea

Further to my article on our nesting pair of Great Crested Grebes at Manea Pit, I am pleased to report that the pair produced a single healthy youngster, which I was able to photograph back in June, by which time it was already almost full-grown. On the same day that I spotted the Grebe chick, one of Manea Pit's resident Grey Squirrels was kind enough to pose for a new camera I was trying out.

Manea's Greys are still quite shy, as they encounter far fewer people than their urban cousins, which can sometimes be fed by hand.

It never ceases to amaze me how birds can quickly home in on their favourite food. I love to see Goldfinches, but we see them only rarely in our Station Road garden. So I bought a Niger seed feeder, which dispenses tiny black Niger seeds via very small feeding holes. Within a day or so we had a pair of these beautiful little birds sampling our offerings, and hopefully we'll see a lot more as word gets around on the Goldfinch grapevine ~ or should that be the Niger seed vine?

Les

Wildlife in Manea

Fenland can appear somewhat featureless to a casual visitor, with its flat, arable farmland, dotted with waterways. Cursory views can be misleading though, and the area actually houses a surprisingly diverse wildlife population. The waterways themselves are little oases of activity, and notwithstanding the presence of nearby wildfowl reserves at Welches Dam and Welney, Manea is itself blessed with it's own mini-reserve in the shape of Manea Pit, a former clay pit. See page 36 for update on recent activity at the pit. Among the nesting Swans, squabbling Geese and busy Coots and Moorhens, we have a nesting pair of Great Crested Grebes at the Pit. These are relatively common waterfowl, but are noteworthy for a number of reasons, not least for their beautiful head plumes, which made them popular with the Victorians ~ for the wrong reasons ~ leading them to be hunted almost to extinction for their feathers.

The prominent crest and the distinctive white, chestnut and black head colouring makes these birds difficult to mistake for anything else. This colouring can become paler in winter. Young birds have fluffy black and white Zebrastriped plumage on their heads which gradually fades as they mature. I was fortunate this Spring to observe our resident Grebes at Manea Pit performing their distinctive mating ritual, which involves each bird rearing up out of the water and extending their necks together, their crests fluffed out prominently. I don't know whether Grebes mate for life but it would be nice to think so.

Grebes have little families, often just two chicks, which are carried around on the adults' backs, as they hunt for the small fish and crustaceans which form the bulk of their diet. It is a joy to be able to observe these striking birds right here in our village, especially as Grebes once came so very close to extinction as a result of those same handsome features.

Les

Wildlife in Manea

Thinking Green Stopping for a rest at the picnic site at Manea Pit recently, I paused to pick up a bright green feather. The owner of the feather was nowhere to be seen, but I had certainly heard him earlier.

The bird which was now a feather short was a Green Woodpecker, a native species of which Manea, perhaps surprisingly, has a modest but healthy population. A large bird, about the size of a Collared Dove, the Green Woodpecker is a handsome bird which is difficult to mistake for anything else. Almost exotic in appearance, Woody is predominantly green as the name suggests, and has a scarlet head patch. He is the largest of our resident Woodpeckers.

You may not have spotted one of Manea's Green Woodpeckers yet, but you are sure to have heard one; although basically rather shy, they nevertheless enjoy a bit of publicity, so their flight from place to place is almost invariably accompanied by a harsh squawk. In addition, they have a prolonged call which sounds suspiciously like a mocking laugh ~ "Yak, Yak, Yak, Yak, Yak."

You may hear the characteristic drilling sound, as the Woodpecker taps into tree bark searching for insects, but with this particular Woodpecker, you are actually far more likely to spot him on your lawn. They are quite fond of the school playing field, and the edges of the recreation ground in Park Road too, as they hunt out one of their favourite foods ~ Ants and their larvae.

Weasel Plays Chicken In August we had a daring little Weasel shoot across the road in front of the car as we drove a mile or so out of the village towards Chatteris. Maybe they are running back and forth across the road all the time, or perhaps the sound of a vehicle startles them into dicing with death. The following day, in almost the same spot, a Stoat did exactly the same thing. I wonder if they were having some sort of competition? The Stoat was unusual in being very dark in colour, so this was quite an interesting sighting.

Here be Monsters...

My little dog, Bonnie, stopped and began an uncharacteristic low growling as she stared into the reed bed at Manea Pit on a recent morning stroll. The growl gave way to nervous barks, as Bonnie jumped backwards from whatever was upsetting her.

I quietly approached the reeds, just in time to spot a large snake gliding silently through the shallow water among the reeds. This was a Grass Snake, no doubt on the hunt for Frogs or small fish. This one was almost certainly a female, which can reach more than a metre in length, but there was no need for Bonnie to be alarmed, as Grass Snakes are harmless, though they may hiss and pretend to strike.

A couple of weeks later I was fishing the pit, and by mid-morning I had a number of Roach, Rudd and Tench in my keepnet. A sudden commotion around the net suggested that a pike was attempting to get at the fish. Shortly afterwards, I was reeling in another smallish Roach when there was a great swirl and the rod almost jumped out of my hands. Seconds later the line snapped, and the hidden monster, which I never even saw, made off with its free meal.

Needless to say, the fishing deteriorated after that. However, after an hour or so I hooked a Roach of about half a pound. Drawing it towards the bank, I watched the jaws of a large Pike suddenly close around my catch. There followed a sharp but short tussle, from which the Pike again emerged victorious, making off with my Roach. Maybe I should just fish for Pike on my next visit to Manea Pit...

pike Les


Can't Tell Stork From..?

Those heading out of Manea towards Chatteris on Toll Drove at the south-west end of the village in recent months may have spotted one or more large, pure white birds and wondered what they were. Local newspaper reports around the same time, describing possible local sightings of storks, a species which has been reintroduced in Norfolk, may have led people to assume that these were indeed storks, and that maybe an increase in the Manea birth rate was imminent!

Manea's visitors were not storks, however, but little egrets, a type of small heron. Fish eaters which are similar in appearance and habit to the common grey heron, little egrets are smaller, about 55cm to 65cm long (2 feet approx), and in recent years have been steadily re-colonising areas where they were once common, although these recent arrivals may have been temporary winter visitors from the continent.

Although superficially similar in appearance to egrets, storks are actually a much larger bird. The European White Stork can be around 1 metre tall, and has distinctive red legs and a red bill, and sports black shiny wing patches. The little egret does not have black wing markings, and has a black bill and black legs.

A Crow in a Crowd...

Still on the subject of bird identification, I remembered someone saying, "look at all those crows," as they observed the large group of corvines which habitually congregate at the Wimblington end of Manea Road. "Those are rooks," I replied. Apart from the bare patch at the base of the rook's bill, a useful way of telling rooks and crows apart is the old countryman's rhyme: "A rook on its own is a crow; a crow in a crowd is a rook." It's not infallible but is usually right.

Les


Wildlife in Manea

Friends who live in hillier parts tell me how depressing it must be for a nature-lover like me to reside in a flat, featureless wilderness like the Fens, devoid of wildlife and trees. I smile and tell them that the Fens are a real haven for wildlife; it's just a case of looking in the right places.

Anglers at Manea Pit will tell you, for example, that apart from the coots, moorhens, grebes and other waterfowl, sleepy grass snakes can be spotted swimming lazily around the lake margins in spring and early summer, no doubt hunting small frogs, following a long enforced fast throughout the preceding winter.

Barn owls are often spotted, usually at dawn or dusk, as they quarter the field margins hunting voles or field mice. Kestrels are probably the most frequently spotted raptors, hanging motionless in the air alongside our Fen roads. The very presence of these hunters in quite large numbers suggests that there is no shortage of the small mammals on which they feed. Two-legged hunters, illegal hare coursers, often travel many miles to visit the Fens, proving that we also have no shortage of hares in the area.

vole

My favourite creatures are those which are seldom seen. A couple of years ago we watched a family of stoats playing in the road near Purls Bridge. Not far from the same spot, I later watched a tiny weasel carry a small rabbit, much larger than itself, along the bank of a drain. Stoats are a fair bit larger than weasels and can be identified by their black-tipped tails. Both move rapidly, so you'll need to be quick to spot one. A fast-moving weasel seen out of the corner of an eye looks rather like a vole which has been stretched!

Our Manea gardens are great places to view nature in comfort. Garden visitors, not always welcome, include foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, rabbits and numerous bird species, of which perhaps the least popular must be the Grey Heron - if you have a fish pond!

heron

The heron visited our garden for many weeks until he realised that we had sealed every gap around our ponds from which he might steal our fish! No doubt he'll be back to try again as soon as the weather warms up.

Les


My Dad, Charlie's Memories

We were very lucky when I was young, in the 1920s and 30s, to have "Pictures" in Manea Vollage Hall. They were, of course, silent movies. When they first started, someone brought them into the village, then after a while, a man from Mason's Garage, (then called "Sheldrake's"), used to bring the equipment in a van. Unfortunately, one week the van caught fire, so we didn't see a film that week!

The hall would be full; nobody had cars in those days, so we were all eager to see a film. Once, when the lights went down, a young lady came and sat next to me, but sorry to say, she was really after my brother, Harold.... Oh well, never mind! I think she was working as a maid at the Carpenter's Arms pub (Michael Philpott's house).

You could have a night out for one shilling (5 pence), and even have a penny left over. A fish and chip supper would be 3d, then off to the pub, where 10 Woodbines would cost 4d, and a pint of beer 4d (both more expensive than fish and chips)! Just imagine all that for 11d. Of course, you could only get fish and chips then, nothing as fancy as sausages or burgers, and certainly no kebabs!

In the winter months, concert parties came to the village hall. They would tour the local villages and towns, staying with various people in the village for a night. In the summer months they would be at the seaside. We had several different ones over the winter, and they were most enjoyable. Many of us wouldn't be able to travel to the seaside in summer, except on Sunday school outings, so we were very lucky to see them.

Part 2

School Days I used to walk to school with the older boys from 52 Station Road. They had a six-sailed windmill in their back yard which was used to grind flour from barley to use for animal feed. Sometimes on the way to school we played marbles. We didn't have a problem with traffic as it was mostly horses and carts. A big farmer, Mr Crouch, had a lorry which had solid tyres, so it didn't go very fast.

Everyone used to walk in those days. The bike shed didn't appear until I was 14 and about to leave school. The children from Purls Bridge and Welches Dam and other far parts of Manea were picked up in a horse-drawn covered wagon. They used to bring a packed lunch, and paid a halfpenny a day for a cup of cocoa. I went home for my dinner, which was meat sandwiches and a piece of cake. Our main meal was at 4.30pm.

Before lessons started, we always had a hymn and prayer, and when school was over in the afternoon, we sang:-

"Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh, Shadows of the evening, steal across the sky."

We would then put our chairs on the desks (to help the cleaner), and rush out of school to amble home. Then it would be tea, with all my brothers and sisters (only brothers then), and after that, we'd help a bit on the farm, followed by reading or a few games before bed.

Part 3

Monday. One thing comes to mind: wash day, which lasted day! One thing that made it difficult was that there was no water in the house; it all had to be carried in using buckets from a tap in the yard. White clothes were boiled up in a copper, under which a fire would be lit first thing in the morning. We also used tin baths and a rubbing board and a mangle to get the water out of the clothes.

Bath night was the same - water carried in and heated in the copper, then transferred to the bath using pots and pans. This was a Friday night ritual, and we all used the same water, so you can imagine it was not good to be the last one!

After that, Mother would wash our socks out in the bath. Of course in those days people didn't change their clothes as much, so we must have smelled (though I don't remember that we did), and of course everyone smelled the same.

Also, there were no flush toilets, just bucket ones in a shed in the garden. We were posh; we had a double seater! Why would you want to sit next to someone on the toilet? These toilets would be emptied once a week by a man who came round with a horse and cart (the night soil man). What a lovely job. He did have the best allotment in the village though. There's a lot to be said for organic fertiliser...

Part 4

Manea back then was a small village, population-wise, but there were many more shops and businesses. Since hardly anyone had a car, the local shops thrived. We had a Harness-Maker, and our own Undertaker who was also a Carpenter. There were three Butchers, and another one who came around in a van on a Friday. You would go to the van with a plate to put your meat on ~ no fancy packaging then. Also, thinking about it, the Coop also came round with meat. I don't know how they all made a living, but they did, especially as in the days before Social Security, the poorer families could only afford meat for the man of the house. The others had to make do with the gravy from the meat.

We had seven grocery shops, and everything was sold by weight and put into blue bags. Biscuits were loose and weighed into bags. If you were hard-up (and you usually were) you could ask for broken ones. Butter and lard were cut up and wrapped in greaseproof paper.

One of the butcher's wives made ice cream and it was lovely. She cycled around the village on a 3-wheeled bike selling it. Cornets were one penny or tuppence.

Once a week the 'Muffin Man' came off the train from Ely. He would walk around Manea with a tray of muffins on his head, ringing a bell. All the grocery shops employed someone to cycle around the village and to outlying farms to collect their grocery orders and then cycle around to deliver them.

We also had three Baker's shops, and the Coop came around with a van selling bread and cakes. There were two fish and chip shops, and there was a wallpaper and paint shop in School Lane, opposite the Village Hall.

(To be continued.....)

Ursula


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