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Foot and Mouth

Friday, 2nd March 2001, West Yorkshire

AN AFTERNOON snow shower moves away to the south west, while the next one builds up to the north over Leeds. It starts in the shape of a sphinx and grows into a camel with a spiky topknot as it approaches, looming like a mountain over Dewsbury.

I'm glad to take advantage of the clear blue interval between these towering shower systems and, keen to see even a small patch of countryside again, I decide to take a walk around the railway marshalling yards. I've chosen this route because, with the present foot and mouth epidemic in mind, I want to avoid any farms where sheep, pigs and cattle kept.

Thin Blue Line

But when I get to the footbridge over the river I come to a police scene-of-the-crime tape. It has been stretched across the path but has since been cut. Perhaps there has been some incident, but there's no sign to explain what might have happened here. A family is walking back from the other side, so I continue.

As I cross the bridge a Kingfisher flies beneath me and heads low over the rapids and under the railway bridge a little further downstream.

It's good to see the river again and to hear the sound of running water. I'm looking forward to the stroll back alongside the canal when I come across a notice posted by British Waterways. The towpath is closed until further notice because of the epidemic. As far as I know, at this time of year this particular stretch doesn't pass within half a mile of a field containing livestock (other than horses, which aren't affected), but the situation is so serious we've all got to keep to the guidelines, however draconian, in the hope that they'll be of some use in containing the disease.

The local branch of the Ramblers Association and the Women's Walking Network have cancelled their spring programme of walks. All local country parks and nature reserves have been closed.

As always at this time of day, parties of Black-headed Gulls are lazily making their way down the valley, returning to their roost on Pugneys Lake.

A Spot of Yellow

People have tipped rubbish on the riverbank by the footbridge, amongst it garden rubbish. A small clump of pale mauve Crocuses adds a touch of botanical elegance to the accumulated debris.

By the marshalling yards, a pair of Yellowhammers add a spot of colour to the trackside bushes. There's a spot of yellow too in the small flowers on a single specimen of Sticky Groundsel, which, even at this time of year, has a number of white fluffy seedheads. It grows on disturbed ground by the footpath. It's a species that wasn't recorded in the area until the 1970s. Although it may be a native of Britain it has spread in a similar manner to the introduced Oxford Ragwort, a related plant that spread, initially, via the railway network. next page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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