10 August 2019
After a night of alarmingly high winds, Southampton Common looked a little the worse for wear when we arrived this morning. There were leaves, twigs and even small branches littering the path as we headed towards the start area. As this path is also part of the course, it was a bit of a worry but we knew ED Rob, RD Kate and park ranger Ian would have walked or cycled round the course to do a risk assessment.
As it happened, although the majority of the course was fine once a few obstacles had been moved off the paths, there was one rather major issue. Behind the play area a large part of a tree had come crashing down and was blocking the path. As this path is also part of the normal course a quick decision was made to change to the reserve course which doesn’t include this path.
For us this meant a slightly longer walk that usual to get across the Common to the reserve start line near the Cowherds Pub. This did at least give me a few extra steps for the Million Steps Challenge. On the way I glanced over towards the boating lake and was pleased to see the barriers up to stop dogs and people getting near the blue green algae infested water.
Fortunately we also scooped up a parkrun tourist along the way and showed her where the reserve start was. The set up team were already in action getting the finish funnel ready when we arrived so a small team of us went to inspect the damage. What we found was two tree sized branches laying right across the path and a rather badly smashed metal fence. The main body of the tree was still standing but it had been split almost in two.
Luckily, by the time it was time for everyone to start running the wind had dropped a little. As the hoards of runners set off I followed behind at a slightly more sedate pace, looking slightly suspiciously at all the trees I passed along the way. A huge branch on the head might not have been the best start to my weekend after all.
Apart from not getting squashed by falling branches or blown away by the still fairly strong wind, I didn’t have much of a plan. The Old Cemetery was a bit too far to walk in the time allotted, at least if I wanted to actually walk around in it. Besides, I didn’t really want to spend too much time under any trees, although it’s difficult not to on the Common.
In the end I found myself wandering rather aimlessly in the general direction of the Beyond Graffiti Tunnel. The trees along the trail were making far too many creaking noises for my liking so I scurried along at top speed. It was a relief to get to the newly repaired bridge in one piece and then back out onto the open grass.
Then I dithered a bit. There was a very cursory look at the artesian well, mostly because the tree next to it looked dead and was therefore a possible faller, at least in my eyes.
Then I remembered the boating lake. If I was quick and got there before the parkruners came back, I could have a look to see what was happening with the algae. Ian had, I knew, managed to capture the second cygnet and both had been taken away by the RSPCA. Sadly one cygnet had subsequently died. Unfortunately, they hadn’t managed to capture the adult swans and, as far as I knew, they were still on the lake. The council had been spraying the water to try to disrupt the algae and get some oxygen back into it but, apart from putting up signs and barriers, there was little else they could do.
When I reached the lake the water was being churned up by the wind and, at first glance, looked quite clean. It certainly didn’t smell as bad as it had last week or have the strange green hue to it. The high wire fence made it difficult to see clearly but, by crouching down and putting my phone up against the fence I managed to take a picture. It was fairly clear at this point that there was still algae in the water. Patches of it were still green and scummy looking with what looked like chunks of stuff floating about. Whether the wind would help disrupt things I couldn’t tell but I hoped so.
The adult swans and several ducks were still on the lake. They seemed fairly healthy but it was hard to see clearly. What they made of the fence was anyone’s guess but I was sure the swans must be missing their cygnets terribly and wondering why the humans had stolen them. The bars of the fence looked very prison like to me too and it seemed they were keeping the birds inside, which was surely not ideal. Then again, all the birds can fly and, I had the feeling that, even if they’d been taken out of the water, they’d have just gone right back again.
So I walked slowly back to the finish funnel, trying to avoid getting in the way of the runners streaming towards it. As I walked I couldn’t help thinking about the lost cygnet. It was so sad to think of such a beautiful bird dying so young. Such a short time ago I’d been delighted to see the fluffy little cygnets riding around on their mother’s back. Whether this would be the last death remained to be seen but at least everyone seemed to be doing everything they could.