The future looks bright for Dutton Park (with audio)
PUBLISHED: 11:10 05 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:49 20 February 2013
Dutton Park has been shaped by man for over 200 years but after some hard work from a herd of Longhorn cows, the future is looking more natural
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Conservation in action
Rivers like the Weaver are important wildlife corridors, however the wetlands and flood plains such as those at Dutton Park Farm have a part to play as well. Wet woodlands and reed beds provide places for otters to rest between feeding sessions on the river and quiet back waters and ditches allow water voles to thrive.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust is thinking big with rivers and our first Living Landscape project aims to make a real difference, through restoring, recreating and reconnecting a network of wetland habitats for wildlife to thrive and disperse. These same measures can also alleviate the effects of flooding.
Water voles are a cornerstone species for our Living Landscape work and by working with farmers and landowners throughout the course of the River Weaver and Gowy water voles are returning.
Working with landowners to influence the management of streams and ditches we have helped water voles spread out and two years on significant populations have been recorded in many of the tributaries of the river.
Dutton Park is best accessed along the River Weaver Navigation from Acton Bridge, north of Northwich on the A49 Warrington Road. Follow the river on the north side to Dutton Locks and beyond to the white footbridge. The reserve is on the northern side of the river in two segments either side of the Viaduct. Grid Ref: SJ583767.
A walk through Dutton Park is the perfect way to while away a late summer afternoon, as you meander alongside the Weaver Navigation through Dutton Locks and on to the reserve itself, to be greeted by swathes of wildflowers and shimmering ponds - all under the cool distant shadows of the 174-year-old Dutton Viaduct.
The ponds on the reserve are in fact the remnants of the original River Weaver course, re-routed for better navigation for salt transportation during the 18th century.
Owned by the Woodland Trust since 2006, management of 45 acres of the site was taken over by Cheshire Wildlife Trust just three years ago, and in that short time the site has been transformed, using the simplest and most traditional of methods - cattle grazing.
Approaching the reserve from Dutton Locks, the imposing 60ft arches of the Dutton Viaduct frame the view ahead, while the river continues its leisurely pace beside you with coots, moorhens and tufted ducks often in the wake of passing barges.
Scratchy and somewhat lacking in rhythm, the call of the sedge warbler blasts through the reeds and riverside vegetation and the careful observer may spot one of these summer migrants flitting among the stands of cow parsley. Another summer visitor, the whitethroat, can be rather more of a show-off, preferring a song-post high above the hawthorn bushes or brambles.
Butterflies are abundant among the long grasses and grazed meadows, with orange-tip butterflies particularly favouring the pink flowers of ladys smock in spring. Thick green spears of flag iris rise with their bursting yellow flowers from the waters edge, providing the perfect landing platform for dragonflies and damselflies in summer.
Wildlife large and small has benefited from the gentle control of the meadows provided by the Longhorn cattle used at the site, allowing a traditional mix of wildflowers and herbs to prevail - to the long term benefit of biodiversity.
Buzzards and kestrels patrol the skies above, picking out the slightest movement of a field vole or other prey, while the fastest of all hunters the peregrine falcon has also been known to visit the towering arches of the Dutton Viaduct to take advantage of the impressive 360 degree view of the countryside.
From the southern end of the footbridge beyond Dutton Locks, turn right at the Woodland Trust sign and take the footpath north with the grazing meadow to your left. Follow the track around, through gates where required, with the woodland belt to your right and the ponds to your left, eventually passing under the viaduct (please note the land and pond area immediately beneath the viaduct is not part of the nature reserve).
The route finally rejoins the main Weaver Navigation footpath after passing through the second grazing meadow, where you can walk north to the footbridge and Dutton Locks.
This walk is suitable for children although care must be taken around the open water. Please do not enter areas with grazing livestock.
As the nature reserve is relatively new, Cheshire Wildlife Trust would be keen to receive any reports or photographs of species seen at the reserve.