Tuesday, 28 March 2023

Mysterious Meres

Right in the centre of East Anglia, straddling the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, lie The Brecks or Breckland. It's an area with its own distinctive scenery which is the result of its unique geology.



It's very much a man-made landscape, but its more nature-rich areas are typified by wide swathes of short-cropped grass. There's nothing mysterious about that however - it's the rabbits! On the horizon there's often a row of twisted Scots Pine trees, these are called "deal rows" and were planted long ago in an attempt to prevent the sandy soils being blown away.



We're at East Wretham Heath, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's oldest nature reserve and a favourite haunt of Dr Sydney Long, the NWT's founder. There's a memorial stone beside the main trackway crossing the reserve.



But our title was "mysterious meres" so we'd better go and find them. There are several of these meres in Breckland, the most famous being Langmere, Ringmere and the Devil's Punchbowl. The first two of them are right here on East Wretham Heath. Or are they?



You see, these bodies of water come and go with mysterious irregularity; sometimes they are full and sometimes empty. Believe it or not, that's Langmere above, completely dried up apart from a small puddle, right in the centre of the picture. If you can see two tiny white dots beside the tiny pool, those are two Shelduck, presumably wondering where the water's all gone.



This wise old Rook may have seen it all before. The meres are known to geologists as "fluctuating meres". The hollows in which they sit (or don't sit) were formed when caverns, which formed in the chalk underlying the sandy soil, collapsed. Such meres have no streams running into or out of them, but are filled from below by the water held in the pores of the chalk. Their level rises and falls depending on the amount of water held in the chalk.



Just to add to their air of mystery, they are often empty after heavy rainfall, or full in times of drought. This is simply because the water moves very slowly through the chalk, causing a delay in their filling or emptying. That's cleared up that mystery then. Well, no, not entirely, as we shall soon see.



First we have to walk past the coniferous plantation at the edge of the reserve. A huge part of the Brecks was planted with these characterless blocks of trees after 1918, when Britain had found itself short of timber during the Great War. 



Then past some rather more unruly trees, reaching out towards the light. I suspect there was once a wood or plantation blocking the sunlight behind this row. And then we get to....



Mysteriously, Ringmere, another of these fluctuating meres, has plenty of water. And it's only a quarter of a mile (400 meters) from the dried-up Langmere! No wonder our early ancestors thought that the Devil must have a hand in all this.



And wildfowl just flock to these bodies of water. Even in this photo, taken straight into the sun, I can identify Shelduck, Mallard, Teal, Shoveler and two Egyptian Geese.



There surely can't be much in there for them to feed on. There are a few very specialised crustaceans who call this home, but they have to be able to survive when the water dries up. There are also some insects and some tiny plants which can tolerate these conditions and thrive in the absence of other competition. 



And a short distance away is Fenmere another very different body of water. There's a bird-watching hide on its banks....



Not perhaps the best concealment you'll ever find. Les, who has a quip for most occasions, thought it might have been built to allow for plenty of fresh air during the pandemic! 



Lead on, brother!


Take care.


24 comments:

  1. Well, I'd never heard of a mere. And come to find out, it's only an adjective in my dictionary, not a noun. So these are small places, merely. I would enjoy finding out whether water would be present or not. As do the ducks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Apparently it's a word used mainly in Britain, usually for a shallow body of water, though England's largest lake is also called Windermere.

      Delete
  2. Are you sure that rook isn't a crow?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that's certainly a rook. There's a large and very noisy rookery in the Scots Pines.

      Delete
  3. All that variety of waterfowl! I am just amazed. And I am so intrigued by these meres. Great post, John. You and Les do have some interesting adventures.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Interesting geology! I'm sure the ducks and other waterfowl are happy these ponds exist during dry times.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Although 'mere' was defined by your photos and text, I looked it up as not familiar with the word as you used it. Collins dictionary gives 'mere: English dialectic, archaic.' I doubt I'll have occasion to use the word in that sense, but such tidbits are intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The meres are fascinating. And such a perfect circle that one has formed.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This past October we visited Eagles Mere in Pennsylvania. We had to look up mere then and learned it was a lake or body of water. There was a beautiful one there and it showed no tendency of drying up like yours have done. Thanks for letting me tag along again. Always fun.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Me parece una buen intervenciĆ³n, para evitar daƱos mayores. Gracias a ello se conserva muy bien el terreno.
    Muy buenos los paisajes que has captado en tu reportaje,

    ReplyDelete
  9. Interesting history. Makes you wonder about the state and level of ground water

    ReplyDelete
  10. What a beautiful walk! The pond looks wonderful. The remark about the devil hand confused me. According to the beauty of the place, maybe your ancestors were talking about angel's work ? 

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another of these meres is called "The Devil's Punchbowl" because they couldn't understand how it suddenly filled or emptied, they thought the devil drank it overnight. I agree with you about the beauty of the place.

      Delete
  11. Gosh, you and your brother find the most interesting places to explore! I did not know what a mere was. It's interesting, John!

    ReplyDelete
  12. This looks like you had a peaceful day.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I long for spring here. Yours looks beautiful! Thanks for taking me along.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am very amused by Les's quip. I am also interested to learn that one of the meres is called Devil's Punchbowl. There is a Devil's Punchbowl here in Ontario, and I visited a similarly named area in Tasmania, so it begs the question, "Is this term applied to a specific landform?" I think you are just the man to do the detective work on this grave matter, John. I will look forward to your answer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OK, you've got me hooked! A quick search on the internet reveals that the Devil is inordinately fond of punch and has punchbowls in the following locations: besides the one in Norfolk there are others. in Surrey UK, Ontario and Manitoba in Canada, in the states of Oregon, Mississippi, Colorado, California and Wisconsin (USA), Arthur's Pass in New Zealand, and Killarney in Ireland. Some are formed by waterfalls, some by collapsed caves, but they are all more or less circular.

      Delete
    2. I am quite sure the ones I have seen are in a karst formation so the collapsed cave scenario makes perfect sense. Waterfalls would similarly erode the limestone (calcium carbonate) over time.

      Delete
  15. You have certainly taken some great scenic shots of this area John.
    Brother. You follow him anywhere if only out of curiosity.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ringmere looks so tranquil and quite magical in the landscape:)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Fascinating. I've never heard of this before. My husband and I just studied it. What an interesting post. I really learn an incredible amount from blog reading. Thanks, John!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi John - fascinating about the meres - and then the one full one ... and yes your brother - good for him ... virus all blown away. Cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).