Friends of Markeaton Brook

Markeaton Brook. Its Natural History

The Brook's total length is slightly less than 9 miles, flowing through pleasant countryside of a largely agricultural nature. The source rises near to Hulland Ward, near Scout Lane (SK257453) flowing into Mercaston Green where it becomes Mercaston Brook. The brook is divided into three named sections of Mercaston, Cutler and Markeaton Brooks, the latter occupying rather more than a third of the total length. In the Kedleston Hall Estate it is Cutler Brook and joined by 5 other tributaries including Black Brook, Hungerhill Brook, Greenlane Brook, Waterlagg Brook. Below Kedleston, Markeaton Brook begins, forming the City boundary, before it enters the urban realm beyond Markeaton Park. Beyond here long sections are culverted. The Mackworth Brook provides an important tributary meeting on the City boundary close to Markeaton Village. Another tributary of the brook is Bramble Brook, much of its length under culverts in the City but where it appears forms very important pools of natural history. The Brook reaches the Derwent at two points, in Darley Park and at Basses Recreation Ground to become part of the Trent catchment.

The English Nature Natural Area is Needwood and South Derbyshire Claylands. Described as part of the landscape Character Assessment for Derbyshire as having a geology of Permo-triassic mudstone, siltstone and sandstone and occasional carboniferous sandstone creating a broadly undulating and gently rolling lowland landscape. The Brook flows through narrow flat floodplains of alluvial muds over gravels. Much of the landscape is intensively farmed either as improved pasture or arable cropping.

White-clawed crayfish have been found for centuries .  Our recent survey found them throughout the Markeaton Brook stream system from Kedleston Park where there are large numbers. Although they are now protected by law and under threat from their American cousin in Britain, in our Brook the difficulties arise from too much silt and not enough gravel bottom. Here many now hide in tree roots lining the banks of the streams and lakes, Wiers are useful places to find them, hiding amongst the stones during the day only to come out at night. It is fascinating to consider what effect Victorian sewage may have had on wildlife value but talking to the local fishing groups tells us more about where white-clawed crayfish are, they are here because of our clean water.

Otter have been seen in recent years and their signs spotted along the banks. The white-clawed crayfish may-be their prey we suspect, and are yet another indicator of our clean-water system. Not to be confused with mink, which are darker in colour and smaller animals, there are mink throughout the system, providing a ready supply for occasional organised mink hunts. The movement of otter onto the streams from the ever cleaner Derwent is to be encouraged.

Water vole were present in 2003 and not in 2004.  After a local request and much support one of the aims of the Friends of Markeaton Brook is the establishment of the water vole somewhere in the system. The problem is likely to be mink but we need to something to help ratty in this story?

Brook lamprey is a fish, small brown, eel-like and in our Brook very numerous. Peculiar to the Midlands we are fortunate to have them in our system. 

Kingfisher have increased in numbers in more recent years, according to national reports. On Markeaton Brook they have been here for a long time. The bright blue flashes a trademark for their presence and what allows anyone in the City to feel they are momentarily in the countryside.

At Mercaston Marsh and Mugginton Bottom we find the best example of lowland mire and wetland meadow in Derbyshire. The original lakes now providing habitat for a mixture of orchids and bog mosses. The statuesque examples of greater tussock sedge provide features of artwork. The sheet of shiny rounded pennywort leaves is dissected by clumps of spiky marsh thistle and ragged robin. The richness is astounding although it is difficult to appreciate the reason for its SSI status which is in its invertebrate assemblage. We appreciate instead the wintering snipe, the very boggy footpath and the diversity.

At Mugginton, away from the wetland areas, but worth mentioning is the wild daffodil field. Originally encouraged as the source for sale in Derby a spring visit, just to have a look at their nodding heads, is worthwhile. Lets hope they are nodding in agreement.

At Kedleston one of the artificial lakes and an area of ancient parkland trees has SSSI status. 

Markeaton Stones remains one of the most valuable stretches of the system with water levels at their highest and existing as the last stretch in the countryside. In private ownership and respectfully protected from our gaze. 

In the City the brook is a Wildlife Site. Here the flow is reduced by half as the result of a culvert system that takes water to Darley Park, a Victorian solution to protect the City Centre from flooding. The culverts remain roosting areas for Daubenton bats described recently as "hanging like grapes".

In recent years the ecological value of the Brook, in its catchment, has come to the attention of local landowners. The effects of pollution in the form of silt and agricultural run-off, lack of management that seeks to maintain a high biological quality and the problems associated with flooding, particularly in Derby, have raised the stakes on finding reasonable solutions. Current populations of white-clawed crayfish, otter, brook lamprey and bullhead in association with water crowfoot and numbers of banded demoiselle are important . Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail also occur, whilst there are mink and watervole have been absent from 2004 . What will it look like in 10 or 50 years time? What do we want to see?

Bullhead fish
Bullheads are small fish that have a wide flat head and a large mouth. This fish spends the day hidden away under stones; it only comes out when the sun is going down. It is quite rare in Britain. Some live in Mackworth Brook and some in Markeaton Brook. These strange looking fish use their large front fins to keep them steady when they are in fast flowing water. When the female bullhead lays her eggs underneath a stone, the male looks after them. He will fan them with his fins to make sure they have enough oxygen to breathe.
Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Native daffodils are only 20 to 30 cm tall. The first travel writers who rode round on horseback in the 1550s wrote that they could be found everywhere in England. Elderly people living in Hulland Ward and Weston Underwood remember paying to enter the fields and then being allowed to pick as many as they could. Now they are in the red data book as endangered in Derbyshire and most of the UK. They are in danger perhaps from climate change and certainly from hybridising with cultivated daffodils bred for size and colour for our gardens. Some survive in the catchment of Markeaton Brook. Members of Friends of Markeaton Brook hope our children can enjoy seeing these lovely flowers.

Petty whin
Petty Whin, a red data plant Genista anglica. Whin is old English name for Gorse. The grey triangle in the top corner of this photo is a man’s Wellington boot. That and the comparison with the grass show that the flowers are only 8mm long. The stems become woody and they have spines longer than the flowers and leaves, the plant is also called Needle Whin. It has oval pointed hairless waxy green leaves 2-8mm long. From May to June it has yellow flowers typical of the pea family with a standard, keel and side petals. It is a legume that sets seeds in pods. The plant is so rare that in 1996 it was put in the county red data book ‘Endangered Wildlife in Derbyshire’. It grows within the 54 square kilometre catchment area for Markeaton Brook.

The Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
The Banded Demoiselle is a beautiful Damselfly, the male has dark bands on his wings with a blue body, the female has a green body. He sets up a territory and flutters around it so the females can see him. The adults only live a few weeks during the summer, catching insects. This Damselfly prefers clean streams; it lives in Markeaton Brook. The female dives into water to lay eggs on plants stalks, her wings trap a bubble of air so she can breathe underwater while she does that. The eggs hatch in a fortnight. The nymph lives partly buried in muddy sediment for 2/3 years, breathing through thin gills at the end of its body that can absorb oxygen from water, and eating what it can catch such as mosquito larvae or bloodworms.