Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Were you walking on the Edge last Sunday? Workday leader David explains the origin of the thick clouds of smoke at times obscuring the views on the ridge:

For the last workday before Christmas SSNTV was back at Kinver, which during these Covid-restricted times has become a very regular work place. We worked near the top of the Edge a few yards down from the toposcope on the site of the Iron Age hill fort. A new interpretation board has been placed near the main path, which explains to the public what is literally under their feet, in case they should miss it.  But to date the extensive gorse cover has prevented visitors from seeing across the fort site to the earthwork rampart at the far end. To enable visitors to see right across the site and to help their understanding, our task was to remove a section of gorse to open up a view. There would be plenty of gorse left to provide cover for wildlife and to add colour when in flower.

Although gorse thorns are very sharp our gauntlets made it possible to tackle this prickly beast. The cuttings were burned in the tumbril. But unfortunately gorse creates thick, noxious smoke which the breeze took towards the toposcope, meaning that the many visitors out walking and enjoying the views didn’t hang around for very long! Enough smoke too, for ranger Ewan to pre-warn Fire Control to avoid any unintended false alarms.

After much hard work, we were all pleased with the dramatic results of our efforts. This had the desired effect of making the far rampart much more prominent from the information board viewing point. Considering how much rain there has been recently, we were lucky that the weather was reasonably bright and warm, in the sun at least.

The views from this section of the Edge are extensive and are part of the appeal of this worksite – creating a feeling of space and big skies (also helping us to keep to necessary Covid requirements for space and the like). Although the Malverns weren’t very clear it was possible to distinguish the Clents, Bredon Hill and the distant Cotswolds towards the south-east, while to the west the Sedgley-Rowley ridge was prominent.

Head Ranger Ewan stayed with us to supervise and help with the work. It was incredible to find out that when conditions are favourable, such as at times of drought, the circular outline of some of the Iron Age dwellings can still be seen in the ground. There must be some interesting archaeology still to discover on that part of the Edge.

Ewan also explained that the longhorn cattle which now graze  around the site, have gone down to their home farm, on lower land for the winter. When they were introduced a couple years ago some visitors weren’t happy to see the cattle. But no doubt as a result of the positive efforts of the NT staff, people have been won over and now the animals are a popular attraction in their own right. Each year however a small portion of the herd are sold for their wonderful heather-reared meat. This provides a bonus for Ewan he explained, as some of that meat is going to be the centre piece of his Christmas Day dinner this year!

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Our own hedging supremo, Dave reports:…

Saturday was our second day of the season working on our new hedge at Attingham. The weather was kind and so was the hedge. We seem to be getting used to the socially distanced way of working and everyone just settled in straight away with the work.

With a fire to keep us happy and sunshine eventually, we worked our way along the hedge. This is a new one planted with mixed species: mainly hawthorn with hazel, field maple, ash, dogwood and possibly wild pear.

We have tried to leave a few standards, that is trees to grow beyond the top of the laid hedge. This will provide additional habitat together with the hedge allowing tree dwelling birds to also find homes.

By the end of the day a full 50 metres had been completed including the binding, or heathering. Well done all including our two new hedgers Sharon and Paul.

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Dudmaston Revisited – Covid Christmas Comes Early….

It was perhaps with a little trepidation that the Group returned to another of its normally familiar locations at Dudmaston Hall with the ranger team over THREE consecutive days this last weekend. Covid regulations cut short elements of what would otherwise be the Group’s Christmas weekend, normally comprising festive eating and drinking, along with some cut and burn.

Would enough members turn out with Covid restrictions? would it still be festive?? would we find something interesting to do???

With Chairman Chris leading one workday; ticking off the Covid boxes with Ranger Mike; and doing a passing impression of Santa with his colourful hat, handing out at least some Christmas cards and good cheer, along with Christine and Harvey on Sunday – we shouldn’t have worried….. 

Work parties were oversubscribed on two of the three days as the volunteers headed to a tucked away part of the estate, as Saturday leader Matthew recounts:

It was great to return to Dudmaston after a break of many months, as we drove in convoy to the worksite at ‘Dudmaston Bank’, or was it area 23, at least at the start, a dark and tucked away site beside the A-road near Comer Woods, somewhere only one or two of the group had worked before. (Ed’s note: in a quieter moment Mike admitted he may have planted some of the conifers within the plantation in his early days on the Estate, some twenty plus years ago!)  

In Covid style, we all spread out – apart from the two couples present! – and got to work rejuvenating the woodland.  Find a good tree specimen was the instruction: creating space and light around the decent trees, thinning and taking out weak and damaged ones. Some were “squirrelled” at a common height – the animals destroying the leaders; others were still strangely bent over by weight of snow, damage caused three winters ago. These were dispatched to the two enormous fires – warming and encouraging all those present, working under mostly heavy skies, low-hanging mist and with temperatures staying close to zero in the shade.

We welcomed visitors Paul and Sharon who quickly rolled up their sleeves (metaphorically at least) with Paul returning for a second day….. (Seems Matthew also took a fancy to Paul’s smart electric Nissan)

By Day Three nearly all currently active Group members had made it out to work and wish others an early Merry Christmas.  The sought after light was also reaching the understorey.  With Rangers Mike and Helen whizzing round clearing stumps with their chainsaws, all could see the rewards for their efforts.

Heavy rains held off; no one got stuck in the mud with their cars; and in Matthew’s words …it was (almost) just like the old days…..!

There’s now a provisional programme of regular weekend workdays across a mix of sites right through until the Spring, so hopefully all that pent up festive enthusiasm will linger well into 2021!

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Not all of our regular workday sites are ready to welcome groups of volunteers back yet. But that meant with more than enough to do there, Sunday saw a return to the Edge to carry on clearance as part of encouraging the adder population and keeping the scrub under control. 

With furlough and maternity it was also a chance to say hello again and probably a good luck and goodbye to assistant ranger Kyra, as others enjoyed a welcome Sunday off. 

Honarary member for the day was also a toddling Rufus in his spacesuit – just bigger than the heather clumps – did that twig make it back to the fire on the tumbril, I never saw?

The weather played it’s part too as a socially-distanced group practiced being the adders at lunchtime, spaced out enjoying the suns rays amongst the thinning clumps. 

Dudmaston Estate next…fingers crossed!!  Look out too for the “emerging” SSNTV programme for the next few months…emailed to members and with details on the Events page of ssntv.co.uk

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The Group’s expert with a billhook reports from regional HQ’s estate:

The weather forecast was grim, but still eleven people signed up for the first hedgelaying of the season. In line with current guidelines the day started with a Covid safety briefing. Before we could start on the hedge, a little coppicing was called for, to provide us with the stakes and heatherings (bindings) we needed for finishing the hedge. Hazel is the best for these as it naturally grows straight and there is nothing worse than a bendy stake!

Onto the hedgelaying: this was our first socially distanced hedgelaying task. Fortunately we have around 250m of hedge to work on, so that was not a problem. This year’s hedge is a maiden one, having never been laid before – so a good one to start on. With 11 of us beavering away much chopping was done. That said the actual length of hedge actually laid was only about 20m, but another 50m has been pre-chopped and will lay no doubt in no time when we return next in December. Can we finish the full 250m this season???

Despite the forecast, the weather gods were kind to us almost until the end, with the heavy rain not arriving until just as we were finishing. It was as they say, a good day had by all.

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HEADLINE: SSNTV fights Corona virus – far from the madding crowd in deepest Shropshire – with plenty of fresh air, exercise and social distancing

This Spring the weather didn’t prevent the Group from reaching the ancient oaks in the woodland between Craven Arms and Bishops Castle – unlike the recent snow and high winds, nor did the dreaded lurgy.

Area Countryside Manager Pete C also ventured out to thank all those attending for their efforts…and I think overall, he was very impressed with what we achieved over two days – almost as much as the praise he lavished on Leela’s victoria sponge treat at cake o’clock!

Spring’s mild temperatures this year meant that already between the bracken and brambles we spotted green shoots and early bluebells – testament to the cumulative efforts to restore the woodland pasture over a number of repeat visits and increase the light to the ground storey.

Coppicing was in full swing, clearing dead and damaged trees, slashing brambles…there was plenty to keep everyone busy across two full days – even Ian; and enough boughs too for John to saw! The forecast rain came overnight – which didn’t hinder even those who made it to the local hostellery in Clun.  The pheasants were out; so too the beef herd – who definitely have a penchant for silver-coloured cars and their polish; and it was the usual challenge to navigate the monstrous potholes to make it up to the farm; oh yes, and no one got stuck in the muddy ground.

For those who lingered on Sunday, Day Two ended with shafts of sunlight shining through the newly created gaps between the trees.  A reminder of why we all sit in our cars for ages to find these secluded spots and see the fruits our labours…..

…..and then there is that cake!

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Two weekends of cancellations on account of bad weather were probably the reason why so many made it out this weekend to our double-workday on the Edge, as Nigel reports:

Our two day task turned out to be removing gorse scrub from the ancient hillfort at one end of the sandstone ridge. 

A large area in the centre was cleared of gorse above waist height, debris raked off, and burned in situ in the moveable tumbril. The large gorse bushes are deeply rooted and damaging the remains of the ancient monument. The debris also increases the natural acidity of the soil. Hence opening up the site will benefit the heathland ecosystem and the small mammals and invertebrates for which the area is an important habitat.

Tom was our ranger for the task, deputising capably for Ewan; advising, chain-sawing, boiling up water for tea and coffee and joining in everything else.

The weather proved good, better than forecast – apart from some gusty winds which, as they fanned the flames and smoke in all directions temporarily halted the burning on safety grounds. We doubtless caught the eye, if not also the noses and much else of the day visitors to the site, as at times the moisture-rich greenery generated clouds of thick smoke across the hill.

By Saturday evening Ranger Ewan had broken off his holiday, as we enjoyed a superb BBQ under the sandstone cliff of the Rock Houses, comprising the famed longhorn beef burgers and delicious chilli, rice and salad, all cooked and served up by the ranger team.

As part of the special weekend, six of us took up the offer of an overnight in one of the Rock House dwellings sleeping between the period furniture – a real privilege and unique experience, if just a little chilly when the wood-burning stoves gave out!  This was followed by an excellent breakfast provided by NT in the tea room, which set us up for day two of the gorse bash. … That along with copious amounts of cake at elevenses, supplied by the Group’s expert bakers – thanks to all for that!  

Looks like this may well set a new tradition – given how successful the weekend was!

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Workday leader Matthew tells the tale of a day spent largely in the orchard….

A good turn-out of 14 headed to Morville Hall for pruning the apple trees and hedgelaying around the perimeter of the orchard.

We were fortunate with the continuing mild weather.  The gardens were looking well-tended too, as we made our way to the orchard, noticing some very diligent gardening around the sunken pool.

The group split into three groups, with Dave leading the specialist hedgelayers. The idea was to bring some order to a stretch of hedge which was getting near overhead lines. We don’t want any uncontrolled chainsawing by the power company! Dave was pleased with progress and will return with some volunteers to carry on the task on an extra workday (…now planned for the 11th).

A second team helped Melanie by starting to prune some of the apple trees just off the long walk. There are some very attractive tree specimens here, full of history no doubt.

The rest of the volunteers concentrated on the trees in the orchard. Some wandering sheep had got in and caused damage, so more new trees will have to be planted to supplement those already added to the orchard to replace those lost to old age. We made reasonable progress in true SSNTV-style.

Thanks to Melanie for a warm welcome and the great cakes…. And thanks to all who wished me ‘Happy Birthday’ with a fine rendition of the well-known tune!

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Our billhook aficionado, Dave reports (very promptly) from a sunny Saturday on the Attingham estate….

As promised the Head Ranger provided us with a new, never before laid hedge. What an absolute joy!….Of course the sunny weather also helped.  

We managed to lay 20 metres of mixed hawthorn, hazel and field maple. For a first day, that is good for us. ….So I’m already looking forward to next winter, when we can really get our teeth into the remaining 170 metres.

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Workday leader Mags recounts the tale of last Sunday:….

The weather wasn’t kind, but the volunteers were out in force. Ten turned out on a rainy day, and achieved lots! We were again working over the Chinese bridge by the tennis courts. Remember the huge amount of brash that ‘we’ dragged and burned last time … This time it was digging over the border upon which the brash had been piled.

First, there were logs of all shapes and sizes. The rangers too were still in action creating more from felled trees.

Smaller logs made it over the bridge. Larger sections were rolled a short distance to where they later became seats and tables for alfresco lunch.

Other SSNTV’ers started on the day’s other main task – preparing beds ready for planting. Being careful of course to leave the emerging snowdrops!

The third task was to cut down the bamboo at the edge of the ornamental canal, opposite the Chinese House. Bags and bags were dragged to the next fire site for other volunteers to enjoy a huge bonfire. Chairman Chris decided I was hefty enough to climb into the bags to do the compressing – thanks for that!

Perhaps not a workday to “write home about” but despite the weather, we made a big difference. I’ll be back later in the year to see what has been “painted” on these blank canvasses!

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