Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Chairman Chris, one of our two workday leaders tells the tale of a two – or for some, three-day weekend – continuing the work started on our Kinver visit of 5th September …..

The Rock House at Vale’s Rock and Beyond ……..

Having never visited the rock houses at Kinver this was a chance to not only undertake some physical activity but also to enjoy an overnight stay.

The Trust are starting an archaeological survey of the tremendously overgrown site of some as yet unrestored rock houses at Vales Rock. These currently only attract people in search of a quiet, unobserved hidey-hole!  

In preparation for the archaeologists’ visit, 11 members turned up on a bright and warm Saturday morning to undertake the task of clearing and burning any material unlikely to have been part of life in the Rock Houses and surrounding gardens/allotment/orchard up until the middle part of the last century. This inevitably meant gathering up litter and, as this wag suggested, checking every discarded beer can for its sell-by date!

Including the debris from the previous workday, there was a huge amount to burn and the fire, held in a metal tumbril, almost kept pace but just kept getting hotter.  Come the end of the first afternoon, few things seemed nicer than the prospect of a hot shower, but for those staying, unsurprisingly, the Rock Houses had none! 

Ever resourceful, Ewan had arranged showers with a local farmer and after a short drive through a herd of docile cattle we found ourselves in the middle of a field with a portable shower unit and several sheep. Having switched on the shower, the farmer advised us to leave it running to avoid malfunction.  Three people managed to get through the process (ladies first, well 1st and 3rd, as I stopped the gap in the middle) before the malfunction turned up anyway; proved immutable to all efforts to repair it; and Neil ended his shower with cold water.  Our Vice-chair braved his, but the rest of the group baulked.  

The changing fortunes of the shower did, however, allow a discussion regarding the field itself, its numerous small brick structures (valves as it turned out) and nettles.  The farmer explained that the plot was used to dispose of sewerage for almost 200 years, initially from Stourbridge and then from Dudley as well.  The consequent heavy metal contamination means the field can only be grazed – not even pigs are allowed to root around.  Amazing what you can learn whilst trying to get clean!

Then it was back to base, to set up camp for the night in two of the public accessible rock houses at Holy Austin – the resident bats needing a whole house to themselves – a special treat for us for all our hard work to be allowed to stay! Spurning the idea of hanging from the ceiling, we elected for airbeds and camp beds; only one collapse. An extremely welcome supper was provided by Ewan with some fabulous local bangers and burgers all masterfully cooked over the BBQ, on the rock house café terrace. With a clear, mild and windless evening, we were able to enjoy the views and seclusion until bed called around midnight.

The next morning only the early risers had another cold shower – heavy rain this time! – as they made their way to the facilities. But on the upside, we were treated to more good food (bacon sandwiches, toast with jam) with lashings of delicious tea and coffee from the café, where we very nearly gained a new SSNTV recruit, as the weather brightened. 

Back to the worksite for Day Two – 14 volunteers this time – we were joined by NT archaeologist Viviana – the firepit taking only minutes to revive despite its overnight dowsing.  Getting the aching limbs going was helped by the thought of cakes – in plentiful supply unlike the previous day and the rewarding ability to increasingly see the site as gaps appeared between the shrubs and trees and sunlight streamed in.  

Lunch came and went with yet more cake (a home-made, marrow-based concoction) and then it was a matter of containing the fire ready for departure.

The weekend was a great success and thoroughly enjoyed by all – there is already talk of a repeat! As ever, many thanks to Ewan for organising, cooking & for cake (thanks too Mr Chair): to the catering ladies (and potential new recruit) in the café: and SSNTV Treasurer for co-ordinating it all.

Note: Some volunteers returned on Monday to help continue the burn. It’s been confirmed that all the cut brash has now been consumed by fire; and that seven bags of rubbish were taken off site; …and that all those above-mentioned sell-by dates had indeed expired!

All that remains now is to await the report of the external archaeologists to see what they find.  We’ll let you know….

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As a change from the Sundays of hard graft some of the Group made it a day out in the summer sunshine last weekend with South Shropshire Countryside Manager Pete Carty touring some of the latest project sites and potential new worksites around Carding Mill Valley and Hopesay Hill on the far west of our patch.

The day started in leisurely fashion with coffee and cake on the roof terrace of the tea room at CMV as a thank you from Peter for the recent weekends’ efforts.

Then it was travel around the hill as we visited some of the more secluded patches to see recent efforts underway at hay meadow restoration and the promotion of wild flowers in conjunction with local farmers and land-owning groups.

This is all comes under the umbrella of the Steeping Stones project connecting parcels of land in the area, so offering greater benefits to nature it was explained.

Habitat promotion at some of the pools up on the top of the Long Mynd still need some man-made interventions to keep them in great nick we were told.

…..Meadows being specifically curated on the lower slopes of the valley side.

At Hopesay we could see the results of our previous efforts planting new trees at the end of 2016 – on land adjoining that owned by the Trust. As Pete explained, next task is to plant some more (up to another 5,000 saplings). Seems that the positive results from our previous attempt mean that we may have another try!

Whilst some just enjoyed making the most of the day’s sunshine!

Thanks to Peter for his time spent explaining to us where all the hard work and effort goes…..

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Chairman Chris was this weekend’s workday leader too:….

Well the good news was that we had seventeen on the workday; the bad news was that the house had been subject to a further internal waterworks flood and so we were not the only visitors on Sunday morning, as a series of surveyors and workmen appeared…..

Our jobs were in the garden. There was weeding at the front of the house in both the beds and the path (…don’t tell anyone but the aubrietia went too); with some people even diving into bushes to pin roses to the wall.

There was weeding down the centre path of the garden and of course the parterre needed weeding and trimming; even the balls at the end of the parterre had a tidy up. There was weeding, soil moving and cutting back at the side of the parterre and up the adjacent short flight of steps. Finally, the mammoth weeding award goes to those tackling the mares tail and other weeds, in the four flower beds where the vines used to be.

In addition there was a select party cutting back the lime avenue at the address, as well as well as those throwing balls for the dog to fetch. ….So keen were some, that extended workday hours were required in order to achieve those personal targets and to enjoy the late arrival of the sunshine.     

Melanie was an excellent hostess, especially considering recent events in the house and looked after us very well, with four cakes including those made by one, her neighbour and two, her mother (fruit, lemon, chocolate and date (- not all in one!) and tea as well as a tablecloth (unheard of);  our own team of Jane and Mags brought tasty chocolate brownies and shortbread. 

Thanks to others for bringing and taking away the tools and ladders, as well as providing the photographs.

Let’s hope the sunshine continues and we can get eighteen out next weekend at Benthall Hall.  Sadly Morville is open under the National Garden Scheme on the same Sunday. For those that cannot make Benthall, the Morville gardens (you get to see four of five)  are open from 2.00pm to 5.00 pm. There may even still be some cake to be had – Covid regulations permitting! 

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Workday leader Peter reports from a day in the sun:

With summer finally here, the bottles of sun cream were noticeable by their appearance in the car park on Sunday as eleven members were meet by Lizzie, apprentice gardener who has almost completed her two year programme at Shugborough .

With the HS2 rail route apparently planning to run close to the Chinese House on an elevated viaduct behind it, the Trust want to be able to enhance the views around this folly and make it visible from the Mansion. Hence our task was to cut down to waist or knee height the shrubs on the junction of the two paths leading to the feature in the ornamental garden. Shugborough property volunteers were already busy at work cutting down shrubs by one side of the bridge across the canal, along with gardener Derek as we surveyed the day’s task.

Having lost three SSNTV group members en route, who were tasked with starting a bonfire and awaiting the forthcoming deliveries of brash cuttings in a designated spot, the rest of us got to work. Soon the cut pile was greater than the plants left remaining!

It was now eleven o’clock and the workday leader called the first of the two main events of the day. With the Trust guidance changing, “Cake O’Clock” was reinstated for the first time since March 2020. Unfortunately this reporter / workday leader failed to record the momentous occasion, being too preoccupied with eating.

By lunchtime the cutting team had run out of work, despite the scorching sun, as visitors squeezed between the cut piles on all sides of the paths determined to check out the views and visit the tennis court area across the bridge.

Next task: more cake was consumed.

Then it was down to weeding the borders around the Shepherds Monument – but with this workday leader unsure of the difference between a dandelion and a daffodil, this work would be challenging to manage. Keeping the task simple by just instructing the removal of nettles and cleavers (“sticky weed / goosegrass”)  this I could manage.  We paused regularly to load the trailer with the waste from the morning’s work, as it regularly traversed the park all day dodging between the visitors – even Derek felt the need to keep his foot hard down on the pedal – so much was there to move!

By the end of the afternoon both he and Lizzie expressed themselves pleased with the outcome – if not with the size of the brash pile still to collect up, transport and burn!  But I am sure Head Gardener Caroline will be happy when she next walks around the garden – no doubt, as she has already requested extra bank holiday weekend visits! 

Thanks to all for their efforts, especially the cake bakers.

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How many SSNTV Anniversary sweatshirts can you count? Workday leader Matthew describes a day spent at least in part “in the green”…..

Our task was moving snowdrops from the woods by the right of the main entrance to a spot beside an old chestnut tree at Visitor Reception. However, this task was not as easy as it seemed. First of all, we had to actually find the snowdrops which were apparently growing in abundance….. 

Word had obviously gone out that SSNTV were coming and a large quantity of elder had shot up to cover a great deal of the snowdrop bulblets. ….Isn’t it a little late in the year to be lifting snowdrops ‘in the green’… I hear you say. But since we’ve had the coldest April on record and are probably heading for the coldest May too, we just about got away with it. (I saw some daffodils in full bloom on Saturday, 22nd!). The pesky elders were soon dispatched and the snowdrops lifted in ever increasing numbers.

A system of bucket to wheel-barrow; wheel-barrow to strong seed trays; and trays to trailer saw the first of three large batches ready for transportation up to visitor reception. Some volunteers had ‘enjoyed’ an F1-style trip down to the woods earlier in one of the vehicular ‘mules’ courtesy of gardener Duncan, whilst others had a much smoother journey down thanks to Danni. As Danni returned to gardening tasks, Duncan’s boneshaker would have to serve as the vehicle to take us and the precious snowdrops back up the main drive ready for planting for the rest of the day.

The replanting of the snowdrops caused much excitement amongst passing Attingham visitors, with of course, children leading the way with a variety of questions. …One had been lifting bulbs at school recently – ah ha.., a volunteer of the future spotted!!

Thanks to all at Attingham for an enjoyable day. Big thanks came from Duncan too, for a job well done.  Let’s hope that there is a wonderful display under the old chestnut in January 2022!

Oh, yes…and the other question I hear you asking….how many did you move? Answer: thousands – too many to count!

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A full programme of workdays through until September is now published on the Events page of the SSNTV website.

Existing group members will know what to do.

Intrigued by what you read here / on the website? Been sitting indoors too much during lockdown ?

Why not try one of our workdays, there’s something for everyone! No obligation, no cost – just bring yourself ! Details of how to get in touch are on the website / via this link. There might well even be cake 🎂 !!

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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

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