Archive for the ‘National Trust Volunteering’ Category

It was back to the Edge at Kinver on Sunday as the group turned out to say hello and welcome to new Assistant Ranger Alex.  Then it was back up to the Hill Fort to continue the battle to reduce the impact of the spiky gorse on the archaeological site (yes, I can hear you asking – we’ve been there before) but there are still areas to cut back.

Forewarned, most came padded with thick clothing and even thicker gloves – except that was for Gordon and Lisa, who were clearly practising their New Year’s resolutions and cycled to and from the site in winter lycra!  The gorse fights a good battle even as it’s dying off dropping the sharp, long brown spines down your neck or inside your gloves. But Ron was soon alerting the visiting public that work was underway, as smoke billowed from the growing flames in the metalled tumbril (which serves to keep the flames off the heathland)

NT’s Alex – an active supervisor – was kept busy all day dragging the chopped stems to the fire as the group felled the shrubby gorse bushes, chatted and caught up after Christmas, as the sun tried to shine to keep us warm.

The cutting and burning was interspersed with cake o’clock where – if I do say so myself – there was high praise for Russell’s homemade mince pies (much to Gordon’s astonishment).

We were doubtless very popular all day (not!), as smoke from the flames drifted towards the main track and the Edge viewpoint.  A few site visitors came to ask what was happening, but so far few offered to lend a hand.  Where there was no gorse, bracken had made a very successful attempt to get re-established. So all-in-all it was a prickly, scratchy day!

So much so that we left some greenery for Head Ranger Ewan’s weekday volunteers to have another go at from Monday!  Nevertheless, Alex seemed confident that we’d made an impression on the site – can you tell from the pic’s, after all it’s all a shrubby green. 

Thanks to all for their efforts! Next stop on the SSNTV timeline – Wenlock Edge – likely trees, not gorse this time!

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No sooner had Christmas passed, than New Year saw the Group quickly off the mark with a very satisfying workday at Wightwick Manor on Sunday, as workday leader Helen reports:

10 SSNTV’ers had sufficiently gobbled down all their mince pies and turkey to make short work of our first task of the year – a interestingly different one, but something which recurs every few years – to trim back hard parts of the yew hedges in the Rose Garden near the Wolverhampton Manor house.

This involves what looks like a very radical pruning and removal of side branches back to the central thick stems. With many visitors to the site on what started as a nice day on the bank holiday weekend, (we weren’t even the first people on site!) we had a large audience and were the star attraction.

Gardener Dan – a budding topiarist (is that even a word!) perhaps – was also happy to let some of the group apply the striking haircut trim (see pics) to another section of the hedge topped with a peacock shape cut out of the yew green.  As a result, soon the bird was sitting all alone atop its wooden perch!

A few concerned members of the public were worried about just how much we were removing as all the green disappeared on one side of the row of trees.  However, we were able to reassure them that we had done this before and that the yew soon grows back stronger than ever. We have completed this work on various parts of Wightwick’s garden in the past and it helps to keep the width of the ornamental borders in check as well as promoting healthy new growth. 

In the morning we started the New Year in wonderful sunshine, but almost straight after lunch we were caught in a very heavy downpour. Undaunted – having started, we had to finish –  the pruners sheltered under the remaining green growth and a few hardy souls pulled down their hoods and continued to drag the cut brash away from the public garden – which was now completely empty of people, except for a few hardy volunteers!  The grass lawns around the rose beds and restored wooden pergola just about survived – leaving the top of the yew to be cut level by Dan with his hedgetrimmers.

As a few of the Group set off home soaking wet a little early, Dan found one more task for those remaining.  Works are coming to an end to install a biomass boiler in the Wightwick outbuildings to heat the House. So having dug out some self-seeded laurel bushes from elsewhere in the garden, the last few soggy souls with pickaxe and spades in hand, started the work to fill gaps in the borders near the Tea Rooms made by the contractors with mature, transplanted shrubs.

Spurred on by homemade flapjacks at “cake-o-clock” and at lunchtime  – thanks to Helen for that – as to be expected, the sun reappeared just as our workday ended – nevertheless a very enjoyable start to the New Year – thanks to all and…..

Happy New Year!

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Merry Christmas to all of SSNTV!

and special thanks to all the committee members and workday leaders who’ve helped throughout the year to ensure the Group goes from strength to strength.

As if those good wishes weren’t enough, then click below to listen to recorded messages from the Trust’s top brass, thanking all volunteers for their efforts during 2021:

First DG, Hilary McGrady (password: TRUST)

.followed by Midlands & East of England Regional Director, Paul Forecast:

…PS: while I’m here don’t forget there’s a new programme of 2022 workdays – members look out for the email from Vice Chair, Matt (details will be on this website Events page shortly).

…PPS: look out too for an email from your Chair to all members with details of one more local workday in 2021 at Wenlock Edge with their team on December 30th, if you’re still up for a bit more cut and burn this year!

…And as an extra bonus – more News!

Between the minces pies and turkey, you can also read about the Trust’s new Chairman – it’s most senior volunteer – who’s just been appointed via this link:

Best Wishes!

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In order to make up for a workday lost to recent stormy weather, SSNTV squeezed in an extra Saturday workday at Shugborough, making it two consecutive weekends of end-to-end working after Christmas weekend at Dudmaston. …And yes, it was more trees, trees, trees…

It’s all systems go around the surroundings of the Walled Garden, as from 2022 site layout changes will in short, mean that the back becomes the front and vice versa – so there is lots to do, to start working on that changed layout.

Visitors might not notice but there’s an historic stone ha-ha around the whole of the walled garden complex.  Head Gardener Caroline thinks there were also circular walks beside it – only thing is as we arrived on Saturday, as we know, only the portion beside the Sher Brook is visible (or at least it was) so our task was going to be to remove the overgrown trees and shrubs and make visible what is underneath.

Most urgently as was explained, someone is coming before Christmas to survey the wall, a boundary of large stones, kept in place just by their weight, the banked up soil and dry ditch, to keep the historically manicured gardens separate from the meadows and grazing animals.  So there was an urgent need to remove the sizeable trees, most frequently holly which were trying to push through the top of the wall and which were successfully blocking off the Walled Gardens from the wider Estate.

Starting from the “back” near the Outdoor Education centre buildings and apparently site of previous hospital structures, James and Caroline explained what would happen to the spaces we were trying to clear.  So it was that a small SSNTV advance party, together with the wheelbarrows of the Shugborough volunteers set about creating some gaps and fire #1 was soon glowing orange to keep the volunteers warm and burn up the cut brash.

Sunday saw the massed ranks of SSNTV’ers arrive for their last workday of 2021.  Fire #2 from the end of the Saturday gradually came back to life and #3 in among the spaces newly created in the trees was able to quickly suck in all the brash the volunteers could haul up over the ha-ha onto the slightly higher ground.  The all day mist and cold meant we should have paid more attention to reinvigorating centrally positioned fire #1, as with no sun in sight, everyone sought some warmth at lunchtime.

Then some clever person pointed out the ha-ha ran quite a lot further than all could easily see – and it turned out the biggest tree of the weekend – no John, even way too big for your bowsaw – was now blocking the way.  Hence it quickly became attack from both ends as the young public visitors, braving the weather in the outdoor play area, saw people with bowsaws and lopers marching past to find gaps in the holly and brash dry hedge to fight a way in. 

With the boundary fencing narrowing the gap there were no passing places along the ditch and so the cut material was initially stacked where it was felled, but as darkness came, it mean that only c. 50m of the whole accessible loop was left uncut – so leaving something for the Shugborough volunteers to finish.

On both days as a thank you for our efforts across the Estate during the year, Caroline had organised welcome hot drinks, cheeseboard, cake and mince pies at the end of the day.  On Sunday this was admirably topped up by SSNTV’s Leela, with excellent home made quiche. (Ed.: I can also recommend the artisan camembert, cranberry & rosemary loaf.) Only thing missing was Derek’s custard tart!  SSNTV numbers were high, as a few recovering group members made it out for the year’s last workday; or just turned up in the afternoon to sample the cakes! Thanks to all for those!  We also welcomed – four, yes four new visitors – Deb & Rob, David & Tom all mucked in, surviving the cold and brambles – well done!  Rob doing a passable impression of long-server JW in another long high-vis yellow jacket.

With that…., it’s just the Christmas weekend’s festivities to survive before the 2022 programme restarts with what’s scheduled as a trip to Wightwick Manor, to check up on the yew hedges which the Group has trimmed there in the past; and meet new-ish Head Gardener James.  Some SSNTV’ers don’t think it can come quickly enough!

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Thanks in part to the generosity of the NT team behind the South Shropshire Portfolio, SSNTV was able to hold its Christmas celebrations in the bunkhouse at the Mose at Dudmaston this year. The bunkhouse has been refurbished and technically is a completely different one on the same plot to that which SSNTV has used for Christmas in previous years and before Covid intervened.  As a thank you for all the efforts during the year, it’s a chance to relax and recount some stories of workdays long since past and present day.

So happily last Saturday evening, this year was no different – with a roast turkey Christmas dinner; a chance to catch up and relax; and for the other day visitors to admire the uprated facilities.  A few glitches aside, the conclusion was that the overall standard has been raised.  It seemed like a few of the evening’s day visitors would also be keen to be back for a longer stay.

There was plenty of space in the dining room and also plenty of food on the plates.  Excellent tasting turkey with all the trimmings was followed by exceptionally good home-made Christmas and Sticky Toffee puddings – well done Mags in particular!

Compliments to the chefs Chrissie, Mags and Matthew – who coped with the new kitchen – and even noticed what no other guests had done during the year – pointing out that the oven cooker hob had been fitted back-to-front, even if it did still work!

Oh yes, and for those who weren’t present and party to the discussion – what’s the question? If the answer (as yet subject to official scrutiny) is:

Ron M, Ian T, John W and David B in that order (….answers on a postcard!)

As the last couple of night owls put the world to rights deep after midnight, it wasn’t long before early riser Chris was up and putting out the breakfast stuff ready for another workday amongst the trees!

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It was all about trees this last weekend as SSNTV organised a four-day weekend with three consecutive days of work on the Dudmaston estate.  Sneaking in just before any further Covid lockdowns took a hold, the group met for annual early Xmas weekend of working and Christmas-ing, staying in the newly refurbished Mose bunkhouse.

Day 1 – The early starters began in the Friday sunshine with a stint of “TLC” on the saplings we planted in the Comer Wood plantation through until November 2019, actually “Captain Geoffrey’s Nursery” we were told, so the main reason why there are so many trees at Dudmaston. No doubt as one of estate’s founders he’d be pleased to see the regeneration work continuing.  Some of the young trees had got away successfully, others needed more light and air, so the task to clear around them and in some cases remove the tree protectors – which the conclusion was, were doing too good a job at keeping out the light, especially so far as the young conifers were concerned.

Evening in the bunkhouse followed; and putting the decorations up – early Christmas was coming!

Day 2 – Large numbers descended as the task moved to another nearby plot on the estate.  A few long servers started to recall – yes we’d been to Burf Castle iron age hill fort, adjoining the A-road from Enville to Bridgnorth in the past – so here we were back again.

Based on our past success at planting, acting Area Ranger Helen was keen to use the assembled masses to get new saplings into the ground, starting the task for c. 3,000 new plants which Helen has on order to get into the ground by early 2022.

We were introduced to a new expert with NT experience, who was keen to work with the Group.  For one day at least ex Ranger “Mick” was back in just his blue jeans, rather than NT garb.  New boss Helen tasked him with pointing out to the group all the latest niceties of planting the saplings to achieve maximum likelihood of success.

Compared to the Comer Wood plot, the ground here was more hospitable, much less detritus and residual stems to trip over from the contractors’ clearance of the old trees on the site. However as sweeping rain came in during the afternoon, the downside of a level open site was brought home to all those present, as the chefs conveniently raced back to the Bunkhouse to get the turkey on and enjoy the afternoon in the dry and warm!

The informal planting scheme comprised a mix of broadleaf: oak, sweet chestnut, rowan and silver birch.  With the right kind of slit cut, no inadvertent air pocket in the ground, new roots trimmed to optimum size, supporting canes and the “right” kind of tree guard to the ready, the group managed c. 350 trees on one side of the slope.

As the end of the marked out rows neared, the keen pair of Mike & Helen raced round extending the rows to leave only a handful of marker canes unplanted at the end of the day.

Then as twilight arrived, it was a walk back along the lane for Christmas festivities – but that’s another story!

Day 3 – With overnighters and slightly smaller “day-tripper” numbers, including almost-newbie Jacqui and long-time returnee Chris – Welcome! – it was back to the Comer plantations for more sapling TLC.

Gradually the fight for the light with the brambles was being won.  It was funny to find for example a 20 cm stick with healthy leaves at the top poking out of a green tube and fighting with the mass of bramble growth surrounding it; or fluffy-looking conifers bursting through the sides of the protectors.

With Day 2’s recent practice in mind, Helen found stocks of Western Red Cedar to help restock and replant in the gaps appearing where some of the original seedlings had succumbed to the “overgrowth”.

Another cake o’clock was marked – which is often the case on a Christmas or Bonfire weekend – with frankly too much cake!  There’s a long weekend list, but thanks in particular for:  Leela’s salted caramel; Maggie’s mince pies; fruit loaf, bread pudding, parkin from Mags; Lucy’s savour scones; your Chairman’s bread pudding #2.

By the end of Day 3 green diagonal lines were consistently reappearing.  End of Sunday this year was also a chance for some to extend their weekend and rest and recuperate for another night in the Bunkhouse.  Was it the excess of cakes too? – but a number of the day’s bunkhouse visitors / workers lingered on in the warm for more tea & coffee…..

A few those were further convinced by weekend organiser and previous Chair Chris, to extend their stay into the evening. As the sous-chefs stepped in, there was soup, salads, burgers topped off with hot pudding & custard, as the weekend’s leftovers disappeared.

(A Shortened) Day 4  – started and then ended shortly afterwards, with a relaxing – and by SSNTV standards – luxury hot breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs, accompanied by juices and cereals (…and Lucy’s Day 3 dinner cold custard leftovers – each to their own!)

Then it was off home in the drizzle to wash out the mud ready for a final two workday weekend before Christmas with the Gardeners team up the road at Shugborough!

Thanks to all for their efforts, Chris B in particular; and to Dudmaston NT for making it possible.

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Workday leader Peter reports:

Sunday saw the Group return to Morville Hall for its last visit of the year and a chance to wish Mel and Andrew a Merry Christmas.

Nine members were present with Lisa taking on the challenge to cycle from Kidderminster (17 miles) to the workday, although partner Gordon was on hand to transport her and her bike back home in the car at the end of the day.  Well done for that (the cycling that is!)  May be we should recognise additional work hours as part of our green credentials?

As usual at Morville there were numerous different jobs for SSNTV’ers to pick from. The main task – in scale – was to reduce the top of the copper beech hedge to the rear of the Hall. After much debate the trim equated to about 1.5 meters ( two years growth). Gordon and Russell, with a little help from your workday leader took on this task, greatly helped by the ladders Gardener Guy had delivered from NT Dudmaston. Lisa provided the support services throughout the day, removing cuttings to the bonfire.

Down at ground level Mandy, Lucy, Leela and Jackie did sterling work removing the unwanted undergrowth around and between the trunks of the long yew hedge, such as elder shoots which were trying to blend into the new yew growth.

Eric took on removing the detritus from around one large holly adjoining the fruit tree wall, clearing it of ivy and raising the crown so that the orchard and the wall could be appreciated.

David B and Neil were the roving workers, moving from job to job as the day progressed. They were the first to start and finished their initial task even before the workday leader had got his camera out to capture the “before”.  Two spindly, poorly sited holly trees were very severely coppiced from under a large pine!  Next they moved on to planting spring bulbs in the grass banks,  before collecting leaves from in and around the pond. Covering it all with protective netting turned out to be one task too far for the day!

Hidden away from sight all day, Matt tended the bonfire which was constantly fed by all in the group. With overcast skies and rain the night before, he did a good job of smoking out most of the nearby residents, at least for the first half of the day!

Workday’s end soon came in a rush, with even more darkness descending, as Mel provided Christmas crackers and hot mice pies for all, as they sheltered from the day’s cold.

Another year of gardening is now over for SSNTV at Morville Hall. See you again doubtless, in the spring.

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More from the Saturday billhook brigade……

After last week’s storm it was good to get out and about on a sunny day. Today was the second of four hedgelaying workdays on the Attingham estate. Nine vol’s enrolled including our latest SSNTV new member, who thought it might be fun (…the fool!)

The transporting of the stakes, heatherings and tools to the site tool a while, as we are slowly getting further and further from the car park. But with a practiced team we were soon well into the work, including our newbie, who after a little training was soon showing a natural talent for hedgelaying. A further 30m was plashed (laid); and with only one hint of a shower I think we did rather well.

We missed yellow-jacketed John – hope you feel better soon – but there are two more chances to come and play in the New Year during this hedging season.

A special thanks to Christine who kept us supplied with beautifully sharpened stakes all day. Either that or she was supplying the Attingham woodchip boiler…

Soon we will have done so much you will only be able to appreciate the work done from space!

..Thanks Dave!

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Apparently you can deal with some rhodi’s by just smoothering the cut stems, or so I read from one of the other NT group’s via Facebook; some great colours in the pic’s too; and is that Jill W I see who’s popped down to Devon again this time without John?…

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Unfortunately with clean-up from Storm Arwen needing resources our Sunday workday at Kinver also has to be CANCELLED.

Email confirmation from our WDL David will follow.

..Russell B. Chair

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