Archive for the ‘Shropshire 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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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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Workday leader (and pruning novice, it seems) Matthew reports from the depths of the Attingham Estate:

Has anyone in the Group worked at Berwick Wharf before, or ever heard of it? Well, it is a small orchard part of the Attingham Estate. Imagine coming out of the Estate passing Home Farm, then turning right. It is at the first road junction, near to a disused …canal wharf!

A healthy group of volunteers met at the woodshed, then drove in convoy to the orchard on Sunday. It was a beautiful day, lovely for working outside. Ranger Gareth gave us a very informative talk about the importance of orchards for bio-diversity and then how the trees needed to be pruned. It did not look like a large task….how wrong we were! We set about pruning the numerous fruit trees, which did not appear to be particularly old, but were in some need of attention.

We welcomed new member Jacqui, a keen gardener and apparently a former member of Team GB cycling – fancy that! In fact several new recruits showed interest in the workday, so we look forward to meeting them in the near future. It was good to see Lucy #2 out again after a little break due to the pandemic and she showed a keen knack for pruning.

Gareth reappeared at 1pm to see how we were progressing, having been called away on estate duties. We thought that we had done a decent job. Well, apparently it was a good start! Gareth now showed us the finer arts of fruit-tree pruning. I for one struggled with the many if’s, but’s and maybe’s. But we will need to return at least once a year, on a regular basis, to see how our selection of branches to prune fair.

…Remember the 3 D’s – disease, damage and direction (of growth), plus and the need to create a goblet shape (champagne if you’re Chris Brown)…. I never knew about different root stocks and how for example, various types of tree are grafted onto these depending on the height of the tree required. 

There was the usual chat amongst members, with Leela and newbie Jacqui sharing stories about their past parachuting exploits!

It was all over too quickly; still quite a task actually. The orchard had received a good haircut, ready for lots of new growth next year.

Hopefully Gareth agreed! Thanks to him for looking after us, and to Mags for the lovely cake.

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Workday leader Peter reports:

Sunday saw the group arrive at Benthall Hall not knowing the precise location of the day’s task as it was a highly guarded secret – the only expectation being that there would be a fire.  Fifteen volunteers arrived at the rendezvous point – fourteen with food and drink to give them energy for the day ahead, but one unnamed person with 36 years’ service had left theirs at home (clearly overburdened with the additional responsibility of bringing a batch of tools to site from the previous day’s hedgelaying workday).

With everyone gathered around Gardener in charge Nick, he revealed the point of attack was to be cut and burn of surplus willow thicket in the far field, adjoining the wildflower meadow.  This it turned out, would necessitate two bonfires.

The prime purpose of the day was to clear the trees in front of a wire fence line to allow for planting of a new native hedge on the raised bank.  In the past the previous hedge had been scrubbed out when the area was an open cast quarry site for coal. The young plants are on order; delivery date (and another workday ???) is currently unknown. Our other task was to burn large piles of bramble and brash that had been cut and collected by Nick’s weekday volunteers, as part of keeping the scrub under control and improving access  – hence soon there would be fires at each end of the tree clearance patch.

This not being sufficient work for the great fifteen, a further job was identified to widen the public path through the trees.  The clearance work would also increase the light and air to one of the estate’s circular walks, preventing the mud from taking hold in the shade.

With trees falling to create space for fire two; and fire one burning quickly due to Matt and Chris’s supreme skills, it was soon 11.00 and on Remembrance Sunday, worked stopped for two minutes to commemorate all those killed and injured in conflicts around the world.

Our new Chair could be seen all day interrupting the work of his committee members among the group and enthusiastically giving them new jobs as he pushes forward his ideas to encourage new volunteers to come along and join us. (….Ed: he also ticked off First Aider training, Bonfire night accounting; initial Christmas weekend planning; providing tree-felling guidance to less experienced SSNTV’ers; and managed to cut a few stems himself)

Soon it was time for cake o’clock – thanks here to Maggie for her “Matrimonial” cake (a flapjack sandwich with dates in the centre – yummy) and with Bonfire weekend leftovers there were cakes galore!

At lunchtime, Santa Nick magic’d up one more packed lunch for that old ‘un.  (Ed: Volunteer J let’s call him, said to say thanks to all for their offers of hot drinks, spare sandwiches and, and …)  Plus can you believe it, at lunchtime people were complaining it was too hot around the fire, as the group enjoyed another mild and dry day after the thick early morning mist vanished.

By the end of the afternoon, all tasks had been completed, with just a few substantial trees awaiting the chainsaw.  Any remaining cake was polished off, as the fires died down; and Nick expressed himself well-satisfied with all that had been achieved.

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