Archive for the ‘Shropshire Volunteering’ Category

Workday leader Mags recounts our last pre Easter sunday at Benthall, the second workday of the weekend:

A satisfactory day with a nice bonfire. The turnout was good, despite two events the previous day. Much was said about the previous day’s first aid course, but thankfully none of the skills needed to be put into practice.

The task list prior to the workday included some gardening tasks, but Nick decided, based on the number of volunteers out for the day to stick to one task – down in the wood, tidying up and burning leftovers from the contractors’ clearance of trees affected by ash dieback. The fire started off (as all our fires do) quite small, but as they say where there’s smoke there’s fire.

The place is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) so the site of the fire had been carefully selected. The idea was for it to be ‘small’ (well it looked small from the viewpoint above) and overall it was well controlled.

For cake o’clock the workday leader brought out the mars bar crispie cake. All carefully divided up, in case the group were working across different sites.

With everyone around, Zorba needed little encouragement to help out with the destruction of the brash.

With a large area to clear, the trailer was put into action to bring brash from further afield. Some went directly onto the fire, with other loads being deposited to one side. How we’re expected to keep the fire small when it arrives in this quantities, I don’t know.

So, back to the SSSI. I quizzed Nick, and it’s a site of interest for both “flora and fauna” and its “geology”. Rare flowers (including the birds nest orchid) can be found in the woodland, though not this day. However, despite the heavy contractual work that has been undertaken, a number of interesting plants were found around our work site, including dog violets, wood anemones and toothwort, which grows near hazel.

We achieved a lot and made sure we left the fire is a safe state at the end of the day.

Read Full Post »

Saturday’s workday leader Peter starts the weekend’s tales:

SSNTV members had a rare, if not unique choice of three events this weekend. On Saturday six returned to the classroom to obtain a new first aid qualification (let’s hope they never have to put what they learn into practice). At the same time, seven of us descended on Wightwick Manor to try to impress new gardener James with our work ethic. Sunday would be Roman Bank at Wenlock – oops, no correction – trees on the brain,….this time at Benthall Hall, Broseley!

On Saturday James made us welcome, as we were briefed on that day’s task: a repair of the path at the side of the large pool near to the overflow car park.  This had been closed as its condition was too slippery.  Looking at it, James seemed to think we would not complete it in the one day.  Little did he know…..

First was the removal of a membrane which had been put down as a temporary fix as the path had become gradually muddier. The pebbles on top were barrowed to the adjacent old burn site.

Next the poolside grasses had to come out and the large clumps were thrown across the brook for later replanting. Corms (of possible irises) were put to one side too. These were a surprise to James, as they had been hidden beneath the grasses.

All other green material was bagged so it could be taken off site, the bags being stacked on the new Wightwick trailer!

By now it was time for cake o’clock and with Easter approaching, Simnel bites were provided by the workday leader. No Easter chocolate bunnies this weekend – although bunny ears were being worn by some of the staff.

After the break, raking and weeding were the next tasks, as soil was taken off the surface to reveal an existing hardcore base. As the group moved along the path, the raking turned to scraping with spades and finally to digging as 50mm of soil covered the hardcore at one end.  We had now reached lunch time.

In February contractors had resurfaced many of the paths at Wightwight, taking off the old fine top layer which James had arranged to be dumped by the nearby car park. So now it was time to shovel, barrow, dump, rake and roll this very fine material into one good solid path beside the water. Just then the heavens opened and one heavy sharp shower of rain and hail came down, with most of us without our coats nearby!

However this didn’t stop the hardy bunch. But it did put paid to the rolling, as the fine grit was now sticking to the roller. With the job practically complete, there was just time to go and inspect the yew hedge (and peacock!) surrounding the rose garden which we had trimmed back in January.

James was impressed with the day’s work – so mission accomplished.  Thanks to everyone for all the hard work that went in.

Read Full Post »

Even more about trees……..

A large, keen group of volunteers gathered early one more time at Roman Bank on Sunday for a last meet-up of the season (before the birds start to nest) with rangers Al & Kate at Wenlock Edge. Our task was to try to complete the ride clearance, widening the bridleway and removing dead and decaying woodland, back towards Wilderhope.

Happily compared to our last visit – see Matt’s report when we were nearly washed and blown away – this time the track was dry, making our long walk from the meeting point easier. Unexpectedly the sun also appeared which meant a fair bit of the early spring flora & fauna put on a display for us.

After more than a mile’s walk, the search for helpfully placed orange dots began, as we sought to widen the track and burn up selected overhanging branches, interspersed with a few big boys suffering from ash die back which succumbed to the rangers chainsaws – a three saw Sunday! 

Just in case we didn’t have enough branches to burn, Al had brought a half-filled trailer full of brash which he managed to squeeze down the track.

There was a lot to drag and as it turned out, the orange spots were fairly spaced out which meant that over the day only two fires sprang up to remove the unwanted material.  The few walkers and their dogs could dodge around the heat pyres to avoid getting melted.

There was a birthday treat for long-serving member David B – who managed the candles for his ??th birthday. Fancy that, celebrating by cutting trees down…but then Wolves did win the day before didn’t they David!

Ian created his own huge pile of brash to burn, so keen was he – after missing out on an extra possible Saturday workday – that he missed the birthday cake o’clock! John found enough to saw; and everyone dragged towards the fires for all they were worth. 

Richard got a botany lesson from ranger Kate, as she pointed out a rare rhodo’ species which the lopper blades needed to avoid (…and its name I hear you asking?…..perhaps Richard remembers better than I did!)

By the end of the day, enough space had been created for the trailer to turn around – and we reached the end of the patch of Trust owned land.  So job done!

As we trekked back along the trail the extra light finding its way to the ground was evident since our last visits, as around some of the larger felled trees left for habitat creation the wood sorrel was popping up around the stumps.

Thanks to all for their efforts, including the baker for his brownies; and Kate for the early Easter chocs!

Just the small matter of a double weekend of workdays next at Wightwick Manor and Benthall Hall before a short break for Easter and more chocolate munching…


Read Full Post »

News of some training on this topic from Kate & Al for any SSNTV’ers who are interested:….

Contact the Chair, if you don’t have Kate’s details.

Read Full Post »

The life of an SSNTV volunteer can be quite a varied one – and also one full of hard graft!  In recent weekends we’ve been out amongst the gorse and pouring rain at Kinver, high winds and floods at Wenlock Edge, slipping and sliding in the muddy woods at Benthall…can you see a pattern here? 

Now it was just the small matter of a slight slope to plant more young tree saplings at Hopesay Hill near Craven Arms.  In fact so many trees to plant, that our planned day at nearby Walcot Woods had been rearranged to make a second day on the slope at Hopesay.  

But at least this time as we ventured into deepest Shropshire, we were met with fabulous weather and clear blue skies. 

Getting to Hopesay and this worksite(s) is however becoming a challenge.  It also teaching us the importance of good logistics.  The narrow lanes makes finding somewhere to put some cars, something of a challenge.  With a new neighbouring smallholder offering their yard, this time we could at least get close to the bottom of the hill.  Chair Russell volunteered to accompany the Landy to the top of the ridge – where tree saplings and equipment had all been placed – the rationale being its easier to bring things down, than carry them up!  But remember last month – the muddy track meant getting uphill with a vehicle was itself a challenge – this time when the Landrover reached the off-road section, some contractor had inadvertently barred the way with new padlocks on the gates – déjà vu I thought! Would we again spend the morning just getting ready to work?  Luckily with mobile coverage available, padlock codes could be found and we reached the mini fort of heeled-in trees, canes and guards, plus young plants just waiting for a plants-person.  This was to be a new patch on a different side of the hill from our February visit.

Gradually the volunteers made it up to the top on foot.  Our workplace was high up on the hill, looking down on Hopesay village. First task collect; then part of the way back down again, to the planting site.  Free-style this time, no need for straight-line rows, in order to get as many young trees into the ground as quickly as possible – and at this rate, before the sun dried them out.  There was the same mix of several varieties of saplings, plus young holly plants as last time.   Ah, yes…..and just a bit of dead brown bracken – at this time of year thankfully only knee-high – to scrape away to find the soil.

Mid-morning cake o’clock and lunchtime were chances to rest and admire the views of the valley.

Logistics back to the fore after lunch meant some of the trailer load of holly shrubs at the top of the hill needed to come down to be planted – oh for an industrial-sized sledge (and pulley)!  So we returned to the summit and after some trial and error, in order to save the uphill effort, formed a human chain to get some of the holly plants down – quite a sight and experience!

At the end of the first day numerous canes were popping up across the bracken.  Tired but happy all navigated their way down, with some of us returning the next day.  But note to the workday programme planners – two days on this slope is definitely a bit of a challenge!

Day Two and more blue skies and the “keenies” – those with strong knees – and a few new faces returned to the site.  Logistics plus point – by now enough materials were in the right place half-way up the hill – which meant that the group could try to ensure even coverage of trees across the patch and focus on getting as many saplings into the ground as possible.

Next logistics challenges as the day progressed: what needs to be where; how much to leave for the next volunteer group?  NT Countryside Manager Pete added a curved ball as he explained, the young hollies in their containers – in the trailer at the top – probably needed to go in before some of the other saplings.

So with a goodbye wave half of the volunteers disappeared uphill into the distance to add hollies to the February planting patch – that being a shorter distance from the trailer – whilst the others continued to hone their planting techniques amongst the dry bracken. 

As the end of the day neared, unplanted saplings were healed in across the middle of the hill ready for the next volunteer group. The holly planters made it down once again from the top of the hill and chipped in one final time to get the last of the remaining saplings into the ground – kudos in particular to Matt, Dave and Richard for their to’ing and fro’ing.

A last coffee and biscuit on the Hill – thanks to NT’s Pete for Sunday’s supplies – and a chance to enjoy those views, as the many canes with green and clear-coloured tree guards were now prominently visible in the brown bracken.  All made it down safely for the last time.

So now there’s just the small task of coming back to the worksite as the saplings start to grow, to try to beat back this year’s new bracken growth by hand; and that way try to ensure that the new plants don’t get smothered. 

….But perhaps only one day per weekend, suggests this volunteer – otherwise we might need a team of substitutes for day two!

Russell & Helen    

Read Full Post »

Workday leader Matthew explains:

With heavy overnight rain, we thought that the worksite at Benthall would be muddy….and oh yes it was! In the wood on the edge of the Estate, we were greeted with a scene reminiscent of the start of ‘Gladiator’ – but sorry no Russell Crowe, for the film buffs. 

Still, the group of 14 ploughed on with the task in hand. Large quantities of infected ash had been removed in the last months; and we were left to help clear up. We made habitat piles with the larger offcuts, shortening transportation distances; whilst burning the smaller branches. We also cleared any bramble to stop it invading and taking hold in the wide open spaces where the ash trees once stood. Hopefully later there will be some nice woodland bulbs and flowers coming through – let’s wait and see.

We welcomed visitor Andy from Outwood Social for his first workday. Being an electrician, he is used to working indoors, but luckily the rain held off until late in the day, so as not to dampen his enthusiasm.

As you can see, we also had another first-time visitor on the workday. Four-legged “Zorba” brought back fond memories of Max, who came out with volunteer Laura on many a workday. Zorba seemed to have a smile on his face most of the time, maybe because he is a stud dog for the RNIB! Or maybe he was just enjoying a day out in the woods. Like Max, retriever Zorba has a lovely temperament and if you call to him with a Scottish twang, he responds even more quickly, as he has spent most of his time north of the border. Talking of the border, Neil and Jackie used to have border collies, so Zorba was not out of their sight for very long. Leela will no doubt be bringing Zorba again. Please do!

There was almost a surfeit of treats at cake o’clock! Thanks to Leela and Lucy for providing home-made almond cake and scones – and our workday leader, or was it Mr Kipling, for the chocolate delight! Gardener i/c Nick has promised the return of his famous BBQ ‘soon’….(perhaps as recompense for the volunteers having to transport all the tools by hand across the estate, as the usual Gator was off being serviced).

Not sure if being by the fire meant volunteers were more comfortable, as things dried out during the day. At least that area was level, as others slid up and down the gooey slopes trying to keep their balance. Our efforts however did seem appreciated by the few visiting public who struggled up and down the main wet clay-covered track, now without its trees as natural handrails.

Anyway, if we thought the mud was bad, spare a thought for volunteer Richard, who as a Shrewsbury resident, explained he’s been flooded at home more than 25 times – he now lives up a hill as a result!

By the end of the day Nick expressed himself pleased with our results – so thanks to all for their perseverance – especially as the walk back across the Estate was accompanied by squally showers to round off a wet and very muddy day!

Read Full Post »

Leader Peter recounts a day at Dudmaston, doing yes, you guessed it, more tree-planting!

…..I don’t know if it was:

  • the delight of seeing ranger Helen,
  • the pull of the picturesque Dudmaston Estate,
  • or pure and simple, the opportunity to plant more trees,

but initially I had 20 people on my list to work at Burf Castle this Sunday.  But with our Chair having to sit out the workday due to a late positive Covid test; and with another two, where domestic life got in the way – 18, including visitor Andrew – welcome to him – arrived at the agreed parking spot.

This being our third visit of the winter to this particular plot; and for some (not including the workday leader) the second consecutive Sunday of planting trees, the group was quickly underway.  Helen had prepared bags of mixed bare rooted saplings ready to plant. All were native broadleaf trees – Silver Birch, Rowan, Oak and Sweet Chestnut were today’s selection pack.

Soon we were planting up and down the hill. 

But It was not long before it was obvious that we were running out of marker canes in situ, so after cake o’clock Dave and Helen got their eyes into increasing the planting area laying out more canes.

Tree in the hole, canes firmed, guard attached – where next to turn?

The staplers (remember that tricky guard to cane task?) coming up in the rear could not see where original lines had been and which were now extended up to the top of the hill.

With the workday leader taking a staple gun for the first time after lunch, this novice did not help to speed progress, rather he only held back the two practiced masters Chris and Matt by constantly complaining back the inefficient process!

Nevertheless by mid-afternoon we were finished, as there was no more cleared land in which to plant.

A quick count suggested another 500 saplings had gone into the ground, making a total of 3,000 planted in this patch this season, the majority by SSNTV (and meeting ranger Helen’s target). However as Helen explained to the volunteers, this is only the start of the project, with another two years of planting at Burf Castle to come.

So I think we will be back next year. Firstly to provide “TLC” to this year’s babies; and secondly to plant some more saplings.

The plan is that after five years of tending the young trees should be well established; and stay SSNTV-free until they reach twenty years old, when the first thinning will take place. For their fortieth and sixtieth birthdays the chainsaw gang will be in doing their work!

Thanks to all for their hard work and efforts today!

…Energies saved today, hopefully means that all the more members will turn out for the March edition of more of the same back at Hopesay Hill, part of the Shropshire Hills patch. We need to speed up our techniques there on the steep hill – so it sounds very much like, there’s going to be TWO days of trees there on the weekend of 19 & 20th – that’s more than in the published programme.

So hope to see you all again very soon!

Read Full Post »

Last weekend’s event’s continued with a tour into the relative unknown on the Sunday, as workday leader Dave describes:

Getting to Sunday’s workday site to plant trees at Hopesay Hill was something of a Magical Mystery Tour, seeing some lovely South Shropshire countryside along the way.

Part One: Find the Village Hall

Due to works by the Forestry Commission and a power company, after all the recent rains, roadside verges were a no-no, so we had to meet and park at Edgton Village Hall, around four miles from Craven Arms and some way from our ultimate worksite. As workday leader I got there early, but of course volunteer John was already present! It was only when I went to stand by the entrance to guide people in, did I realise my mistake. Wearing camouflage clothing does not make you obvious. That’s the opposite of what it’s designed to do, even if it does keep you protected and dry. However I need not have worried, as all the NT crew found it with minimal trouble as they drove along the ever-narrowing lanes. We also welcomed an extra two volunteers from Outwood Social (who quickly went from tree-planting novices to relative experts during the course of the day).

Part Two: Drive as Near as Possible

As parking was limited, we then jumped into as few cars as possible and drove from Edgton through Hopesay village to a house, down a track, where the kind owner had agreed we could finally park. He was so kind he even allowed the use of his facilities for those in need.  Now we were really deep in the green (or was it brown!)

Part Three: Walk Up Hill!

There followed a 10-15 minute walk through mud and up a not so insignificant hill to the worksite.

Part Four: Tools & Plants

We arrived at the top of the hill just as the Land Rover with NT Countryside Manager, Pete appeared, having come cross-country over Hopesay Common, with SSNTV’s Chair as passenger and designated driver’s mate. Their excuse for not beating us there – the boggy ground meant they could not get straight up the hill with the trailer and all equipment attached; so tools and trees had to be removed from trailer to cab and then transported up the hill. The trailer was left for now, parked askew in the field at the bottom. Good job we volunteers parked at the village hall and house it seemed!

Part Five: The Work

The worksite was on the southern slopes of Hopesay Hill. The idea being to plant new trees in the bracken on the slope to shade out the bracken regrowth and link up with other established woodland in the area. This is part of the wider Stepping Stones project which involves several landowners, including the NT, in a project to link up habitats across South Shropshire. This patch of NT owned land has had minimal agricultural use over decades, so is a home for many species.  It also meant that this was a virgin site, so needed preparation in term of canes for the saplings to be laid out – that is, pacing out up and down the slope, to mark where the trees needed to go. I now know how difficult it is to get a two dimensional 3 x 3 metre grid onto a three dimensional landscape. (don’t mention the empty triangle the Chairman at one point created) …..But we managed in the end despite the not insignificant incline!

Then, everyone pitched in and planted like fury. Willows at the bottom, near wetter ground; Crab Apples at the top; and a nice mixture in the middle including Oak, Rowan, Hawthorn and Blackthorn – just made a bit trickier for those who didn’t know their Latin plant names on the labels, compared with the common ones being called out. Varieties of bare-rooted saplings with little green growth can look pretty similar – Holly notwithstanding. Time will tell if the majority got it right! Luckily at least no staples were involved with the plant guards this time!

By the end of the day somewhere between 350 and 400 trees had been planted. A sterling effort considering the complications of getting to the worksite and the 30 degree slope. Why is it whatever you need at the bottom is always back at the top!

Thanks to all for helping to offset my carbon footprint at least for the weekend. See you in a couple of weekend’s time for round two – a different spot on Hopesay Hill and apparently much easier to get to.  By then we hear, there’ll be quite a few young plants waiting to go into the ground, so watch this space for more news on that…

…..And in the meantime, read on shortly, about more SSNTV trees in March, this time on the Estate at Dudmaston!

Read Full Post »

So this weekend the group went exploring! As we managed to squeeze in two consecutive workdays at different venues in deepest Shropshire.

On Saturday it was literally a Discovery day as the group turned up at the eponymously named Shropshire Hills Centre in Craven Arms to practice their cut & burn skills.  Helped was needed by this charity (, who partner with the Trust on a number of tasks, to clear excessive trees and shrubs from around their dragonfly ponds in their Onny river meadows.

The ponds at Craven Arms as Centre Manager Grant explained, are according to experts, the British Dragonfly Society, one of the best venues to spot the insects in the country.  However as the ponds have become overgrown with reeds; and with too many trees crowding out the light from the water, extra volunteers were being called in – along with a mechanical digger to follow on and broaden the task.  As an added challenge when felling the trees, power lines ran close by overhead!

Ranger Ian was on hand to also test our tree identification skills – in the end we decided a blob of spray paint was the best way to ensure that only the correct decaying and obstructive trees would come down to create “dragonfly gateways” to the water.

Compared to the stormy and wet last two weekends, all the volunteers were happy as the sun shone practically all day long – happy even more so, when Grant appeared with plates of onsite baking to keep us going.…and very tasty it was too!

Experienced SSNTV members Neil and John could be seen with the big rope in their hands – tensioning the falling trees to ensure that they reached dry land and didn’t fall in the water.

Displaying our green credentials, there was only a little fire to burn up some brash.  On the other side of the ponds, billhook supremo Dave, taking a Saturday off from hedgelaying, soon found himself in familiar territory, extending a dead hedge to suck in the piles of material generated – there were even bindings going in at the top!

At the end of the day, a few members made the long journey – all of 200 yards of it – to their B&B accommodation, to save the effort of travelling home – before the second event of the weekend, an exploration of nearby Hopesay Hill, a real trek into the unknown would follow….but more of that to come.

Thanks to all for their efforts and to Discovery Centre team, Grant and Ian who made us very welcome.

Russell B.

Read Full Post »

Having sufficiently dried out, workday leader David recounts a Sunday spent in the rain:….

The task at Kinver for this workday was to remove some of the extensive, dense gorse and unwanted saplings that are overtaking parts of the Edge. Removing them opens up areas to encourage the heather to regenerate; and more importantly creates areas for adders to safely bask in the summer.

At this time of year the snakes are hibernating well underground we were told. But when the warmer weather arrives they need the sun’s heat and hence clear patches to soak up the sun’s rays. Within a large area of gorse, we widened narrow gaps and cut out weather-beaten gorse bushes, creating wide interconnected glades; at the same time leaving a dense green perimeter around the area in order to discourage too many people and animals from using this as a thoroughfare and so disturbing the adders and other invertebrates.

Many workdays this winter have been dry, but Kinver broke that pattern by being windy and rainy all day. Despite this the tumbril fire was able to warm us up – if you could manage to avoid the dense smoke which the gorse creates! It probably helped that everyone was also wrapped up in multiple layers, including sizeable gloves, as protection from the spiky gorse which easily manages to get around one pair of standard gloves.

A sizeable chocolate cake, also helped to keep the bad weather out – thanks for that David! Throughout the day the big orange burn despite the rain, meant there was constantly steam rising from the soggy volunteers as they crowded round the blaze for warmth.

By the end as the wet eventually seeped in and energies sapped, the ten hardy volunteers who braved the weather had worked hard to create new adder basking zones, leaving Ranger Ewan very happy!

There are plans to count numbers later in the year to see if the efforts to improve the heathland habitats are proving successful. How do you count adders I hear you ask? Well you probably weren’t aware that some are radio-tagged, so that their movements can be tracked. Adder wrangling – how do the rangers manage that?… well that’s another story!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »