Archive for the ‘Staffordshire Volunteering’ Category

Workday leader Leela describes a day in the sunshine on the Shugborough Estate:

Last Sunday saw a merry band of twelve SSNTV volunteers and two new visitors making the most of the single work weekend between two bank holidays to enjoy the lovely temperatures and take on a slightly unusual task for the Group at Shugborough, namely preparing some 800m2 of ground for sowing wildflower seeds.

We started the morning at the Pleasure Grounds by the Cats Monument, an area subject to frequent flooding from the nearby river Sow which has therefore largely remained uncultivated. The team now hope to transform this into a bright and beautiful wildlife-friendly area. However before the seeds could be sown, the ground needed to be prepared to make it level and create a good tilth (that’s a fine top surface for the uninitiated!). Of course our volunteers and two visitors, Joel and Kate (out as part of Joel’s DofE), were more than up to the task, finishing that section by mid-morning soon after cake o’clock.

The wildflower seeds are somewhat special, having been bought through a donation from the Stafford NT Association together with a grant from the Sow & Trent Environmental Enhancement Fund. They are a mix of varieties including meadowsweet, teasel, lupin, corn marigold, yellow rattle and wild carrot which it is hoped will attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies  and other wildlife.

We moved on from the Cats Monument to Lady Walk where the rhodedendron ponticum that previously lined the walk has now been removed and replaced by a carefully selected variety of trees – some with some rather interesting and poignant back stories.

We continued the task of the morning, clearing and preparing the ground for more seed sowing along the Walk, aiming for more beautiful wildflower displays there for years to come.

As no respectable workday should be without a bonfire, our fire-starters Matt, Ron and Ann made their way to the bonfire site and were soon clearing brash, with a healthy fire that billowed smoke right across the grounds – fortunately out of the way of the visiting public. 

More of the group joined them after lunch to make short work of clearing and burning all that remained.  All tasks completed to Gardener Derek’s satisfaction, a good day in the sunshine was had by all. (Thanks too to WDL, Leela for what look’s like another tasty cake – Ed.!)

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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!

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Workday leader Matthew reports:

..Well there was clearly something in the air on Sunday, as for the second time over this weekend, a strong turnout  – 17 volunteers – descended, this time on a patch known as Burf Castle, part of the Dudmaston Estate to deploy their tree-planting skills.

An estimated 500 bare root saplings went into the ground….. So why we so productive this time? Our tree-planting skills were no doubt refreshed at the Christmas planting-session, meaning on Sunday we could just crack on. 

Some were on a roll, having finished their task at Attingham only the day before. Maybe it was the presence of Laura, who has returned to the fold….

I think it was actually down to great teamwork, with division of labour working at its best.

Newly promoted Ranger Helen, with help from apprentice Mike, had already staked out the spots to be planted earlier in the week and so we could form groups to place the second stakes and tree-guards next to each planting hole (two bamboo stakes hold a green tree-guard in place). After a quick refresher on techniques to use – T-cut or slit; remember no air pocket; right depth; don’t let the sapling dry out – teams of two or three then worked down each row, planting oak, chestnut and rowan, with an emphasis on the oak.

Roving teams cut away any bramble ahead of a planting pair. Three brave souls armed with the tricky staple guns went round last of all, trying their best to embed more than one staple, fixing stake and guard, and to miss stapling their fingers.

The weather forecast was showers, and we did have the occasional downpour.  A field with no trees unfortunately offers little protection from slanting rain – but at least on one patch, we were in the lee of the hill.  It remained mild for February. 

The morning session saw us complete the planting in the area which faces the nearby A-road.  This meant we moved ’round the bend’ in the afternoon, to plant on a plot the other side of the Burf Castle ridge, facing open farmland to the west.

Burf Castle is so named as there is an Iron Age hillfort atop, with some earthworks still to be seen. 

As we left, it was back over to Helen, to clear more scrub and mark out some new patches ready for our next visit in March – with Covid having slowed work down, there’s a bit of a planting backlog to catch up on.

Many thanks to Helen and all the volunteers for an enjoyable workday and for all the snacks.

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Head of the billhook brigade, Dave reports:

On Saturday a cast of thousands – well, fourteen volunteers – assembled for the last SSNTV hedgelaying of the season. After a few tense moments concerning where to park – in the end, some had to walk an extra quarter of a mile to the worksite – we settled down to start the final day on “our” hedge, part of the Attingham estate.

With three teams cutting, it left a vast support crew who efficiently tidied up any brash cut out of the hedge and transported it to the fire. Many tree guards were removed for safe disposal and the rest of the hedge trimmed in anticipation for next year’s workdays. As this was the last time we would be here this winter, so the hedge had to be left in a good condition without any stand-alone section uncut. This gave us a definite target to aim for, a nice Sweet Chestnut tree that was to be left as a standard. (A standard is a tree left to grow to full height in the hedge. In medieval times and even earlier, the lower hedge may have been cut for firewood and the standard trees used as timber for buildings.)

As if by magic, at afternoon cake o’clock, Ranger Bob turned up to see how we were getting on. He was please with what we had done and gave us this ringing endorsement:

….”It looks good from 200 yards”….

Did we reach our goal? Of course we did and it looked really good, especially with Chris’s bindings along the top.

My thanks to all who turned out and set a new attendance record for a Saturday hedgelaying task.

However volunteers fear not, this is not the last hedgelaying task of calendar year 2022!

Next October we have a treat, when a workday at Wenlock Edge will be dedicated to coppicing the stakes and bindings for the next season’s hedgelaying proper, which will begin again in November. It’s just like being a real hedge layer – a pro’ that is!

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Hedge planting & more!

Leader on the day Chris B reports from the depths of the Attingham Estate:

The first challenge of the day, after getting up, was to turn up at the right place! Whilst a map, aerial photo, postcode and my three words had been provided by NT there is always scope for a challenge. However all arrived on time – some even beat me to it!

The original plan was to plant a new hedge without the use of stakes and rabbit guards. The new hedge, probably a reinstatement of something previously ripped out, is to cordon off an area for a new orchard. The fruit trees for the orchard, some three foot tall, were already on site, but yet to be planted in their final position. These had already succumbed to the some rabbit chewing and hence the first job was to attach guards. In fact an inspection of a hedge planted some three weeks previously also revealed extensive chewing had taken place! So the plan was changed to including staking and guarding of all of the new hedge materials.

We had a fine selection of young plants but the planting was not the usual mixing things up; rather groups of the same plant in 2-3 metre lengths were required – NT’s Gareth ably explained and demonstrated what was required. Whilst the bulk were hawthorn there were others, including hazel, dogwood and holly (the latter in flower pots rather than bare root whips) as well as oak and crab apple, to be widely spaced and encouraged to grow to standards, that is proper trees. The usual slit method of planting was good enough for all but the holly. This required a trench to be dug and of course only one person can dig a trench whilst the others lean on the remaining spades……

Everyone got stuck in and the hedge planting, guarding and staking was complete by 1.00 pm. Whilst no one counted, we thought that c. 700-750 had been planted over 140 metres. This speedy rate of planting was helped by the fact that the ground had previously been harrowed and by the dry weather – this allowed those too old to bend down to be able to progress on their knees, without them getting wet!

After lunch, which included in my case being reunited with an unopened – still in date – packet of crisps from a previous lost picnic, it was on to the earlier (non-SSNTV) planted hedge mentioned earlier. On closer inspection, it was clear that the rabbits had been enjoying a nibble of most of the planting, although the rose seemed to have escaped entirely! In no time at all, everything was staked and guarded – this over a longer length than the morning’s hedge planting. By 2.30pm we were walking back to the cars across the field – which shows just how quickly we can do repetitive tasks, especially when there is good banter.

The exit from the field was done under direction, as the track was rather bumpy. This required manoeuvring, in reverse, to avoid the worst of the potholes, so as to keep sumps and bumpers attached.

Some volunteers, taking advantage of the early finish, adjourned to the Attingham café for more consumables – the general consensus being that you can never have too many consumables!

Many thanks to Gareth for putting us straight (we had a string line for the planting) and for setting out the planting requirements. Thank you also, to all those who attended (15 in total). I for one thoroughly enjoyed the day and the good-humoured banter.

See you next time!

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Workday leader David recounts:

Sunday’s big turnout of 17 volunteers proved how popular are workdays at Benthall. It’s not just the likelihood of a bonfire on a cold day, but Gardner in Charge Nick’s equally warm welcome that regularly brings people back to this varied and interesting worksite.

Recently Nick has been working with contractors who have used their mega-machines to carve out (literally) large pathways along the Edge in the woodland bounding the Estate (helped a little by the Group’s last visit in October ’21). This is all to enable heavy equipment to get into the woodland in order to remove the large number of ash trees suffering with die-back.

There is now something resembling a route for HS2 (only joking) which has been created – as much as possible following the lines of the previous narrow footpaths – which will now also let in much more light. It will be interesting to see what sort of flora will be encouraged to grow and how it will green up in the next few seasons once the contractors have left. With our hard hats donned we were able to take a peak at the work-in-progress and see what will need clearing up once the machines have disappeared.

NT’s Ranger team of Al and Kate from Wenlock were also there in the morning, chainsaws in hand, to take down some ash trees which added to the large amount of brash we were asked to process – a pile, which quite literally (see pic’ above) had our name on it – and so make a start on the clear-up efforts.

With so many volunteers present, we split into two groups. One burned the brash in the corner of a field adjoining the Edge, while the other group walked to the next field to cut down the overgrown hedge in front of an estate cottage which is being refurbished.

In just-in-time fashion, Nick marked a line with some spray paint. But it was tricky in places to keep to the marker, particularly where the hedge was very wide and hard to reach into; or dense because of the holly trees mixed in.

On a cold day with no sun, cake o’clock was very welcome and the disappearing brash was at least very successfully throwing off lots of heat to keep us warm. 

Special mention has to go to Lisa for her fantastic lemon cake; and most of all to Gordon, for his “simply divine” ginger parkin – even if initially they almost forgot to hand it out!  It was so good I had to have two pieces, so sorry if that meant some of you missed out on a slice….We should also mention newbie Richard, who successfully put his newly learned skills from a day on the Edge at Wenlock with us last Sunday to good use.

By the end of the day the brash pile had completely disappeared. Log-sized pieces were set aside for NT property woodchip boilers and for resale. The cottage hedge looked unrecognisable, a lot better for its haircut and will doubtless soon fill out in the places where it needs to!  

Hence another successful day at Benthall; and we hope to see all you volunteers back in March – when there’ll probably be a fair bit more to do! 

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Dave reports from a Saturday spent in the cold…….

It was bitter cold when we arrived on the Attingham estate for our third hedgelaying day of the season. But, it was dry and that’s what really matters when hedgelaying; a wet-handled bilhook is an accident waiting to happen. Connie the Ranger arrived with a fresh supply of stakes and heatherings (binders). Now we were ready.

A select band of hedgers was on site for this session which allowed us to have two cutting teams with a support group. The support group look after the fire and clear the hedge ahead of the cutters. This valuable group includes Christine our stake sharpener supreme. That said even she was lured to ‘help’ with the fire; it was that cold!

Although a new hedge the trees do vary considerably in size from just over 2cm up to 20cm in diameter. This is dictated by position and species. Anything growing under an established 100 year old oak is going to struggle. I think the biggest ones we had to contend with were the Field Maples meaning that the ‘big axe’ had to be brought into action.

Normally Field Maple would be left as a standard tree as their autumn colour is superb but here there were many planted together here so the best was chosen to let grow whilst those around were pleached.

Timing for lunch is usually at 12:45 but not this time. Why the change? Well the sun came out and we were not going to miss the opportunity of a warmer lunch break!

Reinforcements arrived just after lunch in the form of Bryn, Anne and Bess (the dog). With extra hands and paws to help the fire really got going and with the temperature now well above freezing everyone happily worked on. By end of play another 22 metres of hedge had been laid. …Only another 150 to go?

My thanks to Chris and Andrew for providing biscuits and cakes and to Connie and the Attingham team for providing the stakes and binders.

P.S. Did I mention it was cold?

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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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