Archive for the ‘Volunteering’ Category

It was that time of year again on Sunday, to put away the heavy boots and find some very scruffy clothes that would survive the mud and smelly water of the ornamental canal in the grounds of Morville Hall, as the group set about removing two years of regrowth of weeds and bullrushes – and what turned out to be some sizeable overhanging shrubs.

NT waders on, the volunteers headed down to the water’s edge.  With no recent visit on account of you know what – there was a fair bit of regrowth of younger reeds to deal with, in continuing the task of keeping the waterway clear. 

The views from the garden were also increasingly being reduced by shrubby growth and young trees at the water’s edge.  Bowsaws in the water would be the tool for the day to prevent too much shade and shadow developing and so prevent algae growth – John was in his element!

The mass of material meant there was plenty to do for those who intentionally didn’t plan to get wet, as wood and wet reeds were piled up on the banks (to let any little creatures make it back to the water).  Special praise to Ann and Eric who dragged and stacked all day!…There’ll be a bonfire weekend needed here too!

They say the sun shines on the righteous – so we must have done something good, as the grey clouds lifted. There was no more rain. By cake o’clock, we were sitting in the sunshine which stayed with us for the rest of the day.

With no newbies in the group, all present in the water demonstrated high levels of skills in keeping their balance and staying upright, whilst slowing sinking into the mud.  In fact no one fell in / over all day!

By afternoon the vista looked great as the water surface was cleared and there were views restored all round.  With the sunshine warming things up, standing in the cool water was actually pretty relaxing.  So much so that the end of workday finish time was easily exceeded by more than an hour!

Such was the watery regrowth that only a bit more progress to the right was made on the multi-year task – note to our Helen and NT’s Pete – it was so much fun, perhaps let’s have two goes next summer!

…And on top of that some of the group’s more genteel members on dry land gave the Hall garden’s parterre a weeding once-over….And then for their afternoon workout, finished off the hornbeam hedge in the full sun – something not quite completed on the last workday (see 18th July)

With plenty of cake for energy (thanks Mags, Eric, Russell) it meant a good day was had by all.

Next up it’s the party weekend to celebrate the Group’s 40th anniversary founding – Yeah!!

…PS: NT’s Pete Carty got in touch to say thanks for the great job that was achieved on the day.

…PPS: Melanie has also been in touch from her holiday already, to say that she’s looking forward to taking in the new views over the water…….so well done all!

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Mad dogs and SSNTV go out in the midday sun! …well, go out all day actually….

On the hottest day of the year – so far – a small number of SSNTV’ers took the decision not to rest in their gardens all day (if they had them) drinking pims, but to plaster themselves in sun lotion and sweat buckets in the Morville gardens….as workday leader Peter describes:

The select few’s first task was a tour of the Hall estate looking for jobs that might be completed in the shade.  It was also a chance to see the gradual changes Mel and her gardener have been making, increasing the planting and taming some of the unruly patches.

Task finding “first place” went to team 1 who managed not to see the sun all day as they cleared an overgrown area of alder and nettles by the oil tank and opened up the access path. No bonfire for the brash though, that can dry out until may be, next time.

Team 2 the long-married couple, got second place with a little sun, as they moved around the garden trimming access around the yew hedges; pruning and weeding the rose beds, skilfully moving in and out of the shade.

Treasurer and Vice Chair ended up with the booby prize, trimming the hornbeam hedge in the top “white” garden in full sun all day.

Thankfully Melanie provided copious amounts of iced lemon water to keep the troops hydrated; along with homemade cakes for our cake o’clock and thereafter; with a treat of ice creams at the end of the day.  All sought the little shade in the shadow of the Hall’s high walls and rested – watching the farmers beyond the garden, tossing their hay and then cautiously collecting the huge bales generated, whilst navigating across the sloping valley side.  Thanks, Melanie for the hospitality, it was much appreciated.

At the end of a hot day she expressed herself impressed with the amount of work completed, despite the sun!

As she wrote following our visit:…

Dear Peter and the gang,
What an epic day Sunday was! In all that stifling heat and with only a few of you on site, you still managed to work complete wonders without a power tool in sight! I never cease to be amazed by the energy and drive of the SSNTV – a perfect model of team working and always so nice to see you all.  I really am very grateful indeed for all three tasks undertaken, please extend my thanks out to the others.  The garden is basking in this summer weather, but it’s all the better for having been SSNTV’d…

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Sunday saw a return to Moseley Old Hall, Wolverhampton for a fencing task – the first time that the Group had visited for some years and everyone was racking their brains to remember the date of the last visit and what that task comprised. This time the request was to help gardener Alex remove some existing fencing and so help to better join up parcels of land acquired by the Trust at different times and so improve access around the estate.

The workday turned out to potentially be a record one – topping the list of how quickly the volunteers could complete the designated task. In this case, by the time of cake o’clock elevenses, people were already asking Alex what would be the next thing to do as the first site was cleared and waste materials were piling up!

It was a chance for Chairman Chris, especially well energised by cooked breakfast on this Sunday, as everyone remarked, to satisfy his destructive urges for once.  Wielding a mattock he made short work of the existing fence posts – after, that was others had chopped away at the undergrowth to find out exactly what was where.

Still the quick work meant little disruption to smaller visitors to Moseley as they could soon head back to the natural play area in the woodland adjoining the worksite.

Perhaps with that in mind Alex then came up with a second similar task on a distant corner of the estate.  Crossing the overflow carpark and a developing meadow patch adjoining the nearby M54, the group set to work on removing a second line of wires and posts and promptly made short work of that too, pulling the better-anchored wire mess from the ground.

Lunch was a chance to enjoy a second helping of cake – thanks Eric!  Talk too was of the previous week’s visit to nearby Benthall Hall and its successful orchid-strewn meadow.  Alex explained that with help from various public funding bodies, along with future landscaping in conjunction with nearby relief road construction he hoped to find resources to encourage more wildflowers in the fields in which we were working.

Soon afterwards fencing job #2 was complete and all that remained was for those not in a hurry to get home to enjoy a thank you ice cream in the sunshine.  As we left, Alex could be seen deep in thought – how quickly could he get a big group back for another task perhaps?

…And what / when was that last workday visit then, I hear you ask? ….Well I for one, am still looking – but I’m sure someone can tell us!

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Your editor, NT pickup driver and for one Sunday, workday leader reports on the latest efforts by the Group:

Sunday saw the current trend of April showers continue into May at the Morville Hall, Bridgnorth work restart. A sizeable group some of whom as requested, packed their secateurs and trugs turned out to help the tenants keep the actively growing garden under control in advance of possible NGS open days later this summer. If they were a little rusty about what to pack for a workday, the heavy showers that kept popping up, will have made sure waterproofs are still on the list!

There were plenty of tasks to choose from – this being our first return trip since lockdown – but we could start with complimenting tenants Melanie and family for keeping on top of a large number of jobs despite the restrictions of Covid.

All volunteer tastes could be catered for.  Some climbed the ladders to prune hollies to good effect.

Others picked up spades and forks to tend around some of the rose bushes growing along the grassy garden banks.

To the workday leader’s delight, some even volunteered for weeding – meaning he didn’t have to do it himself!  The ladies mostly, ensconced themselves between the patterns of ornamental box and gradually made the contrasting leafy green stand out more clearly from the brown gravel throughout the day.

Towards the small orchard there were tasks to remove the weeds, cut back the ivy from the walls as well as start to prune and tidy some of the many fruit trees and shrubs.

With powered strimmer in hand – well actually hanging from both shoulders – Dave thought he’d spotted an orchid amongst the long grass – but no, after closer inspection – the purple petals turned out to be a wood hyacinth, better known as a spanish bluebell – what an imposter! 

Is it an orchid hidden in the grass?…Nope: just a bluebell!

Still plenty work left for next time at this site, after the holiday at the end of this month…..

PS: Had a nice note of thanks from Melanie in appreciation of the Group’s efforts – she’s already looking forward to the next visit in June!

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Workday leader Matthew reports:

COVID regs meant the lucky 6 SSNTV’ers drawn from the proverbial hat, with by the afternoon Leela in addition, masquerading as a local volunteer, were the ones challenged to clear trees, bracken and undergrowth beside one of the walls of the kitchen garden, adjacent to the Walled Garden complex, as this area is won back and future public access expanded. With the sun appearing for a while, it was a nice task to undertake; revealing the fine old wall and engaging in the usual banter. 

Once in a while, a train hurtled past on its way between London and Manchester. Interestingly, there seemed to be more trains in the morning, with one particularly loud diesel goods train laden with ballast. I marvelled at this feat of engineering, famously passing through the Shugborough Estate. The nearby Sher Brook stream even passes over the line on its own aqueduct.

One or two volunteers managed to wander off to look at the bee hives which are located between the kitchen garden and railway. 

At one point, I thought that we had lost volunteer Ron, but he was found next to a building which was being engulfed by bracken. All of a sudden he was gathering helpers for his masterplan of cutting some bracken and pulling it together with a rake. How well it worked, as soon a large ball was making its way towards the bonfire. 

…There’s a volunteer in there somewhere..!

Unfortunately we also managed to evict a family of mice which had taken up residence in an old black sack. No doubt they will have no problem upgrading to a more eco-friendly home.

NT man for all tasks, James assured us that our next visit will be subject to new Covid guidance, so that by the end of May with a maximum of 30, everyone keen to cut and burn can come along!

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Success at last!

Following the latest easing of lockdown restrictions, we’re happy to report that SSNTV were able to complete the first Sunday workday of 2021 with a brilliant Covid safe day in the East Annexe of the Walled Garden at Shugborough.

As the majority of the wall conservation work has now been completed here, head gardener Caroline now has grand plans for increasing visitor access around this part of the garden, which include extending the visitor walking route out in front of the walls in the picture and creating new flower beds.

However, before the flower bed creation and seed sowing could begin, the SSNTV removals team were called in to clear the target areas of all things that don’t agree with rotovator blades or shouldn’t belong in a flower bed.

During the day we completed the challenge of uncovering, lifting, shifting and re-homing: 2 full pallets worth of stonework; 1 full pallet of slate; pallets of paling fences; 1 pallet of fence posts; some rather large tree trunks; old roof timbers and other wood left from the conservation work; a full size enamel bath (taps still working!!); a rusty bench; a random chimney pot; assorted pipes and metalwork; bricks and rubble and a nice selection of logs. 

Blessed with glorious sunshine and brilliant volunteers (as always), a fantastic day was had by the small group, on account of Covid regs. Thanks to Caroline for offering us this extra session ahead of the full workday programme which our volunteers will be happy to be reminded is due to restart in mid-May!! 

…Off to Wenlock Edge next….!!

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Doubtless many SSNTV’ers will recognise this worksite….

But (with some allowance for technical / practical niceties) seems that even the recent snowy weather doesn’t stop the cut, even if it does stop the burn!

#2 …..So where is it, then?

Answer: Al or Kate doubtless in the snow at WENLOCK EDGE. …There are more snowy pictures here https://www.facebook.com/nationaltrustwenlockedge/posts/2879531235600515 but doubtless all this rain has washed the white stuff away!

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..As before, click the link, enter TRUST when prompted:

Merry Christmas!

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Sunday at the Quarry

…as Workday leader Matthew describes:

It was a return to the woodland at Stretton Westwood quarry on the penultimate workday of 2020. This was the last worksite I had attended before….something unusual happened…..back in early March.

Although the forecast was wet, we did have some dry spells, with Rangers Al and Kate choosing a bonfire site which provided good cover from the December rain. 

The Rangers had come up with a cunning plan, as usual: we were to cut the hawthorn to around chest height – or head height for some! This would let in large amounts of light whilst keeping the integrity of the steep banks intact. Al and Kate would also take out some of the large ash trees to to thin the established woodland and develop access, whilst adding to the increased light. The aim of all this to encourage the orchids and other woodland flowers to re-appear as they have done on other parts of the site where such action has already been completed.

All the group thoroughly enjoyed the day’s task. The usual banter went down well. We look forward to a time (April perhaps), when we can share a proper “cake o’clock” again. This will please many members of the group and especially Kate who remarked on missing the usual pre-Christmas feast!

…The (Alternative) View from the Top of the Slope

After the glorious late sunshine of Attingham, the cold and rain at Wenlock reminded those participants who were making it two days in a row, what volunteering is really all about – Guess what? – I chose the wrong day….comments our muddy, wet Editor:

That is, not sure how dry a day it was for those working at the top of the slope compared with downhill near the warmth of the fire – especially as those volunteers gradually cut down their protection from the cold wind and rain throughout the day!

The quarry is a work in progress site so far as nature is concerned, as ranger Al explained and hence part of a multi-year initiative – not quite a formal plan!  There are older established mounds within the site – are these old spoil heaps, it’s not clear; along with newer ones, pushed up by man’s mechanical efforts.  Large trees surround the perimeter and steep rocky walls. The thin limestone soils are a particular habitat for plants and shrubs which survive when the going gets a bit tough – it’s these in particular we’re trying to encourage.  We wait to see if, as a result of our efforts, there are dormant orchids, for example just waiting to stir.

The twisted hawthorns and pencil-straight ash both brought their challenges. As the trees frequently didn’t want to come down even when supports were cut away – the one species often still tangled up high, the other perfectly balanced stock upright on their cut stump.

Artistic skills were also on show, as the chest-high “pollarding” left some intriguing shapes in an attempt to encourage new growth.

Those more steep banks also presented a challenge in the wet and slippery conditions, as the loose soils and rangers’ orange marker dots sometimes lead to decaying and damaged trees overhanging the banks.  The question: could we target the fire site in one go, bringing them down, without falling in with trees!

Enthusiasm did prevail despite some shivers in the cold; the wet seeping in; and the main path to the fire site becoming a slippery, muddy runway.  Raincoats, trousers and cagoules all became a nice shade of wet mossy green or was it muddy brown!  So much so that Al also preferred to remain on the chainsaw all day, in preference to that last-minute Christmas shopping. Despite the grotty weather that there was even talk, to be confirmed, of returning in 2021 for extra workdays to make up for time lost this year.

…Who needs sunshine!

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Groundhog Day ……in a good way……as workday leader Mags recounts:

Sunday 15th saw us at Kinver Edge … again. Eleven in total, each of us had already been to a post-lockdown workday at the site, so were used to, but very mindful of the instructions on social distancing and sanitising hands and equipment.

The day was a continuation of the work from a fortnight before (see Nov. 1st post) – the tumbril still in place for our bonfire.

As leader, I missed being able to provide cake, but we still had a “no cake o’clock” after about an hour’s work. I was also keeping an eye on the weather. It was bright when we arrived, and for quite a while thereafter. Useful for checking which trees needed to be removed to allow the sun into places where adders might bask. But we could see very dark clouds threatening over the ridge. When they arrived, thankfully they only delivered short showers. Not enough to noticeably dampen the spirits, nor the fire – but enough to create weather to catch the eye!

Working beyond last time’s glades into the scrub, it was not difficult to get lost. Honing in on the fire, armed with brash, easy enough; but returning to your spot to carry on thinning was not so straightforward. It was too easy to follow a track too far down the slope or go beyond the same place in among the trees. By the end of the day all was cleared and burned; every tool accounted for and newly sanitised.

Assistant Ranger Tom also took the chance to vary the chainsaw action, trying his hand at the creation of standing deadwood for habitats, rather than felling and clearing – as the pic’s show.

All in all, well worth getting out in the fresh air … and the smoke!!

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Ed’s PS: After the missed get togethers of the recent virtual AGM and cancelled Bonfire stay-away workdays, Sunday was also the chance for Chairman Chris to hand out socially distanced SSNTV annual awards for last year: Hours Prize (Leela) and Special Mentions for Workday Leading (Russell, Peter and David B).

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