Archive for the ‘Volunteering’ Category

After a heavy night of AGM’ing the day before, only a few dedicated SSNTV’ers made it out on Sunday – or was it the threat of thundery rain – as workday leader Peter reports…….

On Sunday SSNTV travelled to its most southerly site at Kinver Edge.

The task for the day had two aims: create a new, wide “ride” (broad path) through the trees increasing the light, so providing the best conditions for a diversity of flora and fauna on the slopes; the second was to divert a short steep section of the Centenary Way path making it more accessible.

As the signs for visitors explain, creating a V-shaped gradual edge to the woodland from tall, mature trees to smaller shrubs and ground cover plants will provide a better habitat for a mix of species, such as the white admiral butterfly.  This will hopefully flourish, as it has done in other areas of the Edge already worked on in previous years – in a location, at present representing its most northerly extent in the UK.

With wet weather and passage of time, the Centenary Way has become extremely narrow, rutted and twisting.  This makes it almost impossible for some of the public, with pushchairs and the like, to complete the circular walk.

The work involved one of the group’s favourite tasks cutting and burning – in this case the cutting was done by ranger Ewan (taking a day out from his holidays) with his chainsaw speeding up the operation to fell sizeable trees.  There was still much to cut and process and in that way generate lots of logs for firewood income….and the small matter of a steep slope to navigate in the rain!

Once all the trees are felled a contractor will be brought in to help create the new accessible path. Walkers and mountain bikers can then be segregated reusing the old path line. 

Work was regularly interrupted for cake which Ewan had baked for us, thanks for that – Rhubarb and Custard wonderful!!!!!!!!!

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It was back to Dudmaston’s Comer Wood on Sunday to carry on providing TLC to the new conifer and broadleaf saplings which we planted over multiple weekends last winter. It seems that once you adopt a tree at Dudmaston, you’re responsible for it for life – which could mean a lot of repeat visits!

Still, first task this weekend was to spot the green tubes (tree protectors) peeking out from the brambles and copious sycamore regrowth.  Ranger Mike professed himself happy with the development of the adjoining patch worked on last visit, however the passage of time and moist, warm summer meant that the new little trees were having to complete with all kinds of regrowth to find the light.

Pleased to report that the high success rate of our planting continued as most tubes contained developing or just emerging green shoots and failure rates were very low.

It turns out that where ever a sycamore remained from the contractor’s felling, if it is still in contact with the soil, it will start to reshoot.  Hence there was ample green to chop away and arrange in wind rows between the lines, as rows of green tubes gradually emerged during the day.

Rates of progress were a bit down on the last visit as a result, hence there’ll be plenty for next time.

Pleased too, to be able to report that master baker(ess) Maggie was on hand to keep the group sustained with a great selection.  But can you have too much cake, some were heard to ask? – as there were also contributions from Mike, John W and others throughout a sunny day! Thanks to all.

For those out on consecutive Sundays the consensus reached was that clambering through brambles and regrowth was almost as demanding as wading through mud to pull reeds – most reeds that is, except the ones at Benthall (see last week….but that’s another story)

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After recent water-based tasks at Morville Hall, Shugborough Estate (twice) it was now Benthall’s turn.  On a glorious sunny day (which made up for the very cold water – Ed!) workday leader Matthew reports:


Gardener in charge Nick was on gate duty next to the ‘Moon Pool’, a few fields down from the main Hall, as I swung the car onto the grass ready to start work…and what an exhilarating workday it proved!

An intrepid group ventured into the uncharted depths of the pool to start clearing several years worth of unwanted reedmace growth. The scene reminded me of the recent Army recruiting advert on TV – ‘Royal Marines – it’s a state of mind’, with the daring (all male) SSNTV’ers making their way through the sticky, smelly mud.

They didn’t need any make-up, with black splashes creating the ultimate camouflage. Although a distance from the Hall, this pool is the water reservoir for any significant fire-fighting and so it needs to be clear in order that the fire service can access the water.   Reeds were pulled and floated to the bank, whilst landlubber volunteers dragged them into piles – deftly avoiding the flying green mud bombs! 

….Such was the depth of the mud that at the end of the day, the man in charge admitted he may have to bring in a digger to help complete the task!

At the same time, another crack team unleashed havoc on the willow which had sprouted around the banks of the pool, with much felled in a short space of time.

Thanks to Nick and Heather for both “cake o’clock” treats and the on-site BBQ at the end of the day.  There were also more insights into the recent movie filming at Benthall.  We’re told Nick does not have a part in the film, but watch this space, as he was keeping a close eye on proceedings – he may be hiding in the background somewhere……!

Here’s to more great tasks over the coming months!

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SSNTV Chair and workday leader Chris reports:…

Well, with all the recent wet weather we came prepared for rain…but Gardener in Charge Nick’s sunny disposition kept the drops away.  We made a traditional start of a good chat, welcoming a new recruit to Benthall in the form of Jill Wells! Then gathered our tools and girded something (ed!) to begin the heavy work.

The tasks were varied; weeding the drive, gathering hay and mulching borders, but most effort went into relaying the gravel around the front of the Hall – which a special hush-hush project had recently had cause to remove – shovelling into a trailer and then back off again to lay outside the front door and all along the drive.  Everyone worked well, but special mention must go to Matt and Russell for sterling work on the shovels – Nick, do get that pneumatics fixed for next time!

Being front of house and strategic deployment of the SSNTV sign, provided the ideal opportunity for John and Chris(tine) to employ their natural nattering skills, engaging with two seemingly earnest potential new recruits.

The end of the day tea on the terrace at 3.30 was most welcome (even if it didn’t actually turn out to be the end of the day’s work…Ed!).  Maggie, unable to make the workday, had nevertheless kindly baked us a glorious victoria sponge.  I can confirm it arrived on site in one piece. But it didn’t live long, with its last crumbs finally mopped up by Russell who, by not liking a key ingredient (coconut), ruled himself out of the running for a piece of Shugborough Derek’s post-Fuggle leftover birthday cake thoughtfully brought to us by Lucy.

A job for next time may be the replacement of a roadside post we planted some years ago; it appears that a vehicle got the better of it (it was prostrate on the ground). But no doubt it will have made its mark before succumbing!

Sincere thanks to Nick for looking after us…..And for being the first to put up our new recruitment posters (….watch this space..Ed!).

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It’s the time of year again that some of us SSNTV volunteers got to pack up our boots, bowsaws and cake and head up north for our annual working holiday in Northumberland, staying in the NT bunkhouse and working on the fantastic thousand acre Cragside estate.

This year we had two main tasks which were to clear back the rhododendron at the base (toe) of the dam at Nelly’s Moss South Lake and to remove about a third of the reed growth in the Slipper Lake (Tarn).

Sunday saw us up at Nelly’s Moss to attack the Rhodi, aiming to cut it back by about three metres so that the dam inspectors could have better access when they come to check the dam integrity.

Lotsa RhodiLotsa Cake

Rhodi bashing is one of our favourite activities so needless to by the end of the day we had created a huge pile of cuttings and eaten a huge amount of cake. Unfortunately this time we weren’t able to burn the rhodi, as it was going to be chipped and used for path and trim trail surface covering so we had dragged it all up to the edge of the road ready to be taken away with the tractor and trailer later in the week.

Rhodi piling upsuper human chain

Monday was our wet and messy day as we donned the waders to go paddling in the Slipper Lake and attack the ever encroaching reeds.

happy wader's day!ready for action

Although these were a smaller type of reed than the ones that we regularly pull out at Morville Hall, it was just as satisfying to see more and more clear water emerge as the day progressed. We were stacking the reeds at the water’s edge to allow any little creatures to make their way back to the water before we tidied up properly at the end of the week

what a lot of reedsreed raft racing

Tuesday was our day off and the only day with persistent rain, hmm typical!

A group of us took our brollies and went over to Low Hauxley to have a look around the Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s discovery centre ( Luckily we found the tea room first and “discovered” the homemade date and banana scones there before having a nice walk around the large lake, stopping in the many bird hides to watch the wide assortment of birds that were out and about.

Following a lunchtime stop at Amble for some yummy fish and chips and with the rain coming down more heavily, we headed back to Alnwick for a visit to Barter Books and a mid-week shop for the rest of the holiday food.


Wednesday and Thursday were back to work and returning to Nelly’s Moss Lake to continue attacking the rhodi, eating cake and starting the massive tidying up operation with us filling up two trailers at a time to go round to Nelly’s Moss car park ready for chipping!

loading, loading, loading Rhodi!!how much more is there?

“Tidy” Friday was our day to finish off at both sites so our first stop was at the Slipper Lake to move the reeds away from the lake edge and leave it all looking tidy and beautiful again.

lovely reeds


We then headed up to Nelly’s Moss for cake o’clock and continued to load and clear the last of the rhodi cuttings.

see the magic walking rhodi

only one more load to go

Following our final lunch break we had a leisurely stroll back to the bunkhouse to drop off our work gear before heading up to the formal gardens to test out the new deck chairs and bean bags.

lunch with a viewand relax...

While we were there, we took up the very kind offer from Rachel the head gardener to give us a sneaky peek inside the newly restored clock tower before it re-opens to the public later in the month.

Clock towerit goes deeeep down...

This was followed by even more sneakiness as Helen and Charlotte of the ranger team treated us to a preview of the new Parkland walk and the amazing new Gorge walk that will be opening to the public very soon.

Parkland walk preview..gorge walk

And to top it all we ended up back at the visitor centre to meet up with ranger Leigh for ice-creams overlooking the lake, what a fantastic end to a brilliant working week!

the ice creams are on their way..joined by the gardeners...

Thank you to all of the volunteers, who came up to Cragside this year and worked so hard over the week, brought and made such amazing cakes and cooked such yummy food!

Special thanks also to the awesome ranger team of Leigh, Helen, Dan, Charlotte and Duncan “the elusive” for making us so welcome and making the week such fun and also to head gardener Rachel for the clock tower viewing.

Hope to be back again next year!

until next year...

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With the Northumberland holidaying members returning, there was a large turnout at Shugborough to tackle the gardening tasks Caroline had in mind for us.   Perhaps they were drawn by the initial offer of paddling in the river Sow, but in the end it was garden weeds!

Nevertheless as temperatures started to climb the group set to work in beds near the Essex Bridge gate.  At the same time another group made short work of pulling ragwort from the field adjoining the Mansion car park and soon had to make the long walk to the weed beds – sorry flower beds!

If you look back to January you’ll see the Group making a start on these borders and huge rhododendron, mulching and putting down weed retardant matting. Today’s task turned out to be to tackle the weeds which had made their way between the gaps in the matting and through the protective guards placed around the shrubs which had been planted by the gardens team, since our last visit.

There was plenty to remove as the visiting public eyed the group close up beside the path, sitting, kneeling or crouching over and around the plants which are starting to get established.  New volunteer Charlotte’s bare knees hopefully surviving their first outing!

It’s always rewarding to be involved in longer term projects, so it was great to see how we have helped to transform this bed over the last year. The Essex entrance to the estate is a key one for pedestrian visitors from Great Haywood, so catching the eye here makes an especially good impression. Rewarding too for the workers, was the tasty cake, from ever reliable Maggie, with workday leader David’s lemon drizzle coming a close second!  Thanks to both.

End of the day meant special efforts to disinfect all of the tools used as well as our boots. Unfortunately phytophthora has re-emerged in some of the rhodi’s in the ornamental garden, so armed with his rubber gloves, Jimmy took on the mantle of disinfecter-in-chief.  

Head Gardener Caroline expressed herself pleased with what we’d done. So doubtless there’ll be plenty more for next time (with the added attraction of a potential social visit for Derek’s special August fuddle – oooooh can’t wait!)

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Back at Benthall Hall on the day of the Cosford Air Show. Would we see any of the planes? But it was not a day for reaching up into trees, eyes on the sky. No, we were down on the ground, weeding brick paths and gravel in the rear courtyard (and by the church and lychgate). These were the main tasks of the day.

The other tasks (which you could stretch the description ‘some general gardening tasks’ to cover, but were not so photogenic) were clearing up some of debris from the last visit, and turning the compost heaps.

So, back to the courtyard … cake o’clock on the tea terrace – a delicious lemon/lime cake and a lovely mug of tea. Then back to work – looking like an army of ants!

Following lunch on the lawn in the kitchen garden, back to those bricks … or the compost heaps, from where we could see the smoke trails of the Red Arrows – away in the distance over Cosford.

The working group shrank as the Committee meeting started on the family terrace – but we didn’t let the side down, and finished with excellent results.

So to the BBQ treat, as the threatened rain held off!

And yes … some of the Air Show planes (including the Spitfire) came overhead just as we were winding up…and as menacing grey clouds circled.

At the end of a long day and lots of backbreaking work, a lazy evening? Not me! I got side-tracked by my own front garden and finally put the tools away as the fading light defeated me around 10pm.

Wow, what a day! Thanks everyone.


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