Based on messages from Nick at Benthall, Sunday’s workday is cancelled on account of the forecast high temperatures 🥵 (see Mags email for details).

So plenty of time to plan a trip to the beach or somewhere shady instead!

Next up Shugborough on the 21st…..

Chris B reports:

On Sunday a select band of 8 joined the workday leader at the old WW2 airfield at the eastern end of the 4,000 acre Attingham Estate. In true WW2 spirit, only those who had contacted the leader knew that the task was no longer ragwort pulling as per the programme; but was to be removal of spiral guides and canes from a previously planted hedgerow. The weather was bright and sunny with the ground dry underfoot/ knee/body – ideal for this ground level job.  

Preparations for the workday had been well made by Ranger Gareth; he supplied the necessary builders bags and various hats (to ensure eyes did not get poked out). A double hedge has been planted either side of the Roman Road; I was going to say “old” Roman Road but this seems unnecessary! All in all there were four rows of plants to clear and we managed, according to some, around 150 metres of removal – or 600 metres if you measure all in one line! When asked how long it was to the end of the hedge some wags suggested it was “too far”.

You’ll be pleased to know that the phrase “keep on keeping on” kept us going to the end. For the record we filled five builders one tonne bags with spiral guards and two more with canes. Five bags were taken off site, with the remaining ones to be picked up the following day – the pick-up had only limited capacity!

If I’m honest, there was not much to see for all the effort, other than flattened grass! However, we know what we achieved: loads of plastic taken out of the countryside; the trees out of their mini greenhouses; and had a very enjoyable day in good company.  Mr Wells produced some fine cakes and there was some sticky flapjack too from the Workday Leader.   There is also potential for a future task, to lay the hedge that we cleared of guards and canes; this could happen in the next couple of years. Of course, we still have to finish “our” current hedge and this is likely to take most of the allocated time for this coming winter.  

Gareth not only produced some war era plans showing the airfield, but also explained how the site worked at that time. This included explaining why there was a beacon on the Wrekin: this was to stop the American pilots from flying into it – the Americans not being used to having hills near airfields – it seems some had sadly done this. It is also interesting that some of the roads in the area are in fact part of the former runways! He also indicated that currently options are being considered for the opening up of this part of the Estate more for outdoor visitors, such as cyclists and walkers. This might be something like the Comer Woods hub at Dudmaston, in an area which could include Sunday’s Roman Road and “our” patch of hedge currently being laid. 

Thanks to all the workers for a job well done; and special thanks to the cake provisioners.

Workday leader Mags reports from Morville Hall, near Bridgnorth:

An unpromising start weatherwise. It was raining when I left home, but turned out to be a warm sunny day … and a lot of hard work. When we had all (12) arrived, there was a short presentation. Lucy has achieved 20 years volunteering for the National Trust. Peter Carty was pleased to present her with a certificate and badge on the lawn in front of the Hall.

Then it was down to the ornamental canal to see what our work site looked like, removing reed mace from the water. At the beginning of the day, Peter assessed the amount still to do and thought that this year and next might see us finish the task, to be followed by biennial visits for maintenance. See how we got on during the day. There has been very little regrowth from last year’s visit and we expected to make good progress. Neil was first into the water, and I could see just how low the water level was. Only just over his knees, but for John that could have been almost up to his waist!

With new waders from Carding Mill Valley, there were soon plenty of people in the water. This year however – possibly because of the dry weather – but also because of the growth of other vegetation amongst the reed mace – the removal of the plants was not as easy as in the past. This was the start of a very hard day’s work. “Can we use your saw, Mags? Can it go in the water?”. “Can I use the loppers in the water?” Spades and pruning saws were put to work, as we had to practically cut out the reeds. The progress was good, and it was heavy work loading the debris onto the banks.

Having set up a base by the rotating summer house, we had cake o’clocks and lunch out on the grass. Ye olde faithful (can make it in my sleep) mars bar crispie cake and a new summer traybake – peach melba squares.

The parterre also received a tidy up, removing the weeds from the gravel.

At the end of the day – two huge piles of reed mace on the banks, and as well as the newly cleared strip visible across the canal, plus extensive channels into the remaining reeds (to encourage the water to seep in). But I think Peter’s predictions in the morning had been optimistic. With the harder work to remove the plants at this end of the canal, I think we’ll be back for at least another two years.

Also many thanks to the landlubbing volunteers for clearing a long swathe of invasive himalayan balsam from the edge of the Mor Brook. (Sorry, no photos.)

Finally, congratulations to Peter, Lucy and Matt for milestone volunteer hour achievements (2000, 2500 and 4000 hours totals respectively). More milestones on the horizon … watch this space.

And I almost forgot … congratulations to all members of the Group, past and present, for reaching 91,000 since counting began – 91,007 workday hours and 48 minutes to be precise. Get out there on a workday soon and help us towards the 100,000!

Workday leader Peter recounts:

After a forced layoff last weekend due to the extreme heat, ten determined souls took on the challenge in the Walled Garden at Shugborough on Sunday.   The NT gardens team had been busy watering frantically in the last few days which meant they needed some more help to catch up on their weeding.  The grey skies returning and a weather forecast that said likelihood of rain all day might have had something to do with lower numbers turning out.  But in fact as the sun made frequent appearances, the brickwork of the walled gardens did its intended job and kept the heat in making it a hard day’s work!

As we soon learned, this wasn’t just any old weeding task – this was species specific in order to ensure that in one day the group would manage to cover all the borders in the garden.  Gardener Lizzie was quite firm in her instructions from the Boss – it was Sow Thistle which was to come out and all other weeds were to be ignored and could stay put, even if they were adjacent.  She explained the reason for this was the thistles were just flowering and so about to release their seeds into the breeze.  If the gardeners weren’t quick enough, the weeds would soon be everywhere – as it turned out in some patches we were already too late!

First stop: into the early potato bed.  Once you got your eye in, the thistles and their little yellow heads were popping up everywhere. The overnight showers made the topsoil quite moist, but we soon found that the tap roots went down quite deep and this meant a sturdy border fork to break through what was often rock-like dried out soils. 

Working between the rows of potatoes it was impossible not to occasionally find one on your fork prong – hence the informal harvest began!

Soon trugs were overflowing with thistles,  then into builders dump bags, which Lizzie and the tractor carted off for disposal.

By biscuit o’clock (no cake this week, but still home-made and tasty – thanks Peter!) work on the first bed was nearly complete.

Next: it was the beetroot bed to sort, followed by onions, chard, beans you name it the thistle was everywhere including amongst the flowering beds…..And so the little harvest of bits and pieces collected along the way continued!

As the team moved across the garden fewer thistles could be found where there were strategically placed membranes.  So it became a game of hide and seek. By lunchtime most of the beds were nearly thistle-free.

With supply of thistles reduced some members moved on to bindweed removal.  This had taken over the fruit trees on the outer wall, threatening to smother them.  Others weeded the path edges.

Throughout the day the crimson SSNTV t-shirts were a novelty, often stopped and questioned by the visitors to the Garden – plant identification skills were tested; I wonder did we convince anyone to turn out as a volunteer next time?  Our only competition on the other side of the main path, was Molly the automated mower which kept the younger visitors intrigued, as it trimmed the grass unassisted, criss-crossing in its seemingly random diagonal lines.

By the end of the day all the beds had seen at least one visit and Lizzie commented that the Walled Garden looked much improved.  …And it turned out the volunteers had their thank you’s – as a few spuds, spring onions, red chard, garlic, large onions and beetroot made their way home to the their larders – apparently all accidentally caught on the end of a few fork tines!

…..Next up, summer gardening tasks are suspended for at least one week, as it’s a novelty workday at Morville, donning the NT waders and heading into the water to pull reeds in the ornamental canal at the Hall – fun in the mud!

STOP PRESS….A First!

Tomorrow’s workday at Attingham cancelled on account of the forecast high temperatures. Contact WDL Helen for more details / to confirm.

Workday leader David B took the pictures (in the shade of the Hall at least, if not out in the park!) and shared this report of our last workday at Benthall:

Gardener in Charge Nick knows how to look after his volunteers, which usually means that large SSNTV numbers turn out to the workdays at Benthall Hall. Sunday was no exception, as 15 volunteers prepared to brave temperatures reaching 29°C we reckon; and where on account of you know what, in the end 13 actually turned up.

It starts with remembering the names of even the newest volunteers. Then given the heat, Nick arranged workday tasks largely out of the blazing sunshine! Hence for much of the day we worked in the shade – much more comfortable. 

Nick had a range of tasks for us. First was hay raking at the top end of the church graveyard.

While another group headed to the parkland to remove excessive ivy from specimen trees. For now, this meant cutting away at the bottom, a couple of feet of ivy from the trunks. Large amounts of ivy can act as a sail in winter, making the trees vulnerable to being blown over in a storm. Killing the ivy now will allow it to die back by autumn. Having useful tips for the vol’s is another Nick trick – as he explained that this job shouldn’t be done until after midsummer, as the large-scale loss of ivy any earlier in the year can leave the trees exposed to sunburn! Who knew trees can be sunburnt!

The rest of the group worked at the back of the Hall around the cobbles. The heavy brigade dug out unwanted shrubs, bulbs and weeds from a bed in front of a tenanted house. It was harder than it looked because of extensive roots and bricks but the trio had the muscle power to cope. 

A slightly less demanding set of tasks involved clearing back, that is pulling out the large expanse of green shrubery spreading around the back of the Hall; before pruning the holly trees and weeding the cobbled courtyard. Others in the group contributed man (and woman) power, as they finished their initial tasks.

Throughout Chris cheerily wheeled all of the waste to the compost heaps – clearly his natural domain!

One of the benefits of working near the Hall was being able to make tea and coffee in the kitchen for cake o’clock and lunch.

So no one got dehydrated, as we sat comfortably in a shady spot picked out by Nick.

Nick then kindly finished the day with a BBQ of special local sausages for hotdogs. These, I can report were delicious, especially with the Fortnum & Mason beetroot sauce, left courtesy of the film crew of the Sherlock film “Enola Holmes’ which was partly made at Benthall.

A great end to a satisfying workday!

Thanks to all for their hard work – and  to David for the tasty chocolate boosts during the day….There was talk by Nick of more treats on the Group’s next visit next month – so we must have done something right!

Sunday saw a sizeable group of volunteers return to Hopesay Hill near Craven Arms to continue the care of the new sapling trees which most of the same SSNTV’ers had been involved in planting earlier in the year.

As an attraction after a long drive to the worksite the sun shone on the volunteers,  the only problem was the hundreds of young trees were hard to spot, hidden as they were amongst the copious bracken which had grown up since our earlier visits.

In fact there was so much new bracken growth that most of the little pathways through the patches had also disappeared from view in the sea of green. Only the couple of main waymarked paths helped navigation up the Hill.

TLC visit #2 was intended for the patch we first planted in February on the far side of the Hill / Common which meant a fair old walk up the slope.  But with the new growth everything looked different. To protect against grazing cattle the embryonic tree plantations had also been fenced in – would we find gates where we needed them to avoid climbing the taut, new barbed wire!

We reached planting patch one and surveyed the green.  No protective tubes visible – hence it was basically hunt the new trees!  Pretty quickly those doing the TLC tasks concluded, saplings planted in orderly rows weren’t too hard to find, even if they were under the big green fronds.  Every few paces – yep, another one popped up….In fact getting down and looking up from underneath was an easier way to spot the next plastic tube, rather that slash it in half!

With a well-earned cake o’clock break – when the cherry cake went down well – by lunchtime the whole patch of several hundred trees up and down the slope had been cleared – that is the bracken cut or bashed back to ensure light got to the ground and the young trees were not smothered by overhanging foliage.

Pleased to report that despite so much green cover, most tubes contained a viable sapling, with many already popping out of the top of the protectors, especially if this was a rowan.

So much progress was made that for the afternoon’s task it was back to the other side of the Hill to find the patches of new saplings, which the Group didn’t reach on TLC workday #1 about one month ago. The more adventurous volunteers headed straight over the top of the Hill following their noses back towards Hopesay village, others more cautiously followed the new fence line around the Hill. 

Then the head scratching began!  Those that had been out only one month ago stared at the next wide expanse of green – hadn’t we bashed the bracken around some the saplings here already?  Few holes in the bracken canopy were visible as we surveyed a mass of green up to chest high at least, for most!  Soon it was clear on this patch planted randomly, so not in marked lines and in the main closer together, finding the next sapling meant a bigger, slower task.

When NT’s Pete C arrived to check on the day’s work, a discussion ensued about which planting technique was most effective and when combined with the TLC tasks, which the most successful so far. 

Hence as glowing pink volunteers started to appear – was that the sun, the steep slope or something else – your workday leader called time on the bracken bashing workdays planned for the Group for this summer (so far…) with the jury still out on how well the new saplings will survive, how quickly they’ll develop and if more return visits might pop up in the next workday programme to ensure their success!

Thanks to all for their efforts – a fun day in the sunshine was the conclusion by most – even if it was a fair bit of hard work!

(Above answers: it’s 4 and 3 by the way)

RB

The weekend’s roving reporter, made it to Morville on Sunday for the group’s last visit to the Hall whilst under the tenancy of Mel and Andrew.

Mel wanted to leave the garden looking pristine, so sharp edges and weed-free borders were the tasks of the day. There was also the small matter of several hedges to cut.

Such was the lure of the cakes, that seventeen members came prepared to tackle the numerous jobs Mel had lined up. The first logistical task was getting the large NT ladders from nearby Dudmaston. Thanks to Neil and Jackie with their caravanning expertise, for providing the means to tow the Dudmaston trailer – even if it was a smaller trailer than we all expected!

First to get working were John, Neil and Richard continuing with the task from last month trimming back the climbers and shrubs on the front right hand side of the Hall.

Soon on their hands and knees were Paul and Sharon weeding the flower beds in the White garden followed soon after by Jill and Lucy.

Gordon and Lisa got stuck into the rose bush whilst Russell tackled the weeds, brambles and cleavers on the bank at the side of the rotating summer house.

With Ann and Matt isolating themselves from the rest of the group, they took charge of the bonfire, ably assisted by Chris on delivery duties which lasted all day.

That left Joel, Jackie, Lucy #2 and your reporter to cut the hornbeam and laurel hedges around the White garden.

With all busy on a warm but not hot day it was soon time for cake o’clock. As usual Mel provided a choice of teas, cakes were victoria sponge or flapjacks, with an added glut of strawberries from Sharon and Paul’s garden to share.

With the workday leader cracking the whip, the break was soon over and work continued apace.

After lunch more workers moved into the White garden to weed the remaining beds. The front of house team took over the laurel hedge.

As time pressed on it was obvious the planned finish time was not going to be achieved on the laurel hedge and extra resources were added to complete a square, straight and consistent look.

By four o’clock all the tasks for the day were  completed, rubbish burned or stacked up by the bonfire site and tools accounted for.

Mel was again overwhelmed by the amount achieved and the final appearance of the gardens.

As she served the tea of lemon cake, ginger, chocolate brownies and flapjacks for our final time, Russell presented her and the family with a leaving card signed by all.

I think the gardens Iook much better now than when Mel and Andrew arrived – with a little help from the Group – at least that’s my opinion. What next we wonder?

Best wishes in your new Shropshire home from all at SSNTV!

Peter O.

Saturday saw a one day event at Comer Woods called Hart of the Wood, with the aim of getting the public closer to nature and the woodlands in particular.

Your Chair put on  a volunteer yellow high-viz to get a backstage view.  Members Neil & Jackie, as suggested, extended their Saturday woodland walk to view the goings on; and the Treasurer with his wife, Pat acted as roving reporters to bring you this resume….

Back in November 2019 visual artist and film maker Benjamin Wigley appeared in the woods at Comer and took pictures of some of our volunteers at work during a workday. Some of these featured prominently in Saturday’s display. There were appearances by John and Eric along with Rangers Mike and Helen.  Neil and Paul were seen in the background of one of the videos, others may have been elsewhere.

The Barn at Heath Farm at Comer was hung with the photos.  There were also six videos, each between two and eight minutes long depicting scenes from the woods and characters from folk legends of various beliefs representing good and bad, wealth and poverty.

In the woods four zones had been created each representing one of the seasons through the year, within each of these there was an alter and also installations with interactive activities for the public.

The circuit started with a natural ring to pass through – either physically or simply metaphorically – to get in the mindset for communing with the wood – the mind boggles!

Summer included a large singing choir, with face painting with green and brown camouflage colours, to encourage you to get closer to nature.   Next was musical instruments – wind wackers – made from twigs and rubber bands that you swung around like a football rattle. When sufficient members of the public were gathered there was also a play between the Green man and Long Tom performed with The Green man representing greed from gambling lost to Tom.

Autumn was represented by The White Hart (~Stag).  There was a singer too on a separate stage and a two person performance with the White Hart asking  how he could regain equilibrium. (I only leant this from one of the videos as it was all mime -sometimes explanations were a bit thin!)

Winter including a spirit actor in costume; an opportunity to draw eyes on the trees; and for children in particular, to hang a selection of hand-finished pieces of wood representing bones from the branches of the trees.

Finally Spring was very colourful installation, with a musician / singer with a recording of a poem playing in the woods.

As you wandered the circuit you were given objects to represent that time of year, to make into a necklace.

In the Meadow, near the barn and on the woodland circuit two “kinetoscopes” (hand-cranked powered projector and sound boxes) had been set up.  These played images of the woods and characters from the performances.  Unlike the other installations which were a one-day event, these will remain in situ until 2023.

It was a fun day – especially for young at heart members of the public – you needed to suspend your disbelief!  Most of the time the sun shone – which helped! Lot of imagination was required and a few more explanations might have been helpful…..

PS: John did say he’d forfeit his appearance fee this time, especially since he was portrayed in such a flattering light in his photo!

A fuller and more professional synopsis of the event may yet appear (watch this space).  For those who missed it, you can see some of Ben’s imagery at www.artdocs.co.uk.

Something unusual happened last Sunday on our first workday visit in some time back to Moseley Old Hall, Wolverhampton:…. 

Our workday leader David, having done the organising, delivered the tools, planned the task, then decided he was too poorly to continue pretty much as soon as he arrived, so we sent him home to recuperate.

Still as David later wrote from his sick bed, thanks to all for getting things done in his absence – good to know there is a crew he could rely on.  Too right since a large proportion of your committee were at the workday, you’d think they’d manage to get things done (…or perhaps not!)

Sunday also saw another new ranger to the patch meet SSNTV’s incredible team and see them efficiently put paid to all the tasks she had envisaged. Amy is the very new and first ever ranger dedicated solely to Mosley. She’s also a newbie to rangering herself.  She is also as she had to admit to the volunteers, not yet much of a gardener, so with that role empty at present she has her hands full, covering that job too.

By the end of day at least, she knew where to find some additional, capable resources!

Two primary jobs were identified for the Group for the day.

The first for which few volunteers could be found, was to turn and reorder the overgrown row of six compost bays. However Ian, with lots of home grown expertise and Chris, fresh from heap turning with Nick at nearby NT Benthall, gave Chair Russell suitable guidance on what should go where as they dug to find the good stuff and sorted the heaps to identify new green as well as well-rotted and therefore usable composts.  (Nick if you’re reading this, any tips for compost success would be well received by Amy!)

Job number two, which found more favour, was in the woods to the rear of the Hall, running alongside the road. Amy wanted the paths widened, removing overhanging green to provide a more welcoming feel and encourage more visitors to walk around these pleasant glades.  That meant the woods were to be cleared of most of the unwanted regenerative regrowth, pulling things out at the roots, and tugging out nasty brambles, roots and all. That way specimen trees and shrubs would be more visible.

In the woods, as the earth was exposed and more light fell on the woodland floor, numerous mounds of green cuttings grew at alarming rates. At first these were by the side of the developing rides, but unfortunately due to the Hall’s very close proximity to the M54 no bonfires on site are allowed to dispose of them – so what to do these unsightly distractions; the answer was to hide them away in discrete areas out of sight from the paths.

The compost team armed with rudimentary instructions, managed to sort and order the heaps, combining and splitting contents, whilst at the same time creating a sequence from fresh & new; to old & matured, with some economy of effort on what moved where.

By the end of the day the wood had been given a late spring clean and youngsters will be able to run and tumble amongst the trees without getting covered in scratches.

It wasn’t long after we’d left that Amy wrote to say…

I just want to say a HUUUUGE thanks to yourself and the rest of the team on Sunday. I’m still baffled at how much work you have all done! That area will now be set up for den building as it’s the perfect little clearing! I couldn’t believe how many people started actually walking around in that space when it was just a dead zone before.

Plans were already being discussed about how a return visit could be arranged in the next workday programme.  So yet again SSNTV impressed and our reputation of a team fond of hard work continues.

Thanks to all for their efforts, in unplanned organising; digging and Leela too, for some delicious cake at cake o’clock (correction, as Leela points out, it was David’s chocolate cake!)

…Oh yes, and David seems to have recovered enough at least to manage a holiday this week to Italy – perhaps he just needed more time to pack after all!