It was Programme committee member Helen’s turn as leader for the workday this last Sunday:

There was a strong turnout for our workday at Dudmaston Hall in the gardens – a location the Group had not visited for a while.  I think everyone enjoyed a great day. There was a warm welcome from the Dudmaston team on the day, Gardener Simon and Ops Manager Gow; with interesting and varied work including repairing weather damage on paths in the bog garden and near the stables yard, as well as brute force required for some heavy gardening tasks.

Putting it simply there was too much membrane about!  Simon explained that when there are heavy rains water flows downhill through the borders towards Big Pool.  This means that several paths become awash and the gravel top doesn’t stay put, but slides off the membrane and washes downhill with the water.  So the task was to remove some of this webbing, allowing better drainage into the soil; and at the same time, tidy and remove the weeds.  Unlike recently at Benthall Hall, there was no machine to sort the gravel, so to save effort and to allow the visiting public to get access again as soon as possible, this meant removing just enough gravel to take up the black underlay beneath and then re-level the top, a wacker-plate would follow.

There were also, we were told, too many bamboo plants for the Gardens team’s liking!  Hence above the Ladies Bath feature, some of the group dug into the dry and hard-baked sandstone soil to remove self-seeding bamboo offshoots.  Thankfully tractor and trailer were on hand to remove the sizeable solid clumps that the pickaxes managed to lever out.

As the tasks were fast being ticked off, additional paths away from the Pool were added to the job list by Simon to keep the Group busy throughout the day. 

With more sun too than was anticipated and after the welcome overnight rains, the gardens at Dudmaston looked at their best. If you’ve not seen them, go check them out! There were beautiful displays of azaleas and rhododendrons in particular in full flower – so it was a delightful spot to work, as well as sit and enjoy the views at lunchtime.

Only as the end of the workday neared did the rain start to fall, which meant a very welcome opportunity for a reviving cuppa and more cake (after the workday leader’s home-made flapjacks for elevenses) – this time, courtesy of the Dudmaston team – indoors at the Gardeners Bothy.  So thanks to all for those. We will certainly be back for more! 

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Workday leader Matt reports: A gloriously sunny Sunday saw a good number of the SSNTV group returning to Benthall Hall to work with Head Gardner Nick on a trio of summer garden jobs, but with the promise of an extra Benthall Bonus at the end of the workday (more on this later..)

The jobs that Nick had lined up for us were working on improving the garden paths (by digging out the soil and gravel, riddling the mix to separate the gravel and re-spreading it onto the paths – as we started last year), filling in the potholes along the track by the farm, and weeding/cleaning out the bricks at the back of the house

The keen volunteers divided themselves up amongst the jobs on offer and cracked on with the necessary work enjoying the nice weather and usual banter

Cake O’clock became Cake and Cookie O’clock, thanks to Chris’ donation of his bargain 25p cookies (yum, yum!!), and we all reconvened on the terrace to enjoy a bite and a brew, along with a potential new group member who was also looking for a fair share of cake!

As the path crew had almost completed the digging out phase, it was time for Nick to roll out our old favourite and the “Destroyer of Peaceful Sunday Afternoons”, namely the gravel riddling machine, and just in time for the afternoon visitors to “enjoy” it, yay!!

“Destroyer of Peaceful Sunday Afternoons”

Following a return visit to the terrace for a very civilized lunchtime and another round of tea making and subsequent washing up, due to the Benthall dishwasher being broken (big thanks to Lucy for her extra pair of washing up/drying up hands), all of the crews were back to working hard, but with the brick crew “cheekily” seconding/coercing/kidnapping * Neil to their job for the afternoon (*chose the most appropriate option)

With the workday drawing to a close, all of the worksites were looking great, so we packed the tools away and it was time for the promised Benthall Bonus!

BENTHALL BONUS

As part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, Nick advised us that the whole of Benthall Edge has been designated as one of the “Queens Green Canopy” woodlands (there have been a total of 70 woodlands designated nationwide). This is also combined with national tree planting schemes and the designation of 70 ancient individual trees (see website here for more details https://queensgreencanopy.org/ancient-trees-and-ancient-woodland/70-ancient-trees-and-70-ancient-woodlands/)

green canopy

The Benthall Edge designation reads

So as a celebration of this success for Benthall Edge, Nick very kindly took us down into the woodland for a nice and relaxing walk to enjoy the “Green Canopy” in all its spring glory.

Once again a huge thanks to all of the volunteers for coming out and working so hard and to Nick for giving us the usual fantastic welcome, support and the extra “Benthall Bonus”

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.!)

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.

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.

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…

Russell

Workday leader Matt reports:

Sunday saw our intrepid SSNTV volunteers head back to Shugborough in South Staffordshire for the first time this year to help the fantastic garden team there with a big tidying up job following some intensive Yew hedge pruning (in preparation for creating a Yew tunnel alongside the planned new orchard)

For once our bowsaws stayed firmly in their covers, as all of the logs had already been beautifully cut to size, so this time what was needed was our “log”istics skills to transport them all across the full length of the walled garden, delivering them for our awesome processing team to unload and stack safely and tidily ready for future use

Armed with a motley assortment of wheelbarrows and trolleys, we soon had a constant flow of logs arriving to keep our stackers busy (with some deliveries arriving quicker than others, especially when Ron and Chris decided to start racing against each other!)

Luckily Leela had brought along another one of her amazing cakes to give us all a much needed energy boost at cake o’clock, which kept those wagons rolling and logs a-stacking all the way until lunchtime!

After lunch we cracked on with ever more barrow loads of logs (now having to move them even further as we were clearing log piles at the very far end of the Yew tunnel!) and forcing the processing team to extend the log piles further and further and further and further….

But at least we managed to persuade NT gardener James to roll his sleeves up and show us his log hauling techniques before we were down to loading the very last log of the day with just enough time left afterwards for Chris to do a bit of cloud spotting! 😉

A huge thanks to all of the volunteers who powered though a very physically grueling day with a smile and a laugh and getting a good 5+ tonnes of logs shifted in all

Team

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.

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 / listen to news of slightly more trees than our Group can manage over in Cambridgeshire:

National Trust planting 90,000 trees at Wimpole Hall in its largest ever green project