Unfortunately with clean-up from Storm Arwen needing resources our Sunday workday at Kinver also has to be CANCELLED.

Email confirmation from our WDL David will follow.

..Russell B. Chair

Unfortunately due to the forecast high winds our additional Saturday workday at Shugborough tomorrow is CANCELLED.

Workday leader (and pruning novice, it seems) Matthew reports from the depths of the Attingham Estate:

Has anyone in the Group worked at Berwick Wharf before, or ever heard of it? Well, it is a small orchard part of the Attingham Estate. Imagine coming out of the Estate passing Home Farm, then turning right. It is at the first road junction, near to a disused …canal wharf!

A healthy group of volunteers met at the woodshed, then drove in convoy to the orchard on Sunday. It was a beautiful day, lovely for working outside. Ranger Gareth gave us a very informative talk about the importance of orchards for bio-diversity and then how the trees needed to be pruned. It did not look like a large task….how wrong we were! We set about pruning the numerous fruit trees, which did not appear to be particularly old, but were in some need of attention.

We welcomed new member Jacqui, a keen gardener and apparently a former member of Team GB cycling – fancy that! In fact several new recruits showed interest in the workday, so we look forward to meeting them in the near future. It was good to see Lucy #2 out again after a little break due to the pandemic and she showed a keen knack for pruning.

Gareth reappeared at 1pm to see how we were progressing, having been called away on estate duties. We thought that we had done a decent job. Well, apparently it was a good start! Gareth now showed us the finer arts of fruit-tree pruning. I for one struggled with the many if’s, but’s and maybe’s. But we will need to return at least once a year, on a regular basis, to see how our selection of branches to prune fair.

…Remember the 3 D’s – disease, damage and direction (of growth), plus and the need to create a goblet shape (champagne if you’re Chris Brown)…. I never knew about different root stocks and how for example, various types of tree are grafted onto these depending on the height of the tree required. 

There was the usual chat amongst members, with Leela and newbie Jacqui sharing stories about their past parachuting exploits!

It was all over too quickly; still quite a task actually. The orchard had received a good haircut, ready for lots of new growth next year.

Hopefully Gareth agreed! Thanks to him for looking after us, and to Mags for the lovely cake.

Workday leader Peter reports:

Sunday saw the group arrive at Benthall Hall not knowing the precise location of the day’s task as it was a highly guarded secret – the only expectation being that there would be a fire.  Fifteen volunteers arrived at the rendezvous point – fourteen with food and drink to give them energy for the day ahead, but one unnamed person with 36 years’ service had left theirs at home (clearly overburdened with the additional responsibility of bringing a batch of tools to site from the previous day’s hedgelaying workday).

With everyone gathered around Gardener in charge Nick, he revealed the point of attack was to be cut and burn of surplus willow thicket in the far field, adjoining the wildflower meadow.  This it turned out, would necessitate two bonfires.

The prime purpose of the day was to clear the trees in front of a wire fence line to allow for planting of a new native hedge on the raised bank.  In the past the previous hedge had been scrubbed out when the area was an open cast quarry site for coal. The young plants are on order; delivery date (and another workday ???) is currently unknown. Our other task was to burn large piles of bramble and brash that had been cut and collected by Nick’s weekday volunteers, as part of keeping the scrub under control and improving access  – hence soon there would be fires at each end of the tree clearance patch.

This not being sufficient work for the great fifteen, a further job was identified to widen the public path through the trees.  The clearance work would also increase the light and air to one of the estate’s circular walks, preventing the mud from taking hold in the shade.

With trees falling to create space for fire two; and fire one burning quickly due to Matt and Chris’s supreme skills, it was soon 11.00 and on Remembrance Sunday, worked stopped for two minutes to commemorate all those killed and injured in conflicts around the world.

Our new Chair could be seen all day interrupting the work of his committee members among the group and enthusiastically giving them new jobs as he pushes forward his ideas to encourage new volunteers to come along and join us. (….Ed: he also ticked off First Aider training, Bonfire night accounting; initial Christmas weekend planning; providing tree-felling guidance to less experienced SSNTV’ers; and managed to cut a few stems himself)

Soon it was time for cake o’clock – thanks here to Maggie for her “Matrimonial” cake (a flapjack sandwich with dates in the centre – yummy) and with Bonfire weekend leftovers there were cakes galore!

At lunchtime, Santa Nick magic’d up one more packed lunch for that old ‘un.  (Ed: Volunteer J let’s call him, said to say thanks to all for their offers of hot drinks, spare sandwiches and, and …)  Plus can you believe it, at lunchtime people were complaining it was too hot around the fire, as the group enjoyed another mild and dry day after the thick early morning mist vanished.

By the end of the afternoon, all tasks had been completed, with just a few substantial trees awaiting the chainsaw.  Any remaining cake was polished off, as the fires died down; and Nick expressed himself well-satisfied with all that had been achieved.

Our billhook supremo Dave reports on Saturday’s efforts:

After an enforced absence cause by Covid 19 and the inconvenient summer, hedgelaying has resumed on the Attingham Estate.

By 10:15 nine hardy souls were already on site and starting to clear the hedge ready for laying. In no time three teams were working away at the hedge with Christine our supreme stake sharpener beavering away all day sharpening. Thanks to Attingham, Benthall and Wenlock Edge who have all supplied stakes for this workday. With Chris and Matt on fire duty we soon had a very well behaved blaze.

After a short lunch everyone was soon back hard at it. Hopefully they took time to admire the lovely view of the Wrekin with its cloak of autumn colours. I was asked if I could identify an unusual tree in the hedge. It had sallow like leaves but was thorny. My best guess was Wild Pear so it was spared and is now one of the standards which will be left to grow into tress along the hedge. Other trees spared the chop include Ash, Oak and Field Maple.

At end of day an estimated 30 metres of hedge had been laid. An excellent length for the first day of the season. With three more workdays to go, it looks like we will easily get into triple figures!

Organiser-in-chief and Saturday workday leader Helen starts the story of the recent weekend at Dudmaston…..

Well it was all change this year for our Bonfire weekend. No base camp, no fireworks and lovely Ranger Mike’s final time working with us before moving on to pastures new. It could have been a down-hearted affair, but we rose above all this and managed, fuelled by generous helpings of cake to have a marvellous time with the biggest numbers of the year present both during the working day and remaining into evening – as David would say, enormous! 

The task was to clear the Ice House (Gerards) wood at Dudmaston of unwanted small shrubby tree regrowth and tough brambles that had taken over once again since our last visit pre-Covid – nearly overwhelming the footpaths through the area.

How satisfying to see that although there was re-growth, it was nothing to what was there previously. It was good too, to discover that under the brambles, the dead hedges that we had created on the last visit were still in places rotting down slowly, providing great cover for wildlife. This time we were allowed a fire instead, which was how it should be on Bonfire night.

For some after lunch there was a short ride in the NT truck deep into the Dingle to inspect a recently fallen beech tree blocking the circular winter visitor route.  Though with size of the tree and Mike’s chainsaw giving up, it proved to be a short-lived detour as the subgroup returned to Ice House wood for the rest of day, as that would have to await more resources.

There was a slight panic too, with the question, with so much progress on clearance, would we have enough wood left to fuel the evening bonfire celebrations – but happily Mike came to the rescue. Finding another couple of decaying candidates, his tidy-up of broken and rotten branches and stems with a sufficiently cooperative saw, yielded some super logs that would keep the bonfire toasty warm for us all evening. 

Additionally we were almost spoilt through the two days, being treated by Op’s Manager Gow, to cakes and hot drinks back in the Gardeners bothy.

Revived, we all headed back to the woods to enjoy our Saturday evening BBQ of burgers, sausages, & baked potatoes. With the big numbers, it was great catch up, chatting and eating in the Wood. We also took the chance to give Mike a proper SSNTV send off, after more than 20 years help with the group – it looked like he appreciated our thank you gift! Thanks too, to member Simon’s lamps to floodlight the otherwise dense darkness between the tall trees.

I think this was one of the highlights of the SSNTV calendar so far – so a big thank you to everyone for making it such a success! 

Sunday, second workday – new workday leader, Russell – continued for those who had enough stamina after the Saturday efforts and an evening of food and drink.  Numbers were down a little on Saturday, but still double-figures to keep assistant ranger Helen company – with Mike at home with his feet up.  Hence the informal search for the old ice house began in earnest.  We moved along to the end the ridge from Saturday’s spot, to where we could just see the end of Big Pool among the shrubbery.  The natural bowl in the slopes, near the overgrown steps which we could make out under the brambles and tree regrowth might be home for the old ice house, or so we thought. 

Throughout the day we mixed the damaged and unwanted regrowth with the greenery of the slashed brambles on the bonfire – and crossed our fingers and hoped we wouldn’t inconvenience the traffic too much on the nearby A-road with the copious clouds of black smoke – but all day nothing of an ice house was revealed!

Sunday too, was a day of record numbers – for cake!  Don’t think there were ever so many on offer from multiple chefs – a real sugar-rush to keep all present fuelled.  My particular favourite: the deep cream and jam of the Victorian sponge, after the chocolate cake, dutch apple cake, fruit loaf, rice crisp cake, parkin, cherry cake, lemon drizzle, ginger….

Ex chair Chris delighted in waving a big platter in front of the few lost members of the public who reached the closed gates to the gardens, as he redirected them around the Estate.

By the end of the two days, some open patches of ground were successfully revealed. 

There was talk once again – “…they said that last time…”, a few remarked, but then Covid intervened – of recreating some wider views over the Pool from the Wood (for which further adjacent patches of brambles will need to be tackled, along with perhaps a few unwanted shelter-belt trees). 

…Perhaps, next visit in December might also include some carpentry work on the slightly in need of TLC steps from Poolside to top of the ridge in the Wood. 

There’ll be a bunkhouse on offer too then, and roast turkey instead of…or is it, as well as more cake!

Almost Four fire Wenlock!

Sometimes our volunteers don’t get enough credit for getting out of bed early and trekking to the worksites; for all they endure and the work they get done!

Last Sunday for example, when your workday leader left the house there was torrential rain  – so, what would it be like at the other end? Quick check in advance any changes of plan today? No, says the slightly curious NT voice at the other end….

Already at the start, the motorway journey to Wenlock is eventful, dark skies ahead and two crashed cars, parts strewn across the motorway.  Still get past before anything closes….

Heading to the Edge past NT Dudmaston – no, stop, what’s this A-road closed and no diversion signposted.   Need to make a big detour back via Kinver….. Ah yes, shortcut past the Rock Houses – still pouring with rain.  But ok, with the clocks going back, an early start means it shouldn’t be a problem for the Workday Leader to still arrive on time. 

But spoke too soon – minor roads round Kinver all flooding. Oops, what this – big puddles; and this one too deep for this car – oh NO, something’s jammed against the wheel and now clattering around having fallen off in the deep water – is it mine or someone else’s?   Stop to pick up the loose pieces – what’s that noise – more bits not in the right position underneath….

…Spare bits (pictured later)

Call ahead to rest of the Group, might be delayed – good job, I’ve not got all the tools with me today!  But there are visitors expected – great first impression that will make!

Eventually back underway, gently does it.  Another call to update – what rain they say, we’ve all arrived, sitting waiting in the sunshine!  Finally reach the site – first time I’ve arrived at the workday and am already soaking wet!

Four “Outwood Social” visitors make it to the day.  Off we all trudge along the bridleway.  It’s the same task as last time at Roman Bank on the Edge, earlier in October, widening the track for the public, clearing the decaying and overhanging trees and shrubs.

Safety talk to remind everyone what to look out for, especially jumping bowsaw blades, hence strong gloves recommended . Then I remember we’ve got the extra new tools out this weekend – so take a look at the new saws…Wait, what’s that red stuff on my finger…blades very sharp indeed, as I pick one up. I haven’t even got my goves on yet!

Ah, ha, a good challenge for the newbies, in patches given the overhanging green, there’s insufficient light and plenty of mud!  The fire starters take on the challenge, almost build the first fire for the brash on an island in the water.

Sun comes out – I start to dry!

Cake o’clock – volunteers all like the chocolate brownies, your WDL has baked (eat your heart out Leela and Mags!).

Good news – visitors doing well, all getting stuck in, navigating the mud and the smoke…

Lunch in the dry, Eric the Viking has brought his bivouac cover just in case, logs found for dry-ish seating! 

Next…more for your WDL to do – organise handover of belated volunteer long service award.  Well done Jimmy 15 years! Coincidentally handed over by the same man from the NT who did the job at SSNTV’s 40th Anniversary bash.  One more thing – get the members to sign a leaver’s thank you card, trying to keep it clean in the mud!

Oh, yes and just take a few photos of all the action!

An afternoon of burning the brash; NT’s Kate & Al in action with their chainsaws; SSNTV’s Ian disappearing out of sight down the track in the direction of Wilderhope YHA. Will WDL have to go and find him?

Wind getting up, blowing strongly now – will we have to stop early?  Enough gaps in the trees to stay safe; we finish the task.

Can’t quite manage 4 fires in one day, Ron (and David) disappointed. But the widened bridleway gives up enough material, already cut and piled up ready for next time.

Back to the car park job a well done; blowing a gale now.  Half expecting a branch now to come down on top of the car to round off the day!  Freezing cold as I strip off my wet and muddy clothes, before the journey home to see how much water there still is across the roads (answer: it’s still there in Kinver)

All in day’s volunteering for a WDL in particular!

– – – – – –

PS: We’ve since had some good feedback from Leanne i/c @ Outwood that all the visitors enjoyed their day. So sounds like they may well be back out with us when we’re at Wenlock next in January ’22!

Bonfires at Shugborough

The pyromaniacs within SSNTV were definitely in their element as the Group burned brash all day, as workday leader Leela reports from her first Sunday in charge at Shugborough…. 

A smallish, but nicely gender-balanced team were tasked to work on clearing the rhodendron that had already been cut down by staff & volunteers all along the beautiful Lady Walk in the Shugborough ornamental parkland – once the domain of ladies of a certain stature, where they could walk unchaperoned & in luxury across the Estate.

The removal of rhododendron ponticum has become necessary in the Estate’s fight to keep the invasive phytophthora disease off the land permanently and prevent this endangering other established trees and plants. As Gardener Derek explained, after any necessary treatment of the soil, it is hoped to begin planting an understorey of shrubs and bushes to restore some of the area’s former glory and compliment the tree collection – think ornamental Winter Garden was one way he described the possibilities.

There was plenty for the team to do dragging, cutting and burning, with two bonfires going to keep the autumnal chill at bay. Passing showers meant getting some heat established to get the rhodi’ heaps to burn was initially a bit of a challenge – but various forms of man-made breeze did the trick.

Sheltering under the huge beech tree, cake o’clock saw not just one but two types of cake. (Ed: It was cake experiment day, we were told – in which case caramel cake can be marked down as a particular success.  Thanks for that!)

There was so much cut shrub that we were not able to finish clearing all of it, even by the end of the day. But we certainly made quite an impression on the task, revealing some potential new beds.  As the flames subsided the local wildlife – robins in particular – was already back and I think they and Derek were more than happy with our efforts.

Workday leader David reports from:

Three-fire Wenlock Edge!

Wenlock Edge is always a popular work spot and so it was no surprise there was a large turnout as 14 volunteers ventured to the southern-most realms of the NT’s land holdings along the Edge, at Roman Bank high above Apedale.

The reason these Edge workdays are so popular is probably because Rangers Al and Kate are always so welcoming and give us great jobs (I think they like how much we achieve too – Ed.!). Today we were cutting down and burning trees overhanging a bridlepath to allow more comfortable passage.

Removing the trees, mostly on one side of the path, also opens it up to more light which will help to dry the path out after wet spells and as a bonus will encourage more wild flowers.

 Although the day began wet, by the time we all got to Roman Bank it had brightened up and continued to improve throughout the day with the sun even making an appearance. Despite the overnight rain, as a result of the relatively dry October, the work area was surprisingly mud free! 

Despite working along a fairly accessible bridle path on the top of the Edge, this part is much quieter than the northern end near Much Wenlock and so we only saw a few walkers throughout the day.

Al had pre-marked the trees for us to remove while he and Kate tackled other larger ones with their chainsaws. We spread out along the path and generated so much burn wood that we needed three bonfires. Ron and Matt could not believe their luck!

A classic SSNTV workday with a great task in a beautiful, out of the way location, working alongside many friendly faces, getting lots of fresh air and exercise in the “green gym”.

Workday leader Mags reports:

There was a very impressive turnout for the workday, so thanks to everyone who came out for a Sunday in the woods at Benthall. The task was preparatory work for the removal of larger trees suffering from ash dieback – cut a swathe through to the ‘gator’.

… it’s through there somewhere

As I said at the time … I think I was absent the day they were handing out the mountain goat gene. This is not my favourate environment, but thankfully it was fairly dry, and not too slippery. The group split into two – tackling the work from both ends. Not showing favouritism, I spent a lot of time walking between the two ends, and calling cake o’clock halfway between, on the path.

Baking … a great way to use up leftovers!

There was a point before lunch when Nick seemed to spend a long time surveying our progress. Fingers crossed, I half expected him to say … Sorry, it’s in the wrong place. Put it all back and start again. With hindsight though, we had found the trees that had been marked up with hazard tape. Phew!

Fingers crossed

At lunchtime there were concerns that we would run out of work. No problem! Just expand the working area, get trees tangled up and burn, burn, burn.

I have no idea if the before and after photos are actually looking in the same direction, but I’m going to claim a WIN!

…Apparently a vehicle will be able to get through there now! (Ed.)