The 40th anniversary of the Group’s founding at Wightwick Manor has fallen during the Covid lockdowns. After a couple of belated attempts a fairly small and intimate gathering was held in a field adjoining the grounds of – not the Wolverhampton manor house – but Benthall Hall, Broseley near Ironbridge on Sunday.

The sun shone, as duly expected on the righteous and a good time was had by past and present members of the Group who attended the festivities.

There was much cake, as expected, also more than a fair amount of sandwiches, pork pies, cheese, pink fizz, quiches, samosas, sausage rolls,…need I go on.

Check out this link again for more photos appearing on this page to record for posterity of all those who were there!

So here’s just a few….

Not just one but two special cakes ( much can you read? ….tip: link with the coloured sweatshirts below..)

Getting going…

People watching….

Food, food, glorious food….

There was a bit of speeches (thanks Mr Chair and Ranger Al from NT) and silly games (thanks Dave)

Reminiscing;… and just a few of the Group’s clothing variations over time on view on the day (check with that cake…)

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!

On Sunday a merry band of nine SSNTVers headed over to Shugborough for a battle with marauding nettles, advancing grass and other organic invaders that had significantly encroached into the beds surrounding the historic Shepherd’s monument, writes workday leader Matt.

After having careful tuition from gardener Derek as to what was a weed and what wasn’t, we dived headlong into clearing out the beds and edging the naughty grass back to where it should be!

Following an awesome cake o’clock with yummy parkin and a rich and creamy choccy cake (thanks Mags and Leela!), we quickly cracked on raking the beds over and giving the proper plants room to expand and thrive.

After lunch we continued in the beds behind and to the other side of the monument until the invaders had been repelled and order restored once more.

However, despite our best laid plans and crossed fingers, we had a distinct feeling of deja-vu (see 4th July!!) when the black clouds overhead decided to give us a healthy downpour just as we were packing up!

At least next week we’ll already be wearing waders as it’s our annual reed-pulling workday at Morville!

Swampies…behind the safety fence!

The wet weather during the week and the forecast for Sunday meant that we were unable to continue with the gravel path project, but Nick had plenty for us to do….writes workday leader Mags.

The first job is not everyone’s favourite task but, with the large turnout, the ragwort was gone from the meadow before lunchtime. (It’s perhaps safe now to let on that Nick had told me about this plan on Friday. However my response was ‘You haven’t told me that. So I can plead ignorance on Sunday.’)

Lunch, with a very welcome cuppa, was on the family terrace where we were joined by former members.

After lunch we split into three groups for the remaining tasks – slashing the weeds on the drive – turning the compost heap – de-mossing the cobbles in the rose garden.

I joined the team on the drive, so didn’t hear the fire alarm in the Hall. So I was surprised that the rose garden was empty when, just before 3pm, the team on the drive finished, in time for the committee meeting.

Arriving visitors were being kept in the car park, visitors (and volunteers) were assembled on the lawn, down the bank at the front of the house and the fire brigade were on their way.

Not us this time!! An alarm had gone off in the hall, though thankfully after a check it was found to be a false alarm. When I was allowed to go round to the compost bins, the team there had just finished, and leaving the tools by the barn, joined the rest of the group on the lawn.

Once released from our assembly point, those not at the committee meeting (which I think took place on the lawn) continued with and finished the cobbles.

Just time when everyone had finished for a final piece of cake (which saved me bringing it home, where it wouldn’t have lasted long)

… and the weather … not as bad as had been predicted.

As a change from the Sundays of hard graft some of the Group made it a day out in the summer sunshine last weekend with South Shropshire Countryside Manager Pete Carty touring some of the latest project sites and potential new worksites around Carding Mill Valley and Hopesay Hill on the far west of our patch.

The day started in leisurely fashion with coffee and cake on the roof terrace of the tea room at CMV as a thank you from Peter for the recent weekends’ efforts.

Then it was travel around the hill as we visited some of the more secluded patches to see recent efforts underway at hay meadow restoration and the promotion of wild flowers in conjunction with local farmers and land-owning groups.

This is all comes under the umbrella of the Steeping Stones project connecting parcels of land in the area, so offering greater benefits to nature it was explained.

Habitat promotion at some of the pools up on the top of the Long Mynd still need some man-made interventions to keep them in great nick we were told.

…..Meadows being specifically curated on the lower slopes of the valley side.

At Hopesay we could see the results of our previous efforts planting new trees at the end of 2016 – on land adjoining that owned by the Trust. As Pete explained, next task is to plant some more (up to another 5,000 saplings). Seems that the positive results from our previous attempt mean that we may have another try!

Whilst some just enjoyed making the most of the day’s sunshine!

Thanks to Peter for his time spent explaining to us where all the hard work and effort goes…..

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…

Workday leader Matthew reports from Sunday’s venue:

The promise of interesting work and a BBQ attracted a good number of volunteers for the workday at Benthall, even though it was Men’s Finals Day at Wimbledon – or maybe it was just the attraction of the BBQ? 

The volunteers split into various groups, with the main task to collect, sift and re-lay pea gravel on one of the paths in the gardens to the side of the Hall. Other groups weeded a long stretch of path laid to brick (recently not a priority task during lockdown); turned over compost heaps; and weeded under laurel hedges. Yes, there was certainly a lot to keep us busy.

Gardener-in-charge Nick had recently purchased a sifting drum over the inter-web and it proved very popular with the volunteers. Shovel-loads of chips were fed into the rotating drum which filtered out dirt and stones of specific sizes, before the cleaned and graded good stuff was recycled back into use. A good section of path was completed, with the in-house volunteers to finish the task later this week.

The other jobs were all but completed too, all with the usual group banter. Who knew that Mandy’s favourite hang-out in her home town of Tenby was the rugby club? We’ve been there too – it’s in the main town, far from any pitches, but has a large function room open to the public. Mandy thought that SSNTV reminded her of the good vibes at the rugby club – nothing to do with the hunky young men obviously!

The day soon came to a close, with Nick’s famous BBQ drawing us in. Having consumed very tasty ‘Hog Roast’ sausages purchased from the local butcher, we said our thank yous and goodbyes and headed off to watch the tennis highlights, or maybe that little football match between England and Italy!

If I’m going to get a report out for the Independence Day task at Shugborough, then now’s the time. I’m just having breakfast before heading across to Benthall for what looks like a drier day. We were a small, select and hard-working team working by the Tennis Court last Sunday.

To quote Caroline: “This has been a winter garden project in 2019/2020 but had got away from us with the lockdowns of the past year.  It has some lovely plants in it that are flowering away at the moment but are also being smothered by weeds!  The Tennis Court will also form a part of the Chinese House garden project for this winter.”

James showed us plenty of areas we could weed. We focussed on two areas – the large bed … which we have completely cleared in the past … allowing the shrubs, now hiding under the weeds, to be planted in it … and the edge around the Tennis Court, amongst and between the roses.

During the morning there were a few light showers, and waterproofs were put on and taken off a number of times. Too wet without … too warm with! Geshwin’s ‘Walking the Dog’ was my chosen alarm for Cake O’Clock – my signature Mars Bar Crispie cake – proper round cake shaped this time as I made it up in Sheffield, without taking my traybake tin. (I’ve also discovered it can be made in the microwave!!)

We moved under the trees to sit on logs for lunch! Then back for more.

Cake O’Clock in the afternoon had just been called when the heavens opened. Not a light shower this time … a proper downpour. We again took shelter, but it was even coming through the thick tree canopy. After a while hoping it would clear up, I called a halt when it was obvious it was here to stay. We cleared the weeds away to the undergrowth, took the tools back to the shed and I, for one, was soaked to the skin by the time I got back to the car. Typically, the sun was shining five minutes into my drive home.

Mags – Workday leader

Returning from holiday, workday leader Helen was straight back to it and reports from last Sunday at Attingham:

10 volunteers from the Group arrived at the Walled Garden for a weeding task. We were shown to a large overgrown potato patch where the plants in question were just visible above the unruly growth – Covid to blame once again – and set to work.

Weeding might be seen as a boring task, but with the usual SSNTV banter and of course cake, a transformation soon occurred. Weeds were uprooted and trolleyed to the compost pile and gradually the potato plants emerged relatively unscathed.

We left feeling very satisfied sure in the knowledge that the kitchens at Attingham would be fully supplied with potatoes this year and some of us even went home with a few of the early spuds in our pockets to supplement our own teas.

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!