Seasons Greetings to One and All!

Here’s hoping for a Much Better New Year in 2021 (which starts early with work at Morville Hall on Sunday 3rd January – look it up in your programme, see notes from Dave and contact Chairman Chris)

…Thanks too to all the workday leaders who metaphorically put pen to paper to record the intermittent work of the Group this year and others who contributed material here…

…Very Merry Christmas……(Covid notwithstanding)

Were you walking on the Edge last Sunday? Workday leader David explains the origin of the thick clouds of smoke at times obscuring the views on the ridge:

For the last workday before Christmas SSNTV was back at Kinver, which during these Covid-restricted times has become a very regular work place. We worked near the top of the Edge a few yards down from the toposcope on the site of the Iron Age hill fort. A new interpretation board has been placed near the main path, which explains to the public what is literally under their feet, in case they should miss it.  But to date the extensive gorse cover has prevented visitors from seeing across the fort site to the earthwork rampart at the far end. To enable visitors to see right across the site and to help their understanding, our task was to remove a section of gorse to open up a view. There would be plenty of gorse left to provide cover for wildlife and to add colour when in flower.

Although gorse thorns are very sharp our gauntlets made it possible to tackle this prickly beast. The cuttings were burned in the tumbril. But unfortunately gorse creates thick, noxious smoke which the breeze took towards the toposcope, meaning that the many visitors out walking and enjoying the views didn’t hang around for very long! Enough smoke too, for ranger Ewan to pre-warn Fire Control to avoid any unintended false alarms.

After much hard work, we were all pleased with the dramatic results of our efforts. This had the desired effect of making the far rampart much more prominent from the information board viewing point. Considering how much rain there has been recently, we were lucky that the weather was reasonably bright and warm, in the sun at least.

The views from this section of the Edge are extensive and are part of the appeal of this worksite – creating a feeling of space and big skies (also helping us to keep to necessary Covid requirements for space and the like). Although the Malverns weren’t very clear it was possible to distinguish the Clents, Bredon Hill and the distant Cotswolds towards the south-east, while to the west the Sedgley-Rowley ridge was prominent.

Head Ranger Ewan stayed with us to supervise and help with the work. It was incredible to find out that when conditions are favourable, such as at times of drought, the circular outline of some of the Iron Age dwellings can still be seen in the ground. There must be some interesting archaeology still to discover on that part of the Edge.

Ewan also explained that the longhorn cattle which now graze  around the site, have gone down to their home farm, on lower land for the winter. When they were introduced a couple years ago some visitors weren’t happy to see the cattle. But no doubt as a result of the positive efforts of the NT staff, people have been won over and now the animals are a popular attraction in their own right. Each year however a small portion of the herd are sold for their wonderful heather-reared meat. This provides a bonus for Ewan he explained, as some of that meat is going to be the centre piece of his Christmas Day dinner this year!

..As before, click the link, enter TRUST when prompted:

Merry Christmas!

Sunday at the Quarry

…as Workday leader Matthew describes:

It was a return to the woodland at Stretton Westwood quarry on the penultimate workday of 2020. This was the last worksite I had attended before….something unusual happened…..back in early March.

Although the forecast was wet, we did have some dry spells, with Rangers Al and Kate choosing a bonfire site which provided good cover from the December rain. 

The Rangers had come up with a cunning plan, as usual: we were to cut the hawthorn to around chest height – or head height for some! This would let in large amounts of light whilst keeping the integrity of the steep banks intact. Al and Kate would also take out some of the large ash trees to to thin the established woodland and develop access, whilst adding to the increased light. The aim of all this to encourage the orchids and other woodland flowers to re-appear as they have done on other parts of the site where such action has already been completed.

All the group thoroughly enjoyed the day’s task. The usual banter went down well. We look forward to a time (April perhaps), when we can share a proper “cake o’clock” again. This will please many members of the group and especially Kate who remarked on missing the usual pre-Christmas feast!

…The (Alternative) View from the Top of the Slope

After the glorious late sunshine of Attingham, the cold and rain at Wenlock reminded those participants who were making it two days in a row, what volunteering is really all about – Guess what? – I chose the wrong day….comments our muddy, wet Editor:

That is, not sure how dry a day it was for those working at the top of the slope compared with downhill near the warmth of the fire – especially as those volunteers gradually cut down their protection from the cold wind and rain throughout the day!

The quarry is a work in progress site so far as nature is concerned, as ranger Al explained and hence part of a multi-year initiative – not quite a formal plan!  There are older established mounds within the site – are these old spoil heaps, it’s not clear; along with newer ones, pushed up by man’s mechanical efforts.  Large trees surround the perimeter and steep rocky walls. The thin limestone soils are a particular habitat for plants and shrubs which survive when the going gets a bit tough – it’s these in particular we’re trying to encourage.  We wait to see if, as a result of our efforts, there are dormant orchids, for example just waiting to stir.

The twisted hawthorns and pencil-straight ash both brought their challenges. As the trees frequently didn’t want to come down even when supports were cut away – the one species often still tangled up high, the other perfectly balanced stock upright on their cut stump.

Artistic skills were also on show, as the chest-high “pollarding” left some intriguing shapes in an attempt to encourage new growth.

Those more steep banks also presented a challenge in the wet and slippery conditions, as the loose soils and rangers’ orange marker dots sometimes lead to decaying and damaged trees overhanging the banks.  The question: could we target the fire site in one go, bringing them down, without falling in with trees!

Enthusiasm did prevail despite some shivers in the cold; the wet seeping in; and the main path to the fire site becoming a slippery, muddy runway.  Raincoats, trousers and cagoules all became a nice shade of wet mossy green or was it muddy brown!  So much so that Al also preferred to remain on the chainsaw all day, in preference to that last-minute Christmas shopping. Despite the grotty weather that there was even talk, to be confirmed, of returning in 2021 for extra workdays to make up for time lost this year.

…Who needs sunshine!

Our own hedging supremo, Dave reports:…

Saturday was our second day of the season working on our new hedge at Attingham. The weather was kind and so was the hedge. We seem to be getting used to the socially distanced way of working and everyone just settled in straight away with the work.

With a fire to keep us happy and sunshine eventually, we worked our way along the hedge. This is a new one planted with mixed species: mainly hawthorn with hazel, field maple, ash, dogwood and possibly wild pear.

We have tried to leave a few standards, that is trees to grow beyond the top of the laid hedge. This will provide additional habitat together with the hedge allowing tree dwelling birds to also find homes.

By the end of the day a full 50 metres had been completed including the binding, or heathering. Well done all including our two new hedgers Sharon and Paul.

Dudmaston Revisited – Covid Christmas Comes Early….

It was perhaps with a little trepidation that the Group returned to another of its normally familiar locations at Dudmaston Hall with the ranger team over THREE consecutive days this last weekend. Covid regulations cut short elements of what would otherwise be the Group’s Christmas weekend, normally comprising festive eating and drinking, along with some cut and burn.

Would enough members turn out with Covid restrictions? would it still be festive?? would we find something interesting to do???

With Chairman Chris leading one workday; ticking off the Covid boxes with Ranger Mike; and doing a passing impression of Santa with his colourful hat, handing out at least some Christmas cards and good cheer, along with Christine and Harvey on Sunday – we shouldn’t have worried….. 

Work parties were oversubscribed on two of the three days as the volunteers headed to a tucked away part of the estate, as Saturday leader Matthew recounts:

It was great to return to Dudmaston after a break of many months, as we drove in convoy to the worksite at ‘Dudmaston Bank’, or was it area 23, at least at the start, a dark and tucked away site beside the A-road near Comer Woods, somewhere only one or two of the group had worked before. (Ed’s note: in a quieter moment Mike admitted he may have planted some of the conifers within the plantation in his early days on the Estate, some twenty plus years ago!)  

In Covid style, we all spread out – apart from the two couples present! – and got to work rejuvenating the woodland.  Find a good tree specimen was the instruction: creating space and light around the decent trees, thinning and taking out weak and damaged ones. Some were “squirrelled” at a common height – the animals destroying the leaders; others were still strangely bent over by weight of snow, damage caused three winters ago. These were dispatched to the two enormous fires – warming and encouraging all those present, working under mostly heavy skies, low-hanging mist and with temperatures staying close to zero in the shade.

We welcomed visitors Paul and Sharon who quickly rolled up their sleeves (metaphorically at least) with Paul returning for a second day….. (Seems Matthew also took a fancy to Paul’s smart electric Nissan)

By Day Three nearly all currently active Group members had made it out to work and wish others an early Merry Christmas.  The sought after light was also reaching the understorey.  With Rangers Mike and Helen whizzing round clearing stumps with their chainsaws, all could see the rewards for their efforts.

Heavy rains held off; no one got stuck in the mud with their cars; and in Matthew’s words …it was (almost) just like the old days…..!

There’s now a provisional programme of regular weekend workdays across a mix of sites right through until the Spring, so hopefully all that pent up festive enthusiasm will linger well into 2021!

Not all of our regular workday sites are ready to welcome groups of volunteers back yet. But that meant with more than enough to do there, Sunday saw a return to the Edge to carry on clearance as part of encouraging the adder population and keeping the scrub under control. 

With furlough and maternity it was also a chance to say hello again and probably a good luck and goodbye to assistant ranger Kyra, as others enjoyed a welcome Sunday off. 

Honarary member for the day was also a toddling Rufus in his spacesuit – just bigger than the heather clumps – did that twig make it back to the fire on the tumbril, I never saw?

The weather played it’s part too as a socially-distanced group practiced being the adders at lunchtime, spaced out enjoying the suns rays amongst the thinning clumps. 

Dudmaston Estate next…fingers crossed!!  Look out too for the “emerging” SSNTV programme for the next few months…emailed to members and with details on the Events page of

Groundhog Day ……in a good way……as workday leader Mags recounts:

Sunday 15th saw us at Kinver Edge … again. Eleven in total, each of us had already been to a post-lockdown workday at the site, so were used to, but very mindful of the instructions on social distancing and sanitising hands and equipment.

The day was a continuation of the work from a fortnight before (see Nov. 1st post) – the tumbril still in place for our bonfire.

As leader, I missed being able to provide cake, but we still had a “no cake o’clock” after about an hour’s work. I was also keeping an eye on the weather. It was bright when we arrived, and for quite a while thereafter. Useful for checking which trees needed to be removed to allow the sun into places where adders might bask. But we could see very dark clouds threatening over the ridge. When they arrived, thankfully they only delivered short showers. Not enough to noticeably dampen the spirits, nor the fire – but enough to create weather to catch the eye!

Working beyond last time’s glades into the scrub, it was not difficult to get lost. Honing in on the fire, armed with brash, easy enough; but returning to your spot to carry on thinning was not so straightforward. It was too easy to follow a track too far down the slope or go beyond the same place in among the trees. By the end of the day all was cleared and burned; every tool accounted for and newly sanitised.

Assistant Ranger Tom also took the chance to vary the chainsaw action, trying his hand at the creation of standing deadwood for habitats, rather than felling and clearing – as the pic’s show.

All in all, well worth getting out in the fresh air … and the smoke!!

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Ed’s PS: After the missed get togethers of the recent virtual AGM and cancelled Bonfire stay-away workdays, Sunday was also the chance for Chairman Chris to hand out socially distanced SSNTV annual awards for last year: Hours Prize (Leela) and Special Mentions for Workday Leading (Russell, Peter and David B).

Follow this link to the programme on BBC Sounds

The Group’s expert with a billhook reports from regional HQ’s estate:

The weather forecast was grim, but still eleven people signed up for the first hedgelaying of the season. In line with current guidelines the day started with a Covid safety briefing. Before we could start on the hedge, a little coppicing was called for, to provide us with the stakes and heatherings (bindings) we needed for finishing the hedge. Hazel is the best for these as it naturally grows straight and there is nothing worse than a bendy stake!

Onto the hedgelaying: this was our first socially distanced hedgelaying task. Fortunately we have around 250m of hedge to work on, so that was not a problem. This year’s hedge is a maiden one, having never been laid before – so a good one to start on. With 11 of us beavering away much chopping was done. That said the actual length of hedge actually laid was only about 20m, but another 50m has been pre-chopped and will lay no doubt in no time when we return next in December. Can we finish the full 250m this season???

Despite the forecast, the weather gods were kind to us almost until the end, with the heavy rain not arriving until just as we were finishing. It was as they say, a good day had by all.