Workday leader Matthew explains:

With heavy overnight rain, we thought that the worksite at Benthall would be muddy….and oh yes it was! In the wood on the edge of the Estate, we were greeted with a scene reminiscent of the start of ‘Gladiator’ – but sorry no Russell Crowe, for the film buffs. 

Still, the group of 14 ploughed on with the task in hand. Large quantities of infected ash had been removed in the last months; and we were left to help clear up. We made habitat piles with the larger offcuts, shortening transportation distances; whilst burning the smaller branches. We also cleared any bramble to stop it invading and taking hold in the wide open spaces where the ash trees once stood. Hopefully later there will be some nice woodland bulbs and flowers coming through – let’s wait and see.

We welcomed visitor Andy from Outwood Social for his first workday. Being an electrician, he is used to working indoors, but luckily the rain held off until late in the day, so as not to dampen his enthusiasm.

As you can see, we also had another first-time visitor on the workday. Four-legged “Zorba” brought back fond memories of Max, who came out with volunteer Laura on many a workday. Zorba seemed to have a smile on his face most of the time, maybe because he is a stud dog for the RNIB! Or maybe he was just enjoying a day out in the woods. Like Max, retriever Zorba has a lovely temperament and if you call to him with a Scottish twang, he responds even more quickly, as he has spent most of his time north of the border. Talking of the border, Neil and Jackie used to have border collies, so Zorba was not out of their sight for very long. Leela will no doubt be bringing Zorba again. Please do!

There was almost a surfeit of treats at cake o’clock! Thanks to Leela and Lucy for providing home-made almond cake and scones – and our workday leader, or was it Mr Kipling, for the chocolate delight! Gardener i/c Nick has promised the return of his famous BBQ ‘soon’….(perhaps as recompense for the volunteers having to transport all the tools by hand across the estate, as the usual Gator was off being serviced).

Not sure if being by the fire meant volunteers were more comfortable, as things dried out during the day. At least that area was level, as others slid up and down the gooey slopes trying to keep their balance. Our efforts however did seem appreciated by the few visiting public who struggled up and down the main wet clay-covered track, now without its trees as natural handrails.

Anyway, if we thought the mud was bad, spare a thought for volunteer Richard, who as a Shrewsbury resident, explained he’s been flooded at home more than 25 times – he now lives up a hill as a result!

By the end of the day Nick expressed himself pleased with our results – so thanks to all for their perseverance – especially as the walk back across the Estate was accompanied by squally showers to round off a wet and very muddy day!

Leader Peter recounts a day at Dudmaston, doing yes, you guessed it, more tree-planting!

…..I don’t know if it was:

  • the delight of seeing ranger Helen,
  • the pull of the picturesque Dudmaston Estate,
  • or pure and simple, the opportunity to plant more trees,

but initially I had 20 people on my list to work at Burf Castle this Sunday.  But with our Chair having to sit out the workday due to a late positive Covid test; and with another two, where domestic life got in the way – 18, including visitor Andrew – welcome to him – arrived at the agreed parking spot.

This being our third visit of the winter to this particular plot; and for some (not including the workday leader) the second consecutive Sunday of planting trees, the group was quickly underway.  Helen had prepared bags of mixed bare rooted saplings ready to plant. All were native broadleaf trees – Silver Birch, Rowan, Oak and Sweet Chestnut were today’s selection pack.

Soon we were planting up and down the hill. 

But It was not long before it was obvious that we were running out of marker canes in situ, so after cake o’clock Dave and Helen got their eyes into increasing the planting area laying out more canes.

Tree in the hole, canes firmed, guard attached – where next to turn?

The staplers (remember that tricky guard to cane task?) coming up in the rear could not see where original lines had been and which were now extended up to the top of the hill.

With the workday leader taking a staple gun for the first time after lunch, this novice did not help to speed progress, rather he only held back the two practiced masters Chris and Matt by constantly complaining back the inefficient process!

Nevertheless by mid-afternoon we were finished, as there was no more cleared land in which to plant.

A quick count suggested another 500 saplings had gone into the ground, making a total of 3,000 planted in this patch this season, the majority by SSNTV (and meeting ranger Helen’s target). However as Helen explained to the volunteers, this is only the start of the project, with another two years of planting at Burf Castle to come.

So I think we will be back next year. Firstly to provide “TLC” to this year’s babies; and secondly to plant some more saplings.

The plan is that after five years of tending the young trees should be well established; and stay SSNTV-free until they reach twenty years old, when the first thinning will take place. For their fortieth and sixtieth birthdays the chainsaw gang will be in doing their work!

Thanks to all for their hard work and efforts today!

…Energies saved today, hopefully means that all the more members will turn out for the March edition of more of the same back at Hopesay Hill, part of the Shropshire Hills patch. We need to speed up our techniques there on the steep hill – so it sounds very much like, there’s going to be TWO days of trees there on the weekend of 19 & 20th – that’s more than in the published programme.

So hope to see you all again very soon!

Last weekend’s event’s continued with a tour into the relative unknown on the Sunday, as workday leader Dave describes:

Getting to Sunday’s workday site to plant trees at Hopesay Hill was something of a Magical Mystery Tour, seeing some lovely South Shropshire countryside along the way.

Part One: Find the Village Hall

Due to works by the Forestry Commission and a power company, after all the recent rains, roadside verges were a no-no, so we had to meet and park at Edgton Village Hall, around four miles from Craven Arms and some way from our ultimate worksite. As workday leader I got there early, but of course volunteer John was already present! It was only when I went to stand by the entrance to guide people in, did I realise my mistake. Wearing camouflage clothing does not make you obvious. That’s the opposite of what it’s designed to do, even if it does keep you protected and dry. However I need not have worried, as all the NT crew found it with minimal trouble as they drove along the ever-narrowing lanes. We also welcomed an extra two volunteers from Outwood Social (who quickly went from tree-planting novices to relative experts during the course of the day).

Part Two: Drive as Near as Possible

As parking was limited, we then jumped into as few cars as possible and drove from Edgton through Hopesay village to a house, down a track, where the kind owner had agreed we could finally park. He was so kind he even allowed the use of his facilities for those in need.  Now we were really deep in the green (or was it brown!)

Part Three: Walk Up Hill!

There followed a 10-15 minute walk through mud and up a not so insignificant hill to the worksite.

Part Four: Tools & Plants

We arrived at the top of the hill just as the Land Rover with NT Countryside Manager, Pete appeared, having come cross-country over Hopesay Common, with SSNTV’s Chair as passenger and designated driver’s mate. Their excuse for not beating us there – the boggy ground meant they could not get straight up the hill with the trailer and all equipment attached; so tools and trees had to be removed from trailer to cab and then transported up the hill. The trailer was left for now, parked askew in the field at the bottom. Good job we volunteers parked at the village hall and house it seemed!

Part Five: The Work

The worksite was on the southern slopes of Hopesay Hill. The idea being to plant new trees in the bracken on the slope to shade out the bracken regrowth and link up with other established woodland in the area. This is part of the wider Stepping Stones project which involves several landowners, including the NT, in a project to link up habitats across South Shropshire. This patch of NT owned land has had minimal agricultural use over decades, so is a home for many species.  It also meant that this was a virgin site, so needed preparation in term of canes for the saplings to be laid out – that is, pacing out up and down the slope, to mark where the trees needed to go. I now know how difficult it is to get a two dimensional 3 x 3 metre grid onto a three dimensional landscape. (don’t mention the empty triangle the Chairman at one point created) …..But we managed in the end despite the not insignificant incline!

Then, everyone pitched in and planted like fury. Willows at the bottom, near wetter ground; Crab Apples at the top; and a nice mixture in the middle including Oak, Rowan, Hawthorn and Blackthorn – just made a bit trickier for those who didn’t know their Latin plant names on the labels, compared with the common ones being called out. Varieties of bare-rooted saplings with little green growth can look pretty similar – Holly notwithstanding. Time will tell if the majority got it right! Luckily at least no staples were involved with the plant guards this time!

By the end of the day somewhere between 350 and 400 trees had been planted. A sterling effort considering the complications of getting to the worksite and the 30 degree slope. Why is it whatever you need at the bottom is always back at the top!

Thanks to all for helping to offset my carbon footprint at least for the weekend. See you in a couple of weekend’s time for round two – a different spot on Hopesay Hill and apparently much easier to get to.  By then we hear, there’ll be quite a few young plants waiting to go into the ground, so watch this space for more news on that…

…..And in the meantime, read on shortly, about more SSNTV trees in March, this time on the Estate at Dudmaston!

So this weekend the group went exploring! As we managed to squeeze in two consecutive workdays at different venues in deepest Shropshire.

On Saturday it was literally a Discovery day as the group turned up at the eponymously named Shropshire Hills Centre in Craven Arms to practice their cut & burn skills.  Helped was needed by this charity (www.shropshirehillsdiscoverycentre.co.uk), who partner with the Trust on a number of tasks, to clear excessive trees and shrubs from around their dragonfly ponds in their Onny river meadows.

The ponds at Craven Arms as Centre Manager Grant explained, are according to experts, the British Dragonfly Society, one of the best venues to spot the insects in the country.  However as the ponds have become overgrown with reeds; and with too many trees crowding out the light from the water, extra volunteers were being called in – along with a mechanical digger to follow on and broaden the task.  As an added challenge when felling the trees, power lines ran close by overhead!

Ranger Ian was on hand to also test our tree identification skills – in the end we decided a blob of spray paint was the best way to ensure that only the correct decaying and obstructive trees would come down to create “dragonfly gateways” to the water.

Compared to the stormy and wet last two weekends, all the volunteers were happy as the sun shone practically all day long – happy even more so, when Grant appeared with plates of onsite baking to keep us going.…and very tasty it was too!

Experienced SSNTV members Neil and John could be seen with the big rope in their hands – tensioning the falling trees to ensure that they reached dry land and didn’t fall in the water.

Displaying our green credentials, there was only a little fire to burn up some brash.  On the other side of the ponds, billhook supremo Dave, taking a Saturday off from hedgelaying, soon found himself in familiar territory, extending a dead hedge to suck in the piles of material generated – there were even bindings going in at the top!

At the end of the day, a few members made the long journey – all of 200 yards of it – to their B&B accommodation, to save the effort of travelling home – before the second event of the weekend, an exploration of nearby Hopesay Hill, a real trek into the unknown would follow….but more of that to come.

Thanks to all for their efforts and to Discovery Centre team, Grant and Ian who made us very welcome.

Russell B.

Workday leader Matt, having dried out, reports:

For the second Sunday in a row, a fearless band of SSNTV volunteers braved the wind and rain to head out for our scheduled workday, this time we were back at a very wet and very, very muddy Wenlock Edge.

As previously, we were working to clear the scrub from both sides of the bridleway at Roman Bank to enable the surface to be cleared of mud and to allow it to be widened back out where some of the edges have eroded down over the years.

After a good mile of slipping, sliding and paddling (and Mandy very carefully avoiding any “Vicar of Dibley” puddle moments), we finally found some orange spotted scrub and a suitable, semi-dryish spot for our amazing pyro-pixies (Ron and Chris) to work their fire-starting magic.

Despite the damp, the fire was soon up to speed and dealing with a steady flow of Hazel and Ash scrub as we cleared back up to the section we completed previously, and headed further down the bridleway into the narrower section.

By cake o’clock we were progressing well, and having completed the next challenge of keeping the cake and biscuits out of the worst of the rain, we tasked Ron with starting fire number two, so we could carry on down into the really, really muddy section, Yay!!

Thanks to our resident survival expert, we managed to avoid a little of the rain over lunch with an improvised shelter, but carrying on working during the afternoon we all just got wetter and wetter and wetter and wetter and wetter!

“Thankfully” Ron (and Chris) were here to brighten up the end afternoon, with what I think has become the now “legendary” parrot joke (please don’t ask either of them to tell it again without a health warning first!!) and with what had become a small stream running down the middle of the path, it was time to head home and jump into the tumble dryer!

A really, really huge thanks to all of the volunteers who gamely came along and battled some of the worst weather that we have worked in for a number of years, and thanks also to Rangers Al and Kate for their support and who hopefully can organise some better weather for us when we come back next time (pretty, pretty please!!!)

PS Apologies for the shortage of pictures, but it was really much, much, much too wet for the camera/phone to come out to play!!

Having sufficiently dried out, workday leader David recounts a Sunday spent in the rain:….

The task at Kinver for this workday was to remove some of the extensive, dense gorse and unwanted saplings that are overtaking parts of the Edge. Removing them opens up areas to encourage the heather to regenerate; and more importantly creates areas for adders to safely bask in the summer.

At this time of year the snakes are hibernating well underground we were told. But when the warmer weather arrives they need the sun’s heat and hence clear patches to soak up the sun’s rays. Within a large area of gorse, we widened narrow gaps and cut out weather-beaten gorse bushes, creating wide interconnected glades; at the same time leaving a dense green perimeter around the area in order to discourage too many people and animals from using this as a thoroughfare and so disturbing the adders and other invertebrates.

Many workdays this winter have been dry, but Kinver broke that pattern by being windy and rainy all day. Despite this the tumbril fire was able to warm us up – if you could manage to avoid the dense smoke which the gorse creates! It probably helped that everyone was also wrapped up in multiple layers, including sizeable gloves, as protection from the spiky gorse which easily manages to get around one pair of standard gloves.

A sizeable chocolate cake, also helped to keep the bad weather out – thanks for that David! Throughout the day the big orange burn despite the rain, meant there was constantly steam rising from the soggy volunteers as they crowded round the blaze for warmth.

By the end as the wet eventually seeped in and energies sapped, the ten hardy volunteers who braved the weather had worked hard to create new adder basking zones, leaving Ranger Ewan very happy!

There are plans to count numbers later in the year to see if the efforts to improve the heathland habitats are proving successful. How do you count adders I hear you ask? Well you probably weren’t aware that some are radio-tagged, so that their movements can be tracked. Adder wrangling – how do the rangers manage that?… well that’s another story!

Workday leader Matthew reports:

..Well there was clearly something in the air on Sunday, as for the second time over this weekend, a strong turnout  – 17 volunteers – descended, this time on a patch known as Burf Castle, part of the Dudmaston Estate to deploy their tree-planting skills.

An estimated 500 bare root saplings went into the ground….. So why we so productive this time? Our tree-planting skills were no doubt refreshed at the Christmas planting-session, meaning on Sunday we could just crack on. 

Some were on a roll, having finished their task at Attingham only the day before. Maybe it was the presence of Laura, who has returned to the fold….

I think it was actually down to great teamwork, with division of labour working at its best.

Newly promoted Ranger Helen, with help from apprentice Mike, had already staked out the spots to be planted earlier in the week and so we could form groups to place the second stakes and tree-guards next to each planting hole (two bamboo stakes hold a green tree-guard in place). After a quick refresher on techniques to use – T-cut or slit; remember no air pocket; right depth; don’t let the sapling dry out – teams of two or three then worked down each row, planting oak, chestnut and rowan, with an emphasis on the oak.

Roving teams cut away any bramble ahead of a planting pair. Three brave souls armed with the tricky staple guns went round last of all, trying their best to embed more than one staple, fixing stake and guard, and to miss stapling their fingers.

The weather forecast was showers, and we did have the occasional downpour.  A field with no trees unfortunately offers little protection from slanting rain – but at least on one patch, we were in the lee of the hill.  It remained mild for February. 

The morning session saw us complete the planting in the area which faces the nearby A-road.  This meant we moved ’round the bend’ in the afternoon, to plant on a plot the other side of the Burf Castle ridge, facing open farmland to the west.

Burf Castle is so named as there is an Iron Age hillfort atop, with some earthworks still to be seen. 

As we left, it was back over to Helen, to clear more scrub and mark out some new patches ready for our next visit in March – with Covid having slowed work down, there’s a bit of a planting backlog to catch up on.

Many thanks to Helen and all the volunteers for an enjoyable workday and for all the snacks.

Head of the billhook brigade, Dave reports:

On Saturday a cast of thousands – well, fourteen volunteers – assembled for the last SSNTV hedgelaying of the season. After a few tense moments concerning where to park – in the end, some had to walk an extra quarter of a mile to the worksite – we settled down to start the final day on “our” hedge, part of the Attingham estate.

With three teams cutting, it left a vast support crew who efficiently tidied up any brash cut out of the hedge and transported it to the fire. Many tree guards were removed for safe disposal and the rest of the hedge trimmed in anticipation for next year’s workdays. As this was the last time we would be here this winter, so the hedge had to be left in a good condition without any stand-alone section uncut. This gave us a definite target to aim for, a nice Sweet Chestnut tree that was to be left as a standard. (A standard is a tree left to grow to full height in the hedge. In medieval times and even earlier, the lower hedge may have been cut for firewood and the standard trees used as timber for buildings.)

As if by magic, at afternoon cake o’clock, Ranger Bob turned up to see how we were getting on. He was please with what we had done and gave us this ringing endorsement:

….”It looks good from 200 yards”….

Did we reach our goal? Of course we did and it looked really good, especially with Chris’s bindings along the top.

My thanks to all who turned out and set a new attendance record for a Saturday hedgelaying task.

However volunteers fear not, this is not the last hedgelaying task of calendar year 2022!

Next October we have a treat, when a workday at Wenlock Edge will be dedicated to coppicing the stakes and bindings for the next season’s hedgelaying proper, which will begin again in November. It’s just like being a real hedge layer – a pro’ that is!

Hedge planting & more!

Leader on the day Chris B reports from the depths of the Attingham Estate:

The first challenge of the day, after getting up, was to turn up at the right place! Whilst a map, aerial photo, postcode and my three words had been provided by NT there is always scope for a challenge. However all arrived on time – some even beat me to it!

The original plan was to plant a new hedge without the use of stakes and rabbit guards. The new hedge, probably a reinstatement of something previously ripped out, is to cordon off an area for a new orchard. The fruit trees for the orchard, some three foot tall, were already on site, but yet to be planted in their final position. These had already succumbed to the some rabbit chewing and hence the first job was to attach guards. In fact an inspection of a hedge planted some three weeks previously also revealed extensive chewing had taken place! So the plan was changed to including staking and guarding of all of the new hedge materials.

We had a fine selection of young plants but the planting was not the usual mixing things up; rather groups of the same plant in 2-3 metre lengths were required – NT’s Gareth ably explained and demonstrated what was required. Whilst the bulk were hawthorn there were others, including hazel, dogwood and holly (the latter in flower pots rather than bare root whips) as well as oak and crab apple, to be widely spaced and encouraged to grow to standards, that is proper trees. The usual slit method of planting was good enough for all but the holly. This required a trench to be dug and of course only one person can dig a trench whilst the others lean on the remaining spades……

Everyone got stuck in and the hedge planting, guarding and staking was complete by 1.00 pm. Whilst no one counted, we thought that c. 700-750 had been planted over 140 metres. This speedy rate of planting was helped by the fact that the ground had previously been harrowed and by the dry weather – this allowed those too old to bend down to be able to progress on their knees, without them getting wet!

After lunch, which included in my case being reunited with an unopened – still in date – packet of crisps from a previous lost picnic, it was on to the earlier (non-SSNTV) planted hedge mentioned earlier. On closer inspection, it was clear that the rabbits had been enjoying a nibble of most of the planting, although the rose seemed to have escaped entirely! In no time at all, everything was staked and guarded – this over a longer length than the morning’s hedge planting. By 2.30pm we were walking back to the cars across the field – which shows just how quickly we can do repetitive tasks, especially when there is good banter.

The exit from the field was done under direction, as the track was rather bumpy. This required manoeuvring, in reverse, to avoid the worst of the potholes, so as to keep sumps and bumpers attached.

Some volunteers, taking advantage of the early finish, adjourned to the Attingham café for more consumables – the general consensus being that you can never have too many consumables!

Many thanks to Gareth for putting us straight (we had a string line for the planting) and for setting out the planting requirements. Thank you also, to all those who attended (15 in total). I for one thoroughly enjoyed the day and the good-humoured banter.

See you next time!

Workday leader David recounts:

Sunday’s big turnout of 17 volunteers proved how popular are workdays at Benthall. It’s not just the likelihood of a bonfire on a cold day, but Gardner in Charge Nick’s equally warm welcome that regularly brings people back to this varied and interesting worksite.

Recently Nick has been working with contractors who have used their mega-machines to carve out (literally) large pathways along the Edge in the woodland bounding the Estate (helped a little by the Group’s last visit in October ’21). This is all to enable heavy equipment to get into the woodland in order to remove the large number of ash trees suffering with die-back.

There is now something resembling a route for HS2 (only joking) which has been created – as much as possible following the lines of the previous narrow footpaths – which will now also let in much more light. It will be interesting to see what sort of flora will be encouraged to grow and how it will green up in the next few seasons once the contractors have left. With our hard hats donned we were able to take a peak at the work-in-progress and see what will need clearing up once the machines have disappeared.

NT’s Ranger team of Al and Kate from Wenlock were also there in the morning, chainsaws in hand, to take down some ash trees which added to the large amount of brash we were asked to process – a pile, which quite literally (see pic’ above) had our name on it – and so make a start on the clear-up efforts.

With so many volunteers present, we split into two groups. One burned the brash in the corner of a field adjoining the Edge, while the other group walked to the next field to cut down the overgrown hedge in front of an estate cottage which is being refurbished.

In just-in-time fashion, Nick marked a line with some spray paint. But it was tricky in places to keep to the marker, particularly where the hedge was very wide and hard to reach into; or dense because of the holly trees mixed in.

On a cold day with no sun, cake o’clock was very welcome and the disappearing brash was at least very successfully throwing off lots of heat to keep us warm. 

Special mention has to go to Lisa for her fantastic lemon cake; and most of all to Gordon, for his “simply divine” ginger parkin – even if initially they almost forgot to hand it out!  It was so good I had to have two pieces, so sorry if that meant some of you missed out on a slice….We should also mention newbie Richard, who successfully put his newly learned skills from a day on the Edge at Wenlock with us last Sunday to good use.

By the end of the day the brash pile had completely disappeared. Log-sized pieces were set aside for NT property woodchip boilers and for resale. The cottage hedge looked unrecognisable, a lot better for its haircut and will doubtless soon fill out in the places where it needs to!  

Hence another successful day at Benthall; and we hope to see all you volunteers back in March – when there’ll probably be a fair bit more to do!