Wednesday, January 15, 2020

AGM, 11th January 2020

Another year, another Abingdon Green Gym AGM.  Usually this is our first gathering of the new year, however we had an outdoor session last week, just to throw in a curveball.

A respectable number of us, around fifteen in total assembled at the Methodist Hall along Appleford Drive, which was again the venue for our meeting. Following pre-10am teas and coffees to provide us with our collective caffeine shot, we kicked off proceedings by introducing an Oxford University student, Cassandra who is interested in working with us over the summer months. She gave a brief outline of her master's degree programme at the School of Geography and the Environment and her plans to join us do some research for her thesis. This would involve participant observation, interviews, and focus groups, to learn more about how biological conservation and human health and well-being can be integrated in green spaces.

Following on from Cassandra, Kevin ran through some apologies from absent members and the minutes of last year's AGM. After hitting us with the shock news that he and Carolyn would be standing down as chairman and secretary respectively after 2020 (and will therefore leave two considerable pairs of boots to fill), we rattled through the subsequent agenda within a couple of hours.

Selected highlights included the usual thorough financial report from Sally, a roundup of last year's sessions and locations from programme co-ordinator James, a summary of membership matters from Lesley and Eleanor making plans for planting sixteen saplings that she has already acquired, along the Ock Valley Walk.

Once the formalities were out of the way, it was time to make our way along the road to Kevin and Carolyn's house for the main event. The buffet lunch! A Green Gym AGM without a subsequent feast would be unthinkable, and thus the usual vast spread was laid out before us, with contributions from all us attendees. A toast was made for the year ahead before we tucked in.

We rolled home in the early afternoon, bellies full and ready for a busy programme of work sessions in the coming months in order to burn off all those extra calories!

A summary of last year's sessions.

A toast is raised.

A selection of desserts plus cheeseboard.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Jarn Mound and Wild Garden, 4th January 2020

Happy New Year! We must have missed each other over the Christmas break as a good twenty of us turned out for the first session of the year – or in fact, decade - including two new members, Henry and Helen. The session was led by James, under the guidance of Lindsey Priddle of Oxford Preservation Trust.

We took up tools and tea things and made our way to the shelter in the middle of the site where we were given our various tasks for the day. These were three-fold.

First, we had brought buckets, water and scrubbing brushes in order to remove moss from the stone benches that are placed around the Wild Garden. In a similar vein we were also to clear the stone steps of built up mud and debris.

Secondly, we were to clear the paths of fallen branches and these were brought to Graham who was put in charge of the bonfire.

Thirdly, the steep steps leading to the top of Jarn Mound have become overgrown with brambles, blackthorn, ferns and other foliage, so we were to clear the steps and either side of them.

Having caught up with each others’ news we set to work. It was a gloomy day but there was no rain and by break time it had brightened considerably. Tea was taken around the shelter and Dieuwke offered round some delicious stollen she had received from previous green gymmers, Berndt and Ursula, who have long since returned to Germany. We took a group photo of everyone to send back to them.

For the second half of the session the winter sun was out transforming the wild garden into a place of real beauty. But then we heard cries of ‘Charlie! Charlie!’ – a family had lost their dog, a spaniel which had dashed off after a muntjac or perhaps a roe deer. It took quite some time for family and dog to be reunited but we all breathed a sigh of relief when he was finally found.

Leaving the fire to dwindle down, we collected up the tools and made our way back to the parking area, happy with our first session of 2020.

Photos by Andrew, Joanna and Margaret:

The first meeting of the new year!

Lindsay instructs the group.

Work begins on the mound.

The sunken garden at the start of the session. (photo by Margaret)
One of the freshly cleaned benches.

'The scrubbers' at work! Petra and Sally.

Margaret and Joan in the sunken garden.

Work on the mound from below.

'Witches' Butter' fungi.

Jarn Mound and workers in the winter sunshine.
Tea break at the shelter.

Dieuwke and the delicious stollen cake.

New Year, new group photo.

The sunken garden 'after' shot. (photo by Margaret)

The clean but slightly wonky steps down to the sunken garden. (photo by Margaret)

Graham once again on bonfire duties.

Helen and Henry.

The bonfire from afar.

One of several mushrooms of this type in the garden.

Winter sunlight through the trees.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Oxford talk by Green Gym founder Dr William Bird

Some of our members recently attended a talk at the Oxford Martin School by Dr William Bird, the founder of the Green Gym movement.

Entitled 'Why we need a Fourth Revolution in Healthcare', the entirety of the talk has been uploaded to YouTube. The video has been embedded below or can be found at HERE if you'd prefer to watch it in a separate window.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Dry Sandford Pit and Christmas Meal, 14th December 2019

This was the last Green Gym meeting of the year, with a slightly shorter-than-usual work session at Dry Sandford Pit followed by our annual Christmas meal at the nearby Merry Miller pub.

Despite a favourable weather forecast, we assembled eleven-strong at the car park in the pouring rain! Undeterred, we gathered tools and tea kit and braved the conditions, setting up camp beside the spot where we had worked on our last visit here a couple of weeks ago. On this occasion we were joined by Nicole Clough, representing the local Wildlife Trust who own and manage the site.

Nicole gave us our instructions for the morning along with a quick talk about the site and the purpose of our work - namely to keep the cliff faces clear of vegetation and shadow. This provides an ideal habitat for solitary bees and other invertebrates, with the added bonus of keeping the sedimentary layers of this former quarry clear for geological study.

The bulk of our endeavours on the previous visit had involved working on the cliff faces themselves, but this time we focused on scrub clearance on the other side of the main path. A proliferation of brambles, thorn bushes and willow was evident. Armed with loppers, bow saws and slashers, we therefore commenced operations.

Fortunately we didn't have long to wait until the rain abated and was replaced with bright blue skies. The occasional shower passed over throughout the morning, but the complete wash-out that we had feared did not come to pass.

By break time it looked as it we would clear a larger area than originally supposed, such was our ferocious work rate. We took our refreshments around a rock that served as a table under the relative shelter of a few trees as some light rain returned. Unfortunately our tea-volunteer, James had forgotten to bring the milk, but we were certainly glad of warm drinks in the slightly chilly conditions.

The session was terminated a little early so that we could get to our lunch reservation on time, where we would be meeting a few others who had elected not to join our outdoor session. Before we got going, Nicole took a team photo (see below) of us hardy souls who had braved the worst of the weather that the morning had to offer.

And so onto the pub, where Kevin and Carolyn were already waiting for us, having set out our table with Christmas crackers and arranged for our first drink to be paid for from club funds. Wisely we had pre-ordered our food so that it all arrived together and a lovely meal was enjoyed by sixteen of us. 

After we'd eaten, Kevin in his capacity as chairman gave a short speech, thanking everyone for their hard work in what had been another successful year for the Abingdon Green Gym. A toast was raised for our ongoing endeavours into 2020, with our first session back after the seasonal break being on Saturday 4th January up on Boars Hill.

Assembling in the rain.

Work begins.

Halfway there by break time.

A sturdy refreshment table.

More showers at the interval.

Holes in the cliff face made by solitary bees.

From the reed bed.

Mission accomplished.

Team photo by Nicole.

Seasonal scenes at the Merry Miller.

Taking our seats for the meal.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Barton Fields, 7th December 2019

There were 21 of us for today’s session at Barton Fields, next to the River Thames in Abingdon. The session was led by Sally in conjunction with David Guyoncourt from the Abingdon Naturalists' Society Green Team who manages the site.

We unloaded the tools and David took a splinter group of a few of us, including Rosie and Michele, off for some hardcore lopping and sawing to take place along the river bank. A path had to be forged through the undergrowth to get there and they were given their own supplies of refreshments as they wouldn’t be able to make it back to the main base for break time.

Otherwise, we made our way to the place we’d be working and were split into two further groups – a small group of loppers and sawers to work next to the Sustrans cycle path where grassy bays are being created in order to attract solitary bees and butterflies. Here it was a question of cutting down and thinning out overhanging branches so the light can get through.

The remainder of us took to scything and raking the cut reeds, sedges and willowherb in order to create a floodplain meadow. There was also a strimmer in use. The aim was to clear about 100 square metres, although it looked like we cleared a bigger area than this. This is the first time it’s been cut, but the aim is to cut it again next year and in time have it ready for planting flowers such as snakeshead fritillaries which thrive in this sort of habitat. The work is being done with the advice of the Open University Floodplain Meadow Project.

We gathered at break time (apart from the splinter group!) got welcome cups of tea and coffee and mince pies and Sylfest's home made Christmas biscuits were offered around.

In the second half of the session, the fuel for the strimmer ran out, just as the last bit of willowherb was cut – impeccable timing! We raked up the rest of the cut material and by the end of the session had three or so huge mounds which will rot down over the coming months. It was a grey old day, but we'd worked hard and went home happy with our progress and looking forward to seeing how the meadow develops over the coming year.

David and Margaret about to get started.

David instructs as Petra volunteers to get involved.

The raking gets underway.

Joanna enjoys a biscuit.

The splinter group take their refreshments in isolation.

The remainder of the group at break time.

The second half of the session.

Michele and Rosie, two of the hardcore loppers!

A view of Abingdon Lock from the work site.

The session is almost complete.

A field vole.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Dry Sandford Pit, 30th November 2019

Dry Sandford Pit Nature Reserve was the venue for today’s session, led by Sally. We were there to do work for BBOWT, continuing on from our last visit to the site in July. Sixteen of us turned up on a beautiful bright frozen morning with the grass and trees glittering with frost as the sun rose. It was so cold it was nice to imagine that millions of years ago this place had been the bed of a warm, coral-rich sea.

The nature reserve was once a quarry and our job for the morning was to carry on clearing the cliff faces of vegetation, in order to expose the strata of limestone and sand, and maintain the many habitats of solitary bees and wasps that nest there.

With a mixture of tools, including loppers and slashers for cutting back brambles, and trowels and small mattocks for hacking at the vegetation clinging to the cliff faces, we set to work, building up the habitat piles and soon warming up as the morning wore on.

By break time the sun was high in the sky and we drank our tea basking in its warmth.

Dry Sandford Pit is a fascinating site, as there are always fossils to be found and this time Carolyn also found a crystalized rock of some description. By the end of the session we had made good progress along the length of the cliff face and pathway, and look forward to carrying on in a couple of weeks time.  

Dry Sandford Pit.

Gathering tools.

On our way to site.

A beautiful morning.

Nearly there.

One of the cliff faces.

Chilly beginnings.

Workers in the frost.

Lesley takes her pick.

Woody nightshade.

Dieuwke, Joan and Sally.

Our progress.

Sally takes stock of our work at the end of the session.