Monday, October 19, 2020

Boars Hill, 17th October 2020

The Green Gym were back at Boars Hill this Saturday, working with the Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT), again we split into sub-teams to carry out the work:

Old Berkeley Golf Course

One of the teams on Saturday Oct 17th was assigned to work on the Old Golf Course. There were just five of us, the rest being at the Eiizabeth Daryrush Memorial Garden and the Jarn Heath. From the top of the old golf course it is possible to have a fine view of Oxford but our work was down in the lower part where a stream runs through the valley. Quite often, when the Green Gym visit a site, there are numerous tasks to be undertaken, but this time, there was just one, and it was something of a 'toughie’ . Both in the stream and on the banks either side, reeds have taken root and are in danger of stifling the growth of a very rare plant, the Ivy-Leafed Crowsfoot. It has very small leaves, shaped like ivy, hence the name, and it grows nowhere else in the county, so the importance attached to giving it space to grow and breathe here cannot be overstated.

Our single task was simply to dig up as many of the reeds as we could and this meant digging out the roots, many of which were rather deeply embedded. We set to work with spades, forks and mattocks  and, although we were a small team, we managed to clear quite a lot. It was heavy work and the fact that we kept going and achieved so much amply demonstrated just how fit Green Gymmers are. Who needs Joe Wicks?


Intrepid reed diggers. Camilla, Rosie, Olivia and Barbara.

Rosie in the thick of it.

Barbara loading her drag bag.

Ivy-leaved Crowfoot (photo by Olivia).

Elizabeth Daryush Memorial Garden

These fragmented sessions with the GG'ers divided up into Covid-19 manageable groups takes a bit of getting used to.

I know that there has been the regular amount of volunteers each week, but not as we know it - working on different sites at the same time! This is not one of the main principle of the Green Gym, which is all about getting together in a supportive social group for mental as well as physical health.

Even though our turnout was diminished due to Covid-19 there was a group of eleven divided into areas. Adrian, Graham and Mark headed down the bottom of the field to deal with a large bramble patch which had returned over the last couple of years since we last tackled it. Joan, Michele and Janet decided to work near the pond where there were bird feeders to clear encroaching invasive young samplings, nettles and other unwanted vegetation,  which were encouraging the wrong creatures. Meanwhile Lesley and Dieuwke went with Lindsay the resident OPT leader to clear back the build up of debris of leaves, soil and overgrowth along the OPT side of the lane. 

The final volunteers were Sally - who had had the opportunity to do some scything and worked on more brambles near the pond, and Carolyn, who started to pull back overgrown nettles and brambles on the side of the path. I in my capacity as odd-job person taking photos, and helping where needed, dumped cut brambles in a drag bag to the edge of the Gardens under the tree line and ending up finishing off the clearing of the lane side edging.

Along with the photos of the enthusiastic efforts of everybody, the location of our base camp was under a chestnut tree next to the pond, which was yielding a good crop of nuts this year which some of us collected for roasting, leaving some for the wildlife,but by the look of the many empty husks they had already been at it.


Monday, October 12, 2020

Dry Sandford Pit, 10th October 2020

Eight Green Gymmers, all ladies, assembled at Dry Sandford Pit. This was the maximum number permitted in a work party on a BBOWT site. Our task was to cut back the vegetation between the first cliff face and the footpath and clear it from the cliff face itself.

The task looked daunting. Buddleia bushes, willow, bramble and nettles had grown quite high, but we set to work with loppers, slashers and rakes and carried the debris away to habitat piles concealed in the bushes on the other side of the path. We were able to speak to a number of passers by, some of whom were clearly there for the first time and tell them about the geological and wildlife importance of the site.

After our break, Margaret and Janet donned hard hats to do some work clearing the cliff face itself. By 12.30 we stood back and saw that we’d done quite a thorough job, and one or two people had to be dragged away from doing one last chop.

A Green Gym group will be back during the winter to carry out tasks in other areas of the site.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Hinksey Heights, 10th October 2020

This week, the Green Gym held two sessions at different sites. One of these was at Hinksey - the session having been re-scheduled from last Saturday:

The second Green Gym team at work today were at the Hinkey Heights Reserve just outside Oxford. This was our second visit to this extensive reserve and, while our first visit was all about the fen area, this one was focused on the stream running through the woodland. We were joined by a new member, Sarah, who proved herself to be a master-lopper.

Our task was simply expressed but not so simple to carry out. We were asked to clear the banks of the stream on either side of the footbridge, and this we did. The challenge was that the stream was in a deep cutting, no doubt formed over many centuries by the stream itself leaving high and steep sided banks on either side, not unlike the Grand Canyon. Not only that, but the growth of brambles and scrub formed a dense canopy over the stream. Armed with loppers, bowsaws, a scythe and some slashers, it felt at times as though we were hacking our way through jungle. Fortunately none of our party got lost and we all made it back to base for our socially distanced coffee break and again at the end when it was packing-up time.

We will be visiting this site again and we vowed that next time we will take a small aluminium ladder to help us descend and ascend the banks of the stream and also some waders because the depth of the water in places exceeded the height of our wellies.


Adrian and Roger attacking the bank.

Kevin and James playing bridge.

Carolyn passing over Graham.

A briefing by the Bridgemaster.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Southern Town Park, 26th September 2020

Abingdon Green Gym deployed at Southern Town Park this Saturday, with the usual tried and tested workout, mainly bramble-bashing, chopping up fallen branches, litter picking and clearing and sowing wild flowers in an area next to the footpath, adjacent to the sports field. But there was a slight twist. Not only did we have two new enthusiastic volunteers - Daniel and Leah, also Zak and Vanessa from Brookes University in Oxford doing a film piece for Healthy Abingdon, covering different group that encourage people in the Abingdon area to keep themselves healthy!

We assembled in the usual place in the car park next to the sports field, but we weren't the only ones! It seemed like there was a children's football tournament kicking off as the large car park where we usually park with ease was full to the brim with parking even on the main road.

Once everyone was there, I did a quick intro to the new people, checking all had signed the tracking form. We then set off transporting the tools to our designated spot in the recreational area that we would be working in.

This is not one our most interesting sites with no rare flora or fauna, but more of a community (service) work for the benefit of the locals who dog walk etc. Perhaps we could claim community credit if we were caught cycling on the pavement or stealing apples?

Anyway Sally had brought some wildflower seeds for planting, but first we had to clear the waist-high grass that has taken over the patch where they grow. The Abingdon Green Gym wild flower sign was still there to give us a location marker. The majority of the group set to work scything the grass away for others to rake the top surface clear to sow the seeds. Unfortunately much as we try not to disturb the wildlife, there were a few toads, who made a quick exit and a shrew or mouse nest with young in which we immediately covered over hoping for the parent to return and move them later.

There were fairly substantial-sized tree branches which needed chopping up into habitat piles, giving Daniel and Leah the opportunity to show their artistic flair, which any wildlife looking for a new home would only be too pleased to settle in.

Litter picking didn't bring the usual haul of beer cans and plastic drinks bottles and burnt out rubbish, as the lock-down must have kept the illicit drink sessions in the area to a minimum (or possibly thanks to the recent litter-picking efforts of the AbiBinit volunteers?). However, there were a couple of large items - an abandoned sleeping bag and tent.

The weather was kind to the film crew who were pleased with the "shoot" letting them move around and take what they wanted. We will have to wait and see the final cut is like.

Daniel and Leah.
Daniel and Leah.

One of the habitat piles.

Zak and Vanessa.

An abandoned sleeping bag and tent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Cothill Fen, 19th September 2020

It was a beautiful fine morning for Green Gym as we returned to Cothill Fen SSSI to help Natural England with its ongoing programme of cutting the reed and raking it off in order to reduce the build-up of nutrients, as the specialist fen and wet woodland flora favour poor soils.  Cothill Fen is one of a number of calcareous fens in Oxfordshire, where spring fed water percolates to the surface and deposits lime in the form of tufa.  We are very blessed as a county to have these precious fens as they are a very rare habitat indeed.  15 Green Gymmers were joined by local scyther, Jim Ballantyne, and we worked under the direction of Steph Wilson from NE and Judy Webb.

Our first task was to load our heavy tools, jerry cans of hand sanitiser and water for washing hands onto Steph’s van - we all heaved a collective sigh of relief - as we then made our way from the car park down the track, past Parsonage Moor and reached the adjoining Cothill Fen.  Adrian had arrived early and had started a bonfire for the brash of some fallen oak limbs.  We were all amazed to see the ponds had virtually been cleared of reed when we arrived – such a different sight from several years ago when the reed was well over 3m high and we had to take Judy’s word for it that there was a very deep pond there and to avoid the area at all costs!  Reed growth in other areas was a little more than it would have been had the fen been cut in the spring, but unfortunately lockdown had prevented this from being done, so the scythers were very much appreciated.

Steph then outlined our tasks for the morning – Adrian would manage the fire for a bit and some people were needed to help him cut up logs and move another pile of logs into habitat piles and off the area where the wild flowers grow.  Tools had been numbered so that people could take loppers, rake or a hayfork and then could keep it for use after break to save disinfecting it again.  Everyone was careful to wear gloves when handling tools.

Roger, Michele, James (W) and new member, Marga, put their hands up to help Adrian.  Ursula, Dieuwke and Lesley started cutting back the hazel hedge running alongside the log track at the far end of the Fen.

Jim B had made his way across one of the causeways and started to scythe.  He was joined by Graham, Margaret, James (M) and Phineas who helped rake the cut reed (some of which had been cut by work parties earlier in the week) and fork it onto the causeways.  We all had fun trampling it done and luckily no-one fell in the deep water!

Barbara and Rosie were also busy raking and pitchforking piles of cut reed in another area, but both stopped short of doing a double-back flip, as they almost trampolined on the pile of cut reed to flatten it down and stop it from blowing about in the wind.

Break time soon arrived and to everyone’s relief!  Although we all kept to a social distance and we all had our own refreshments and snacks, there was lots of the usual chatter.  It was not long before we set back to it after break suitably refreshed.  Adrian took up his scythe to continue where he had left off the previous day.

Margaret disturbed a baby toad and it was amazing to see how far and quickly it travelled with its small legs as it climbed up over tussocks.  There were lots of common darters (a type of dragonfly), mating.  It was great to see the marsh lousewort in flower.  This is parasitic on reed (it is a relative of yellow rattle) and works in a similar way as rattle does on rye grass, by suppressing reed growth as it takes up sugars and other nutrients from the reed’s roots.  A very useful plant to have!

We left feeling as though we had done a good morning’s work, with the fen looking much better … and we were also very grateful to Steph who loaded her van with our tools at the end of the session and ferried them to the car park for us.  Adrian stayed to continue scything and keep a watchful eye on the fire, while Judy had picked up a bag full of devil’s bit scabious seeds and was sowing them, as we wended our way back up the track to the car park. 

Smiles all round!