Thursday, July 24, 2014

Frilford Heath SSSI, 19th July 2014

This week, we were working in our tireless pursuit of ridding our precious heathland of invasive Himalayan Balsam at Frilford Heath, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is a site largely in private ownership, but managed by Natural England. The morning did not start off promisingly. Rain? On a Green Gym morning?! HELLOOOO!!

We arrived at Woodhaven in dribs and drabs, where we have the kind permission of the landowner to park, and made our way to our normal base site, eagerly surveying the scope and enormity of the task ahead as there were forests of Himalayan Balsam everywhere. The rain soon stopped and lifted our spirits although, in the humidity of the day, we could be forgiven for imagining that we were somewhere in a tropical jungle, rather than in an Oxfordshire heath!!

Kevin, our leader for this session, had to cut branches from across the path so that we could make our way unhindered to base camp. We then split into groups to wage our attack on all fronts against this most invasive of plants; noting as we did so the pockets of fragrant wild mint, the yellow flag irises (not in flower) and other native plants coming back in the areas that are (for the moment) HB-free, thanks to our efforts in recent years! Wellies, gloves, sunhats, long sleeves and insect repellent de rigueur!

Margaret decided that prevention was by far better than cure and crossed back over the bridge to work on a forest of HB quickly forming and threatening to invade the pockets of heathland that are currently HB-free and impact those that we are still trying to free from HB. In some ways, our task was made easier by the rain that morning, but overnight heavy rain had crushed some of the vegetation which made tracing the roots through brambles and goose grass a more difficult task for us.

It was with some relief that we heard the call for "Tea Time", although some of us left "our" patches reluctantly! Palpitations on the discovery of only one dark chocolate digestive biscuit left in the biscuit "tin" were soon overcome on the realisation that stocks HAD been replenished and there WAS another pack, thus averting a minor crisis among the ranks (somehow a ginger nut or a jaffa cake just isn't the same)!!

Suitably fortified, we then got back to our tasks - some choosing different areas to work on and others continuing on "their" patches - to the merry accompaniment of a Green Woodpecker, whose laughing call cheered us in our efforts. And, of course, there is that satisfying crunch on crushing the plants to stop them from regrowing after they have been picked.

We left the site surveying our good work, but noting there was still much to be done, and promising to return - perhaps for a midweek evening session sometime soon before the flowering plants have time to set seed and thereby start the process all over again...

The 'before' picture - showing the extent of Himalayan Balsam growth upon arrival

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