Monday, October 14, 2019

Boundary House Fen, 12th October 2019

Eleven of us assembled in the Golf Club car park for our session at Boundary House Fen. We drove round to the other entrance and fortunately, this time, the gate was open. After a wet few days and a very wet night, we feared we might get soaked, but once again our Green Gym luck was on our side, the rain fizzled out and the temperature was quite mild and calm.

We made our way to the fen where we were working under the direction of Rod d’Ayala. Our task was to clear the piles of cut reeds to the heaps on the edge of the fen and around the tree stumps and rake up the remainder. This was a task we were well used to. 

In one corner of the fen, water had collected in a pool and we made a ridge of reeds in front of it to hold the water back. We saw a roe deer running out from the trees and across the golf course. We found a small frog, which we put out of harm’s way and a robin flitted impatiently around the hedge at the back of the fen.

We sustained ourselves with home made cake and biscuits at the break and by the end of the session we had cleared all the piles of reeds and it was time to make our way back.

We hope that we can continue to maintain and improve this habitat for its important flora and fauna.

Green Gymmers scattered far and wide at Boundary House Fen, under the instruction of Rod, in the red coat.

Carolyn piling it on. Rod wanted us to cover some of the large tree stumps with reeds to make it easier to avoid them with his power cutter.

Joan and Janet clearing the edge of the fen.

James chopping back a willow which will always try and find a way to establish itself where there is water.

A toad discovered under the cut reeds soon crawled away to the safety of the watery undergrowth.

Judy, our fungi expert was not on hand to tell us what these are. Not to be eaten though. Thankfully Eleanor had made a delicious cake for us to enjoy at coffee break.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Cothill Fen, 5th October 2019

Eleven of us turned up for today’s session at Cothill Fen, led by Eleanor with Judy Webb and Steph from Natural England. It was quite a mild, grey day and we were assured that the high water levels had gone down a little – welcome news at a site where often at least one of us gets water in our boots.

We were split into two groups, with the majority of us moving piles of reeds that had already been cut and raked to fill a pond that had formed in a ditch on the edge of the woodland. Tussocks of reeds had deliberately been left across the fen to form a mosaic habitat structure for flora and fauna.

A smaller second party made their way to the other end of the site, to where the ‘evil spring’ is still bringing nitrate from the farmed fields beyond, which is leaching onto the fen. A dam has been formed along the stream edge but with all the duckweed on the fen water, it’s apparent that nitrate is still getting through. Our task here was to remove cut reeds from the stream itself, so that it can continue to run its course, and pile them up and tamp them down to reinforce the dam. There was a lot of sludge involved. It was hard going!

We had a welcome tea break where it was announced that the Radley Lakes quiz night will be taking place on 26thOctober. Then it was back to work, with more shifting of reeds, and Kevin also took to a large fallen log with a bow saw.

We were lucky with the wildlife, today, seeing newts and a water scorpion and a small furry mammal which remained unidentified as it hid in the reeds before we could properly see what it was. Judy also found two uncommon fungi, an earth tongue (Geoglossum fallax), which she planned to take home in order to examine its spores under her microscope, and the much rarer Stinking Fanvault (Camarophyllopsis foetus) which, although tiny, gave off an incredibly strong mothball-like smell.

We went home happy with our work, and pretty much covered in mud or, as Sally called it, ‘Eau de Fen’, which has a distinctive sulphurous smell with notes of water mint!

Judy gives us our instructions

Base camp

Starting work

A newt in a drag bag

Duck weed

Don’t tell the ponies but the electric fence isn’t actually on

Clearing sludge from the stream

Tea break

Earth tongue fungus

Tiny stinking fanvault

Rosie takes a whiff

Water scorpion

Blogger covered in eau de fen

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Elizabeth Daryush Memorial Garden, 28th September 2019

This Saturday we were at Elizabeth Daryush Memorial Garden on Boars Hill. This piece of land was part of a private garden donated to Oxford Preservation Trust and consists of rough, sloping grassland bordered by trees and a large pond. We were pleased to meet Lyndsay Priddle, who has just started working for the O.P.T.

Our tasks were to cut back bramble around the edge of the site and slash down bracken so the spring bulbs under the trees could come through.

At first it looked as though there wasn’t much bramble, but on closer inspection we saw that there was a large tangle among a clump of trees and a lot of low growing plants threatening to invade the grassland. A hopeful robin kept us company from a nearby branch and a flock of long tailed tits arrived on a larger tree.

We had our tea break under a sweet chestnut tree by the pond, where there is a convenient bench. The chestnuts were disappointingly small. I think the climate here is not warm enough to produce large fruits.

There was still a lot to do, but we did our best to remove as much bracken and bramble as possible. We look forward to coming back again in the Spring.

Photos by Margaret:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ock Valley Walk, Town End, 14th September 2019

This Saturday, we were at the Ock Path, Town end and 10 of us met at our usual spot in the St Helen's Court car park.  We had a number of tasks including clearing nettles and brambles away from the paths, clearing litter and also cutting overhanging branches from trees, which we are not able to do earlier in the year to avoid disturbing any nesting birds.

We also cleared lots of nettles from around the trees that we had planted.  Someone has removed stakes and guards from some of the trees, but we found evidence of damage caused to the trunk of one of the young trees by deer scratching.

Himalayan Balsam did not escape our attention either, and we managed to pull this where we found it.

Rosie assisted by Graham cut back an ash sapling which was growing out of the foundations of the bridge over the weir, to stop it from causing any further damage to the structure and also from causing a nuisance to passers-by.

We were very lucky with the weather again with lots of sunshine filtering through the trees.

We managed to collect three bags of rubbish, which we left at the usual pick up point on the Drayton Road for Biffa to collect.

It was lovely that so many people stopped to thank us for our efforts.

We left not long after break time as it was a busy weekend with a number of Open Doors events and "Ride and Stride" taking place.

First seven photos by Sally, last three by Margaret:

Graham clearing nettles from around a young tree.
Rosie clearing nettles from the path.
Break time.

A rowan bowing under the weight of its berries.
Deer damage.

Dieuwke getting to grips.

Janet and Joan clearing the pathway.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Cothill Fen, 7th September 2019

There were only nine Green Gymmers for the reed raking session at Cothill under the direction of Steph from Natural England and Judy Webb, so we realised we would have to work extra hard. We made our way to the far side of the fen and set up base camp under the trees. The large ash trees there would, sadly, need to be felled because of ash dieback.

The reeds had been scythed the previous day by the Friday volunteers and our task was to rake them up and stack them alongside the stream to form a barrier and on the other side by the deep water area. Walking on the fen while judging where it was safe to tread without sinking, especially while carrying a pitchfork full of reeds, was quite an adventure. There’s a photo of Roger looking remarkably cheerful considering he stepped in well above wellie height.

After the tea break, Judy took a couple of people off to collect seeds from rare plants, which could be spread around the fen. They found the remarkably large caterpillar, which you can see in the photo.

The rest of us continued raking and transporting the reeds. A path had been cut through the remaining reeds beside the deep water and we spread the cut reeds on it to make it passable without getting wet.
By half past twelve we had managed to clear all of the cut reeds, so we were very satisfied by our morning’s work.  

Photos by Margaret: