Saturday, February 22, 2020

Farmoor Reservoir, 22nd February 2020

Today’s session was held at Farmoor Reservoir – our third visit to this site, comprising a nature reserve and which borders the river Thames and surrounds. It was a blustery day as we arrived in the car park, but thankfully the rain which had been falling earlier that morning had stopped. Sixteen of us turned up and we were greeted by Hanna in her ‘gator’. After signing the Health & Safety form, we discussed whether we wanted to go for the planned task of reed cutting – albeit the nature reserve was under quite a few inches of water so we would get wet – or for a dryer task. We chose to stay dry!

As usual at this site, we shared cars and followed Hanna across to the other side of water along the concrete causeway.  We parked up in one of the anglers’ parking spots and got the tools ready. Really, there was one main task: that of cutting back years’ worth of growth along the fence that separates the reservoir from the Thames. Thick brambles, blackthorn, hawthorn, elder, wild rose and hazel all needed clearing to create room for wildflowers and views of the river. While Hanna apologised that this might not be the most interesting work, no apology was needed – it’s the kind of thing green gymmers love to get stuck into.

So we donned the thickest gloves to protect our hands from thorns and took to the task with zeal. By break time we had huge piles of cut material lined up along the trackway, ready for Hanna’s chippers and we could begin to see through to the river, along the other side. We’ve been lucky in this part of the country, and not hit by the terrible flooding of elsewhere over recent weeks, but still the river was at bursting point.

At breaktime, with no picnic table, we used an inspection hatch cover for the teas and coffees. It was so windy, with the coffee granules flying off Eleanor’s spoon as she tried to put them in the cups, it reminded her of going camping as a child, having breakfast on a mountain and cornflakes blowing off into the wind! Finally we all got our teas and coffees and the biscuits were much appreciated too.

In the second half it was more of the same and by the end we could see what an incredible amount of work had been achieved. The rain had held off. The sun had even shone a little bit. A really satisfying end to the session.

Hanna points out the work to be done.

Work begins.

Clearing scrub to the fence line.

Our work location.

The progress by break time.

Gathering around the inspection hatch.

The view from the side of the reservoir.

Looking towards Wytham Wood across the reservoir.

Where we ought to have been working!

The flooded Thames Path.

More of the flooding.

Sally and Adrian attack a patch of brambles with their scythes.

Many hands make light work.

Blackthorn blossom.

The view at the end of the session.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Sunningwell, 15th February 2020

It was not so sunny at Sunningwell for our session this morning. With Storm Dennis threatening, we gathered in the car park, fourteen or so of us, for the various tasks we’d be carrying out throughout the village. The session was led by Eleanor, with Bob Evans coordinating. As well as the green gymmers we were joined by some locals.

There were three main areas for us to work at today: Norm and Sylfest donned the waders, ready to tackle the duckweed in the pond. Wheelbarrows full of stuff were walked up the road from the pond to a compost heap at the edge of the green.

Then some of us set to tackling the brambles and ivy around the church yard, and generally tidying up fallen branches.

The rest of us headed onto the green, a large 10 acre site, to mark out areas for planting wildflowers using canes and tape. It was quite exposed on the green, and the wind made it tricky but once we had marked out some areas we then planted some cowslips from pots and lots of seeds which had been provided by Camilla who sometimes works with us on Boars Hill. Once we had planted the seeds, we moved on to weed the hedge that we planted back in 2017.

As a first timer at Sunningwell, it was interesting for me to hear from Bob how the village green was only registered as such in 1999 and a long court battle ensued to keep it as open, common land for use by all, a landmark case which went all the way to the House of Lords! While the green is still owned by the Oxford Diocesan Board of Finance, it is now managed and administered by Sunningwell Parish Council, and is protected so locals can use it for dog-walking, village fetes, bird watching and communal activities.

Tea break was an incredible spread provided by Bob and Kati in the shelter of their garden. We had warmed up quiches, sausages rolls, sandwiches, crisps, pop corn, a cake baked by Pat, tea, coffee and biscuits. Remarkably the rain had held off during the first half of the session but it really set in for the second half.

By the end of the session we were all a bit wet and bedraggled but had achieved a lot throughout the morning and look forward to returning to see how our efforts pay off!

Gathering in the car park.

The village pond.

The churchyard wall.

The village green preservation society.

Areas being marked out for wildflower planting.

The hedge that we helped plant a couple of years ago.

Clearing brambles and ivy.

Kati's incredible spread at break time.

The pond at the end of the session.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Elizabeth Daryush Memorial Garden, 8th February 2020

There were 14 of us for today’s session led by Margaret at the EDMG up on Boar’s Hill. Lindsay of OPT was unable to make the session so had sent through comprehensive instructions, including a map of what was to be done where, through to Margaret. After our briefing, we picked up tools and headed to our usual place under the sweet chestnut tree by the pond to set up base camp.

We chose from the various tasks and spread out over the site. At the top end, between the fence and the road we were to cut back over-hanging branches and pile them into a dead hedge along the side of the ditch. There were a number of places around the field where brambles needed to be cut back, and in addition plenty of fallen branches that needed tidying into habitat piles which had already been formed. Margaret commented on the irony of doing this job today of all days when gale force winds are forecast for tomorrow!

By break time we had made good progress and a weak sun was trying very hard to show its face. We admired the birds on the well-stocked feeders by the pond, and then set back to work for the second half, by which time the clouds had dispersed and we enjoyed a sunny second half with bright blue skies.

It was a good morning’s work and we went home satisfied and happy.

Meeting at the garden.

Lindsay's detailed instructions.

Fungi on dead wood.

Brisk business at the bird feeders.

Tea time conversation.

Ivy climbing a tree.

Margaret shifting some cuttings to a habitat pile.

The dead hedge by the road.

Snowdrops and spring bulbs.
Looking across the pond.
Joanna by one of the habitat piles.

Andrew clutching some brambles.

Monday, February 3, 2020

More photos from Dry Sandford Pit

Ursula has sent through three more pictures from our session at Dry Sandford Pit this past weekend:

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Dry Sandford Pit, 1st February 2020

Sixteen Green Gymmers assembled at Dry Sandford Pit on the first day of February. Four of us had cycled there in strong headwinds, feeling like we had already had quite a workout before we'd even begun!

James led the session, and once we had made our way onto site with our tools, he instructed us on the main task. Namely to pick up where we left off on our last outing here in mid-December. Thus more vegetation required clearing from the cliff faces of this former quarry while brambles and small shrubs adjacent to them also needed cutting back.

Several new tools had been purchased in the past week including more lightweight loppers and a few new mini mattocks. These would come in handy.

We split into two teams initially - a group of six heading back toward the site entrance to clear a large patch of brambles left over from last time, while the majority headed deeper into the nature reserve to begin work on a new section of cliff.

The smaller sub-team, led by Margaret, began by clearing a small area behind some trees in which to deposit the cuttings away from the main path. After that it was a case of lopping the brambles and either pitchforking or dragging them across on a tarpaulin. The task appeared daunting at first, but it was soon apparent that it would be completed by break time. Indeed the area was just about clear by the time that Helen appeared, informing us that our hot drinks were waiting. Good timing as she obligingly took an ‘after’ photo of all six of us in the spot where the brambles has been.

Once refreshed, everyone headed to the location where the larger group had spent the first half of the morning. Work was by now well underway, but there was plenty left to do even with the addition of the sub-team six.

Progress was made along a decent length of the cliff face, including some elevated sections where Rosie and Michele clambered up to work at height, the new mattocks being put to good use to expose areas of cliff that are home to solitary bees and other invertebrates.

Graham and Andrew kept themselves busy cutting back some shrubs including a couple of elders, mostly with the use of a bow saw. The cut branches were removed to form habit piles beneath some larger trees a short distance away.

As our respective timepieces informed us that it was 12:30pm, we took stock of our progress and were most pleased. We hope that the local Wildlife Trust who we work with here (but who didn’t have a representative along on this occasion) will be too.

James outlines the task du jour.

The sub-team's 'before' photo.

Bramble clearance well underway.

Rosie and Roger's bramble-trampling dance.

Getting there...

A jelly ear fungus on some cut elder.

The final push.

The sub-team 'after' photo.

Taking pride in our work!

A well-earned break.

The latest edition of the Green Gym's legendary beverage list. However, it already requires updating again!

Shrub removal.
Helen, Margaret and Barbara work the cliff face.

Henry walks some branches to the habitat pile.

Silver birches looking resplendent in the winter sun.

Michele and Rosie at altitude.


The golden cliffs of Dry Sandford.

Packing up.