Thursday, October 22, 2020

Two Pines Fen, 21st October 2020

Following lockdown due to Covid-19, we had been unable to return to Two Pines Fen SSSI in the spring to do a cut and rake ahead of orchid flowering season.  This Site of Special Scientific Interest is home to 12 species of orchid.  It is flanked by two different golf courses and we are only able to safely work there when one of the holes is closed.  The Golf Course had kindly arranged to closed a hole on the Green Course and moved the tee on the Red Course so that we could work without fear of being hit by golf balls.  The only problem was the weather!  It rained and rained practically all day!  

But this did not deter us - seven undaunted Green Gymmers were joined by JimB, who is a very experienced scyther, and well known in Oxfordshire, to rise to the challenge. 

As we approached the Fen from the Green Keepers' compound area, we could see how much silver birch, in particular, had started to encroach on the Fen, with its pretty green and gold leaves shimmering in the rain.  The Fen was looking very autumnal with lovely russet colours of autumn - in marked contrast to the two Scot's pines which give the Fen its nick-name with their greyish, gnarled trunks and dark green pine needles.

Janet, Barbara, Eleanor and Margaret set to work with loppers to cut down the birch, oak and hawthorn saplings, which if allowed to grow, would turn the Fen into a woodland and we would then lose the specialist plants and the fauna they support, which makes this site so special.  Calcareous (chalk) spring fed fens are one of the rarest habitats in the country and between them all, Oxfordshire boasts 40%, so we have to do all we can to keep them in favourable condition to continue to support the increasingly rare flora that thrive in these nutrient-poor soils.

The three scythers set to work near the spring fed stream and Graham was soon hard at work raking up the cuttings behind them.  Under instructions from Rod d'Ayala, we had been asked to separate the seed rich cuttings from the middle of the Fen from the other cut material and start to fill the gaps between the leaky dams with the lesser grade cuttings.  The dams have been created to slow the flow of water from the spring, thereby making the Fen wetter and less prone to drying out.  The seed rich cuttings were put into a drag bag next to the rest of the cut material, ready for collection by the Green Keepers to take to the nearby Boundary House Fen, another SSSI on the Golf Course, where Abingdon Green Gym will be working at its Saturday morning session at the end of the week.

After a welcome break, with a much-needed cup of tea or coffee and biscuits enjoyed in one of the outbuildings in the Green Keepers' compound area, we were sufficiently fortified to carry on working, concentrating on cutting down saplings, scything the reed and rushes and raking.  The wet vegetation made for heavy raking.  We definitely felt as though we'd had a work out when the day ended!

Lunch was called at 1.00-ish, at which time, our numbers depleted, but on our journey back to our shelter, we carried unwanted tools to put away so that those staying after lunch would not have to make two trips.

After our respite, the three remaining Green Gymmers returned to the Fen to tidy up the rakings and to cut some of the seed-rich central area of the Fen.

Extra care and attention was paid to a patch of rare sphagnum moss, which had been carefully scythed around in the morning, and then Barbara cut back the vegetation more delicately using shears. 

We lost count of the number of golf balls we found and almost as fast as we put them out to the side of the Fen, golfers would come up to take a few!

Everyone did a super job in miserable conditions.  We didn't finish it, so we are looking to arrange another mid-week session, hopefully when it will be dry!

A good day's work and we hope the orchids will flourish again next year.  Huge thanks to everyone who came along in ghastly weather to get this work done.

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.