Dry Sandford Pit, Saturday 9th of October 2021

This week, the Abingdon Green Gym Team were at one of the most beautiful sites that we frequent: Dry Sandford Pit. Unlike last week, this Saturday's session was blessedly dry, but it still definitely felt autumnal as we all met in the small carpark shrouded in mist. This keen blogger had walked to the meeting across several other nature reserves to get here (see the spooky photos below), which are now showing the beginnings of their autumn colours of brown, yellow, orange, and red. 

Eleanor D. was today's session leader, and she gave us a quick briefing about the day's tasks. The first was to clear the track into the site of overgrowth so that a trailer could navigate down it to take the cattle away. 'Cattle?' I hear you cry, 'what do cattle have to do with a nature reserve?' Well, my dear readers, quite a lot. In the summer, Dry Sandford Pit is home to some little Dexter cattle. 'Little' is not a pejorative here, Dexters are the smallest European cattle breed. As a helpful sign on the site explains, cattle pull up their food with their long tongues, rather than snuffling it up like pigs, or tightly grazing it like sheep. By doing this they help keep down rampant reeds and scrub (which are plentiful), and allow space for a greater diversity of plants to flourish, which in turn help promote a greater diversity of insect and mammal species. While the cattle do an excellent job in the summer, they get taken back to their winter homes in the autumn, a job well done. I did try to get some pictures of them, but they were clearly too cosy in their reed beds. 

Adrian and James then set off to accomplish this task, with Adrian sawing down branches and James cutting them up in to smaller bunches so they could be securely stacked either side of the track. Jim also set off, scythe in hand, to see if any overgrown grass needed a visit from the Happy Reaper (as opposed to the grim one). 

The rest of the team embarked on the mammoth task of cutting back and uprooting sycamore saplings which had taken root, removing dying buddleia, and halting the growth of overreaching brambles. This was tricky work as sycamore saplings tend to shoot up in every which way, and the bramble tendrils seemed endless. Cuttings were then piled up in discreet nature piles, which keeps the Pit looking smart whilst giving critters a place to comfortably hibernate in. 

Eleanor D. then took me to an old tree (referred to affectionately as 'the creepy tree') which was hosting a range of mushrooms of all shapes and sizes. I'm afraid my mushroom knowledge takes me no further than knowing my birch polypore from my parasol, so any suggestions for identification are welcome in the comments (pictures below!) 

At breaktime I offered up a plum and almond cake, which was made using plums from Rosie's garden that she kindly shared a couple of weekends back. Discussion, as ever, was wide ranging, and included a consideration of 'should we keep calling renowned artists Old Masters?' and 'why do we never hear of female Old Masters?' Never underestimate the intellectual scope of a Green Gym session.  

After break, this Green Gymmer was feeling a bit worse for wear and headed back home, but not without securing two bottles or apple juice made by Oxford Carbon Cutters (which Eleanor D. and Graham are a part of) using apples from the community and recycled glass bottles. I can safely say it is some of the best apple juice I have ever had! Sally has very kindly sent across some more photos of the day's session, which show the cutting-back continued, and that by the end of the day's work the blue sky was set. 

The foggy walk in from Hitchcopse Pit

A foggy fortress

James posing

Adrian consumed by hedge

The team hard at work (think of all those aching backs!)

Roger dragging off a fresh sycamore kill

Mystery mushroom #1

Mystery mushroom #2

Breaktime means cake time 

Oxford Carbon Cutters apple juice. Critics rate it 10/10!

A bonus toad I saw on the walk home

Balletic sycamore disposal (photo courtesy of Sally)

The fog clears to blue skies!


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