Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cothill Fen and Christmas Lunch at the Merry Miller, 14th December 2013

We gathered in the car park opposite the Merry Miller for our session at Cothill Fen, led by Dr Judy Webb. Once again, we were very lucky with the weather as it was fine and sunny. We walked along the footpath to the fen and Judy pointed out the new fencing that has been installed to keep the ponies in, which are being introduced early next year to graze the fen.

We could not do our originally planned task of reed raking as they had not been cut so instead we set to work cutting back any vegetation that was encroaching on the fen and cutting back any shoots that were sprouting from the tree stumps. If trees and shrubs are allowed to grow on the fen, they will take over and the fen will become scrub, thus destroying the unique ecosystem of an alkaline fen. There were orange tapes tied to some of the stumps where rare plants were growing, such as a rare fern and a dark-leaved willow.

During our tea break and sampled some of Robert's home made cinnamon biscuits and Judy showed us the fungi she had collected. Then it was back to work and even though we thought we had finished cutting back the sprouting stumps, we kept finding more.

We made our way back to the car park and thence across the road for our pre Christmas lunch at the Merry Miller, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

That was our last session before the Christmas and New Year break. The next session on 11th January will be the A.G.M. but before that some of us will be going to see the Creation Theatre production "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe".


Sally and Kate cutting back encroaching vegetation

Kevin and Margaret hard at work

Tea Break

Enjoying Robert's cinnamon biscuits

Judy shows off her blewits

Festive cheer at the Merry Miller

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Abrahams Wood, Boars Hill, 7th December 2013

This Saturday's venue was Abrahams Wood, Boars Hill, on  Oxford Preservation Trust land.

The site has become one of our favourites; not just for the lovely view over the dreaming spires of Oxford, but also due to the fact that being a smallish wood, a limited work force can achieve quite a lot in a morning's session.

Our main effort is usually to keep down the non-indigenous plants that have invaded the area, allowing the light to get through so native shrubs such as hazel and holly can grow.

Invasive bamboo and laurel have unfortunately become rather established in Abrahams Wood. However, if the laurel shrubs in particular can be tackled before they grow too big, they can be kept under control fairly easily.  It is possible to get a bow saw through their relatively soft limbs, and log habitat piles can then be created with the cut wood.  These piles also serve as a great indication of our efforts at the end of the day!

It was pleasing to see that our previous work of building barriers to stop deer stripping native tree saplings, seems to have done the job.  Earlier in the year we constructed willow 'doughnuts' around young trees using coppiced willow and also created a large continuous waist high fence of cut branches, stretching across the wood for this purpose.

By the end of the session and with a well earned refreshment break of seasonal Stollen cake plus home made chocolate cheese cake, we were very satisfied with our efforts.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Stonehill House, 30th November 2013

On a fine, sunny Saturday morning eight of us met in the courtyard of Stonehill House, a lovely red brick manor house on the southern edge of Abingdon. The house, outbuildings and gardens are used as a Russian cultural centre as well as hosting projects such as theraputic gardening for people suffering from mental illness.

Our task was to clear a footpath through the woods and remove tree guards from the various trees with which the fields had been extensively planted.

We walked through the grounds and the woods into the field with the young trees. Three people stayed in the wood to clear the footpath and the rest of us set to work removing the tree guards, loading them into barrows and taking them to the top of the field to dump by the gate. We had had a pevious session removing the guards back in April and there still seemed to be hundreds left. The footpath rakers soon finished their task and came to join us.

The field has several badger sets near the northern border but as it was broad daylight, we saw no sign of them snuffling around, eating worms, moving goalposts or whatever else badgers are reputed to do.

We enjoyed our coffee break in the pleasant sunshine and then carried on with our task until it was time to pack up. We had made very good progress but there were still some tree guards left and we hadn't even been able to start on the field at the other side of the house, so I expect we will be back some time in the new year.

Dieuwke, Carolyn and Ursula clearing the footpath

Colin removing tree guards

coffee break

pegasus in the courtyard

James removing tree guards

Monday, November 25, 2013

Southern Town Park, 23rd November 2013

It was a couple of months since our last session at Southern Town Park and since then, the onset of winter has become rather apparent.  Fortunately however, Saturday morning was relatively mild, in sharp contrast to the preceding week.

We assembled as usual in the Football Club car park, and this time, we decided to focus our efforts on the area in the South-West of the park. We began the walk around the playing fields and across the newly-restored bridge to get there.  Once we had arrived and inspected the site, the most obvious task was to clear the wooded area of brambles and other climbing plants that had begun to choke the trees.  At the same time, a litter-pick was conducted, although the litter situation was not the worst we had seen.

Despite being late in the year, the brambles were still thick and had managed to climb quite a height up and around the trunks of many of the trees.  It was difficult work cutting and removing them while trying to avoid entanglement with all the thorns.  Eye protection was definitely a good idea.

As always with this site, it is not the most interesting of those that we visit, but it is good that we can make an obvious improvement to the local environment that can be enjoyed by so many.  No doubt we will be back in the New Year to continue our operations.

Arrival at the work site

Dieuwke, Robert and Margaret get stuck in

Work in progress!

Eleanor, mid litter-pick

Andrew amongst the trees

Time for tea

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Geo Conservation, Dry Sandford Pit, 16th November 2013

This was our annual geo-conservation session, held with the Oxfordshire Geology Trust and led by Denise Dane.  This year, we were back at Dry Sandford Pit - a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) close to one of our usual work-sites, Cothill Fen.  As with the fen, it is managed by the local Wildlife Trust.  The Green Gym last visited the pit a few years ago to undertake similar work, so it was interesting for those who were in attendance last time to re-visit and for those of us who hadn't been to explore this interesting location.  A total of nine Green Gymmers turned up for the occasion.

Having assembled our tools and safety equipment, we were led to the first of two exposed rock faces and given a brief introduction to the site by Denise, who was joined by two other Geology Trust volunteers.  It was explained how the area was once covered by a tropical sea and therefore we could expect to see the fossilised remains of corals and other marine life.  We were also informed that the exposed pit cliffs are now home to solitary bees and wasps. Therefore our work here keeping the cliffs free of vegetation is important to preserve this habitat as well as for the geological examination and study.

We were shown two separate cliff areas that we were to work on and the group divided to work on each simultaneously.  Overhanging plants were trimmed while the encroachment of brambles and other flora from beneath were also dealt with.  Restoration work was then performed on the rocks themselves - clearing mosses and surface growth and searching for fossils.

We succeeded in clearing the designated areas during the session and uncovered some coral and other small fossil specimens which were able to be identified by Denise and the other Geology Trust volunteers.  It made for a very interesting morning.

On the way back we were shown some other cliff faces of this former quarry that had not been maintained.  In these patches, grass had developed in a relatively short space of time, hiding the geology beneath.  It was a good indication of why the work we did here was of value and hopefully will enable visitors to fully appreciate this unique site.

The entrance to Dry Sandford Pit

En-route to the work site

Denise provides some background information

Information board

Information sheet - page 1

Information sheet - page 2

Holes in the pit wall - home to solitary bees and wasps

Taking a closer look

The second of the two work areas

Work begins to clear the rocks of overgrowing vegetation

Fossilised coral

Section of cleared rock face

Adjacent overgrown area showing what would happen if the geo conservation work was not carried out

Examining the first area, now clear of plant growth

Homeward bound

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ock Valley Walk, Tesco End, 9th November 2013

That most unusual of occurrences - a wet Saturday morning and a soggy Green Gym session!  No sooner had we assembled in the Davis Langdon car park, close to the Tesco superstore, than the heavens opened. It became apparent that our usual, somewhat unprecedented run of clement Saturday sessions had come to an abrupt end.

No matter.  The Green Gym pride themselves on being a hardy bunch and a few splashes of rain were not going to stop us.  We gathered together our tools and ran the gauntlet of pedestrian crossings to get to the Ock path. As usual, negotiating motorists that seem unwilling to stop at these crossings in their hurry to get to the supermarket was an issue.  Thankfully we all made it safely and set up our base in the trees while pondering our next move.

We only had six litter-picking tools and there were fourteen of us, so we split into pairs to collect litter with a couple of others setting off with saws and loppers to tackle troublesome overhanging tree branches that had begun to encroach upon the path.

As is normally the case on this section of the Ock walk, there were rich pickings for the bin-bag wielding teams.  Both recyclables and non-recyclables were collected in significant quantities from the Tesco end, all the way down to the Drayton Road.  A rogue shopping trolley was recovered and notes were subsequently compared on the most unusual items of refuse found. 

By break time at 11am, the group had received quite a soaking and the path had been cleared of all litter excluding that which was too dangerous to get to or beyond the fenced areas.  The general consensus was that we should pack up early since it was mission accomplished and the rain showed no signs of stopping anytime soon.  

Following the usual refreshments and jolly banter, the refuse sacks were taken to the spot where the council contractors had agreed to collect them from and all tools and personnel were dispatched homewards.  Let us hope that next Saturday brings us more favourable conditions!

setting up base


fruits on a spindle tree

litter-picking around the exercise trail

Kevin tackles some encroaching tree branches

recyclables and non-recyclables upon a carpet of autumn leaves

a rare litter-free path

autumn colours, a lovely splash of red from the guelder-rose and hawthorn berries

a soggy refreshment break

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Abbey Fishponds, 2nd November 2013

Following our stall at the Abingdon Eco Fair last Saturday, it was back to work this week at one of our most familiar haunts, Abbey Fishponds.  As usual, site warden Marjorie White was on hand to supervise our activities, ably assisted by regular fishponds volunteer, Pete.  We assembled as usual at the top of Hadland Road and we were pleased to welcome a new volunteer, Georgina, who had discovered us at the Eco Fair.

An eclectic range of tasks were on offer as usual, with various groups dispatched across the site and engaged in tree clearance, path-laying and maintenance, general tidying-up and litter-picking.  The storms of the previous weekend had caused some tree damage and with the recent wet weather, the main path through the site had become somewhat waterlogged.

Booted and suitably attired, we set about distributing a quantity of woodchip via wheelbarrow, from a pile at the Hadland Road end to the most worn and muddied sections of path while clearance of tree obstructions were dealt with.  Pete supervised the re-routing of a section of path at the Southern end of the site which can become notoriously unpassable in winter due to the damp ground and our hard-working and often unsung litter-picking heroes did their thing.

The weather was fortunately kind to us, with bright sunshine and mild temperatures helping our cause, although the wind did pick up towards the end of the session and some spots of rain were detected.

The site is popular with local dog-walkers and leisure seekers and our work at Abbey Fishponds is highly visible. As usual, we received much positive feedback from the public throughout the morning.  It is always good to know that our work is perceived as being worthwhile to the local community!  

Dieuwke and Sally get shovelling

re-layed section of woodchip path over muddy area

raking the woodchip

a trio of wheelbarrows

Andrew with shovel and wheelbarrow of woodchip

Pete instructs James and Georgina

Robert with cut tree branch as Kate looks on

Marjorie and James talk tactics at break time

taking a break