Sunday, April 28, 2013

Frilford Heath Golf Club, 27th April 2013

This was our second session at Frilford Heath Golf Club.  Last time we met here, back in February, it was bitterly cold with snowfall and a very wintery atmosphere.  Having experienced a number beautiful spring days leading up to Saturday, there were high hopes that it would be a good deal warmer on this occasion.  Unfortunately, despite temperatures being up to a balmy 23 degrees a couple of days previous, we were back to chilly conditions as we assembled in the golf club car park where we once again met with Alison Muldal from Natural England who directed our tasks.

As we gathered, it was ascertained that the bag containing our gloves and our first aid kit were missing.  What could have been a calamity was swiftly averted after determining that a number of members had extra pairs of their own gloves to lend out, and I was able to provide a first aid kit that I had concealed within the glove compartment of my car!  Panic over, we drove a short distance along the road closer to our work site at the Boundary House fen.  Here we gathered our tools and began our stroll across the golf course.  The party was 14-strong including a German couple who were involved in a house exchange with regular members Barry and Enid.  As well as exchanging houses, they appeared to have exchanged their lifestyle too and were keen to give the Green Gym a go.

Our main activities at the fen this time were to clear away the remains of felled trees on the opposite side of the site to where we worked last time and to build a large wood pile, ready for burning at a later time.  In addition some raking was necessary to clear some of the dead vegetation and smaller branches/twigs.  

Keen to keep warm (though not dry for the fen was once again very wet and boggy as one might expect!), we set about working at quite a pace and had made quite visible progress up to the tea break at 11am.   Indeed, our increasingly muddy, bedraggled appearance drew looks of bewilderment from onlooking golfers tee-ing off nearby, resplendent in their golfing finery.   At the break we enjoyed some biscuits and brioche kindly provided by our visiting German lady, Ursula to go with our regular refreshments which were very positively received!  

Energy levels replenished we eagerly re-commenced and ensured that we left the site looking a lot neater and tidier than when we had arrived and crucially had gone some way in halting the encroachment of suffocating new tree and shrub growth upon the fenland habitat.  Some evidence of wildlife was observed with a pair of frogs hopping into a small pond, unfortunately they were too quick for me to capture on camera!  

Not to worry, we accomplished all that we set out to do and had an impromptu photo-call by the wood pile before leaving.  The group photo images were not captured on my camera but perhaps they will be forwarded-on at a later date.  Watch this space!

Upon completion at 12:30pm, we gathered ourselves and our tools together ready for the walk back across the fairways to our vehicles.  An unfortunate casualty of our mornings activities was a rake that was partially beheaded.  We therefore looked on in envy at the shiny rakes deployed in each and every bunker on the course on our return!  The journey back took a little longer that our outbound stroll due to having to wait for a group of golfers to hit their balls.  They kept us waiting longer than anticipated despite us being greater in number than they, but such is the hierarchy on the fairways and the greens alas.  At least on this occasion we were not warned to stay quiet while the shots were taken!

assembling in the golf club car park

tools at the ready having re-located closer to the work site

on our way across the rough to the fen

work commences

tea break!  note - golfers looking on behind!

forget me nots

Robert clearing the stream

Lauren posing at the work site!

Kevin and Alison shifting a large tree branch

a pond

tactical discussions

the wood pile/future bonfire


off to the 19th hole!

panic over - Lauren shows off our emergency first-aid kit

hatchback frenzy - tools and wellies being packed away

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Green Gym 15th Anniversary, Withymead Nature Reserve, 20th April 2013

This was a rather unique occasion for us.  In a break to our usual programme, we joined up with members from some of the other Oxfordshire Green Gyms - Sonning Common, Bicester and Wallingford in a session to mark the 15th anniversary of the Green Gym movement which originated in the county.  Indeed, Sonning Common was the first of the groups to be formed.  There was a large turn-out of around 30 or so volunteers on what was a wonderfully bright and sunny spring morning.

The location was the Withymead Nature Reserve, situated between South Stoke and Goring-on-Thames and set beside the Thames itself - a regular work site of both the Sonning Common and Wallingford groups.  We assembled in the car park and after making our introductions with some familiar faces and plenty of new people, the session was begun by a quick talk by Julia Booker from Sonning Common (one of the organisers of the gathering) followed by some warm-up exercises.  We were then introduced to Dr William Bird, who founded the Green Gym and also the Withymead wardens, Keith and Dot who gave a brief outline of the morning's tasks as well as some information on the history and background of the nature reserve.

We split into a number of different groups with a number of tasks ranging from digging out an old slipway, path-laying and painting a hut.  The idea was to mix up the teams with members from each of the different Green Gyms so that we would get a good chance to socialise.

At the 11am tea-break a number of cakes appeared - baked by members of the different groups, including a 15th anniversary cake and hot drinks were provided.  A quick photo-session followed before Dr Bird gave an interesting talk on the history of the Green Gym and how he came up with the idea, as well as his vision for the future of the movement.  

Before re-commencing our work after the break, there was an opportunity to take a guided tour of the reserve with warden, Keith.  The site was originally a boatyard and is situated next to the Thames.  It has a variety of different habitats including a water meadow, reed beds and woodland areas and therefore supports a wide range of often rare flora and fauna.  We saw evidence of some of the hard work done by the other Green Gyms including an impressive boardwalk that had been constructed and a pair of bird hides.  

Following our tour, the hard graft continued up until 12:30pm, at which point we downed-tools and joined back together for a picnic lunch.  It was a great end to a lovely session.  Let us hope that the Green Gym continues for another successful 15 years and well beyond!

Julia Booker from Sonning Common Green Gym starts the session

the warm-up!

group photo with the anniversary cake!

the cake!

Dr Bird and Julia cut the cake

digging out the slipway

a tour of the Withymead reserve

water meadow

across the bridge

Withymead site warden, Keith Tomey

the northern area of the site with the train line in the background

checking for grass snakes and slow-worms under the cover

the woodland area 

nesting box

back to work, digging out the slipway

Victor and Ursula paint the hut

more painting activity at the back of the hut

picnic lunch

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Abrahams Wood, Boars Hill, 13th April 2013

A grey, yet mild and thankfully dry morning awaited the 12 or so green gymmers who assembled outside the Open University buildings along Berkeley Road, Boars Hill for the first 2013 session at Abrahams Wood.  Here we met Andy Gunn representing the Oxford Preservation Trust - the organisation who look after the site.  We carried our tools down the hill to the woods where Andy outlined the morning's tasks following a quick series of warm-up exercises, led by Kate.

The team then split into two groups - the first of which was assigned the job of weaving 'willow doughnuts' - circular woven fences surrounding new tree and shrub growth.  The purpose of these is to protect the new growth from any hungry wild deer in the area that might strip them down.  The doughnuts are made from weaving willow branches around a number of upright streaks.  The willow is of course a very flexible material and ideally suited to the task.

The second group were assigned to consolidating a number of piles of cut laurel that we had created on our last visit here back in November 2012, into a 'dead hedge'.  Laurel grows prolifically in the area, and left unchecked would soon form a dense thicket, thus smothering the native trees and lower plants.  The laurel is non-native in the UK and has little ecological value.  Therefore the best course of action is to remove it as far as possible.  It is difficult to eradicate entirely since it can't be burned due to the fact that it gives off cyanide gas (!) and even when cut and left it soon puts down new roots.  Our strategy in this case was first to lay down a base layer of hazel and then add the laurel on top to reduce the chance of it re-seeding and spreading rapidly. 

The cut piles that had been left from our last session looked a little untidy, and so creating a hedge from them and screening the edge of the woods from neighbouring property/further enclosing new tree growth to some extent from the deer seemed like a good option.

Both groups got stuck in and it wasn't long before very noticable progress had been made.  By the the tea break at 11am, the hedge was well underway and a couple of doughnuts had been completed.  Refreshed and re-invigorated the teams carried on after the break and completed the consolidation of all the piles of cut laurel into a hedge, perhaps 50m in length and around 1 metre high.  Combined with several willow doughnuts, it was not a bad morning's work at all - and was completed almost right on cue, ready for our 12:30pm finish. 

Following all the hard work, all that remained was for the group to psyche themselves up - in preparation to carry the tools all the way back up the hill back to the car parking spot.

warm-up exercises

Andy directs the morning's tasks

piles of cut laurel, left from our last session here

work begins on the dead hedge

weaving willow doughnuts

Enid, Lesley, Sally and Kate show off their hard work

completed willow doughnut

the completed hedge

another view of the hedge

packing up the tools at the end of the session

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ock Valley Walk, Town End, 6th April 2013

A large number of Green Gymmers gathered by the bridge over the weir on a bright, sunny morning for our second session in five weeks at this site. Our tasks were to finish renewing the woodchip path, which we had started at the beginning of March, cut back sprouting brambles, tidy up fallen wood and pick up litter. When Samantha joined us with baby Charlotte, our ages ranged from 7 months to 85 years old, a pretty impressive spread.

The path needed "roughing up" for the woodchip to bed down better, which made the task somewhat longer, but was worth the trouble in the end. There was a large amount of scattered woodchip, in some places up to a foot deep, left by the Council's contractors after their last assault on the trees and this needed shovelling into a pile. The brambles also seem to be spreading and we need to keep them under control.

The gallant litter pickers cleared as far as the Drayton Road, where we left the bags for collection. There was perhaps slightly less litter than usual. However, I fear that this was almost certainly as a result of the recent cold weather rather than people becoming less anti social. We concluded that the litter bugs' tipple of choice was definitely Strongbow cider.

At coffee break time we were joined by Roland, a friend of a former Green Gymmer and Paddy the dog, so we were careful to keep the biscuits out of the way. We also had good news of our successful application for a County Council grant, which will enable us to buy more tools, replace broken ones and maybe even pay for some members to go on courses. We carried on after the break, with some people changing tasks and were very satisfied with our morning's work.