Monday, September 30, 2013

Southern Town Park, 28th September 2013

Eleven green-gymmers assembled in the Football Club car park at Southern Town Park on a rather autumnal-feeling morning.  The session leader this time was Kevin, who suggested that we take a walk around the perimeter of the site before commencing work to see what needed doing.  This we duly did and areas where brambles needed cutting and where litter required picking were identified.

Our vehicles were then driven around to the Peep-o-Day lane side where we assembled our tools and set about the morning's tasks.  The bramble-bashers and litter-pickers among us selected our weapons of choice and work began.  Brambles and other vegetation around the path edges were removed and raked into piles for later collection while the usual high volume of litter in the vicinity was tackled.

It is fair to say that this site is not the most exciting on our programme, nor a favourite with most of our members but it does at least make our work quite visible to the general public, with many dog-walkers and passers-by stopping throughout the morning to chat and enquire about our activities.  It is also nice to work on a site with relatively easy access to Abingdon town centre.

Anyway, by the end of the session, it was certainly possible to see the efforts of our labours and we succeeded in making improvements to the local environment that will hopefully be appreciated by any visitors to the park.

taking a walk around the park before commencing work

bramble cuttings

tea break

consolidated pile of bramble cuttings

some of the results of the litter pick

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Frilford Heath Golf Club, 21st September 2013

This was our third visit of the year to the Frilford Heath Golf Club. We were back at the Boundary House fen to continue with the clearance of felled tree material and the raking and stacking of reeds to ensure that this important habitat is developed and maintained.

Our work at the golf club is part of a wider programme of wildlife-friendly iniatives around the site.  This includes the re-introduction of heather and wild plants in areas between the fairways.  Indeed, on the walk to the fen, we spotted plants including viper's bugloss and hemp agrimony and also number of birds such as green woodpecker and mistle thrush.

The fen itself looked a little different than on our last visit back in April.  The vegetation around the perimeter had grown significantly, while the area was a little less soggy with the water level of the pond somewhat lower after the dry summer.  The reeds had recently been cut and so our task was to rake and stack them in piles at the edge of the fen and also to continue the removal of stray tree branches and roots that still remained from when the area was largely cleared of trees before our first visit.

With just eight of us, along with our supervisor, Alison Muldal from Natural England, the task was fairly daunting with the vast amount of reeds to be cleared and with the ground being rather rough and uneven.  That said, it was encouraging to see the re-colonisation of native plants along with sightings of a common toad and a field mouse.  Our work is not in vain!

Fuelled by tea, coffee and biscuits at the break, we pushed on and made good progress to the end of the session, even continuing somewhat beyond our usual 12:30pm deadline.  There is still plenty left of work left to do at the site, but we will be back next month to continue and hopefully finish the reed clearance for this season at least.

Viper's Bugloss

fen clearance underway

the common toad

tea break

looking down on hemp agrimony

spot the difference!

pile of cleared tree branches

some of the raked reeds

it's a fair-way back!

sign in 'heather nursery' area informing golfers to stay clear

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Withymead Nature Reserve, 14th September 2013

The weather was damp, drizzly and chilly as just nine Green Gymmers turned out for the session at Withymead Nature Reserve near Goring, including Robert Wilson, who had gallantly cycled from Didcot. It was quite a contrast to our previous visits, which had given us sunny skies and picnic conditions.

The main task was to rake up the reeds from the reed bed, which was being cut with the mower. The wardens, Keith and Dorothy aim to cut the reed beds in a four year rotation. There was a lot of dead wood which needed picking up and we had to slash some of the reeds by hand in order to locate it. The task was made more difficult by the fact that the reeds had been flattened by the heavy rain the previous night. We put the cut reeds and smaller wood into builders' rubble bags and dragged them across the bridge and up to the bonfire site.

Margaret, our resident pyromaniac, volunteered to take charge of the bonfire and amazingly, considering the damp conditions, managed to light it and keep it going. She was rewarded by having a nice, warm job without too much tramping to and fro dragging rubble bags.

We were glad to stop for our coffee break and were joined by two Sonning Common members, who are regular workers at the reserve and two young volunteers who had been helping to repair a fence. We also had the luxury of plastic picnic chairs to sit on.

It was back to work afterwards for the last forty five minutes. We had made some obvious progress on the reed bed, though there was still a lot more to be done. I think this session showed that Green Gym gets out there whatever the weather.

Starting work on the reed bed

Lesley and Colin slashing and raking

Margaret hauling a bag across the bridge

Margaret tending the bonfire

Preparing to get back to work

Dorothy and Keith with two young volunteers

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Abbey Fishponds, 7th September 2013

Eleven Green Gymmers met at Abbey Fishponds to join  Marjorie and her helpers for the end of Summer tasks .  The weather was sunny but colder than most of the past week. The tasks were reed raking and stacking, cutting back vegetation overgrowing the footpath on the north eastern side of the reserve, litter picking and seeking out and eradicating remaining Himalayan Balsam. 

We split up into groups and made our way to different areas of the reserve, some of us taking the opportunity to try out new tools that James had acquired for Green Gym, including lighter loppers and smaller pitchforks. There were a lot of reeds to rake and stack as the reed bed on this reserve is quite extensive.

The Himalayan Balsam was hidden among the reeds and in some hard to reach places. The litter, though not immediately obvious, was enough to fill two sacks. Lesley and Enid worked hard on the footpath and ended up with several piles of brambles and nettles. By coffee break time we were all feeling quite warm.

A few passers by, stopping to enquire about our work and congratulate us or simply to ask directions, were immediately seen by Marjorie as potential recruits for the Abbey Fishponds team. Well, it was worth a try and there is always a lot of work to be done. By the end of the session we felt we had made a useful contribution.


Himalayan Balsam among the reeds

Margaret with Himalayan Balsam

Dieuwke stacking reeds

Kevin raking reeds

Enid and Lesley cutting back vegetation from the footpath

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Frilford Heath SSSI, 31st August 2013

Nine Green Gymmers assembled on a bright and sunny morning at Woodhaven, Frilford - the final day of August and perhaps our last trip of the year to this site as the balsam-pulling season reaches its finale. Among our number, it was good to welcome back Robert - a regular member in the past, returning after an 18 month absence. 

Few tools were required to be carried to the work site, the glove bag and tea kit were the priorities. Off we set then, from the parking spot down through the meadow, over the little wooden bridge across the stream and into the woods. We were greeted by a dense thicket of Himalayan Balsam. Plenty then for our volunteers to get stuck into.

As well as the balsam, due to the exceptional summer weather, many other plants in the vicinity appeared to have flourished. Certainly, there were abundant quantities of water mint, imparting a lovely, fresh aroma and attracting many bees and butterflies. Other creatures spotted during the morning's activities included caterpillars, dragonfly and even a mole!

Everyone found their own area of balsam to clear and largely worked alone throughout the morning, reconvening for the tea break and then again when packing up to go home. It proved difficult to assemble everyone as we had all disappeared in different directions and were often out of sight and earshot of each other as we gave it one last push to rid the area of the balsam for this season.  

Unfortunately with the balsam being so widespread, it was not possible to eliminate it this time, but we can only hope that we have further reduced its coverage.  Perhaps, upon our return next year, we will face less of a daunting task.

Kevin and mole

close-up of mole!

Ursula and Carolyn prepare the refreshments

taking a break

Andrew attacks the balsam

balsam, trees and blue skies

water mint and butterfly

the end of the session
large dragonfly on car tyre