Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Next Green Gym Session - Saturday 31st May 2014

The next Green Session will be at the town end of the Ock Path on Saturday 31st May - meet 9:30am at the usual location, which is by the bridge over the weir at St Helen's Court.

Tasks will include clearing around the young trees, litter picking and Himalayan Balsam pulling.

The summer programme with details of subsequent sessions will be issued soon, following this coming weekend's activities.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Bank Holiday walk along the Ock Valley, 26th May 2014

In a repeat of last year's activities, a programme of free Bank Holiday Monday walks was organised by the Friends of Abingdon along with various Abingdon groups, all starting at the market place.  Once again, Eleanor led a Green Gym nature walk along the Ock Valley Path.

Unlike last year, however, the weather was not on our side.  Rather than basking in the sunshine, inclement conditions were experienced at the registration point with light, yet persistent rain.  This did not deter potential participants, fortunately.  In fact, we had a higher turn-out than a year ago, with fifteen assembling for the Green Gym walk.  The town crier announced the departure of the walks and we set off down East St Helen's Street towards the start of the Ock path at a little after 10:30am.

The Ock Valley is one of our regular worksites, both at the town end, and further out towards the Tescos supermarket, so a walk such as this presents an ideal opportunity to show off our hard work to non-members.  Eleanor gave an introductory talk by the footbridge once we arrived and briefly explained our tasks there.  We then proceeded onwards and our recent tree-planting exploits were pointed out along with the Green Gym maintained woodchip path.

The rain eased off a little as we made our way out past the Drayton Road, past the fork in the path close to the supermarket and along to the New Cut Mill at the end of the route.  

The return leg was via the Tithe Farm estate and back along Caldecott Road where I gave a brief talk about the history of the area, focusing upon the site of the former Caldecott House (where my home is!).  Also, the historical route of the abandoned Wilts and Berks canal which ran parallel with the road, with its outline still highly visible.  At this point, Eleanor distributed some information sheets about the walk itself and also some Green Gym promotional leaflets.

The walk then continued back to the Market Place via St Helen's Wharf where the walk reached its conclusion.  Many thanks to those who joined us on such a wet and miserable day!  

An additional account of the walks programme can be found on the Abingdon Blog.

Walkers assemble in the Market Place

The Green Gym walk group

Eleanor giving an introductory talk about the Ock Valley path

The walkers out along the Ock Valley

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Forthcoming Green Gym walk along the Ock Valley - Bank Holiday Monday 26th May

This coming Bank Holiday Monday, 26th May, Eleanor will be leading a Green Gym nature walk along the Ock Valley path as part of the Abingdon Bank Holiday walks programme.

The walk will leave from the Market Place at 10:30am, with registration opening at 10am.  It is free to attend and all are welcome.

Further information can be found here - http://www.abingdon.gov.uk/system/files/sites/default/files/events/A5%20to%20printb.pdf

Frilford Heath SSSI, 17th May 2014

A beautiful day in May and our first session of the year at Frilford Heath SSSI.  The reason for our visit was to begin the annual Himalayan Balsam-pull.  That troublesome alien invader that threatens to choke the life out of our native vegetation each summer.

We assembled at Woodhaven, ten-strong.  Very few tools were required to be transported from the car parking spot to the work site.  The refreshments, first aid kit, gloves and a couple of loppers and saws were all that were necessary on this occasion, since the balsam can easily be uprooted by hand.

Upon arrival, Eleanor reminded us of the appearance of the plant, what it was and was not - there are other plants in the vicinity that look rather similar but are a good deal more difficult to pull.

Being rather shady in amongst the trees, the ground was still rather soggy despite the warm temperatures - wellies were definitely a good idea.  As were long sleeves, owing to the significant quantity of stinging nettles that populate the area.  Indeed, while the balsam growth was highly apparent, most of the plants were lower than the surrounding nettles, making our job somewhat difficult.  It was at least good to see that our work over the past few years appears to be paying dividends - the coverage of the balsam is reduced from previous visits.

Our refreshment break was particularly noteworthy due to Robert having popped in to the nearby Millet's Farm shop to acquire a pair of delicious cakes that were very well appreciated!  At this point, Eleanor also made an announcement about next weekend.  No Green Gym session due to the Bank Holiday, but on the Monday, she will be guiding a walk along the Ock Valley path, starting at 10:30am.  The walk starts at the Market Place, with registration opening at 10am.

Following the break, work was resumed as the temperature continued to rise.  The skies remained cloudless throughout.

Before setting off back down the track at the end of the session, a card was signed by all members present - we had been sad to learn that Mr Amey who lived at the Woodhaven property died recently, and we offered our condolences.  He was very supportive of our work there and will be missed.

Heading across the meadow from Woodhaven to the work site

Preparing to begin

Lauren with some freshly-pulled Himalayan Balsam

Eleanor and Lesley prepare the refreshments

Break time



Further evidence of wild flowers re-populating areas where Balsam has been lagely eradicated

Lauren making her way along the muddy path

Andrew amid the nettles


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Abrahams Wood, Boars Hill, 10th May 2014

Nine Green Gymmers arrived at our usual meeting place to work in Abraham's Wood, Boars Hill, which is managed by Oxford Preservation Trust. The tasks given us by Andy Gunn from BBOWT were to once again tackle the bamboo growing in the upper corner of the wood, plant some oak saplings, and if time allowed, pull up orange balsam. This is not as large or invasive as Himalayan balsam but does grow abundantly in the wood.

As we walked down through the meadow to the wood, the sight of the buttercups and hawthorn trees in full bloom made the hard work ahead seem worthwhile. The wood itself was a sea of bluebells with patches of wild garlic.

A group of us started work on the bamboo with forks, and mattocks kindly lent to us by the Abingdon Naturalists Green Team. The wood used to be part of a private garden, which is why it contains alien species such as bamboo, laurel and rhododendron. The plan is to return it gradually to natural woodland. The bamboo proved to be very hard work, the roots running underground and forming a maze of criss crossing rhizomes. The mattocks were essential for giving some leverage to pull them out of the ground.

Another group went off to plant oaks at the lower end of the wood inside the dead hedge which we had made at a previous session. It was the wrong time of year for planting but the oak whips had arrived at the BBOWT office so needed to be planted.

By tea break time we had made good progress. Then it was back to work, with some people choosing the slightly lighter task of pulling up balsam.

By the end of the session the oaks were planted and we had made a satisfactory pile of uprooted bamboo, though this will need frequent repeat visits. The forecasted heavy showers had held off, but as we made our way back up through the meadow the rain began to fall and by the time we had packed away the tools and equipment we were quite wet. Still that was better than a whole morning of getting soaked.

Making our way through the wood

Enid and Lesley hard at work on the bamboo

Bluebells and wild garlic in the wood

Victor squaring up to the bamboo

Ursula and the oak trees

A welcome rest

Monday, May 5, 2014

Withymead Nature Reserve, 3rd May 2014

This was our first visit of the year to Withymead Nature Reserve (Anne Carpmael Trust) by the Thames near Goring. Although it is quite a long way from Abingdon we try to get there two or three times a year as it is one of our favourite places and there is always a variety of tasks to do. All the lift arrangements worked out well so we arrived in good time. Sonning Common Green Gym were also there plus the first Saturday of the month Withymead regulars including two young D of E award volunteers.

One of the tasks was erecting a post and rail fence and Robert, Kevin, Victor and Laura chose this.  The rest of us went off to do pond digging, lopping, nettle slashing and pulling up nettles by hand in the wild flower area so as not to damage the more desirable flowers. As you can see from the photos, the weather was wonderfully mild and sunny and the first half of the morning passed quickly. It was quite a luxury to have our tea and coffee at the picnic tables outside the study centre and it gave us a chance to chat to the other volunteers.

We had chosen a day that was just right for seeing the summer snowflake flowers, also known as Loddon lilies, in full bloom and before we started work again, a group of us made our way down through the garden to the riverside to enjoy the wonderful sight of endless sheets of these flowers growing in the flooded and marshy areas by the Thames. Withymead is probably the best place to see Loddon lilies, which are quite rare in this country and grow in only a few places in southern England.

Then it was back to work again and by the end of the morning we had achieved quite a lot. The wild flower area certainly looked better without the nettles. Nettles are good in moderation as they support some types of butterfly, but they are inclined to take over. Before leaving we talked to the Sonning Common volunteers about a joint session at Cothill Fen near Abingdon in July and we look forward to seeing them there.

Our thanks go to wardens Keith and Dorothy for welcoming us to Withymead and organising such a large group of volunteers of all ages so well. If you want to see more photos, they will be on the Withymead website within the next few days www.withymead.co.uk

Digging a pond with Sonning Common Green Gymmers

Slashing Nettles

Victor, Laura, Robert and Kevin building a fence

Pulling up nettles by hand

Enid and Petra enjoying a tea break in the sunshine

Acres of Loddon lilies

Viewing the Loddon Lilies (wellies essential!)