Monday, June 30, 2014

Cothill Fen, 28th June 2014

We met opposite the Merry Miller pub for our session at Cothill Fen Nature Reserve under the direction of Judy Webb. Reeds had been cut on part of the fen and our main task was to rake them up. The weather was rather damp and cloudy with occasional flurries of rain.

Having walked along the path to the site, we set to work raking the reeds into piles. We had brought drag bags, which made the task of transporting the piles of reeds over to the heaps on the edge of the fen much easier. There was also some cutting back of scrub which was encroaching on the fen. Robert chose this task and set to work with great enthusiasm so the raking was accompanied by the sound of crashing branches interspersed with cries of "Be careful" and "Are you supposed to be cutting those big branches down?"

Judy pointed out the common spotted orchids and the marsh helleborines. There was also bog pimpernel growing on some of the tussocks. It is a tiny flower, rather like scarlet pimpernel but pink. Cutting and raking away the reeds lets the light through and as a result these flowers are spreading on the fen. We also saw spectacular scarlet tiger moths, but the highlight of the morning was finding a beautifully woven warblers' nest on a stem with about 8-10 babies in it. We think it was a reed warbler but couldn't be sure. Having photographed it we moved quickly away from the area and were relieved to see the parent birds returning to the nest.

After the break we continued raking but there were also lighter tasks of bending or breaking reed stems and pulling up bracken fronds. Preventing bracken from encroaching will also let more light in and encourage the rare alkaline fen plants to grow. Just before 12.30 it began to rain heavily. We hastily packed up collected our tools and made our way back to the car park. Once again our luck with the weather had held until almost the end of the session.

Thanks to Judy Webb for supplying the photos:

Hard at work at Cothill Fen

Good flowering of bog pimpernel


Pulling reed outliers and bracken

Reed outliers advancing

Marsh helleborine orchid

Marsh helleborine orchid

Robert pulls reed outliers in fen

Scarlet tiger moth

Scarlet tiger moth

Scarlet tiger moth

Friday, June 27, 2014

A few photos from last Saturday at Frilford Heath...

Photos 1-9 by Margaret, 10 by Eleanor

Frilford Heath SSSI, 21st June 2014

Eleven of us met at Woodhaven, Frilford for our second session of Himalayan Balsam pulling. It was a glorious sunny day and the longest day of the year.

As we made our way past the meadow, we saw that the grass had grown quite high but we could still see many purple orchids, which are one of the features that give this area SSSI status. We crossed the bridge over the stream and reached the spot we usually choose as our base. Some of the path was still quite muddy despite the recent dry weather.  We were pleased to see that the central area was vitually clear of Himalayan Balsam after several Summers of hard work.

We split up into three or four groups to go to different areas. one area was in the shady wood, one by the stream and one in the open wet meadow. Here, some of the HB was already in flower as it got more sun. First, a fallen tree had to be cleared off the path with saws and loppers.

We worked hard until tea break time, then carried on until 12.30, making satisfactory progress. We caught sight of several species of butterfly and moth, including speckled woods and a spectacular scarlet tiger moth We were glad we had brought water to drink, hats and insect repellent.

We will have one more Saturday session at the site this Summer. Getting rid of as much Himalayan Balsam as possible will give the native wild flowers a chance.
- Eleanor

Monday, June 16, 2014

Barton Fields, 14th June 2014

A small group of Green Gymmers met in Barton Lane to help the Abingdon Naturalists' Green Team, led this time by David Dewhurst. The main tasks were pulling up Himalayan Balsam in the willow carr area at the other end of the site, and litter picking.

After the overnight thunderstorms, the willow carr area was very wet with ankle deep water in parts so those who hadn't worn wellies lived to regret it but they set off to do litter picking in the drier parts of the site.

Firstly we needed to distinguish between the less invasive Orange Balsam and the Himalayan Balsam, which was our main target. You can see the two plants side by side in the photo below. As the flowers have not yet appeared, you have to look at the leaves, which are more deeply serrated in the orange balsam and are arranged in opposite pairs, whereas in the Himalayan, the leaves are grouped in a patterns of three up the stem. The orange balsam was much more abundant nearer to the entrance to the willow carr with more Himalayan at the farther end. It grew particularly thickly by the boundary fence.

We met up again for the refreshment break and found that the litter pickers had filled several bags as well as finding a large unidentifiable metal object. After the break we continued attacking the balsam. By battling through the nettles, the wellie-less people found a way in avoiding the water and so were able to help. By 12.30 we had accumulated some satisfactory heaps and the more obsessive workers had to be forcibly dragged away. There will be a lot more clearing to do before the end of the Summer.

Laura among the Balsam

Orange Balsam left, Himalayan Balsam right

Margaret hard at work

Green team Ian litter picking with daughters Joanne and Gail

Tea break

Eleanor with the champion prize winning specimen

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fun in the Park, 7th June 2014

Fun in the Park, the annual event held in the Abbey Fields, went ahead despite the threat of a last-minute cancellation in the event of the tempest that had been forecast.

Eleanor did a great job in organising our stall and huge thanks are also due to Sam for the loan of her gazebo. After a false start (in the rain), Andrew, Victor and Arthur managed to put the canopy on the right way round before the heavens really open for a torrential downpour (although the sky didn't 'rain potatoes'), which meant everything stayed relatively dry! (I really can't tell you how grateful we were, Sam!) Luckily, the skies then brightened and the sun finally came out, not long after the official opening time and after the steam dissipated, the visitors came in droves!

We sold lots of Green Gym marmalade (here's to the Marmaladies!) and Eleanor's lovely lemon curd and chutney. The Treasure Hunt went down very well too. Jelly babies soon soothed away the sulks from the losers, whether they were 6 or 66!! But we had quite a few winners this year (one lady had five goes for £1, won £1 then had another five goes and won again!), which dented out profits - a mixed blessing as we were happy they'd won! We raised £34.37, which was down on last year, but given the unpromising start and the dismal weather forecast, I think we did rather well! Although I must admit, I am a little puzzled as to how we managed to raise an odd 17p!

Drawn by the Green Gym banner and our swanky display board, our new leaflets, designed by Margaret, also attracted lots of takers and we managed to hand out a number of our new programme too (thanks to Eleanor and Ursula for putting that together), so we'll see if our numbers swell. We took Ursula's advice and did not bother asking people to sign up to register their interest, saving hours of trying to decipher spider's crawl.

It was good to see Marjorie at the Friends of Radley Lakes' stall with their tombola. Lesley had a smashing time throwing cricket balls at some crockery for two boys from John Mason School who were raising money for a volunteering trip to Malaysia to help build a school or be involved in another worthwhile project there, and I think we all enjoyed sampling the various culinary delights on offer at the other stalls! General entertainment was provided by Morris dancers, Irish dancers and the Abingdon Community Choir and for those wanting something physical - there were martial arts, rugby and a climbing wall (maybe next year, eh Arthur?!).

And to cap it all,we were all delighted to see James and Ursula, who were able to come and visit us, after James's hospital appointment that morning.

Many thanks to everyone who came and helped and especially to Eleanor for putting it all together for us.

There is an additional account of the event featuring our stall on the Abingdon Blog HERE

The Green Gym stall under the gazebo

Green Gym Chutney, Lemon Curd and Marmalade for sale

The Green Gym displays and information

Abingdon's Mayor, Angela Lawrence, tries her luck on the Treasure Hunt game

Monday, June 2, 2014

New Summer 2014 Programme

The Abingdon Green Gym Summer Programme has just been published (see below).

To view/download a pdf version with larger text, click HERE

Ock Valley Walk, Town End, 31st May 2014

We were back at our most-frequented site this weekend - the town end of the Ock Valley Walk, since there was much work outstanding from previous sessions this year.

Having assembled by the footbridge at the weir, and transported our tools to the worksite, it was apparent that the stinging nettles and other vegetation had grown considerably in recent weeks.  So much so that they dwarfed many of the newly-planted trees.  Therefore one of the most important jobs was to clear an area of approximately one metre in radius around each tree in order to permit light to get through and give them the best possible chance of survival.  This was a fairly tricky operation because the nettles were so high that we had difficulty in even finding the saplings.  Coupled with the painful stinging ability of the nettles and the strong sunlight, this took some stamina!  However, the difficult nature of the task was slightly offset by the joy of discovering that the majority of the trees were in good health.

In amongst the wooded area, there was much Himlayan Balsam growth and this also required dealing with.  Thus another group set about uprooting the plant.  Again, dodging the stinging nettles and avoiding the disturbing/startling of the occasional resident muntjac deer required much care.

Meanwhile, the branch of a crack willow tree that had fallen across the woodchip path was removed with the aid of a saw and the woodchip was re-layed over the majority of the path.  Also, a litter-pick was conducted.

With our 10+ strong team, including new member, Adam, we were able to achieve much, although we will be back to continue our work here later in the year.  Hopefully the trees will still be in good health at that time.

The refreshment break

Nettles removed around a Rowan sapling

One of the new Bird Cherry trees in good health