Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mill Road, Marcham, 26th July 2014

It was back to Marcham this Saturday, for the second session of the summer at Mill Lane.  The plan was to continue the Himalayan Balsam clearance.  Fortunately, there was a much larger turn-out than the previous session, which had seen only five Green Gymmers rather overwhelmed with the extent of the balsam growth.  Fifteen-strong this time, the task ahead was still fairly daunting given the ideal growing conditions that the previous months have presented for this invasive plant.

Upon arrival at the site, we assembled outside the farm shop and made our way to the bottom of the adjacent field to commence operations.  Along the field boundary and around the lake area, we were greeted with a bumper crop of balsam, up to 10 foot tall and with stems of considerable girth.  It was a matter of getting stuck in and working flat-out to get as much done as possible.

This we did, working on through the heat of the sunny July morning.  Soon enough, large piles of pulled balsam began to accumulate along the field margins, beside the stream and around the edge of the lake.  Breaking through to the banks of the lake and thus affording a view across it provided some motivation to persist.  Indeed the 11am refreshment break was taken a little late due to us somewhat loosing track of time.

Tea and coffee were taken in the barn, back up at the farmyard.  A variety of cakes were kindly provided by Dieuwke, while Eleanor entertained us all with a poetry reading.

We were a little late returning to the work site, especially since some of us took time out to peruse the produce in the farm shop.  Time well spent.  Once we did resume, significant progress was made, however a depressingly large amount of balsam remained.  Another ten sessions here and we might begin to eliminate this year's growth!

Petra with a large Himalayan Balsam plant

The scale of the problem is evident!

Along the stream


Himalayan Balsam in bloom

A view of the lake

Time for tea

Taking refuge from the heat of the day

Eleanor during her poetry reading

The farmyard/heading to the farm shop

A large pile of balsam

The final push

Through to the lake

Session's end

Cumbers' Farm

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Frilford Heath SSSI, 19th July 2014

This week, we were working in our tireless pursuit of ridding our precious heathland of invasive Himalayan Balsam at Frilford Heath, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is a site largely in private ownership, but managed by Natural England. The morning did not start off promisingly. Rain? On a Green Gym morning?! HELLOOOO!!

We arrived at Woodhaven in dribs and drabs, where we have the kind permission of the landowner to park, and made our way to our normal base site, eagerly surveying the scope and enormity of the task ahead as there were forests of Himalayan Balsam everywhere. The rain soon stopped and lifted our spirits although, in the humidity of the day, we could be forgiven for imagining that we were somewhere in a tropical jungle, rather than in an Oxfordshire heath!!

Kevin, our leader for this session, had to cut branches from across the path so that we could make our way unhindered to base camp. We then split into groups to wage our attack on all fronts against this most invasive of plants; noting as we did so the pockets of fragrant wild mint, the yellow flag irises (not in flower) and other native plants coming back in the areas that are (for the moment) HB-free, thanks to our efforts in recent years! Wellies, gloves, sunhats, long sleeves and insect repellent de rigueur!

Margaret decided that prevention was by far better than cure and crossed back over the bridge to work on a forest of HB quickly forming and threatening to invade the pockets of heathland that are currently HB-free and impact those that we are still trying to free from HB. In some ways, our task was made easier by the rain that morning, but overnight heavy rain had crushed some of the vegetation which made tracing the roots through brambles and goose grass a more difficult task for us.

It was with some relief that we heard the call for "Tea Time", although some of us left "our" patches reluctantly! Palpitations on the discovery of only one dark chocolate digestive biscuit left in the biscuit "tin" were soon overcome on the realisation that stocks HAD been replenished and there WAS another pack, thus averting a minor crisis among the ranks (somehow a ginger nut or a jaffa cake just isn't the same)!!

Suitably fortified, we then got back to our tasks - some choosing different areas to work on and others continuing on "their" patches - to the merry accompaniment of a Green Woodpecker, whose laughing call cheered us in our efforts. And, of course, there is that satisfying crunch on crushing the plants to stop them from regrowing after they have been picked.

We left the site surveying our good work, but noting there was still much to be done, and promising to return - perhaps for a midweek evening session sometime soon before the flowering plants have time to set seed and thereby start the process all over again...

The 'before' picture - showing the extent of Himalayan Balsam growth upon arrival

Evening walk around Parsonage Moor and Cothill Fen, 16th July 2014

On the evening of Wednesday 16th July, Dr Judy Webb led us on an evening nature walk around Parsonage Moor and Cothill Fen. Only a few Green Gymmers were there and those who didn't make it missed a really fascinating tour. We were also joined by a group of Parsonage Moor volunteers.

This is an area of alkaline fen and needs constant conservation work to preserve the rare habitat. We set off along the boardwalk and Judy showed us the hemp agrimony, a food plant of the scarlet tiger moth, and meadowsweet. Then we plunged into the fen and encountered a fragrant orchid and took turns to sniff its clovelike scent. 

Judy pointed out the starfish-like pale green leaves of butterwort. This is an insectivorous plant which has attractive purple flowers in Spring. Another rarity in this fen is Grass of Parnassus, which will have a white flower in September.

Parsonage Moor is now, as a result of global warming, the southernmost point at which this plant grows. We learnt that sphagnum moss turns red in the sun. This highly absorbent moss, extensively used to line hanging baskets, used to be used for dressing wounds.

Several pools have been dug in the fen to encourage the wildlife and here we saw grey green algae, which eventually calcifies. Judy is an expert on soldier flies and showed us pictures of these metallic coloured insects, which thrive in this area and have exciting names such as "banded general".

We then headed off to Cothill Fen, where Abingdon Green Gym work several times a year. Most orchids have finished flowering but we saw a common spotted one. We also saw marsh helleborines, which are increasing in number in this area. The plants on alkaline fens depend on low nutrient levels to thrive, so it is important to cut back reeds and scrub and clear them away. This will also let light through and enable small plants such as the bog pimpernel to grow on the tussocks.

It was time to return to the car park and we would all like to thank Judy for a really interesting evening.

Judy leads us on to Parsonage Moor

A fragrant orchid

Judy shows us sphagnum moss

On Cothill Fen

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mill Road, Marcham, 12th July 2014

Only five of us arrived for our first Himalayan Balsam pulling session at Mill Road, Marcham. However, our group included Robert Wilson. who we hadn't seen at Green Gym for some time, so it was nice to welcome him back.

Having parked in the farmyard of Manor Farm, we set to work on the ditch running along the right hand side of the lane. We had cleared this pretty thoroughly last year so we were disappointed to see that so much had come back. Looking across the fields, we could see a line of solid pink, where the balsam was growing thickly beside the stream.

The weather was fine and sunny, in fact a bit too hot so we tried to keep in the shade. It was a daunting task with so few of us to tackle it. We put up our notice board and some passers by stopped to look at it. In fact two jogging ladies actually took leaflets.

We had our break in the comparative luxury of the barn, where there were some plastic patio chairs to sit on. James and Ursula joined us for coffee, which was great, as they had been unable to come to sessions for a while. Then it was back to work and we were pleased to see by 12.30 that we had cleared the ditch and quite a bit more besides.

We have another session here on 28th and hope to have a lot more helping hands than this time.

Himalayan Balsam

Robert proudly holds up a prize specimen

Tea break in the barn at Manor Farm

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ock Valley Walk, Tesco End, 5th July 2014

With rain falling at breakfast time it didn't bode well for Saturday's session at the Tesco end of the Ock Valley Walk.  Fortunately however, it had stopped by time we got to our usual spot to decamp our equipment.

We could see that the flooding in the winter had contributed to considerable plant growth in the area, in particular, a large amount of stinging nettles.  Meanwhile, the local Ock River volunteers had taken down a number of trees that needed logging and stacking which Robert only too willingly dealt with. The Himalayan Balsam was a different matter!

There were clumps of Balsam in amongst a sea of nettles, which we had to slash our way though to get to.  This was achieved but the nettles went down fighting, stinging any part of exposed wrists or even through covered legs.   Nevertheless, the gallant team cleared a large amount of the plant including around the river bank itself.

The path also need a trim in places and a litter-pick was conducted.  It is likely that much more litter remained, but was hidden by the nettles.

The rain came back towards the end of the morning, which led to the session leader making the decision to call it a day a slightly before time!
- Kevin
The Ock path looking rather overgrown

Spot the Green Gymmers!

Nettle growth on the banks of the Ock

Robert cutting up felled trees