Saturday, February 21, 2015

Barton Fields, 21st February 2015

Today was as good a day for a Green Gym Session as one could wish for.  The sky was blue and the temperature was perfect – not too hot and not too cold.

We were at Barton Fields in Abingdon, one of our regular and popular venues, working under the direction of David Guyoncourt, the Warden. Fourteen Green Gym members joined forces with a half a dozen volunteers from David’s Green Team to undertake a variety of tasks.   These included litter picking,  clearing willowherb from around the ponds, and digging up bramble roots where these has encroached into the field itself.  Quite a lot of bramble clumps are retained as valuable habitats for birds and other wildlife, but it is necessary to limit their spread into the open fields.

Digging up bramble roots is no easy task both because they are tough and because they can extend for yards underground. There is little hope of removing all the roots but we were able to make significant inroads.  The main tool we use for this is a mattock. In case you are not familiar with this implement, it is a bit like a pickaxe but with one side more like a narrow short spade. It is used like a pickaxe and is capable of penetrating quite deep into the tangled soil to expose the bramble roots.

As always on our visits to Barton Fields, one the highlights is the range and quality of the refreshments that David brings for our break. Fresh buns of every variety imaginable together with a veritable cornucopia of biscuits were spread out before us. It makes getting back to work after the break something of a challenge – but one that the Green Gym stalwarts are well able to meet.

Willowherb clearing by the ponds

Bramble clearing

Kevin and Kate wielding a mattock
Refreshment break

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Abrahams Wood, Boars Hill, 14th February 2015

A cold start awaited the twelve Green Gymmers that assembled at Boars Hill, outside the Open University buildings for another session at Abrahams Wood, on Valentine's Day.  The fog that had greeted us early on soon gave way to sunny conditions, interspersed with some cloudiness and drizzle.

Tools and tea kit were distributed among the group for the lengthy transit through the kissing gate, down the hill and into the woods.  It was the usual set of tasks at this location, namely continuing the struggle to eradicate the invasive, non-native laurel trees and shrubs that have become so rampant here and to make 'willow doughnuts' - protective rings woven around the base of hazel trees to discourage the damaging grazing antics of local deer.

Some of our newer members were keen to try the doughnut making, with Ursula instructing them on technique.  Others got underway with another bout of laurel clearance and adding the cuttings to the 'dead hedge' that we established on a previous occasion and have added to since.

It is difficult to see if we are making any real progress with the laurel here however, owing to the fact that the cuttings continually put down new roots and sprout anew!  We can at least attempt to manage the situation and give the native trees such as the oak, hazel and holly the best chances of survival.

Regardless, the site is a beautiful spot in which to work and we enjoy our sessions here.  Today was no exception, and special mention should be given to Eleanor's wonderful home-made cake that appeared at the tea break as a definite highlight!

A bright start...

Preparing to descend the hill

Arriving at site

Ursula instructs Janet, Kate and Heidi on doughnut making

Taking a break

Eleanor's excellent cake

An area of laurel clearance

Packing up

Emerging from the woods

Through the kissing gate at session's end

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Abbey Fishponds, 7th February 2015

Green Gym was a big group this morning under Sally’s leadership and was swelled by the Abbey Fishponds volunteer team, whose leader Marjorie briefed us on our tasks which included laying woodchip paths, cutting and stacking small trees and clearing brush, and litter- picking.

Marjorie (in the green jacket) at the briefing session, along with Loretta from the Earth Trust who now manage the site
James cutting prolific tree growth

Peter from Abbey Fishponds group. Raking grass is hard work!

Andrew makes a really nice woodchip path!

It looks so much better than when it’s all mud

Rihanna (right) comes to Green Gym regularly as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Award programme

Colin with his ever-useful and adaptable trolley

“Well it’s litter, but not as we know it!” Kate, with Dieuwke following up

At last!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cothill Fen, 31st January 2015

We had another tremendous turn out, numbering 17, for our session of log path laying and clearing encroaching scrub from the wild and wintry Cothill Fen on Saturday, under the leadership of Margaret with Judy Webb overseeing on behalf of Natural England. We were basically continuing our work from where we had left off before Christmas.

Having assembled in the car park opposite "The Merry Miller", we made our way along the muddy track to make camp in our usual spot. To the untrained eye, the Fen probably looked quite bleak and unprepossessing, under a patchwork of snow, but it is home to a wonderful and unique array of species of flora and fauna, which over millenia have adapted so that their very survival is dependent upon the survival of the Fen itself - which is fed by calcium-rich spring water. It is this that makes this a SSSI as it is fast becoming one of England's rarest habitats.

We divided into two groups - the scrub clearers and the path layers. Hard hats were donned by our tree fellers, who were under orders not to fell any large trees as these would be dealt with by Natural England at a later date.

We weaved our way carefully across the tussocks to reach our destination and with bowsaws and loppers to hand, we tackled the small alder trees and removed wild privet as we went. The larger straight logs were collected by Robert, who was working with Rihanna and Erin, our two Duke of Edinburgh Award students, and their mums, Sharon and Kate, to extend the log path at the far end of the Fen.

It was lovely to see the spurge laurel (Daphne laureola), which is neither a spurge nor a laurel, although it is an evergreen plant! It was coming into flower. It is an indicator species as it thrives on alkaline soil.

Judy Webb was carefully removing alder scrub from around a dark-leaved willow - which happens to be the only one recorded in the whole of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Admittedly, at this time of year, it does not look up to much (see the photo where Judy is showing the small naked branches of this small tree), but you will see from Judy's indoor photograph of the leaves that they turn black when bruised, hence its name. It is hoped that as more of the scrub is cleared from the Fen, that another specimen might be found (hopefully, of the opposite sex!).

At break time, Dieuwke kindly dispensed coffee and teas from under a makeshift shelter, assisted by Eleanor, but the snow/sleet/rain held off, although we were all grateful to have heeded Margaret's advice to wear lots of layers. I think the maximum number of pairs comfortably worn under wellies is four, but that could be a record to beat in the future! Barry had provided the tea and biscuits this week and they were very welcome as we cupped hands around our mugs!

We then got back to work, under the watchful eye of a buzzard, who I'm sure was clocking our progress! We had to be careful not to stand still in one spot for too long, as we nearly got completely stuck in the mud, but luckily, our wellies all survived! And, in no time at all, it was time to collect our tools and wend our way home, for a nice hot bath or shower. A great morning's work well done!

Dark-leaved Willow

Spurge Laurel

Wild Privet (and Spurge Laurel)