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)


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