Monday, September 26, 2016

Ock Valley Walk, Town End, 24th September 2016

Saturday morning 24th September, Green Gym members arrive at the town end of the Ock Valley walk in Abingdon. A tree has been reported as fallen across a path and some of us are going to tackle it with hand saws in order to re-open the path. Kevin is leading, and we split into groups. As well as the tree, we will clear brush and encroaching growth from around the small trees we have planted over a period. Also there is litter-picking to be done. It is a beautiful autumn morning and a lot of the foliage is still very green and prolific. There is some Himalayan Balsam in flower, so we will see if we can discourage it!

The log is awkward to get at but Colin and Graham make a start. It’s going to be hard work. Things soon get warm enough for coats to come off.

Adrian deals with other parts of the fallen tree which get stacked nearby and could be handy habitats for wildlife.

Well, that’s the path open again! There’s still more cutting up of the fallen tree to do though.

Meanwhile, a major effort is in hand cutting and slashing encroaching growth around the small plantation of trees put in by Green Gym. Margaret is not playing golf – that’s a slasher!

More slashing by Dieuwke, Janet and Eleanor. That looks suspiciously like a piece of Himalayan Balsam.

Carolyn finds more....

Some breathing space cleared around a young tree which is now becoming well established within the surrounding wild plants.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Talk by Dr Judy Webb on Cothill Fen, Christ Church Hall, Abingdon, 6th September 2016

Earlier this year, we were approached by Dr Judy Webb, who offered to give a talk to Abingdon Green Gym on the work that we have been doing over the years at Cothill Fen, a site which is managed by Natural England.  Judy is a professional ecologist and a county recorder of species for Oxfordshire, with a special love for fungi, invertebrates and flora and she oversees our sessions at Cothill Fen on behalf of Natural England.  The Hall at Christ Church in Abingdon had been booked and invitations had been sent to interested parties and local societies, including Natural England, the Earth Trust and Abingdon Naturalists' Society.  

The Green Gymmers who'd volunteered to help with refreshments and setting out the tables and chairs arrived early and a table with the Green Gym display board and leaflets was set up alongside another table displaying jars of Green Gym marmalade for sale.  Eleanor had also kindly donated some jars of homemade chutney and made her delicious lemon curd to sell, which was a delightful surprise.  All in all, we raised £28 from the sale of these goodies.  

It was lovely to welcome everyone from Natural England, the Friends of Cothill Reserves, the Earth Trust and Abingdon Naturalists' Society, among others.  Sally introduced Judy to a very attentive audience, who started her talk by giving a brief history of this special site, which is one of a number of related calcareous fens - an extremely rare habitat in England and Wales.  Cothill Fen, the main site where we work, is also known as the Ruskin Reserve and was purchased in circa 1904 for the princely sum of £90 by Henry Willett, a friend of John Ruskin, at the behest of George Claridge Druce, a botanist who could see the value of this site.  It forms part of the Cothill Fen group, including the adjacent Parsonage Moor (managed by BBOWT), Lashford Lane, Dry Sandford and the Frilford Heath Fens, including Two Pine Fen, all of which are SSSIs and Cothill Fen (including Parsonage Moor) also has the European status of SAC (Special Area of Conservation).  

Judy then explained the geology of the Fens, which are fed by calcium-rich spring waters, and it is this that makes them so special.  Sadly, over the years, the fens have shrunk - partly because of the encroachment of scrub, which dries the fenland, and partly because of man's interference - through gravel extraction, development and agricultural run-off - and the flora and fauna that have developed over millenia are now struggling to keep up with the pace of change.  Hence the need for Natural England, with the help of the Green Gymmers, to keep cutting the reeds and removing scrub and cutting back the trees that are encroaching from the adjacent woodland. In the last few years, Natural England and BBOWT had removed the fence from between Ruskin Reserve and Parsonage Moor to enable Welsh Mountain Ponies to graze the fens (as they are rather partial to the fresh shoots of the invasive reeds).  

It was wonderful to see Judy's selection of slides showing an array of rare plants, invertebrates and fungi, including the beautiful grass of parnassus, orchids, the southern damselfly, broad-bodied chasers and the delightful banded 'soldier' flies.  Although the grass of parnassus has been sighted on Parsonage Moor, it has eluded Cothill Fen and Judy is hoping that perhaps at some stage in the future, the common sundew (a carnivorous plant) will make a comeback.  Two Pine Fen on Frilford Heath Golf Course got a special mention, which is one of the sites where Green Gym has helped exceptionally during the week in the past couple of years, when the course is closed to minimise the risk of concussion from stray golf balls!  It boasts the largest patch of sphagnum moss in the county and since we have been raking it, the number of orchids has visibly increased along with other fen plants, such as twayblade.

Judy reeled off the number and variety of species which are on the increase since Green Gym's involvement, particularly at Cothill Fen, and although the fen is not quite back to the same size as when it was purchased over a hundred years ago, we are gradually getting it back and the wildlife is responding, albeit hesitantly.

After a questions and answers session, we presented Judy with a bottle of organic wine as a thank you.  Everyone then enjoyed a delicious selection of biscuits with tea and coffee served by Barry and Enid, Kate H, Carolyn and Lesley.  The Green Gymmers did a sterling job serving refreshments, washing up and putting away tables and chairs before our time in the Hall was up.  A few of us ended up in the nearby "Spread Eagle" for a well-deserved drink!

We came away with a great sense of pride and achievement and many of us were looking forward to the coming Saturday, when we would be back at Cothill Fen again to see for ourselves just what a difference we have made so far and continue our efforts to encourage the fenland flora and fauna to come back and thrive and, of course, to thank Judy for her enthralling talk, putting it all into context for us.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jarn Mound and Wild Garden, Boars Hill, 17th September 2016

For our latest session at Jarn Mound and Wild Garden, there was a good turnout of sixteen regular members along with a couple of locals; a mother and son from Boars Hill.  The object of the exercise was to clear the fallen trees, rake away the debris, then to remove some other small trees and vegetation from the dried pond/lake area.  A busy morning ahead!

With the temperature having cooled considerably from the heatwave experienced earlier in the week, the weather conditions were ideal for a good workout!

There were two reasonably large trees that had fallen some time ago but had continued to grow, along with surrounding vegetation that had flourished over the summer and had entwined itself into the trees, plus a few other smaller trees to fell.

We worked in teams - sawing the large branches from the fallen trees then stripping and cutting them to fill drag bags. The larger logs were subsequently stacked in a pile at the side of the pond.  Once the area had been cleared of the fallen trees, we started to tackle the smaller trees.

As we got underway, we worked in our usual efficient manner and by the close of play, we had cleared six large drag bags of debris from the pond along with three further piles of detritus - the same size as the bags if not larger, plus a substantial pile of logs.

The ultimate aim of the morning's task in clearing the pond area, is to increase the size of the wetland habitat to further encourage wildlife here.  We look forward to returning here to see of the results of our endeavours and to continue with the restoration project at this fascinating site.


Enid, Dieuwke and Ursula clearing debris.

Carolyn and Janet chopping smaller branches to fit the bag.

James and Margaret discussing the finer points of Lumberjack instruction whilst the new enthusiastic volunteer makes short work of the job with their expert guidance!

A view from the shelter where we have our coffee break showing the size we needed to clear.
Margaret and the 2 local helpers filling a drag bag.

Finishing off.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cothill Fen, 10th September 2016

The weather was wet and grey when we met for our session at Cothill Fen. Led by Judy Webb, our task was to cut down the smaller trees on the edge of the fen and make room for the professionals with their machinery to get through and fell the bigger stuff. It is essential to cut back trees and scrub and prevent it from encroaching on and eventually taking over the fen.

We set to work and, despite frequent heavier bursts of rain, made good progress. We decided to bring the tea kit over to the woods for our break, as at least we were sheltered by the trees. Michele did a Sir Walter Raleigh and gallantly cast down her waterproof so we could put the mugs on it. As she said, it couldn't get any wetter or muddier. 

Then it was back to work again, with nobody suggesting we finished early. There was a lot to do, and we needed to make sure that all the cut trees and branches were moved to piles inside the wood.
When it was time to pack up, we could see how much we had pushed the trees back from the fen, so we were pleased with our morning's work.

Photos by Eleanor:

Graham and Adrian sawing up a tree trunk
Ursula working in the wood
Wending our wet and weary way homewards

Photos by Judy Webb:

Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar - Calliteara Pudibunda
Evidence of tree clearance as indicated by the position of the concrete post from today's session, which was formerly at tree line
The same view as above, showing concrete post, taken in 2010
The rare Ashen Coral Fungus

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Abbey Fishponds, 3rd September 2016

We met at the Hadland Road entrance to Abbey Fishponds. In addition to thirteen Green Gymmers there were Marjorie's helpers and the Earth Trust volunteers so we were a large party with many tasks scattered throughout the reserve. 

There was cutting back vegetation from the paths around the edge, remaining Himalayan balsam in the reed beds to seek out and pull up, raking and stacking of cut grass and reeds and, of course litter picking. We dispersed to our various tasks. 

Following the hedge trimmer raking up the cuttings was a lengthy job but Barry managed to borrow a broom from a helpful neighbour. 

There wasn't much Himalayan Balsam to be found, but perhaps we weren't looking in the right places and I won't name the person who sat down in the stream while trying to cross. 

We met up again for tea break and then carried on until the rain that had been threatening for a while started, just before we were due to finish. As usual, Green Gymmers were lucky with the weather.

Robert hunting for Himalayan Balsam

Kate and Enid litter picking

Litter pickers and loppers

Barry raking up hedge cuttings

Tea break