Sunday, March 17, 2019

Pinkhill Meadow Nature Reserve, Farmoor Reservoir, 16th March 2019

Another week, another new site for the Abingdon Green Gym! We met at the car park at Farmoor Reservoir, a healthy turn out of 17 of us, including French father Sebastien, and his eleven-year old son, Maelo, who was joining us for a school project. The session was led by James under the instruction of Hanna Jenkins, the warden of Pinkhill Meadow Nature Reserve, so called because it is right on the banks of the River Thames, just near Pinkhill Lock.

It was another blustery day. Will this crazy wind ever let up? We followed Hanna in convoy round the edge of the reservoir, which was choppy to say the least, and parked up on the other side where it was thankfully a little calmer, the high banks of the reservoir providing some shelter. Equipped with our tools, gloves and goggles, we made our way onto the spot on the nature reserve where we were to do our work.

Hanna told us that the reserve had been formed in 1991, but some aspects had been neglected over the last ten years. The aim was to prevent it becoming a ‘willow forest’ and maintain it as a wetland. So our task for the morning was really quite simple: chop down all the willows that had been springing up around the edges of the water. We were then to drag them into a pile, with the butts all facing the same way, ready for chipping.

We got stuck in with loppers and bow saws, and started dragging the cut material into a pile. In fact, the pile grew so quickly that we started a second one some metres away.

At break time, we made our way to a birdwatching hide for our tea and biscuits. It had a brilliant view out over the wetlands, and Hanna pointed out some perches that had been erected, including a tall one with a nest on top hoping to attract an osprey. Having at one time become extinct in England, and then reintroduced, there are only a tiny number of breeding pairs in this country at the moment, so if one can be persuaded to nest here that would be a brilliant coup. They arrive in the UK in late March, migrating back to West Africa in September, so bird watchers will have their eyes peeled. Otherwise the perches have been used by kestrels and other birds, Egyptian geese showing interest in the nest at one time, too!

After the break, we made our way back to the site to continue where we had left off. For a moment there it looked like the four horsemen of the apocalypse had made their way through, but we soon had it tidied up, ready to pack up our tools for the end of the session. A quick group photo by Hanna in front of our two enormous piles of brash – ideal for a witch burning, remarked Sally! - and we were on our way, hoping to make another visit to the site in the not too distant future.

Hello and welcome!

Parking up and getting ready after having driven round the reservoir in convoy to the site.

Making our way onto the nature reserve.

Hanna Jenkins, the warden giving us the lowdown and instructions.

'Before' picture of the willow that needed to come out.

Another 'before' photo.

We set to work.

Midway through.

Petra with some pussy willow branches.

The pink ladies.

The hide where we had our tea break.

Information board.

In the hide.

Tea time.

The view from the hide including the perch hoping for an osprey.

Hanna and James chatting ospreys.

Group photo taken by Hanna in front of the two piles of brash.

An 'after' pic!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Two Pines Fen, Frilford Heath Golf Course, 12th March 2019

In a departure to our main programme, a special mid-week raking session had been arranged at Two Pines Fen, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, on Frilford Heath Golf Course.  Because the Fen is flanked by two golf courses, it is only practical to carry out this work when one of the courses is closed for maintenance and, on this occasion, it was the Green Course that was closed.  Five Green Gymmers had set aside the day, including Lindsay, a friend of the Green Gymmers, who had been given the day off by the company she works for as a ‘charity day’.

We met in the Greenkeepers’ Compound area and took the tools and tea kit to Two Pines Fen.  It was apparent from the water level in the stream, which is more like a ditch, that the recent damming work by Rod d’Ayala had caused water levels to rise, with the consequence of wetting the Fen, which has been drying out in recent years to the detriment of the specialist plants and invertebrates that inhabit it.

Our principal task was to rake off as much of the cut reed and thatch that has built up over the years as possible and take the rakings to the edge of the Fen for the groundsmen to pick up at a later date.  We had also been asked to cut down sprouting willow to prevent this from growing thereby taking moisture from the Fen and crowding out the specialist Fen plants that we are trying to encourage.

We initially concentrated our efforts on the area of Fen flanked by the Red Course, as we had been told that it was being used for a Ladies’ competition that day.  However, Hurricane Gareth soon started up and put an end to that!  So, although on the one hand we had few golfers to worry about, the weather was against us from about 10.00 o’clock with heavy rain at times and a strong wind.  We soldiered on, with Adrian and Sylfest concentrating initially on cutting down the willow and brambles, while Graham, Lindsay and Sally raked and raked.  Break time could not come soon enough and we struggled to keep biscuits from getting soggy as the rain continued!

Undeterred, we carried on until lunch time, with the heap of ‘lost’ golf balls growing almost as quickly as our pile of rakings!  We made our way back to take shelter in one of the huts in the compounds where we were able to dry off and enjoy our packed lunches with a hot drink and some lemon cake.

After lunch, we returned to carry on where we had left off.  Lindsay carefully picked off fallen leaves from the precious area of sphagnum moss that had been marked with canes.

As the rain began to ease, our spirits correspondingly lifted especially when the sun at last came out.  Raking continued into the afternoon and we progressed onto the Green course side.  As we raked to reveal the soil beneath, pools were forming, which will be home to rare Fen invertebrates.

Adrian cut back the willow growing at the top end of the Fen and, it was as we were leaving, we found some spotted narrow leaves – so at least one of the orchids was coming through, ready to make a splendid show which many of the golfers will enjoy in late spring.  All-in-all, it was a good day’s work and we hope that the rare Fen plants and invertebrates will show their appreciation by thriving and hopefully increasing in number.

The photographs do not reflect the very un-Green-Gymlike weather we encountered for most of the morning (thanks, Gareth!) as our main priority was to get the raking done, but the afternoon sunshine was very welcome and we packed up at just before 4.00 o’clock, a little later than planned and all of us were looking forward to a cup of tea and a hot bath!

Sylfest, Adrian, Graham and Lindsay getting to work before the arrival of storm Gareth.

Spirits restored after lunch - Graham and Sylfest.

Adrian adds to our haul of golf balls.

Bizarrely beginning to look like a map of Britain.

One of the precious pools revealed by raking.

The sphagnum moss patch - reputedly the largest in the county of Oxfordshire - which we're hoping will grow.

A good spot! The telltale spotted narrow leaves of an orchid.

At the end of a hard day's work - Adrian, Graham, Lindsay and Sylfest and our heap of rakings.

One of the leaky dams created by Rod d'Ayala. The height of the stream is a lot higher now.

The clouds rolling in over the fen as we say farewell - its looking a lot darker and wetter as a result of our raking.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Jarn Heath, 9th March 2019

Today we held our first ever session on Jarn Heath. This is one of three linked sites owned by Oxford Preservation Trust, the other two being Jarn Mound, site of many a Green Gym visit, and the Matthew Arnold (the poet of ‘dreaming spires’ fame) Reserve. The session was led by Kevin in extremely windy conditions!

Contractors had already been onto the site to thin the trees and open out the glade, allowing light to make its way to the woodland floor. Winding paths have been fashioned throughout the sites, with the aim of allowing wildlife to disperse and move between the sites, as well as giving walkers a pleasant experience.

Our tasks today were threefold. First of all, there is an entrance onto the heath at the corner of Jarn Way and Orchard Lane. When walkers go through the gate, they are faced with a tangle of overgrown holly and brambles and dogwood. Called the ‘unwelcoming corner’ by Rachel, our job here was to make the entrance more, well, welcoming! So we were to cut back the undergrowth with loppers and open out the entrance in order to draw visitors onto the heath, but leaving the reddish twigs of the dogwood to grow. We were also to leave dead wood, both standing and fallen as, although it sounds contradictory, the dead wood is vital for insect, wildlife and flora in any living woodland.

The second task was to trim back and lay the hedge on the edge of the heath that leads to the unwelcoming corner – this fell to James and Graham.

And thirdly, now that contractors have been in to do tree work and open up the glade on the heath, we were to move snow drops into this area so that they will flower there next year. As the snowdrops are ‘in the green’ this is the time to replant them.

There was a large mound of ash where Rachel had been burning brush from the previous day which meant that – happy day! – we could have a fire again. Throughout the morning we carried the cut material from the ‘unwelcoming corner’ in drag bags and, with a little stoking, the fire was soon in flames again. Passers by commented on the work we were doing, some delighting in the woodland management, some seemingly in despair at the tree work which had been carried out – but not realising that it’s all for the good of the site in the long run. Still, there’s no telling some people!

By tea break we had made significant progress, so much so that after tea it was decided we would do a further 20 minutes, tidy up our tools and Rachel would take us on a walk around the heath and onto the Matthew Arnold Reserve so we could see what work had been being done and learn of future plans. As always Rachel was extremely informative and most dramatic of all was some cutting back that allowed a terrific view of the North Wessex Downs, previously blocked by the tangle of overgrown trees and bushes.

All in all a very satisfying session and we look forward to returning there in the late summer.

Photos by Joanna (and last two by Rachel):

Jarn Heath Sign.

Rachel gives us instruction.

The 'unwelcoming corner' upon arrival.

...soon to receive a Green Gym welcome!

The heap of ash soon becomes fire again.

Roaring into life.

Joan ready to replant the snowdrops.

Dieuwke takes the opportunity to burn top secret documents on the fire. 

Joanna gets fired up!

Gathering for tea break.

The glade.

The tea break in full swing.

The laid hedge.

The welcoming corner!

Replanting in the glade.

Letting the fire die down.

Rachel leads the post-session walk around the site.

The view now opens out before you.

The Matthew Arnold Field.

Rachel's group photo.

The daffodils inside the gate at the Elizabeth Daryush Garden, revealed in their full glory thanks to our endeavours!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Ock Valley Walk, 2nd March 2019

For this morning’s session we were doing our bit for Helen Flynn’s AbiBinIt! Big Spring Clean litter pick. Eleanor was leading the session in which we were to take a two-pronged attack from both the town and Tesco ends of the Ock river path.

Eight of us, including Eleanor, gathered at the Tesco end, where we set up camp beneath the trees. At the town end, James gathered with six further members, the aim to sweep up the path and meet us at camp for tea break.

We spread out in ones, twos and threes, brandishing pick-up tools, blue bags for landfill and clear bags for recycling. In addition to the path itself, we went along the road from the Esso garage to Tesco and beyond, and also up the Ock river where it veers off through the fields towards the mill. Much progress was made and by tea break Kevin accurately remarked that we should be able to bank this sort of community service against future minor misdeeds. Wouldn’t it be good if we could pay off a parking fine with our litter picking efforts!

A little later than usual, due to the length of the path, we were joined by James’ team for our tea, biscuits and a delicious coffee cake made by Eleanor. By this time the sun was glinting through the trees, making the Morello cherries on the cake shine like rubies.

Due to the late tea break and our concerted efforts of the morning, it was decided that we could finish the session half an hour early. At the final count there were nine blue bags and five clear bags at the Tesco end and six blue bags and five clear bags, plus assorted broken chairs and other sundry items, at the town end, totalling 15 blue and 10 clear bags of litter! All in all a very satisfying morning in the spring sunshine and time well spent.

Photos by Joanna (1-9), Eleanor (10) and Ursula (11-13):