Monday, October 28, 2019

Kennington Memorial Field, 26th October 2019

We returned to the Kennington Memorial Field on Saturday for our bi-annual session here, working with the Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT). Upon arrival, the car park by the pavilion was already full since some sporting activities on the adjacent pitches had already commenced.

Once alternative parking arrangements had been sought and found, we assembled and made our way through the gate to the field itself, ready for instruction by Lindsay Priddle from the OPT. The task of the day was to clear brambles and scrub from an area on the western edge of the site before transporting the cuttings down the hill to a bonfire. This is an ongoing process here to ensure that the encroachment upon the grassland areas is kept in check and therefore preserving this valued community asset.

A pair of OPT volunteers and several locals gathered alongside us, adding up to a total workforce of 25 or so. Armed with bow saws and loppers, most of us found a spot to begin the scrub clearance, while others got ready to load the cuttings onto tarpaulins to drag down to the site of the bonfire or alternatively to pitchfork away for burning. Adrian had come armed with his scythe again, and proved to be very efficient.

As usual, Graham was the assigned fire-starter and with the help of some seasoned logs, he had a good blaze going in no time.

Our large team of volunteers made remarkable progress during the first half and certainly earned their half-time refreshments. There had been plans to take cover in the pavilion, but the rain that had been forecast barely materialised, therefore we stayed put.  

There was some good news regarding our finances at this point - a cheque for £266 was unveiled! This was from the Abingdon branch of Waitrose as a share of the supermarket's latest 'green token' community scheme for good causes.   

We continued where we left off during the second half, with more scrub-bashing. The decision was made shortly after midday not to cut any more so that the bonfire could be wound-down towards the end of the session. The effort was then concentrated into moving the remainder of the cut material to the fire.

Another successful morning here was thus complete and we look forward to returning during the first half of next year.


Lindsay instructs the group.

Let lopping begin.

Carolyn and Margaret prepare to transport cuttings to the bonfire.

Kevin and pitchfork.

The bonfire.

The fuel to get the fire started.

Teatime conversation.

Carolyn and Rosie at the hot beverage station.

The half-time progress.

A good turnout!

The Waitrose cheque!

The second half begins.

Spindle fruit.

Graham stands guard over the bonfire.

A team effort.

A section of scrub clearance.

The little helpers (photo by Michele)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Farmoor Reservoir, 19th October 2019

It was a stunning October day for our second visit to Farmoor Reservoir. Seventeen of us turned out for a session led by James under the aegis of warden Hanna Jenkins. As with last time, we met in the car park then drove in convoy around the reservoir itself, parking up and unloading our tools for a visit to a different meadow to last time.

Shrike meadow – so called because a shrike was once spotted here many moons ago, although never to be seen again – has been looked after by Thames Water since 2000. Our task was to chop back all the scrub and weeds to create more pasture in preparation for the five cows, currently on neighbouring Pinkhill Nature Reserve, to come over onto this field next year.

The scrub comprised mainly alder and willow of one or two years’ growth, and some very tall reeds. We had brought bow saws, loppers and scythes and started to raze them to the ground. It was definitely welly work, as quite often the water was inches deep in places.

Adrian gave those who wanted tutorials on how to use the scythes which, once you got going, was a very satisfying activity.

Before long we had lots of brash which we gathered up and moved to small piles at the end of the field. We didn’t want to make the piles too big, in case they attracted wildlife to create habitats in them as a new community group, the Friends of Farmoor Reservoir, are planning a bonfire here for Bonfire Night and would be using the scrub for burning.

The sun shone down on us for practically the whole session, and we ended up in t-shirts, despite being in the latter half of October. It was a most enjoyable session and by the end we’d made considerable progress.

Assembling at the reservoir car park.

Rosie takes a ride with Hanna.

Hanna provides instruction.

The 'before' photo.

Scything master-class.

Adrian sharpens a scythe.

Break time.

Tea, coffee and conversation.

Bird feeders in the tree.

Mushrooms underfoot.

Rosie in the bird hide.

Reflections in the pond.

Andrew in the undergrowth.

Kevin and Hanna.

Kevin raking some reeds.

Joanna wields a scythe during the second half.

Margaret partially camouflaged.

Brash ready for a bonfire.
The reservoir.

A welcome on-site toilet!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Boundary House Fen, 12th October 2019

Eleven of us assembled in the Golf Club car park for our session at Boundary House Fen. We drove round to the other entrance and fortunately, this time, the gate was open. After a wet few days and a very wet night, we feared we might get soaked, but once again our Green Gym luck was on our side, the rain fizzled out and the temperature was quite mild and calm.

We made our way to the fen where we were working under the direction of Rod d’Ayala. Our task was to clear the piles of cut reeds to the heaps on the edge of the fen and around the tree stumps and rake up the remainder. This was a task we were well used to. 

In one corner of the fen, water had collected in a pool and we made a ridge of reeds in front of it to hold the water back. We saw a roe deer running out from the trees and across the golf course. We found a small frog, which we put out of harm’s way and a robin flitted impatiently around the hedge at the back of the fen.

We sustained ourselves with home made cake and biscuits at the break and by the end of the session we had cleared all the piles of reeds and it was time to make our way back.

We hope that we can continue to maintain and improve this habitat for its important flora and fauna.

Green Gymmers scattered far and wide at Boundary House Fen, under the instruction of Rod, in the red coat.

Carolyn piling it on. Rod wanted us to cover some of the large tree stumps with reeds to make it easier to avoid them with his power cutter.

Joan and Janet clearing the edge of the fen.

James chopping back a willow which will always try and find a way to establish itself where there is water.

A toad discovered under the cut reeds soon crawled away to the safety of the watery undergrowth.

Judy, our fungi expert was not on hand to tell us what these are. Not to be eaten though. Thankfully Eleanor had made a delicious cake for us to enjoy at coffee break.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Cothill Fen, 5th October 2019

Eleven of us turned up for today’s session at Cothill Fen, led by Eleanor with Judy Webb and Steph from Natural England. It was quite a mild, grey day and we were assured that the high water levels had gone down a little – welcome news at a site where often at least one of us gets water in our boots.

We were split into two groups, with the majority of us moving piles of reeds that had already been cut and raked to fill a pond that had formed in a ditch on the edge of the woodland. Tussocks of reeds had deliberately been left across the fen to form a mosaic habitat structure for flora and fauna.

A smaller second party made their way to the other end of the site, to where the ‘evil spring’ is still bringing nitrate from the farmed fields beyond, which is leaching onto the fen. A dam has been formed along the stream edge but with all the duckweed on the fen water, it’s apparent that nitrate is still getting through. Our task here was to remove cut reeds from the stream itself, so that it can continue to run its course, and pile them up and tamp them down to reinforce the dam. There was a lot of sludge involved. It was hard going!

We had a welcome tea break where it was announced that the Radley Lakes quiz night will be taking place on 26thOctober. Then it was back to work, with more shifting of reeds, and Kevin also took to a large fallen log with a bow saw.

We were lucky with the wildlife, today, seeing newts and a water scorpion and a small furry mammal which remained unidentified as it hid in the reeds before we could properly see what it was. Judy also found two uncommon fungi, an earth tongue (Geoglossum fallax), which she planned to take home in order to examine its spores under her microscope, and the much rarer Stinking Fanvault (Camarophyllopsis foetus) which, although tiny, gave off an incredibly strong mothball-like smell.

We went home happy with our work, and pretty much covered in mud or, as Sally called it, ‘Eau de Fen’, which has a distinctive sulphurous smell with notes of water mint!

Judy gives us our instructions

Base camp

Starting work

A newt in a drag bag

Duck weed

Don’t tell the ponies but the electric fence isn’t actually on

Clearing sludge from the stream

Tea break

Earth tongue fungus

Tiny stinking fanvault

Rosie takes a whiff

Water scorpion

Blogger covered in eau de fen