Monday, September 28, 2020

Southern Town Park, 26th September 2020

Abingdon Green Gym deployed at Southern Town Park this Saturday, with the usual tried and tested workout, mainly bramble-bashing, chopping up fallen branches, litter picking and clearing and sowing wild flowers in an area next to the footpath, adjacent to the sports field. But there was a slight twist. Not only did we have two new enthusiastic volunteers - Daniel and Leah, also Zak and Vanessa from Brookes University in Oxford doing a film piece for Healthy Abingdon, covering different group that encourage people in the Abingdon area to keep themselves healthy!

We assembled in the usual place in the car park next to the sports field, but we weren't the only ones! It seemed like there was a children's football tournament kicking off as the large car park where we usually park with ease was full to the brim with parking even on the main road.

Once everyone was there, I did a quick intro to the new people, checking all had signed the tracking form. We then set off transporting the tools to our designated spot in the recreational area that we would be working in.

This is not one our most interesting sites with no rare flora or fauna, but more of a community (service) work for the benefit of the locals who dog walk etc. Perhaps we could claim community credit if we were caught cycling on the pavement or stealing apples?

Anyway Sally had brought some wildflower seeds for planting, but first we had to clear the waist-high grass that has taken over the patch where they grow. The Abingdon Green Gym wild flower sign was still there to give us a location marker. The majority of the group set to work scything the grass away for others to rake the top surface clear to sow the seeds. Unfortunately much as we try not to disturb the wildlife, there were a few toads, who made a quick exit and a shrew or mouse nest with young in which we immediately covered over hoping for the parent to return and move them later.

There were fairly substantial-sized tree branches which needed chopping up into habitat piles, giving Daniel and Leah the opportunity to show their artistic flair, which any wildlife looking for a new home would only be too pleased to settle in.

Litter picking didn't bring the usual haul of beer cans and plastic drinks bottles and burnt out rubbish, as the lock-down must have kept the illicit drink sessions in the area to a minimum (or possibly thanks to the recent litter-picking efforts of the AbiBinit volunteers?). However, there were a couple of large items - an abandoned sleeping bag and tent.

The weather was kind to the film crew who were pleased with the "shoot" letting them move around and take what they wanted. We will have to wait and see the final cut is like.

Daniel and Leah.
Daniel and Leah.

One of the habitat piles.

Zak and Vanessa.

An abandoned sleeping bag and tent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Cothill Fen, 19th September 2020

It was a beautiful fine morning for Green Gym as we returned to Cothill Fen SSSI to help Natural England with its ongoing programme of cutting the reed and raking it off in order to reduce the build-up of nutrients, as the specialist fen and wet woodland flora favour poor soils.  Cothill Fen is one of a number of calcareous fens in Oxfordshire, where spring fed water percolates to the surface and deposits lime in the form of tufa.  We are very blessed as a county to have these precious fens as they are a very rare habitat indeed.  15 Green Gymmers were joined by local scyther, Jim Ballantyne, and we worked under the direction of Steph Wilson from NE and Judy Webb.

Our first task was to load our heavy tools, jerry cans of hand sanitiser and water for washing hands onto Steph’s van - we all heaved a collective sigh of relief - as we then made our way from the car park down the track, past Parsonage Moor and reached the adjoining Cothill Fen.  Adrian had arrived early and had started a bonfire for the brash of some fallen oak limbs.  We were all amazed to see the ponds had virtually been cleared of reed when we arrived – such a different sight from several years ago when the reed was well over 3m high and we had to take Judy’s word for it that there was a very deep pond there and to avoid the area at all costs!  Reed growth in other areas was a little more than it would have been had the fen been cut in the spring, but unfortunately lockdown had prevented this from being done, so the scythers were very much appreciated.

Steph then outlined our tasks for the morning – Adrian would manage the fire for a bit and some people were needed to help him cut up logs and move another pile of logs into habitat piles and off the area where the wild flowers grow.  Tools had been numbered so that people could take loppers, rake or a hayfork and then could keep it for use after break to save disinfecting it again.  Everyone was careful to wear gloves when handling tools.

Roger, Michele, James (W) and new member, Marga, put their hands up to help Adrian.  Ursula, Dieuwke and Lesley started cutting back the hazel hedge running alongside the log track at the far end of the Fen.

Jim B had made his way across one of the causeways and started to scythe.  He was joined by Graham, Margaret, James (M) and Phineas who helped rake the cut reed (some of which had been cut by work parties earlier in the week) and fork it onto the causeways.  We all had fun trampling it done and luckily no-one fell in the deep water!

Barbara and Rosie were also busy raking and pitchforking piles of cut reed in another area, but both stopped short of doing a double-back flip, as they almost trampolined on the pile of cut reed to flatten it down and stop it from blowing about in the wind.

Break time soon arrived and to everyone’s relief!  Although we all kept to a social distance and we all had our own refreshments and snacks, there was lots of the usual chatter.  It was not long before we set back to it after break suitably refreshed.  Adrian took up his scythe to continue where he had left off the previous day.

Margaret disturbed a baby toad and it was amazing to see how far and quickly it travelled with its small legs as it climbed up over tussocks.  There were lots of common darters (a type of dragonfly), mating.  It was great to see the marsh lousewort in flower.  This is parasitic on reed (it is a relative of yellow rattle) and works in a similar way as rattle does on rye grass, by suppressing reed growth as it takes up sugars and other nutrients from the reed’s roots.  A very useful plant to have!

We left feeling as though we had done a good morning’s work, with the fen looking much better … and we were also very grateful to Steph who loaded her van with our tools at the end of the session and ferried them to the car park for us.  Adrian stayed to continue scything and keep a watchful eye on the fire, while Judy had picked up a bag full of devil’s bit scabious seeds and was sowing them, as we wended our way back up the track to the car park. 

Smiles all round!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Barton Fields, 12th September 2020

Today's session was a joint effort between the Green Gym and the Abingdon Naturalists' Society Green Team. It involved raking the cut grass at Barton Fields wildflower meadow and piling it in to loose haystacks. 

The show was run buy David Guyoncourt, who along with his volunteers maintain the area between the river and Barton lane. David had brought along ample rakes and with Eleanor bringing more rakes and pitchforks there were plenty for everyone. This task has been a regular event every year - helping clear the grass and allow wild flowers to come through again next year. 

So we all knew what to do and it didn't take long before we were making good headway, as the grass was dry and light making the raking and pitchforking easy, as in the past we have done it when it had been wet making it heavy to move. The haystacks soon started to grow. These will be left for the wildlife to inhabit especially the grass snakes who will lay their eggs in it and let the heat generated to incubate them. 

By the time we spread ourselves out on the cleared area to have our refreshment break at 11.00am the job was near enough finished and we had the option to go or stay and tidy up the odd bits which were still being cut. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Ock Valley Walk, Town End, 5th September 2020

At last the return of Abingdon Green Gym to our rightful place in amongst the vegetation of the Ock path!

With a great turnout of 20 volunteers assembling in the parking bay at the end of St Helen's Court which gave us enough room to keep our distance. Once every one had signed in for tracking purposes we loaded up the equipment and headed down to our usual base by the side of the Mill stream.

The tasks were clearing round the young trees that we had planted a few years ago, chopping up fallen branches caused by the winds, clearing over hanging vegetation on the mill stream, wood chip laying on the path and of course litter picking. Once the outline instruction by the session leader of the tasks was given, it only remained for the volunteers to decide which one to pick, or, if they didn't mind the leader would suggest one that was under manned.

As you can see by the photos Adrian was keen to lay the wood chip as he had brought his own barrow and shovel (one volunteer is worth two pressed men). Dieuwke quickly offered to help along with Barbara. James had brought his own waders so we knew what he wanted to do, coercing Graham to don the GG waders and remarking how fetching he looked (ready to take on the raging torrent). Sarah also felt the need to get dressed for the occasion by putting on the other set of waders and going in!  Wendy worked on the bank ready to handle the cut branches and stack them into habitat piles.

The clearing of the nettles and creepers  around the young tress was met by a strong team of Sally, Olivia, Dan, Rosie and Joan. Not only did they do a great job ,their endeavours were rewarded by coming across a semi dismantled  mobility Scooter and a large bag of belongings which were taken back to the parking bay for the waste service to collect.

Meanwhile a four person team of Lesley, Margaret, Janet and Petra spread out and trawled the path from the town end to the Drayton Road collecting litter.

Finally, the sterling work of chopping up fallen branches in to habitat piles, was taken on by Ursula, Carolyn and Michele - even entering the shallow Ock river to wrestle with a reasonable sized tree that was causing a "back log" which might stem the flow in possible flooding later. 

There was no coffee/tea break as social distancing could be compromised so the session was shortened to about 2 hours, hopefully this will change sooner rather than later as getting together for a drink and biscuit, or if we're lucky home made cake kindly supplied by one of the volunteers is the most enjoyable part of the morning.


Graham, Michele and Sarah keeping their social distance. 

James in the deep end!

Wendy clearing the bank.

"2 Barrows Adrian"!

Carolyn slashing the nettles!

Sally and Joan in the thick of it!

Unexpected problems!