All posts by Roger

2021.07.04 Elmley Castle, Evesham

 

GVCV TASK 04 July 2021 – Elmley Castle, Evesham

GVCV worked on 4 July 2021 at Lodge Farm, Elmley Castle, Evesham. We have previously worked on that site planting young trees including apple trees, and scrub bashing and clearing around a pond.

Two of us had also observed the installation of a set of leaky dams there with the idea that GVCV could replicate the process elsewhere. The technique used on the day however involved heavy mechanised plant manoeuvring substantial tree trunks. This was obviously well beyond the scope of GVCV. We did however decide that we could follow the principle but using smaller horizontals with intermediate vertical posts to hold them in place. The lighter construction is not an issue because the principle of leaky dams is to produce a slowing of the current by adding further dams in the ladder till the desired reduced flow is achieved.

Our specific task on that day was the removal of isolated clumps of blackthorn and bramble in a field of waist high grass. We were required only to stack the cut material for collection by others so really it sounded like a simple enough task.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, plant, field

Description automatically generated

Typical Blackthorn clump

What elevated it from a simple task to a bit of a nightmare was the series of torrential downpours which soaked us to the skin, time and again. There was some minimal shelter in one corner of the field but getting there still dry was a feat beyond Linford Christie. And then there was the issue of summoning up the will to go back out into the open field.

I have to confess I called an early finish to the task and we handballed all the kit back down the hill

A person standing in a field of tall grass

Description automatically generated with low confidence

Waist high plus grass

A picture containing grass, outdoor, sky, field

Description automatically generated

Concentrate on one clump at a time, then move on to the next one

We had great encouragement from the Gloucestershire FWAGSW rep and the farmer (plus his dog) who kindly transported us and our tools up the hill to the work site in his super all terrain pickup.

The compensation for all that aggravation was the panoramic views all around, us the song of a hundred skylarks overhead and a host of butterflies so thick it was difficult to walk without stepping on them.

A group of people standing outside a building

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Tired and wet but unbowed and looking forward to the next task

2021.07.11 Thames & Severn Canal – Coates

 

GVCV TASK 11 July 2021 – Thames & Severn Canal – Coates

The Thames and Severn Canal, built in 1789, goes through Coates.  The canal once joined with the Stroudwater Navigation (west of Stroud) to provide a link from the river Severn to the river Thames (at Lechlade).

The Sapperton tunnel (3,817 yards long) was the longest tunnel in the country when it was opened (and still ranks 3rd longest). There is no towpath through the tunnel. The boatmen had to lie on their back on the deck, brace their feet against the tunnel roof, and “walk” the boat through the tunnel, a process called “legging” (2.2 miles remember)

A picture containing grass, tree, outdoor, building

Description automatically generated

The Coates Portal to the Sapperton Tunnel

The canal was formally abandoned by an Act of Parliament in 1954 and gradually became derelict. Today the tunnel remains impassable, as it has done since around 1916, due to numerous roof falls.

The Cotswold Canals Trust aims to restore the canal as a fully-navigable route from the River Severn to the River Thames. They been awarded grants of National Lottery Heritage money to restore various sections. The Phase 3 restoration section runs between Brimscombe Port, near Stroud, and Gateway Bridge in the Cotswold Water Park, some 16 miles, includes the challenge of the Sapperton tunnel. Work is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

When finished it should allow boats to travel from Stonehouse and Stroud to Saul Junction by joining the Stroudwater Navigation to the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.

Canal near Stroud

An already restored section

The project will bring a range of benefits to the local area. The canal corridor will help increase biodiversity by reconnecting previously fragmented habitats, including wetlands, ditches, scrubland and hedgerows. The variety of habitats that will be created or restored will become one of the UK’s largest biodiversity offsetting projects. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust will be helping to check the environmental quality of the work in the later stages.

It’s anticipated that the project will attract an extra 250,000 visitors to the area, who will inevitably gain from the health and wellbeing benefits of being by water. This is a belief that is firmly at the heart of both the Canal & River Trust and the CCT.

There is also a national significance to Cotswold Canals Connected. It’s a key part of a much larger project to reconnect the River Severn to the River Thames via a green and blue corridor. New walking and cycling routes along towpaths will allow people to get closer to water. The routes will flow through over 30 hectares of new protected habitats, providing a beautiful, safe wildlife corridor that will be one of the biggest in Europe.

Most of the work to date has been carried out by volunteers – some 700,000 man / woman hours so far. Much of this has been standstill maintenance, removing encroaching vegetation from the banks and from the dry canal bed and keeping the towpath clear to encourage the large number of walkers who currently. use it, (possibly followed by lunch in the adjacent Tunnel House Inn, when Covid allows)

GVCV task on 11 July was to continue this standstill maintenance. We worked in conjunction with the Cotswold Canal Trust volunteers under the direction of the Warden responsible for this stretch of the canal. Specifically we were clearing the towpath using brushcutters and removing more substantial growth on the opposite bank using chainsaws. Vital to these operations were the squad clearing away the cut material.

A picture containing outdoor, grass, tree, plant

Description automatically generatedA picture containing outdoor, grass, tree, plant Description automatically generated

Hard at work with a brushcutter

We were blessed with weather which was just right for working and this was one of the tasks where we could get the satisfaction of looking back and seeing the results of our labour, (Just don’t think about how much still remain

A picture containing grass, outdoor, plant, tree Description automatically generated

The tow path after the strimmer had been through

A picture containing tree, plant Description automatically generated

Just start at the edge and work your way in, they said.

A picture containing outdoor, grass, wooden, park Description automatically generated

A well deserved lunch break

2021.06.06 Woodmancote on the Kemerton Estate

GVCV TASK 06 June 2021 – Weoodmancote on the Kemerton Estate

We worked this day on land at Woodmancote which belongs to the Kemerton Estate.

The area was an Ash plantation and fairly recently the ash had been coppiced leaving bare stools. The stools will re-generate but in order to enhance the copse extensive new planting had been added 1 or 2 years ago, The new planting we found was an eclectic mix of Ash, Oak, Beech, Sycamore and Holy. The saplings as we found them had grown to 2 or 4 foot tall (except for the few which had died).

The plantation was completely surrounded with deer fencing and all of the saplings planted were had plastic guards around them as added protection. Deer love browsing on young tree growth, hence the need for protection. In the past the deer had managed to get to the trees because we found some with clear evidence of having been nibbled. The deer are still active, when I inspected the site mid-week a deer led me along the field edge, from the track, past the gate into the copse and continued on into some trees/shrubs beyond.

The site as we found it – spot a sapling if you can!

Our allotted task was to halo the saplings i.e. to clear away all of the vegetation around the young saplings so that they did not have to compete for light, moisture and nutrient in the soil, giving them a better chance of surviving to maturity.

Halo around a sapling inc exploratory track to find it

Our initial difficulty was in locating the new saplings… They stood between 2 and 4 foot tall but they were completely lost in a jungle of grass, nettles and thistles rising to 5 foot tall We had to embark on a game of “hunt the sapling” which involved clearing exploratory pathways through the undergrowth with slashers etc (which are crude control tools) whilst exercising great care not to cut through or damage the saplings,

Careful use of the slasher

At the day we had successfully haloed a fair number of saplings though far fewer than we expected to, due to the effort needed to find them. The fact of it being the hottest day of the year so far was another factor.

No shade – but a welcome break non the less. Where was Mike when I took this shot ?

We know that there are many more saplings waiting to receive the same treatment and hopefully we will return to the site at some point in the near future to continue the process.

2021.04.25 Overbury estate

GVCV TASK 25 APRIL 2021 – OVERBURY ESTATE

Like most farms now the Overbury Partnership is a mix of arable, sheep, forestry, leasing long term and holiday property, leasing conference and office space, a stud and in this case a children’s pre-school group – diversity being the key to survival.

The land is rich at around 100 feet in the Evesham valley, reducing to poor at 1,000 feet on Bredon Hill and so a range of crops and techniques are required across the farm.

There are three techniques showcased on the farm. The first is rotation such that the land is never left fallow. A mix species cover crop of radishes, clover, mustard etc is grown over the winter, which reduces soil erosion and which is grazed by the sheep, then a summer crop of grain or barley is sown through it, the residue of the cover crop being left on the surface as a mulch. The second technique is no-till cultivation; there is no disturbance of the deep levels of soil and fertilisers etc are contained within the upper layers. The third technique is automation; computer and satellite information is used to help control the  operation of seed drills, harvesters, sprayers etc all informed by bang up-to-date data from drones overflying the fields.

Overbury is a demonstration farm for LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) aimed to showcase best practice  in crop production, animal welfare and environmental protection.

On 25 Aril 2021 we were given two tasks; one group clearing scrub around a lake (the pond team) and the other group recovering used plastic sleeves from saplings planted in previous years (the hill team). Two separate work groups ensured we complied with Covid Regs on numbers.

The Pond team

The lake is an extensive man-made lined reservoir as a source for irrigation in summer. The excavated material was tipped around the perimeter so as to form a bank which was planted with trees including specifically willow. Over the years the remainder of the bank has been invaded by bramble, black thorn, nettles etc so that it is no longer possible to walk around the perimeter of the lake. Our job on 25 April was to remedy this, or at least make a start on the remedy.

We are well practiced at scrub bashing and the glorious weather that day made an accustomed task into a pleasure, at least until the afternoon when weary muscles reminded us – “first the pleasure, then the pain”.

In term of wildlife, we watched a Martin scouting the eaves of the grain store at the meeting point. Around the lake there were large numbers of Orange Tip butterflies, with a solitary Moorhen on the water and remains on the bank of some substantial fish, possibly taken by otters ?. We were shown a square of corrugated tin on the grounds, attractive to grass snakes in warm weather and an adjacent “nest” built to encourage the snakes to breed.

One of the farm hands (Gordon) stayed with us for the day (with his dog, Archie) and he talked to us about the lake and the farm, and he showed us the grass snake location.

By the end of the day we had formed a clear access around about 100 yards of the lake and could look back on a clearly visible achievement – very satisfying. This was an excellent introduction to GVCV for a first-time volunteer who turned out – she admitted to having enjoyed the experience and would turn out again – plucky girl.

A well earned break at lunch time and an opportunity to “catch some rays”

The bank cleared to just beyond the willow tree – a good start to a large overall task

The Hill team

A small group of 4 volunteers worked in a substantial copse planted approx 20 years ago collecting the plastic tree guards that originally protected and supported the growing saplings.

These discarded guards littered the woodland floor and many were still attached to the tree, trapped in the bark which had overgrown the bottom edges. These had to be painstakingly pulled away or cut free.

We collected 8 large sacks full. A useful job to get done and one for the farm manager to tick off his “to do, sometime” list.

The tree guards obviously served their purpose well because there is now a healthy close planted woodland copse, which may well require thinning out at some future time by GVCV.

2020.11.29 Tree planting at puckham Woods

GVCV TASK 29 NOVEMBER 2020 AT PUCKHAM WOODS

On Sunday 29 November 2020 GVCV worked on a farm at Puckham Woods for FWAGSW.

The Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAGSW) is a registered charity representing the region’s farmers and landowners in the delivery of wildlife conservation. They are part funded by Natural England and work with partner conservation organizations including the Wildlife Trust. In Gloucestershire they are heavily involved in Water with Integrated Local Delivery (WILD) projects restoring ditches, streams and rivers to aid the currently failing ecology and fish populations.

The work at Puckham today was extending an existing area of woodland, partly as replacement for a number of Ash trees which are diseased and will shortly have to be felled. A deal of conservation work has already been carried out in this location including formation of a chain of ponds in a valley with associated drainage channels and streams with hardcore beds to prevent erosion and to provide fording points. We are told that the plan is for a further 3,000 trees to be planted here and the first of them are already on site awaiting the gentle ministrations of volunteer groups.

One of the chain of ponds formed a part of the controlled drainage system, as well as a resource for wildlife.

The site at the start of the day – empty

The site at the end of the day – fully planted up.

Our first task was to move the trees, protective tubes and stability stakes from a stockpile in an adjant field to the planting location. The FWAGSW rep had already been on site and planted a set of bamboo markers to show the spacing of the trees , Further she had labelled each marker with the type of tree to be planted there. Then followed a period of people walking around the site shouting “I have a Prunus – find me a Prunus marker anyone” Eventually an appropriate tree was placed beside each of the markers, together with a protective plastic tube and a timber stake and the planting process could begin,

The first planting process is a slot in the ground cut with a spade

The protective tubes need to be screwed into the ground to exclude rodents etc

Such was the energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers that we cruised through the 100 trees, finishing well before lunchtime. After consulting with the landowner and the FWAGSW rep we extended our planting to adjacent areas, including some challenging locations on steep banks.

The mist was present all day, as can be seen in the photographs, and as time went by it became thicker and we were losing the light so we called an unusually early halt, having filled our quota, and all went home for a hot shower.

2020.11.15 Stanway Ash Wood

GVCV TASK 15 NOVEMBER 2020 – STANWAY ASH WOOD

On Sunday 15 November 2020 GVCV worked in Stanway Ash Wood, Tewksbury for FWAGSW, continuing an ongoing task of coppicing a Hazel grove.. See the report from out first session at this location GVCV TASK 01 DECEMBER 2019 – STANWAY ASH WOOD for an overview of the site and the task.

Our raised platform and bundled stems as at the end of previous session. Compare with the greatly increased volume in the team photo taken at the end of the current session.

A textbook example of a coppiced stool – well done the man / woman who produced this.

We try to make first timers especially welcome, though some of them look like old hands from the start, finding a comfortable seat at lunch time.

A classic example of a two man job – one working and one watching.

The small diameter stems we cut we harvested for use but the coppicing process meant we also had to take out the larger stems. These must be of use, though we were not told for what, so we stacked them neatly for others to process. We did however utilise them as a dry seating during lunch.

A possibly greater issue is the large amount of brash which we are producing. On many sites we burn the brash which disposes of it, keeps us warm on frosty days and allows us to offer baked potatoes for lunch. Fires however are not permitted on this site.

This shot shows that we are actually achieving a cleared space in the grove – we just need to achieve an awful lot more of it.

A great team photo. A set of fulfilled volunteers standing proudly beside their achievement, a nearly full containment of Hazel bundles.

2020.11.01 Stanway ash wood

GVCV TASK 01 NOVEMBER 2020 – STANWAY ASH WOOD

On Sunday 01 November 2020 GVCV worked in Stanway Ash Wood, Tewksbury for FWAGSW.

The Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAGSW) is a registered charity representing the region’s farmers and landowners in the delivery of wildlife conservation. They are part funded by Natural England and work with partner conservation organizations including the Wildlife Trust. In Gloucestershire they are heavily involved in Water with Integrated Local Delivery (WILD) projects restoring ditches, streams and rivers to aid the currently failing ecology and fish populations.

Our specific task that day was to make continue the task we started last year, coppicing an area of the hazel, which had not been done for some 40 years previously. Specific birds, insects and mammals depend on young hazel and left untended the stems grow into substantial trees, producing a changed habitat, so regular coppicing is required to maintain the existing ecology.

The hazel we harvested will be used in the FWAGSW waterway restoration projects. We cut the stems into 5 foot lengths and tied them into manageable bundles. These bundles will be taken and fixed as reinforcement for the banks of waterways to help prevent erosion.

The Hazel bundles being placed to reinforce a stream bank

Rather than leaving the bundles on the ground, where they would quickly degrade we constructed a raised platform on which to stack them during our earlier task. Our construction was of a lightly lesser standard than the bridge over the river Kwai but it did exactly what we wanted of it.

Not all of the bundles we had previously created had been used and the un-used remainder had fallen apart as we had tied them with garden twine which is intended to disintegrate over time. During this task we re-tied those bundles using bailer twine which is weatherproof and rotproof and, in this case, luminous yellow.

The bundles as we left them last time

The remaining bundles from the last time as we found them this time

The old bundles re-tied with bailer twine and ready for use again..

As we were working at some distance from our previous location we constructed another platform to receive our new product. We did it faster this time, practice making perfect, and populated it with our new bundles.

Proud owner of a heap of brash, by-product of the harvested stems

Cutting the stems as low down on the stool as possible. Tough on the knees. Note the colour co-ordinated top, wellies and gloves, fashion always being high on GVCV list of priorities.

We achieved quite a lot during the morning but shortly after lunch the heavens opened and we had a wet finish, which left us physically dampened but with enthusiasm unabated. Bring on the next task day here!

2020.03.01 Farmcote, Winchcombe

GVCV TASK 01 MARCH 2020 AT FARMCOTE, WINCHCOMBE

On Sunday 01 March 2020 GVCV worked on a farm at Farmcote, Winchcombe for FWAGSW.

The Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAGSW) is a registered charity representing the region’s farmers and landowners in the delivery of wildlife conservation. They are part funded by Natural England and work with partner conservation organizations including the Wildlife Trust. In Gloucestershire they are heavily involved in Water with Integrated Local Delivery (WILD) projects restoring ditches, streams and rivers to aid the currently failing ecology and fish populations.

Our allotted task that day was to make a start on coppicing a stand of hazel, which had not been previously done for a number of years. Specific birds, insects and mammals depend on young hazel and left untended the stems grow into substantial trees, producing a changed habitat, so regular coppicing is required to maintain the existing ecology.

This particular hazel was of the Cobnut variety which appeared to have been planted for commercial cropping of the nuts. Cob nuts in the shops cost twice as much as hazel nuts! Cobnuts originate from Kent and are sometimes called Kentish nuts. Young nuts have a taste like coconut and a can be eaten on their own or added to salads or in baking. Mature nuts have a deeper, richer flavor and should be roasted then eaten with a little salt or added to a crumble topping or used to add “crunch” to any desert.

The hazel we harvested will be used in the FWAGSW waterway restoration projects. We cut the stems into 5 foot lengths and tied them into manageable bundles. These bundles will be taken and fixed as reinforcement for the banks of waterways to help prevent erosion

Rather than just leaving the bundles on the ground, where they would quickly degrade we constructed a raised platform on which to stack them. Our construction was of a lightly lesser standard than the bridge over the river Kwai but it did exactly what we wanted of it. Looking forward we made the platform large enough to take the product of another 2 or 3 tasks.

Tea break – the best part of the morning. Beautifully straight spaced out rows of hazel behind.

Hard to concentrate on the task in front with such a fantastic landscape behind.

A happy team at the end of the day with our bundles of Hazel neatly stacked on the platform.

The weather was kind to us, cool, mostly dry and with periods of bright sunshine. And we were able to look back at the end of the day at a tangible outcome rather than the blank space we normally leave after a hard day clearing scrub etc.

2019.12.01 STANWAY ASH WOOD

GVCV TASK 01 DECEMBER 2019 – STANWAY ASH WOOD

On Sunday 01 December 2019 GVCV worked in Stanway Ash Wood, Tewksbury for FWAGSW.

The Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAGSW) is a registered charity representing the region’s farmers and landowners in the delivery of wildlife conservation. They are part funded by Natural England and work with partner conservation organizations including the Wildlife Trust. In Gloucestershire they are heavily involved in Water with Integrated Local Delivery (WILD) projects restoring ditches, streams and rivers to aid the currently failing ecology and fish populations.

Our specific task that day was to make a start on coppicing an area of the hazel, which had not been done for some 40 years previously. Specific birds, insects and mammals depend on young hazel and left untended the stems grow into substantial trees, producing a changed habitat, so regular coppicing is required to maintain the existing ecology.

Our starting point – the Hazel of various ages and sizes

The hazel we harvested will be used in the FWAGSW waterway restoration projects. We cut the stems into 5 foot lengths and tied them into manageable bundles. These bundles will next year be taken and fixed as reinforcement for the banks of waterways to help prevent erosion (another task for GVCV ?)

Tying the cut lengths into bundles

Hazel bundles being placed to reinforce a stream bank (another group)

Tea break – the best time of the day

Rather than just leaving the bundles on the ground, where they would quickly degrade we constructed a raised platform on which to stack them. Our construction was of a lightly lesser standard than the bridge over the river Kwai but it did exactly what we wanted of it. Looking forward we made the platform large enough to take the product of another 2 or 3 tasks.

Our bundles of Hazel neatly stacked

The weather was kind to us, cold and dry with bright sunshine and we were able to look back at the end of the day at a tangible outcome rather than the blank space we normally leave after a hard day clearing scrub etc.

2019.10.20 Stinchcombe Hill

GVCV TASK 20 October 2019 – STINCHCOMBE HILL, DURSLEY

See GVCV previous report dated 26/02/1017 giving a detailed description of the Stinchcombe Hill site and of our efforts to reverse the decline of the butterfly population with especial reference to the Duke of Burgundy, the Dingy Skipper, the Heath Fritillary and the Large Blue.

http-butterfly-conservation-org-files-duke-of-bu
The Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, the beneficiary of our efforts, we hope.

The site is managed by a warden from the Stinchcombe Hill Butterfly trust with a team of volunteers and their objective is to bring the site back to its original state of untreated Cotswold grassland forming an environment favouring orchids, butterflies and sky larks.

This is an uphill struggle because lack of resources has allowed extensive encroachment of trees and shrubs.  

The lower slopes are by far the most in need of clearing, but this is private land belonging to Stinchcombe House and cannot therefore be included in our scope of works.   Discussions are however in progress with the current owner.

Our task on Sunday was to progress the clearance of the scrub etc on the Western slopes of Drakestone Point consisting mainly of Blackthorn and Ash all bound together with bramble.  

This slope is just below the plateau known locally as “the village green”, notwithstanding that it is remote from the village.

The warden keeping an eye on our activities at the fire

The volunteers tackled the blackthorn etc with loppers and bushsaws, dragging the cut material to a fire site

There is some debate as to the ecological significance of bonfires as opposed to retaining the cut material in habitat piles but as soon as the material reaches any significant quantity then the advantages of habitat piles become disadvantages as the retained material covers the very grass we are trying to expose.  

Better by far is a roaring bonfire, consuming the brash and warming the volunteers on cold days on what is a very exposed site

Last night in the disco they all learned a new energetic dance which they now regret.
r
Is this a Genie appearing in a puff of smoke – or has a volunteer managed to get the fire going
The pink Hawthorn blossom around the site is attractive at this time of the year
Caterpillar of the Fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi)

An unexpected find was a Fox Moth caterpillar, named for the fox red stripe down its back.

It feeds on bramble and enjoys sunning itself on paths etc (we had some hot sunny spells that day). It over-winters in leaf litter or loose soil and then pupates in spring for a month before emerging as a Fox moth.

The caterpillar is more striking than the duller coloured adult moth
A well earned lunch break, surveying the whole world laid out below our site
Sore feet at the end of a hard day’s work

Nature being nature, the material we cut begins to re-grow as soon as we turn our backs and there are many sites where we return year after year to repeat the process in the same location.  

In order to try to prevent this, the cut stumps are painted with glyphosate which penetrates downwards to kill the roots of the plant.   This painting must be done within minutes of the stem being cut else the capillaries will self seal.  Use of this powerful chemical can only be by a trained and licensed operator, in this case the Warden on the site.  

So theoretically, in a few years we will have worked ourselves out of a job, but the expression “dream on” springs to mind.