All posts by Roger

2022.07.03 Kemerton tree popping

2022.07.03 Kemerton tree popping

On Sunday 3 July 2022, volunteers from GVCV worked again for the Kemerton Conservation Trust, this time in a location new to us within the Kemerton Lake Nature Reserve

The lake is adjacent to an existing extensive arboretum and woodland area and the Trust wish to keep the section around the lake as limestone grass land rather than wooded. Alas this message has not been received by the trees and large numbers of unwanted willow, alder and silver birch saplings have appeared. The larger clumps have been chemically treated but there were numerous single stems or small clumps waiting our attention.

The tool of choice for this task was the tree popper. This is a metal device with a jaw which is locked onto the base of the stem and a long handle enabling the stem to be levered out of the ground, including its roots. This is fairly easy to do where the stem is small and the ground is soft but larger stems in dryer ground require some degree of effort. Swearing at it seems to help.

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There would appear that there are Munt Jac deer on the reserve and we found the remains of one which just didn’t move fast enough

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Often we had to hunt through the long grass and weeds to find the offending stems.

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The reeds in the pond were 8 or 9 foot tall and were home to a multitude of birds which we could hear, but not see.

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Tea break and lunch are essential markers through the day

The grassland already contains an abundance of wild flowers including :

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Ragged Robin                                                       King Cup

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Bee Orchid                                                           Goats Beard

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These wild flowers sustain large numbers of butterflies on the site including:

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Marbled White

Small tortoiseshell

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We were fortunate enough to find grass snakes, including some with eggs

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We stacked the spoil for others to remove – the height of the heap being the measure of our efforts.

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The obligatory group photo at the end of the task (less one early finisher)

2022.03.27 Nosehill quarry face

 

On Sunday 27 March 2022, volunteers from GVCV returned to the site on Nosehill Farm, Stow-on-the -Wold, to work again at the quarry face. This part of the farm contains a disused quarry with an exposed face which contains elements of geological interest including a rare rock formation known as “Cotswold Slate”. As the face is listed the farmer is obliged to keep it clear of scrub etc so that it can be viewed by any interested parties. That is where GVCV come in.

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The rock face as we found it – the “before” photograph

There is a wire fence near the foot of the quarry face to keep visitors safe from falling rock and then a wide open space leading to the lake formed in the deep part of the quarry. We have spent many hours in the past clearing this wide space so we were delighted to see on this occasion that the farmer had employed a contractor to run through with a tracked vehicle, levelling the ground and grinding the undergrowth into a bed of woodchip.

That left us with the section between the wire fence and the quarry face, about ten foot wide, filled with bramble, brush and young trees (up to about 15 foot). We started a the end nearest the site entrance and cleared a good length, as far as the dinosaur footprint. (There is the imprint of a dinosaur’s footprint in a rock with an explanatory information board.}

The cut material is problematic on this site. On most sites we burn it but on listed sites that is not generally permitted. We therefore leave the brash in piles which the farmer clears using a tractor with a fork lift.

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Multiple brash piles. We keep the smallish to allow continued access through the site. Note the mechanical stripping and levelling of the open area – previously done by us by hand.

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Raking the brash into piles – harder work than you might think !

On this task we were joined by a “next generation” volunteer, only 14 years old. He worked under close supervision and was ably assisted by the experienced volunteers around him. He certainly pulled his weight on the task, but I think the unaccustomed form of exercise will have left him somewhat tired and stiff the next morning.

 

Lunch – time to look back on the mornings work. Note our young volunteer elected to take “high tea”

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The lake, the trees and the scrub make the area attractive to birds and we certainly heard their song throughout the day. The song became a bit raucous when the Canada geese took exception to the farmer harrowing an adjacent field. There is a specific bank near the site entrance which is particularly attractive to butterflies, including the rare “Small Blue”. There are assorted mammals tunnelling near the lake and in fissures in the quarry face. The animal world clearly make this site a busy place, except on the one or two days in the year when there are hoards of volunteers tramping through it.

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Some of the happy band of volunteers who worked on this task. Note the drums are nothing to do with us, oil used by the farmer on his machinery we believe.

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The rock face as we left it – the “after” picture

2021.12.19 Overbury Estate hedge maintenance

GVCV TASK 19 December 2021 – |Overbury Estate

There is a national campaign underway to encourage planting of trees and hedges to improve the environment and to encourage wildlife and Gloucestershire farmers have bought into this campaign.

GVCV were engaged to plant some of these trees on the Overbury Estate on 19/12/2021 but we were then told that they had already planted all of the stock which was given to them and did not expect to receive a further supply until January. The task was therefore amended to cleaning the grass, weeds etc from around a double row of whips planted last year as the beginning of a hedge, in order to remove the competition they constituted to the whips for light, air and moisture.

Our assembly point before moving on to the work site was the massive grain store belonging to the farm. Naturally the grain attracts rodents but these are largely controlled by the farm cats. These started as one stray, joined later by another stray and both cats being female they produced litters so now the cats are a significant force on the farm and the rodent population is rapidly decreasing.

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Grain Store at Middle Farm – main building

Two of the farm hands guided us to the site and explained the work to us. These were the farm workers, two brothers, who had performed the same function for us on previous tasks so we were all acquainted. Essential to their team was of course Gordon’s dog.

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Before and after shots

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The process between “Before” and “After”

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The process between “Before” and “After”

There had been some damage by weather or wildlife since the original planting and so we were provided with a supply of spare whips, tree guards and supporting canes which we used to repair / replace as necessary.

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Am I working hard!! Have you ever seen a blister that size ?

The weather was mild enough throughout the day but the temperature inversion and the lack of any degree of wind meant we were working in a mist the whole day, which varied between thick and even thicker. It did not affect the close range work we were doing but it wrapped around us and was slightly depressing. It made it totally impossible to see the location of the second work area at the opposite diagonal of the field.

We moved across to the second work site after lunch which included a roller coaster drive across the medieval Ridge and Furrow formations, still very much in evidence after 400 years.

We had a smaller work force post lunch but we managed to clear about 30 metres run, removing weed which was denser than that on the morning section.

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Description automatically generated The second work site was similar to the first but a bit rougher

We cut the working day a bit short; the light was going, the mist was getting thicker and our energy levels were dropping but we left a large part of the hedging in far better condition than we found it.

2021.12.05 Severnside Hempsted

GVCV TASK 05 December 2021 – Severnside, Hempsted

GVCV TASK 05 December 2021 – Severnside, Hempsted.

The site we work at Hempsted is a Severn Water Sewage treatment installation with extensive lakes, pond, streams etc. We have carried out several tasks at this location and the current exercise is clearing the scrub and excess Willow growth around the main pond area. We have done this on previous occasions, we are gradually working our way around the perimeter of the pond.

The work in itself is not complicated – just a solid slog, cutting and clearing. The problem we have is disposing of the material we cut. Habitat piles are all very well but when they cover half of he site other measures need to be found of disposing of the brash.

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One of our many piles of small diameter brash.

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One of our many piles of larger diameter brash

We would normally dispose of the brash by burning but there is currently an issue with the tenant of the adjacent land which we believe will be resolved shortly allowing us to have a GRAND bonfire when we return to the site in January.

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Solid work, in the bitter cold, Is pretty enervating and the volunteers (and the warden) are are pleased to sit down for their lunch break. The only problem is of course, getting up on cold stiff limbs to go back to work.A group of people sitting in the woods

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Great to see that the local inhabitants appreciate our efforts on their behalf.

2021.09.26 Leckhampton Hill gorse clearance

Joint Task With Friends of Leckhampton Hill and Charlton Kings Common (FOLK) 26th September 2021

The second joint task of the year with FOLK saw us working on the side of the hill.  Eight GVCV members with a similar number from Folk mustered in Tramway Cottage car park on a warm and sunny early autumn day before setting off to collect our tools.

  The work  was to cut a nine foot wide corridor through an area of gorse to encourage the movement of butterflies from one area of the hill to another, in particular the rare Duke of Burgundy which is present on specific areas of the hill. 

Rare Duke of Burgandy butterfly

The group split into two and worked from each end of the designated section with the hope of meeting in the middle.  Fires were started at each end of the corridor to burn off the cut gorse which was rapidly piling up.   

Gorse Flower Cordial Recipe
Gorse – very prickly and highly invasive

The warm sunshine and stunning views of Cheltenham created a tranquil, almost spiritual backdrop to the work which was enhanced when a nearby gorse bush went up in flames!  Fortunately it was soon extinguished.  With the butterfly corridor created by lunchtime most people departed although a few remained into the early afternoon to tidy up and let the fires burn down. 

Here’s hoping to a procession of Duke of Burgundy butterflies next spring.

Rob Niblett

2021.08.29 Nosehill Farm – exposing quarry face

 

GVCV TASK 29 August 2021 – Nosehill Farm

This was a disappointing day with only 3 volunteers turning out, our lowest number this year, obviously Bank Holiday weekend offered more attractive options.

The objective on this site is to clear the undergrowth away from a disused quarry face, the face containing examples of a rare rock formation known as “Cotswold Slate”.

Our initial activity was to create access by clearing the waist high vegetation between the pond margin and the guard fence at the base of the rock face.

We took particular care to clear around the information board describing the adjacent imprint of a dinosaur footprint in the rock (a Theropod, a dinosaur of the group which includes Tyrannosaurus Rex, all bipeds walking on hind legs and with three toed feet. The largest of this group grew to 18 metres and weighed 6 Tonnes)

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This allowed us to see the area between the fence and the rock face, the object our exercise. To our dismay, the area which we had completely cleared in April, was now hidden by vegetation 5 – 15 feet high. We spent the rest of our day attacking this growth but our efforts did not achieve anything near to our pre-formed ambition.

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Hopefully we can get back to this site soon with a larger team to properly reveal the rock face.

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.

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

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Waist high plus grass

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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

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The tow path after the strimmer had been through

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

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A well deserved lunch break

2021.06.06 Woodmancote on the Kemerton Estate – clearing around lake

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 – clearing around lake

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.