All posts by Roger

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

2021.10.01 The Cheese Rollers Pub, Shurdington

Skittles Social

On Friday 1st October 2021 GVCV enjoyed an evening of food, beer and highly competitive skittles at the Cheese Rollers pub in Shurdington.

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Wooden balls hurled down a wooden alley. Noisy but really satisfying when the pins thump down.

 

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Hi-tech super accurate scoring system.

 

The skittles was a close match, but new group member Geri showed how it was done winning the all important cactus boobie prize. None of us can remember who won – though the photos are a good hint 😊

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Presentation of prizes. Was to be free holidays in the Bahamas, but Covid prevented that so we up-graded to a home made medal and a prickly baby cactus

2021.09.18 Rodborough hay raking

18.09.2021 Rodborough – hay raking.

The (now annual) Hay Day in Rodborough is held in late summer or early autumn to remove cut grass from a 1/3 acre wildflower meadow (near Rodborough Common) which is owned by Candy and Dave – GVCV members. 

This task reduces soil fertility, reducing the growth of species such as rye grass, thistles and nettles and allowing a wide range of meadow plants to thrive – 30 were counted in 2021 including three species of orchid.  These, in turn, attract butterflies, wild bees and other insects and support a food pyramid that allows other species such as swallows to thrive. 

Cutting the meadow also makes the site attractive to cattle, let in from neighbouring fields, who then keep the grass under control until the spring and provide cow dung-habitat for fungi and beetles.

The event was postponed this year because the farmer was unable to cut the meadow when hoped, however five volunteers were able to attend at short notice on a second date and rake the vast majority of the hay off the meadow in about three hours.  Four volunteers raked hay into long furrows whilst the fifth rolled them on to a tarpaulin and dragged the hay to a compost heap at the bottom corner. 

Lunch was provided by Dave & Candy.  Special thanks go to Pete for bringing special hay rakes from his Bradford-on-Avon conservation group – these made the task significantly quicker.

Dave

2021.09.12 Bowater, Stroud footbridge repairs

GVCV Task Report

Bowater – 12 Oct 21

This task was for Gloucestershire County Council’s Access Team, restoring a 8m steel and wood footbridge over a stream at Bowater (Stroud). The footbridge (point A on the map below) is much used by walkers, especially in the winter when it can become impossible to ford the stream.

 

Alan Bentley of the Access Team supported the task with a preparatory visit on Monday 6 Sep, spending about an hour with the group at the start of the session on Sunday 12 Sep and by providing materials.

The group parked along Bowbridge Lane whilst tools and Candy’s truck were bought closer to the work site via a gate at the end of Gunhouse Lane. Eight members attended.

The group successfully achieved the following:

– Path clearance to the bridge for access.

– Removal and replacement of the bridge deck, adding recycled plastic runners underneath the new deck to improve expected life.

– Replacement of kick boards.

– Replacement of half of the bridge rails.

This left the bridge in a usable state and it should remain so for several years.

Problems with materials (rails too short for one section of the bridge, grip strip too long for the deck without appropriate tools and PPE to cut it) prevented full completion, however these tasks are now on a slightly shorter ‘to-do’ list for the Access Team’s contractors to complete. The decision was made half-way through the day not to start any work on a second nearby bridge as it was important not to leave this in an un-usable condition.

This was an unfamiliar task for the group:

– New skills were learnt, with overall efficiency improving from amateur (but keen) to ‘a bit better’ through the day.

– Attention was needed through the day to ensure that all members had work that they were able to progress.

– The variety from more familiar tasks was a positive and getting the bridge to a much improved state gave a sense of achievement.

Before:

 

Overgrown paths before and after:

 

Teamwork fitting plastic runners and deck boards:

7/8 of the team on the completed bridge: Mel, Mark, Vanessa, Trina, Josephine, Dave and Anthony

 

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.

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.