All posts by Roger

2023.11.26 Churchdown pond work

Clearing the last pond

Sun 26th Nov ’23

Back in October the Gloucestershire Vale Conservation Volunteers worked on clearing a series of ponds in a nature reserve at Churchdown. We didn’t get time to finish the last pond, so we returned today.

Great crested newts live in this pond so it’s an important habitat to maintain and it can only be done in the winter months.

This was full of rushes – no water soldiers like the other ponds. There were three of us – two in the water and one on the bank.

The vegetation near to the bank had to be cut with shears, but further inwards the whole plant could be pulled, including root.

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Before the clearance began

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Working from the middle out

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See the difference now!

It was difficult because the pond was much deeper than the others, and the plants were heavier to drag out into piles. We had a near miss when Anthony slipped, but luckily his head didn’t submerge. We were pretty done by then so we started to wrap up.

We did however clear the whole pond, apart from some tougher plants in the deep middle. It was very satisfying to see such a huge pile of biomass at the side – means that won’t be rotting in the pond floor and starving the pond of oxygen and life next year.

The Churchdown Council rep said she was very happy with the work we carried out, which is always the sort of comment like to receive.

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2023.11.12 Hailey wood coppicing

2023.11.12  Hailey Wood coppicing

A new site for the Gloucestershire Vale Conservation Volunteers today helping to coppice hazel in a wood on the Bathurst Estate. This is part of a larger project that FWAG South West is working on the estate. This particular part of the wood had a lot of hazel clusters which will be managed on a 20 to 30 year coppicing rotation.

The forecast for the day was pretty wet, so it was waterproofs from the start. The strategy was to sweep out in a semi circle around the clearing, coppicing the hazel with hand tools. For the larger, gnarled stems, Ed was on hand with the chain saw.

The “inner semi circle” got coppiced and you can see the next layer that needs to be done ….

We wanted to save the best, straight cut stems as product that can be sold locally to hedge layers

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Product for bundling and selling to hedge layers

The unusable chunks were set aside for creating charcoal in the kiln which is on-site next year. The brash was used to cover the hazel stools over to give them some protection from passing deer.

Looking out to the track, kiln used to make charcoal can just be seen.

The idea was to cut the multi stems as low as possible. This is done by first cutting down to about a foot and then hand finishing the stumps to a sloped shape to allow water to run off. We kept a maximum of four younger, flexible stems which can be layered down with pegs into the floor which will encourage re-sprouting of the tree in a new spot.

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Hazel stool cut low to the floor

Some stands needed heavier tools



2023.10.15 Drystone walling at RAU Cirencester

On 15 October 7 GVCV volunteers worked at dry stone walling at the RAU Cirencester. The brief given was to form a 6 foot wide opening in an existing stone wall and face up the cheeks.  Also repairing the top courses of some sections which had become damaged.

We had expected the warden to be on hand to give detailed instructions, but he did not show so, full of confidence (ha ha), we carried on regardless. We located the wall easily enough with the general directions given to us but our first problem was that we found two locations where a start had been made on forming an opening. We made an executive decision to open up the gap nearest the weather station and to infill the other.

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We cleared away the stone down to ground level, stacking it for re-use. Then began the process of forming the cheeks, i.e. return faces on the wall. The initial courses were laid using carefully selected stones to form clean right angles at the corners and straight lines between. We then laid successive courses above, tying in to the adjacent existing section of the wall. We built the two outer skins and packed the centre of the wall with small stones and dust as we progressed so as to give the wall mass and stability. Occasional “through” stones linked the outer skins with the centre fill. We used builders lines to ensure our new build continued the line and coursing of the existing wall and steel pins to ensure verticality.

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A second squad concurrently tackled the infilling at the second location using the same construction techniques.

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Morning coffee sitting in the sun.

Unfortunately the whole exercise came to a halt in the afternoon because we ran out of material. We had used everything we found, including stone which we found buried below ground including a convenient concrete slab, but the wall had obviously been “robbed” at some point and much of the stone removed.

We therefore placed a layer of random stone across the top of the fill to stabilise it, cleared all the loose stone into a tidy pile and headed home for a hot shower / bath to ease aching backs.

The weather was kind to us all day, ideal for working. Everyone learned something about drystone walling and we finished up with an end result, which though incomplete, fairly reflected the effort we had put into the task.

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“lest we forget them” – a carpet of red poppies in an adjacent field.

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A tired but happy band at the end of the day

2023.02.12 Prestbury Hill – Scalloping gorse

2023.02.12 Prestbury Hill – Scalloping gorse

Gorse is a wonderful habitat and source of food for all sorts of mammals, birds and insects but my, it does spread.

Our task on 12 February, working with the Butterfly Conservation warden, was to scallop a bank of gorse on Prestbury Hill. This involved carving out a “bite” at the perimeter of the bank, cutting the stems down to ground level. New growth will shortly appear in this cleared area and the object of the exercise will have been achieved – to produce a mix of new and old gorse all in one area so as to attract a greater range of insect and bird life.

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The warden leading by example

Next part of the exercise is to cut out another scallop further down the bank, leaving old growth in between. Once the areas processed have re-generated then the areas of old gorse previously left can in turn be scalloped. Process repeats ad infinitum.

Gorse, as is it’s wont, grows mainly on steep banks so accessing and working on it were slightly awkward. Oftimes the answer was to simply sit down next to a clump and work on it from a stable position.

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We had been warned of the possible presence of Adders so we had to keep a wary eye out when working in case we disturbed them

We tried an experiment, using a pole saw to slide in and slice off the stems at ground level. It worked beautifully, very fast, very efficient. Problem was it would only work on level ground, using it on a slope twisted the delicate blade making it useless. Well you don’t know unless you try.

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Trying out the pole saw technique

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Discussing the effectiveness of the pole saw with the warden

All of the cut material was dragged off and burned on an established fire site adjacent to the work area. A measure of control and care was required here as gorse burns fiercely and tends to spread easily to adjacent grass, scrub etc. Our fire was kept to a manageable size with a beater to hand to deal with any errant sparks etc.

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Burning the brash whilst NOT whistling “smoke gets in your eyes”

It is great to work on a task where we can stand back at the end of the day and clearly see the result of our efforts.

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The scallop we formed in the gorse



2023.01.08 Hempsted Infill tree planting

08/01/2023 Hempsted Infill Site tree planting

Landfill site operator Enovert own the 350 acre landfill site at Hempsted, which they closed in July 2019 and capped off with topsoil.. Their plans for the restoration of the area consist of turning it into an Energy Park including a solar panel farm, and with the potential for wind and biomass power generation in the future – an Ecopark. The site extends from Llanthony road to the River Severn.

Aerial view of the 360 acre Enovert owned Recycling Centre in Hempsted

Part of the site remains in use as a Household recycling area, operated by Ubico, and around 14,000 tonnes of garden waste from here is processed annually on an adjacent composting area for re-use or sale. A planning application has been made for the Solar Farm element which may eventually deliver 15MW of Green energy. Gloucester City Council are backing the whole scheme as it would make a significant contribution towards Gloucester City Council plan to make the whole area carbon neutral by 2050 and will bring new jobs and investment to the area.

Landfill site at Hempsted, Gloucester

The site prior to July 2019 Image source, Getty Images

Planting has already commenced to create a new woodland area of around 250 acres, Hempsted Woods, which will eventually total more than 100,000 trees to provide a new natural amenity for local people, as well as fuel for biomass coppicing and providing opportunities for businesses to offset their carbon though planting trees

As a part of this in January 2022, GVCV planted some 300 sapling trees. Unfortunately we then had a record breaking heatwave in the summer and a number of the tree died, basically of thirst, notwithstanding that each tree had been mulched around in an attempt to protect them.

GVCV task on 08 January 2023 was to replace the trees which had died, to tidy up the trees and supports which had been displaced by the strong winds in this area and to add further trees to extend the planted area all under the hands-on guidance of the GWT warden.

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The site as it is today – dramatically different from the pre 2019 picture.

As can be seen from the picture the volunteers needed to be well wrapped up, the absolute temperature was not too low but the strong wind swept across the whole site throughout the day But give it 10 or 20 years and we will have produced an effective wind break.

The intention was for random planting, to imitate nature, but there was a degree of selection locating high canopy trees such as Oak and Hornbeam, interspersed with lower height Field Maple and Cherry and with moisture loving Hazel on the slope down to the stream. Each tree was given a supporting cane and a protective sleeve to deter rabbits, deer etc. Unfortunately there was no compost available to mulch the roots,

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A newly planted whip, duly supported and protected and with the grass cleared away from the base.

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Lunch al fresco

We are programmed to return to this site in April and, if we are to produce a forest, on many other dates.

.2022.10.09 Tidenham Chase weekend task

GVCV October 2022 Tidenham Chase Residential –

Heathland restoration work at its best.

On the 9th / 10th October 2022, GVCV spent a weekend at Tidenham Chase.

Located just outside Chepstow and a stone’s throw from Offa’s Dyke, Tidenham Chase contains the largest remaining fragment of lowland heathland in Gloucestershire. Gloucester Wildlife Trust, in partnership with Forestry England, manage the site’s heathland restoration project.

The heathland is an important habitat for small birds and some of the UK’s rarest reptiles, including adders. Tidenham is also well known for the wide range of mushrooms found onsite including the distinctive Fly Agaric. The heathland is maintained through conversation grazing and tree clearance.

Over two days a group of 12 from GVCV cleared tree saplings from an area targeted for restoration. As well as being important to habitat management, tree clearance results in large bonfires which were thoroughly enjoyed by the group and bought out the competitive nature in some individuals.

After several hours of enjoyable work in the October sunshine the group also invented a new term ‘doing a Dave’ or ‘dave-ing’ to describe trees that wouldn’t be easily felled.

Staying locally the group enjoyed some social time together in the evenings and got to try out the local Gurkha restaurant – the Woolaston Inn.

Fly Agaric in Tidenham Chase

The group hard at work

Heading back after day 1

Tree mid ‘Dave-ing’

Roger showing how its done 😊

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2022.09.03 Hay Day at Rodborough


GVCV showed that you can mix work and play at Hay Day on Saturday 3rd September 2022.

In the morning the group helped clear previously cut grass, racking back a limestone meadow to help maintain the low nutrient levels needed to sustain this scares type of habitat. Limestone meadow is a threatened habitat – 50% of the remaining limestone meadow habitat is found within the Cotswolds. Read more here: Wildflower Grassland – Cotswolds National Landscape (

On many tasks we simply dump the cut grass but in this instance the cut grass, crammed full of wild flower seeds, was taken away to an adjacent field to be scattered to hopefully change a plain grass field into another wildflower meadow.

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In the spring and summer, the meadow supports six species of orchid (so far), a broad range of butterflies and bats.

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Trimming back over hanging tree canopy to increase light around the meadow edges and also the encroaching brambles help maintain this nationally scarce habitat.

Conservation grazing is also used onsite over the winter with the help of a local farmer.

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The afternoon was spent enjoying a well earned BBQ next to the meadow so we could enjoying seeing the result of our mornings efforts.

The cows which were let onto the meadow the following morning also seemed pleased with result.

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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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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.