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Juniper Hill, Painswick, Stroud

 

Bull Cross, The Frith and Juniper Hill is a 42.33-hectare (104.6-acre) biological and geological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Gloucestershire. The site lies within the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is part registered as common land and part owned and managed as a nature reserve by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

Natural England Unit 4 Juniper Hill

Juniper Hill is a partly wooded unit at Wick Street, 1.5 km south of Painswick and consists mainly of unimproved limestone grassland.

The woodland makeup, which is dominated by ash, includes yew and a shrub layer of hazel and hawthorn. The ground flora is dominated by bramble and dog’s mercury. A secondary woodland to the north includes silver birch.

The grassland is semi-natural and the dominant species is upright brome. Also recorded are quaking grass, cock’s foot, cowslip and other limestone herbs. Significant numbers of orchids flourish on the site including musk orchid, but these are threatened by invasion of scrub such as hawthorn. Yew, whitebeam and juniper are scattered on the site.

The grassland supports a wide range of specialised plants and animals including many rare species including the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly and Adonis Blue Butterfly, Early gentian and Juniper to name but a few. Scrub habitats associated with limestone grasslands are also often of high value for wildlife.

Our task on 15 January 2017 was a continuation of our ongoing attack on the all pervading ash saplings.

As well as using traditional loppers and brush saws we were able to play with the Wardens new tool, a sapling puller. This is a metre long steel handle with a claw at the bottom which clamps onto the base of the sapling. Pulling back on the pivot at the bottom produces a very strong pull which extracts the sapling plus a significant amount of its root. Very efficient, but the drawback is that the ground is left looking as though it has been ploughed.

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We worked under the direction of the Natural England warden and in conjunction with her team of local volunteers. With six of our people and four of theirs we formed a worthwhile task force and achieved a significant amount of clearance, the visible difference by the end of the day was certainly striking. On this occasion we removed only the Ash leaving the bramble and blackthorn in place. We had a fire and so were able to dispose completely of the brash we created.

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The weather was very kind to us, the torrential rain forecast for all day actually stopped just as we began work and did not start again until we were clear of the site. The atmosphere though was too damp to allow the use of herbicide on the cut stems to kill the roots so we cut some 9 inches above ground level so that the Warden can return on a dryer day, re-cut down to ground level and apply the chemical.

 

Edge Common (Rudge Hill), Stroud

The Duke of Burgundy butterfly, Hamearis Lucina, is a small butterfly, about 30mm wingspan, with bold orange markings on otherwise brown wing surfaces. It feeds exclusively on Cowslips and Primula. The population, which is centred around this part of England, is small and getting smaller having declined some 58% since 1995. It is now classified as an endangered specie. It is thought that this decline is linked to the decline in coppicing and in other activities which prevent scrub and trees from shading out rough grassland, which is the butterfly’s habitat.

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Wow, that was a tough clump to get through

The Cotswold Common & Beechwoods is an NNR and SSSI North of Stroud formed in 1974 by the aggregation of ten individual sites, five of which are now managed by Natural England and five which they manage in conjunction with the Natural Trust. Edge Common is one of those sites, which was re-named Rudge Hill after the amalgamation. The site consists mainly of unimproved Jurassic limestone grassland.

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They said to cut as close to the ground as possible so here I go
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Grim determination is the answer to clearing this lot

Our task on 13 November was to assist Natural England in their efforts to improve the environment for the Duke of Burgandy butterfly. They have already planted large areas of Primula to provide a food source and arranged for light grazing by cattle through the Autumn only. Our work that day was part of the exercise to reduce the scrub to no more than 20% of the whole area of the site.

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If I get any deeper into these brambles I’ll need a compass to find my way back out

We worked under the direction of the Natural England warden and in conjunction with her team of local volunteers. With six of our people and six of theirs we formed a worthwhile task force and achieved a significant amount of clearance, the visible difference by the end of the day was certainly striking. Most of what we removed was prolific Ash with some Hazel and of course large clumps of bramble. We had a fire and so were able to dispose completely of the brash we created.

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Superman drives forward towards the fire site with an armful of brash to be burned
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At the start of the day this was a jungle – now just look at what I’ve achieved

Llanthony Secunda Priory

Llanthony Secunda Priory in Gloucester is a site where we have carried out a number of tasks being preparatory work for the huge restoration project for which they have just received £3 million in funding. Our contribution has been our normal slash and burn of scrub to expose various parts of the site to allow access by expert surveyors etc, which indeed was our task on 18 September. C:\Users\Roger\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.Word\Secunda1.jpg

The task went well, we cleared the areas of scrub to which we were directed and we cleared large quantities of rubble to central positions.

We burned vast quantities of new and previously cut brash (unfortunately setting off the smoke alarms in the main buildings)

Our work is normally conservation of the landscape but it as we were working partly inside one of the retained buildings it was interesting to discuss the conservation of that building and its archaeology with the warden on site. The priory was founded in 1136 and by 1500, the medieval period, it had become one of the most prosperous and influential priories in England. King Henry VIII stayed there in 1501 and in preparation for his visit the priory had constructed in 1500 a substantial new building comprising stables and accommodation over, now referred to as the Great Stable. We were able to see the handmade brick external walls, built in two skins with rubble fill between, with brick on edge course where the upper floor ran.

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We saw from the putlog holes in the wall the original level of the floor joists at ground and mezzanine floors

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and the stepped holes where the supports for the staircase had been.

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Unique in my experience were tapered recesses in the walls where vertical supports for each upper floor beam had been inserted.

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The window openings have been greatly amended over time but interesting were the original natural stone lintels with flat soffits but tapered or even curved top surfaces and the brickwork courses above them which followed the slope or the curve!

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Other lintels were the classic Tudor shape

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and yet others looked as though they had been salvaged from ecclesiastical buildings.

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There were some apertures in the external wall which looked as though they might have been connected to fireplaces, though at ground floor in a stable this is unlikely and they may indeed have been related to ventilation.

The end gable of the building is missing and it is likely that the original building was double its present size, which of course it would have to have been to house all the King’s horses and all the King’s men.

Buckholt Wood: Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserve

Buckholt Wood lies to the north of Cranham Village and covers an area of 100 hectares (247 acres). It forms part of the Cotswolds Commons and Beechwoods NNR extending across 7.5 km of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds situated between Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud. Management of the reserve is carried out jointly by the owner and Natural England with the dual aims of conserving the diverse, uneven-aged beechwood with its rich wildlife and of producing timber.

The blank canvas awaiting our attentions
The blank canvas awaiting our attentions

This ancient woodland is believed to have existed since the original wildwood developed after the retreat of the ice sheets. The name derives from the Saxon for beechwood. The woodlands were used to supply timber and firewood from as early as the 12th century and parts of the wood were managed by coppicing, which continues to present day.

Forest anemones in profusion amongst the beech leaves
Forest anemones in profusion amongst the beech leaves

The beechwoods are amongst the most varied and species rich of their type. Dominated by beech, there are also ash, oak, whitebeam, wych elm and alder trees. Woodland shrubs are well represented, particularly holly and yew. Buckholt Wood is an outstanding site for wild fungi with over 780 species recorded. The ground flora in beech woods is typically sparse, however here it is richer including dogviolet, wood anemone, primrose, lords and ladies, and woodruff. On the drier slopes beneath the beech canopy, wild strawberry thrives and less common plants such as stinking hellebore, bird’s nest orchid and narrow-lipped helleborine may be found.

As Djokovic retreats to the base line Andrew cruises up to the net
As Djokovic retreats to the base line Andrew cruises up to the net

Our task on 03.04.16 was a continuation of that which we began last December, the construction of a “Dead Hedge” to prevent the mountjack deer from attacking the new shoots growing from recently coppiced stumps. Dead Hedging involves packing the coppiced material between pairs of uprights to form an impenetrable barrier. The good news is that we completed the enclosure to one area – the bad? news is that we began another area, so a return visit to Buckholt is assured.

A man on a mission - the warden with his chain saw
A man on a mission – the warden with his chain saw

We had a good day: we achieved more than was expected of us so the Warden was happy, the weather was kind to us and we got away from the site 15 minutes before the heavens opened up.

Dave rehearsing his Summer Nights number
Dave rehearsing his Summer Nights number
The latest in personal entertainment - headset with integral satellite aerial
The latest in personal entertainment – headset with integral satellite aerial
The conservation volunteers essential tool kit
The conservation volunteers essential tool kit
I wonder - should I have tied that off with a bowline or a clove hitch ?
I wonder – should I have tied that off with a bowline or a clove hitch ?

Scrub Bashing at Shortwood, Haresfield

Haresfield Beacon and Standish Wood is a National Trust site of some 270 acres near Stroud. The Beacon rises to 700 feet and has extensive views over the Severn estuary and beyond and is designated as a SSSI because of its extensive range of wildlife. The Cotswold Way runs through the area and the archaeology includes an Iron Age ditch and with rampart, a long barrow and the remains of a Romano British hill fort. The woods include some ancient Beech trees (more than 400 years old) GVCV have in the recent past carried out some clearance along the line of the ditch and rampart to expose their construction.

The task on 7 February was to clear an area adjacent to the ditch, cutting out blackthorn and bramble and thinning out the ash trees so as to improve the grass for the benefit of the conservation cattle (belted Galloways) from the nearby Ebworth centre which graze the Beacon.

Sizing up the job before launching into felling mode
Sizing up the job before launching into felling mode

The National Trust Warden gave us some background of the site and explained the task for the day. He provided most of the tools needed for the work and gave the appropriate “tool talk” which saved us needing to do it. He also underlined the major hazard on the site which is the residue left behind by the army of thoughtless dog walkers every day.

A long standing and valued member of the group on his swansong – leaving us due to employment relocation
A long standing and valued member of the group on his swansong – leaving us due to employment relocation
But to balance the loss of one member of the group, two welcome additions out on their first task with us
But to balance the loss of one member of the group, two welcome additions out on their first task with us

The weather on the day was very mixed with periods of bright sunshine alternating with sharp squalls and windy most of the time. Overall it was fairly chilly which made the fire on which we burned the brash a popular place to be.

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All too often we find ourselves dragging brash uphill to the fire
All too often we find ourselves dragging brash uphill to the fire

As is usual with these tasks the measure of our success was the blank expanse of grass we left behind us and the limitation on our success was the next defined section of scrub which we could see, waiting to be tackled on another day. Ah well, a conservation volunteers task is never done !

A vista of nothingness – the sign of our success.
A vista of nothingness – the sign of our success.

 

Coppicing at Coopers Hill LNR

Coopers Hill LNR is an SSSI consists of 137 acres of Atlantic Beech woodland, with pockets of orchid rich limestone grassland (good for fungi and species including the Roman snail), now owned by GCC and managed by the Warden from Crickley Hill (currently Julian Bendle). It includes High Botheridge Camp Scheduled Ancient Monument, the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, possibly the largest in Gloucestershire. The Cotswold Way runs through the reserve and of course it is the site of the annual Cheese Rolling Race, said by some to date from Pre Roman times.

These woodlands were listed in the Doomsday book in 1086 being part of the holdings of the monks of Gloucester Abbey (who built nearby Prinknesh Abbey) When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries he made Prinknesh a hunting lodge and made the surrounding woodland, including Coopers Hill, a Royal hunting Ground. Coopers Hill has been registered as Common Land since medieval times with the commoners having rights of Herbage, Pannage, Estovers and Turberry (grazing for cattle, sheep etc; allowing pigs to forage for acorns; cutting or gathering wood; digging turf or peat for roofing or fuel)

The Before picture
The After picture

An ancient form of woodland management is coppicing where trees, generally Hazel, are cut down to ground level, resulting in multiple stems emanating from the stump. This process benefits many forms bird and insect life. Every ten years or so these shoots are harvested for use in hedging and the production of hurdles and other items. GVCV coppiced one area last autumn and the task on Sunday 20 December was to continue the process on the next adjacent area.

As well as making use of this material on the site an amount is also provided to schools in the area who operate Forest Schools to educate their children in aspects of nature, woodcraft etc. We selected and stacked suitable material for this by the side of the track for later collection and delivery by the Warden.

Our precious Faraway tree has been at risk many times but we have always managed to keep it safe from harm
If we grasp it from both sides we can surely push it straight onto the fire, don’t you think?

Our activity produced quantities of brash, material with no real use, which we burned on a fire, carefully monitored by the warden as was necessary on a fine but fairly windy day. We made good secondary use of the fire by cooking potatoes in tinfoil, just the thing for a hot, filling lunch.

I could have washed the car if I’d stayed at home today
I’ll find that baked potato if it’s the last thing I do
So tea break at 11, lunch at 12, finish at 1 and a pint in the pub on the way home. Everyone happy with that?

We managed to coppice a significant area as well as clearing a quantity of bramble and the like and as the light faded and we packed away our tools we were able to look round with some satisfaction at a large area of nothingness (where once there was dense woodland and scrub). But we know where we will be working again in 10 years time!

Scrub Clearance at Woodchester Park

Woodchester Park, a tranquil wooded valley, contains a ‘lost landscape’ with remains of an 18th- and 19th-century landscape park. The early 19th Century gardens were associated with a Georgian mansion in the grounds of the park, which was later replaced by Woodchester Mansion.

 

A short prayer to the Sylvian spirits before attacking the trees
A short prayer to the Sylvian spirits before attacking the trees
This 'ere job needs a bit of thinking about
This ‘ere job needs a bit of thinking about

The National Trust has been working for 17 years to reduce the area of planted woodland and increase open areas such as pasture and natural landscape. Work has already been done to return 20 hectares of land to grazed pasture, to benefit the population of rare greater horseshoe bats. The greater horseshoe feeds off the invertebrates associated with cattle and sheep, and so providing more land for pasture in turn creates more feeding areas for these rare bats. The Ebworth Centre in the Park contains a herd of conservation cattle.

 

Volunteer and warden working in tandem
Volunteer and warden working in tandem

The work that we carried out was scrub clearance on Scotland Bank which is at the bottom of the park. The work is part of a Higher Level Stewardship Scheme to revert the area back to grassland which is how it was 30 or so years ago.

The weather forecast was for bitterly cold weather all day but in the event it was benign, relatively warm and with bright sunshine for most of the day. Those wearing Long Johns soon regretted their caution, especially around the fire where we burned the brash.

We cleared and burned brash previously cut by the Warden, whilst he worked with a chain saw to ensure that we did not run out of material to process.

 

“I wanted to be a National Trust Warden ever since I was this high”
“I wanted to be a National Trust Warden ever since I was this high”

 

The Gallic technique with a bush saw
The Gallic technique with a bush saw

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It was great to look back at the end of the day and see clearly the difference our efforts had made.