Quedgeley LNR 24th June 2018

Today, with a small crew (4 volunteers), we managed to clear back and weed the hedge we had planted in March. It had become quite overgrown with nettles and bindweed, fortunately nearly all of the trees had survived and looked healthy. We then added more chippings as mulch.

Back  to the chippings pile again we barrowed loads onto the path that leads to the pond. Roger happily strimmed back the nettles further away from the hedge and tackled bramble that was clambering over the fence by the entrance.

Our other task was to try and remove logs that had found there way into the pond, probably by local gremlins – who’d clearly eaten their weetabix as we couldn’t shift some of the much heavier logs.

Anyway, a pleasing day’s work and hoping the hedge can now breathe again and grow on.

 

Kemerton Wood 20th May 2018

Working in a woodland planted 40 years ago on a former arable field.  There are several fenced plots in the wood with wildflowers that came from a Worcestershire Wildlife Trust site. Unfortunately some of the bluebells are of the Spanish variety and one of our tasks was to remove these to allow the native species to thrive. Our other work was opening up one side of a ride to allow light in and encourage wildflowers. Great care was taken to ensure there were no nesting birds where we were working.

Nearby are some man-made lakes – former gravel pits- with a hide, so we took the opportunity to sit in and watch the birds and a few dragonflies.

Vole Related task at Hempsted 06.05.2018

VOLE RELATED WORK AT SEVERNSIDE, HEMPSTED 06.05.2018

The Severnside Project focuses on land between the River Severn and the Sharpness Ship Canal, from Gloucester all the way to Arlingham. A Project Officer is appointed who works on issues of conservation, environmental management and community participation. The River Severn is a wonderful recreational and wildlife amenity, as is the Sharpness Ship Canal, for years the source of Gloucester’s wealth and status, but somewhat quieter now. The project seeks to Conserve enhance and manage important habitats in order to enhance biodiversity in the area, including the traditional landscape character of the flood plain from the river; to Increase opportunities for quiet informal countryside recreation including providing opportunities for local community participation and enabling some of the land to be profitably farmed and managed in an environmentally sensitive manner with wildlife in mind.

The Severnside Project received a top award in recognition of its work conserving the county’s most endangered mammal, the water vole. The project officer and volunteers continue to monitor the water vole population and to carry out management to allow it to spread out from its original release site.

At the North end of the Severnside Project, at Middle Rea near the village of Hempsted, on the South Western urban edge of Gloucester some 1.5 km from the A38, is a piece of land owned by Gloucester City Council but leased to Severn Trent Water Ltd. This land is generally identified as GCC site 461 STW. The parcel of land covers 12.5 Hectares and STW have built and operate a sewage treatment plant there which serves some 200,000 population in the area. The site is flanked by the River Severn and by the Sharpness canal which separates it from Gloucester city. The Severn frequently floods the site in winter, the flood plain extending some 2km all round the site.

In order to screen the treatment plant the planners have required the reinforcement of native and evergreen woodland planting around the site forming a significant planting buffer together with characteristic hedgerows and shelterbelts. An extensive pattern of waterways, drains, ditches, brooks, rhynes draining the floodplain landscape provide important wetland habitats. The annual winter flooding provides fertile, lush meadow and pastures for summer grazing. Areas of wetland meadows designated as SSSIs and Key Wildlife Sites and Local Nature Reserves are managed to maintain high biodiversity interest.

STWL undertakes potentially dangerous and life threatening operations on a daily basis so to avoid any risk to the community as a result of its activities it excludes the general public from operational site areas. there are no footpaths across the site, only around the perimeter.

So with a diversity of woodland, large and small areas of water, wetlands, lush meadow and virtually no human presence the wildlife think they are in paradise.

GVCV have previously worked on this site coppicing to control the woodland and forming elevated walkways through wet areas. Our task on Sunday 6 May 20108 was to input into the water vole survey being carried out on the whole project. Some pertinent information was issued with the task notification :-

“You have all read or seen “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame and seen the character “Ratty”.   No one can understand why Kenneth called the character “Ratty” because he is clearly not a rat, but rather a water vole.   In the book he exhibits all the traits of a vole, he is competent, he is clean and tidy, he looks after Mole, he fights bravely against the Weasels and he is an all round good guy.   Rats do not behave like that, rats really are rats.   Even the illustrations confirm this misnomer; a rat is skinny with a pointed face and a long hairless pink tail and they love polluted water and eating carrion.   The pictures show a plump cuddly creature with a round face and big ears and a short fur covered tail, living in clean water and eating vegetation, all correct attributes of a vole.

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The Wildlife Trust say that voles have declined by 30% between 2006 and 2015 and they are now trying to remedy the situation by including them in the “Back from the Brink” list and by migrating specimens from areas where they are still strong.   So you are invited to come along on 6 May to Severnside (Gloucester) to help the rescue effort – come and cuddle a vole.   I am sure I read somewhere that vole cuddling cures dandruff and increases libido – come along and try out that theory”.

On site the warden gave an orientation talk on water voles from a more informed basis including a novel use for Pringle tubes. Then we started out along a drainage ditch where voles had been previously spotted looking for burrows formed in the bank, access tunnels formed through the base of the vegetation, food piles where voles had stashed pre-cut lengths of vegetation, footprints and poo in the neat, ordered toilets formed by the voles.

It was a blazing hot day and we were working in waist high vegetation on a drainage ditch which was virtually dry.

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Desperately seeking a bit of shade at lunch break

Not altogether unexpectedly we failed to turn up a single sign of our furry friends. Our disappointment was only tempered by the knowledge that a nil result is still a valid result in the context of the overall Severnside survey.

We were compensated by hearing and seeing large numbers of birds and waterfowl and especially huge numbers of a great variety of butterflies.

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Back breaking work for one volunteer and a warden in a seemingly shoulder high patch of vegetation

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Aha a burrow, but a vole that size would terrify me

First Aid Course 24th March

Hosted by the National Perry Pear Orchard at Hartpury, four of the group attended an Emergency First Aid Course. This covered CPR (resuscitation), bandaging, cuts, burns amongst other aspects of First Aid. Well organised and run with a great Tutor, we were also well fed and watered.

An essential part of conservation tasks, we now feel more confident in First Aid should the need arise.

Quedgeley Local Nature Reserve 25th March

Today we were planting a hedge alongside the fence by main entrance to site. Using native species (Hawthron, Blackthorn, Hazel, Guelder Rose and Field Maple), we managed to plant all 50 ‘whips’. There were 8  of us so should have been an easy task but this was slightly hindered by builders rubble a few inches down, so mattocks and picks were the order of the day.  We also cleared a stretch of bramble that was covering the rest of the fence. A successful day, hopefully the plants will grow well and we look forward 15 years to maybe laying the hedge.

 

Stinchcombe Hill 11/03/2018

GVCV TASK 11 MARCH 2018 – STINCHCOMBE HILL, DURSLEY

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

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The Duke of Burgundy Fritilliary, the beneficiary of our efforts, we hope.

The site is managed by a warden from the Stinchcombe Hill Butterfly trust with a team of volunteers and their objective is to bring the site back to its original state of untreated Cotswold grassland forming an environment favoring orchids, butterflies and sky larks. This is an uphill struggle because lack of resources has allowed extensive encroachment of trees and shrubs.

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The “Before” picture

Our task on Sunday was to progress the clearance of the scrub etc on the Western slopes of Drakestone Point consisting mainly of Blackthorn and Holm Oak with patches of dense bramble.

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The “After” picture

Looks like objective achieved, at least for this small section of the site.

The bramble was tackled by the Warden who was armed with a brushcutter fitted with that fiercesome tool, a bramble basher or mulching blade. The normal brushcutter blade cuts sideways and would leave long strands of bramble at higher level, a hazard to the face and eyes of the operator. The bramble basher blade however is designed to drop down onto the top of the bramble clump and to reduce it to woodchip by the time it reaches ground level at the base of the plant. Very satisfying to use

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The Warden with his trusty brushcutter, preparing to plunge into the bramble clump

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

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A welcome break for lunch,with a the panoramic view of the plain below us

There is some debate as to the ecological significance of bonfires as opposed to retaining the cut material in habitat piles but as soon as the material reaches any significant quantity then the advantages of habitat piles become disadvantages as the retained material covers the very grass we are trying to expose. Better far is a roaring bonfire, consuming the brash, warming the volunteers on cold days and providing the possibility of baked potatoes at lunchtime.

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A good fire consuming the brash we produced and leaving only wood ash behind.

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At the end of the working day, the light is going, energy is long gone, and the prospect of home and a hot bath is beckoning.

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Damping down the fire so as to leave it safe when we go

Nature being nature, the material we cut begins to re-grow as soon as we turn our backs and there are many sites where we return year after year to repeat the process in the same location. In order to prevent this efforts are made to paint the cut stumps with glyphosate which kills the roots of the plant. This must be done within minutes of the stem being cut else the capillaries will self seal and use of this powerful chemical can only be by a trained and licensed operator.

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

Ruskin Mill Hedgelaying 18th February

A welcome return to Ruskin Mill to continue laying the hedge alongside farm track. The stretch we were laying was mostly hazel with some blackthorn and a Field Maple.  There were 6 of us, at least two of whom were hedging novices, so it was good to be able to pass on skills in a traditional hedgerow management technique. We managed to complete about 10 metres (which included a few very large hazel stools previously laid that took some time to clear old pleachers and other material), and stake plus bind with heatherings.

All in all a very successful task and we can’t wait to return towards the end of the year.

Richard

Winter Tree ID 4th Feb

Five of us spent Sunday morning walking through Lineover Wood near Cheltenham trying to identify the trees. With a wide variety of native species including small and large-leaved Limes plus a magnificent ancient Beech, Lineover is an excellent resource for improving our ID skills. We were looking at the buds, bark and twigs to help distinguish the different species.

Altogether a worthwhile time if a bit muddy/slippy in places and hopefully those who took part will have learnt how to identify a few more species.

A follow up day will be organised for identifying trees when in leaf, in Spring or Summer.

Sheepcombe Common Scrub Clearance

SCRUB ETC REMOVAL ON SHEEPCOMBE COMMON 28.01.18

Sheepcombe Common is one section of the extensive Cotswold Commons and Beechwood NNR and notwithstanding that GVCV has worked on several of the other sections; this was our first visit to this specific area. The environment and the task was similar to that carried out on the other sections, to reduce the scrub element so as to allow facilitate the reversion to limestone grassland for the benefit of the various fauna and flora, a small herd of Belted Galloway’s doing their bit in the grand plan by grazing and fertilising the grass. The common is under the control of Natural England and we worked under the direction of the NE warden in charge of the site.

The site was overgrown with saplings produced from the seeds which the Ash trees drop is so prolifically resulting in thousands of individual stems to be tackled plus dense growths from stools which had been coppiced in the past.

The site before our onslaught

Simply cutting down the stems allows them to re-appear next season so the cut stems need to be treated with chemicals which will kill the root below the ground. Sensible precautions before using this chemical (always under qualified supervision) involves use of protective gloves and suiting all of which transform any wearer to look like something from outer space.

Chemical treating the cut stems

The task is made more difficult by having to hack through masses of bramble in order to reach the ash stems which are the primary objective.

Diving into a bramble patch in hot pursuit of the ash

We continued our love-hate relationship with the “tree poppers” we were introduced to recently. They are efficient in that they remove the below ground root as well as the above ground shoot they are just a trifle awkward to use and failure to achieve a secure grip on first addressing the sapling can result in stripping off the bark or in snapping the root short. A great deal of effort and blue language to deal with only a single sapling. The efficient solution is that demonstrated by the warden – using a chain saw to slice off a complete area of saplings at ground level, ready for immediate chemical treatment.

A tortoise and hare situation – my money is on the hare this time.

The essential element in all of this clearance work is an efficient fire on which we can burn all of the brash produced by our efforts. Step one is lighting the fire, no easy task if it has rained continually for the previous twenty four hours. Step two is managing the fire so that it dies neither from dearth of material to burn nor from suffocation by an excess of material. Step three is the safe closing down of the fire, ceasing loading ahead of the shut down time, turning in to reduce the footprint and monitoring as long as is necessary depending on wind and combustible materials adjacent. Good practice is to have a designated individual who takes responsibility for the fire.

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The wire mesh on the helmet is a safety feature – or is this volunteer just shy ?

 

After

The cleared site at the end of our efforts

SCRUB ETC REMOVAL ON BULLS CROSS 14 JANUARY 2018

SCRUB ETC REMOVAL ON BULLS CROSS

Bulls Cross is one part of a SSSI comprising Bulls Cross, Juniper Hill and the Frith, located within the very large Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods NNR.   The woodland makeup, is dominated by ash, includes yew and a shrub layer of hazel and hawthorn. See GVCV task report of 29/01/2017 for a fuller description of the site.

Our task on 14 January 2018 was to continue the scrub etc clearance in order to encourage the reversion of the area to limestone grassland. The grassed areas on the site are serving their original purpose since cattle were re-introduced onto the land (summer grazing only) in 2013. The plan being followed by Natural England, the managers of the site, is to complete work on the partly cleared strip of land adjacent to the A4070 before venturing into the Ash woodland on the North West side of the site.

The problem with Ash as ever is their profligacy, each tree dropping thousands of seeds, a large percentage of which take root. These seedlings need to be removed by a determined attack to prevent them reaching a size where they in turn drop seeds and exacerbate the problem. This is generally done by cutting off at ground level and treating the stumps with herbicide to kill the root below. An innovation is the use of “tree poppers” which enable small seedlings to be ripped from the soil, roots and all. Of course a small amount of exertion is needed to use these tools – who ever said conservation was easy !.

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The tree popper in use

Movement around this part of the site is problematic because the ground levels vary greatly. The site is transverse by an ancient drove road (hence the name Bulls Cross) which over time has become a cutting with raised banks both sides. There are small borrow pits where stone has been extracted for domestic use and also raised areas where spoil has been tipped including quantities of ash. There are now also quantities of dung, kindly left for us by the cattle grazing earlier in the year, so changing footwear before getting back in the car is a definite necessity.

Taking out isolated seedlings produces no dramatic change to the view so it is only by watching the great heaps of brash going on to the bonfire that the results of our labours can be appreciated.

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Much of the work undertaken on this site is to improve it as an environment for the rare Duke of Burgundy fritillary which has been seen on adjacent sites. Natural England’s ambition is to create a favourable environment along a continuous string of locations so as to create a “butterfly highway” to facilitate migration and propagation.

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Duke of Burgundy fritillary.

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I do like to see a volunteer happy in their work