Alney Island walk

On Sunday three of us ventured out into the wilds of backwater Gloucester. Alney island is a small, mainly grassland, reserve on the outskirts of the City flanked on either side by the River Severn and acts as a flood plain. It was quite a windy day so we weren’t so lucky in seeing many butterflies (Green-veined White, Orange Tip,  Large White, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral and Tortoiseshell) but enjoyed the varied habitats and plants. We also walked over Telford’s Bridge and across to Over Wharf to look at the small stretch of Hereford and Gloucester Canal. On our way round we saw some of the Gloucester cattle that graze the site (along with some longhorns at times) and heard a Cuckoo near to the Electricity sub station. We also paid a visit to the Docks for a bite to eat.

In all a wonderful area of open space that deserves to be visited.

 

Quedgeley LNR

With six volunteers we continued our work on the main path by adding more chippings where it had become a bit muddy, also further on by another entrance to the reserve. We also cut back some bramble encroaching near to path and bramble/clematis from some grass scallops near to the pond, hopefully to give plants a bit more room and prevent them being swamped by the clematis in particular (although we were careful not to lose all of this and the bramble as good nectar/ food sources for insects).

Another task was to start coppicing some of the overgrown hazel to give a new lease of life.

Whilst there we spotted Brimstone and Peacock butterflies as well as fish in the pond and possibly frogs although difficult to see these clearly.

raking chippings on path

Clearing some bramble near pond
coppicing hazel

Stinchcombe Hill

GVCV TASK 26 FEBRUARY 2017 – STINCHCOMBE HILL

Stinchcombe Hil, near Dursley, is a small site covering some 0.91 hectares / 2.25 acres, owned by Stinchcombe Hill Recreation Ground Trust. It is a SSSI and sits within the Cotswold AOB. The majority is a plateau at an elevation of some 200m with superb views into the Severn valley (when not obscured by rolling mist and rain) with a large part of it leased to a golf club.

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 favouring 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” PHOTOGRAPH

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THE “AFTER” PHOTOGRAPH

Our task on Sunday was to progress the clearance of the scrub etc on the Western slope having first to gather up and burn the brash left behind by a contractor who had been employed to machine cut part of the slope. We were somewhat surprised to see that the slope had been left covered with shredded stumps six inches high above ground – our normal practice being to take everything down to ground level (except large diameter stumps to be later re-cut and treated with herbicide)

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ONE MAN WORKING – THREE WATCHING – NORMAL ARRANGEMENT

During the lunch break conversation turned to butterflies, the focus for all of our efforts that day and especially to their dramatic decline in their numbers and distribution, particularly referring to the Duke of Burgundy. Reports state that the incidence of butterflies in Britain has declined by 70% over the last 40 years due mainly to habitat depredation.

In the countryside this is due to the action of farmers aggressive spraying and planting genetically modified crops which are resistant to weeds (weeds being the food source for most butterflies). Economics have dictated that cultivation of fertile soil has become more intense, leaving no untilled margins to the fields and also conversely by not cultivating unprofitable (ie no CAP subsidy given) land allowing poor pasture to be abandoned and overgrown with scrub etc.

Decline in Urban areas is even greater than in countryside due to building on urban green space, the loss of surprisingly wildlife-rich brownfield sites, council cuts, the neglect of parks and pesticide-wielding gardeners who have turned lawns and flower beds into driveways and patios.

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LARGE BLUE

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DUKE OF BURGUNDY

The good news is that large scale conservation projects (that’s us folks) are producing some recovery eg Duke of Burgundy, Dingy Skipper and Heath Fritillary and the Large Blue has been re-introduced and is now spreading.

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MOST IMPORTANT TASK OF THE DAY – MAKING THE TEA

The second main influence on butterfly population is global warming. On the one hand the warmer weather is allowing species to spread further northwards and some summer migrants like the Red Admiral are now overwintering here and producing UK resident populations. Some species are now producing two broods each year (though this puts pressure on habitat and food sources). On the other hand the Exceptional Weather Events which come with global warming are having huge effects on butterflies, not yet fully appreciated. Certainly warm spells in the winter cause butterflies and larvae to emerge too early and to be then killed by following frosts. The Big Butterfly Count in 2016 was dramatically down following the exceptionally warm winter of 2015. Many species are sensitive to events such as heat waves, heavy rainfall and droughts. The Ringlet population crashes after every drought.

This is not just a British problem, it is worldwide. He most common butterfly in USA is the Monarch, in their overwintering groves there were once so many Monarchs that the sound of their wings was described as a rippling stream or a summer rain. In 2016 they recorded a 68% reduction in 22 years and in 2017 the count was down 30% down again Spraying and genetic modification of crops to eradicate Milkweed, food of the Monarch is generally considered to be the cause.

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MONARCH (USA)

In Europe grassland butterflies declined by 50% between 1990 and 2011 due, it is thought, to Intensifying agriculture and abandoned land. The Europeans are pinning their hopes on legislation to force positive action by the farmers. I think the appropriate expression is something about a snowballs chance in Hell.

Beggarboys reserve, Kemerton

Beggarboys is a small nature reserve, formerly a fishing lake, with willow carr, sedge and reed beds. On one side is a bund which has become overgrown with trees, shrubs and bramble. Our task was to continue opening up the bund (with the added aim of preventing large roots eventually leading to leaks) by clearing small trees and scrub – the landowner was going to treat stumps to stop regrowth. Five of us turned up for the task and managed to clear quite a bit of material from the bund, which was put on the far side away from the lake. It was a grey day with bouts of rain, light snow and quite windy.

Since our last visit in November the water levels had increased significantly which was a good sign that the bund was holding OK.

Bulls Cross, Painswick

Bulls Cross is one part of a SSSI comprising Bulls Cross, Juniper Hill and the Frith, located within the Cotswold AONB.   The woodland makeup, 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 site is a tiny (3 hectare) common consisting of 4 triangles of limestone grassland/secondary woodland intersected by 3 minor roads and bordered by a busy B road on its eastern edge

Bulls Cross is perhaps one of the best known commons in the whole of the Cotswolds thanks to Laurie Lee’s descriptions of it his much-loved book, Cider with Rosie.   Lee depicts Bulls Cross as a ‘no-man’s crossing… a ‘ragged wildness of wind-bent turves [where] travellers would meet in suspicion, or lie in wait to do violence on each other, to rob or rape or murder.’  [so no change there]   Lee states that a hangman’s gibbet once hung here.   To this day Bulls Cross is a very busy crossroads and this goes back many hundreds of years to the days when it formed an important intersection of the routes linking Painswick and the older parts of Stroud to one of the main saltways between Berkeley and Birdlip.

Until sometime around the middle of the last century it was a bare, open patch of grassland that would have been visible from much of the surrounding Painswick Valley. Laurie Lee himself describes it as ‘a curious tundra, a sort of island of nothing set high above the crowded valleys… a baldness among the woods’.  The grass used to be kept short by commoners cattle, then the 1960s the crash in rabbit populations removed the natural grazers that in many cases had continued the grazing in place of the commoners’ livestock

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In 2013 cattle were returned to Bulls Cross after more than half a century of absence, the ban on permanent fencing on the common entailing the annual erection and removal of 800M of fencing to each of 3 paddocks.

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The Duke of Burgundy butterflies still breed here in good numbers in the spring, glow worms and slow worms can still be found across the site, kestrels hunt overhead and hundreds of orchids including lesser butterfly, pyramidal, common spotted, twayblade and white helleborine can be found thriving beneath the rampant bracken and willowherb.

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GVCV task on a cold and wet day was to cut out the ash sapling which had escaped the previous cull, allowing the warden to apply herbicide to the cut stems to kill the roots.   Of course Ash Die Back, evident over most of the site, will eventually negate the need for all this

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In the afternoon we were able to tackle the dense clumps of bramble to reduce their coverage of the site – a much more satisfying task, allowing us to look back and see our normal end-of-task vista of NOTHINGNESS.

Ruskin Mill Hedgelaying

Four of us ventured out to Ruskin Mill, Nailsworth to continue laying a stretch of hedge leading up to the farm near Horsley. It was a dry and cool day, just right for the task in question.  We managed to almost complete the stretch of hedge that has been worked on by ourselves and students/apprentices from Ruskin Mill college over the last few years.

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laying pleachers

Pleacher is the term for a laid stem – partially cut through either with saw or billhook/axe just leaving a ‘hinge’ making sure the cambium layer just below the bark is intact (see below). This is where the flow of nutrients and water are drawn up into the tree.

completed pleachers

New shoots will appear along the stem and from base in spring

putting points on stakes ready to knock into hedge at about 1m spacing

Stakes are used along with ‘heatherings’ (binders made from thinner stems cut from the hedge) which have been stripped (known as ‘snedding’) and wound through the stakes to hold the pleachers in place.

Happy Hedgers

The completed hedgelaying task and a very satisfying end to the day.

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.

 

Ruskin Mill Hedgelaying

With a group of 6 volunteers we helped lay part of a hedge at Ruskin Mill farm, Nailsworth. This is a continuation of previous tasks in the early part of the year on a long stretch of mixed species hedge that runs the length of the track leading from Hay lane to the farm. Students/apprentices at Ruskin College have also been contributing to the task of laying this hedge.

We began with clearing any dead material or growth that would inhibit laying the main trees and shrubs. This section was mostly hazel with blackthorn at the back of the hedge.  The group had a mix of experienced, limited experience and novice hedgelayers, who had a chance to be involved in the whole process as we managed to stake and add binders(heatherings) to part of the hedge.

The aim is to be able to complete the whole hedge this season so we are hoping to fit another task in in February.

 

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Beggarboys Reserve Kemerton

This is a small wetland reserve at Westmancote nr Bredon, part of the Kemerton Estate.  Previously a set of fish ponds (in the 70’s) and now a small lake with willow carr, sedge and reed beds. A bund surrounding the lake has been left unmanaged and willow/ash and scrub have moved in. Our task was to start removing some of these to open up the site and to try and prevent the bund being damaged eventually by roots and leaking. We felled a few small willows, cleared fallen living trees that were re-rooting in the lake, removed bramble/rose scrub. There is still plenty to do so that much of the bund is open and becomes a grassy bank.

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Richard Catlin

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