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.


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


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.


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



The cleared site at the end of our efforts



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.

C:\Users\Roger\Desktop\P1010845 (2).JPGThe results of a whole day’s effort, gone in a puff of smoke

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.

Duke of Burgundy fritillary.


I do like to see a volunteer happy in their work


Aldwick Wood 3rd December 2017

Another visit to Aldwick Wood Kemerton to try and remove the rest of the fencing from the site. A good turn out of 5 volunteers and weather generally dry with a few odd showers. A brilliant effort from all to nearly complete the task, the remaining fence was mostly amongst thick bramble or covered in soil. That should be our last task  on this fence.

Ruskin Mill Hedgelaying 27 November 2017

A welcome return to the farm at Ruskin Mill for a spot of hedgelaying. Continuing with the same hedge with a lot more hazel and less thorn than last time. Three of us attended and we were joined by a few volunteers at Ruskin. Successful days work and very pleased with what we achieved. Hopefully to return in Jan/Feb 2018.



Stinchcombe Hill 22 October 2017

A welcome return to this grassland site on the outskirts of Dursley, managed by the Stinchcombe Hill Trust.

Overlooking Dursley, 6 of us, along with 3 Stinchcombe Hill volunteers, helped the site manager cut back encroaching dogwood, wayfaring tree along with beech saplings. This was on a stretch of wildflower rich grassland that is habitat for many butterfly species as well as other invertebrates including some rare moths and beetles.

A good day’s work which ended in bright sunshine.

Ongoing restoration of Thames & Severn canal (summit section) at Coates

Ongoing restoration of the Thames & Severn canal (summit section) at Coates

The restoration of this section of the canal by the Cotswold Canal Trust is much delayed by the need to raise substantial finance to repair the Sapperton Tunnel, which has collapsed in a number of places, one collapse completely blocking the canal


Southern portal of the Sapperton tunnel at Coates.

In the meantime the Trust are making all efforts to stop further degrading of the canal and to improve its current state wherever possible. In terms of what is feasable by small groups of volunteers this means keeping the bed of the canal clear by strimming, similarly clearing the earth banks of the canal including removing small trees etc whose roots are applying pressure to the canal walls, and maintaining the towpath which is well used by walkers. All of these ongoing tasks GVCV have assisted with a number of times.

The good news is that we have almost caught up with works needed after many years of neglect in terms of the canal bed and the South bank. This level of restoration now just needs to be maintained. The next target however is the North bank, which has been untouched for many a long year and which contains a number of significant trees to be removed. It’s good to have a challenge to look forward to.

Our task on Sunday was the continuation of the works in the canal bed and on the South bank. The adventure element here was that the bank is very steep, ending in a vertical drop into the canal, so the work was carried out swinging on a harness attached to a rope anchored to a convenient tree further up the bank. Strimming is a strenuous task at the best of times but combined with acrobatics it is a VERY strenuous task. Fortunately the site warden has been doing this for a number of years and is particular about the necessary safety precautions but to beginners like us it certainly resulted in a raised pulse rate.



Rudge Hill Common


Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods NNR is the largest nature reserve in the Cotswolds. It is largely made up of a chain of beechwoods and limestone grasslands around the upper slopes of the Painswick Valley, in Gloucestershire. The NNR includes Rudge Hill common, formerly named Edge Common. Its status as a SSSI is under the name of Edge Common. The area of Rudge Hill is 0.3 hectares or 0.74 acres, a relatively small portion of the whole reserve.

The main habitats are woodland and limestone grassland. The grasslands of the commons feature a rich limestone flora which support a variety of insects, particularly butterflies. These include chalkhill blue, Adonis blue, small blue, dingy skipper, green hairstreak and, at Rudge Hill Common, the rare Duke of Burgundy fritillary.

The Cotswold Way passes through Edge Common.

Duke of Burgundy fritillary.

It is an unfortunate fact that the Ash tree is far too fertile for our liking and drops large numbers of seeds, many of which take root and grow and threaten to overwhelm the balance of the woodland on the site. Removing these by digging out is very disruptive but some clever chap has developed a “tree popper”. This is basically a long steel lever with jaws at the end which are used to grip the sapling at low level and then remove the sapling complete with its root causing minimal disturbance of the ground. Great exercise for the biceps.


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The popper tool in action

On a nearby site, Bulls Cross, Natural England are preparing to install a small herd of cattle to graze throughout the summer. There is a concern that the existing grass might not be sufficient to sustain the cattle so grass seed is being harvested from other sites, including Rudge Hill, to be overseeded at Bulls Cross. The clever trick is that the grass seed will be scattered immediately before the cattle arrive so that they will trample it into the ground and there will be no loss to birds. Collecting grass seed is certainly a lot more restful than most of the tasks we tackle.

D:\Pictures\GVCV\2017.08 GVCV Rudge Hill common\P1010832.JPGDrifting through the meadow gathering grass seed

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The warden doing her fair share of the work

Cotswold Canal Trust, Coates

GVCV have carried out clearance work on the Coates site a number of times in the past but, you know what, the darned stuff keeps on growing so we have to keep returning to it.   Basically we are keeping the existing structure of the canal in as good a state of repair as we can pending commencement of serious restoration works.

We joined members of the standing canal maintenance team and our main objective on the day was to clear as much of the canal bed as possible of rank grass and low shrubs,   Secondary task was to clear the margins of the tow path to allow easy access by the large number of walkers who use that area on a weekend.

The bulk of the work was done using brush cutters, the only practical tool for the job.   One of our number plus the Warden are qualified users by virtue of attending a formal course and by cascading our knowledge down we managed to increase the  number of volunteers actively attacking the canal to five.   This allowed us to clear a substantial area and provided much appreciated entertainment for the walkers passing by.

I’m sure that our newly initiated machine operatives are proud that they have added another skill to their conservation CV and I hope that a hot bath that evening relieved the unaccustomed strain which the machines put on back and sides.