Spring has officially sprung, and the countryside is coming back to life.
The start of March begins with cracking on with getting all of the outstanding scrub clearance and felling done before the start of bird nesting season. Firstly I started with burning the scrub that had come out of the cleared hedge line at Long Meadow. This was perdominantly Hawthorn so makes for easy burning, however there was a huge amount cleared so this will have to be finished another day. The week continued with my much awaited 4x4 course which I seem to have been waiting an age to attend. This was a one day course up in the Cotswolds, so after an early start and a two hour drive myself and Phil were ready to get going. There were three of us on the course so we took it in turn driving around the course. We covered the fundermentals of uphill stalls, downhill control, driving over ruts and decision making. There was a small amount of theory in the morning but most of the day was spent in the car getting as much practice as possible. Because it was an on-going assessment once the day was over we were basicly given a pat on the back and told we had passed. Im now ready to conquer the Mendip hills.
Week two Continued with clearing more scrub, this time at Edford meadow and burning it on site. This was the annual brambles and blackthorn clearance to ensure that they don’t take over the rest of the meadow. Some scrub is obviously good for birds and insects so we do keep a line along the fence line, however our priority is to manage the meadow and ensure as many wild flowers and grasses as possible which ultimately create a much more diverse eco system. We then moved on to Edford woods to try and get the Hazel coppice finished in time. The work we have already done there has opened up the forest floor and the wood anemone have started to make an appearance, so quick coppicing is the order of the day. The final job task of the week is to burn the remainder of the gorse up on Yoxter range. Im becoming quite adapt at burning gorse, it’s a real skill getting the fire going but once it is you can almost burn gorse as fast as you can throw it on. It was a beautiful day also, so in many respects my perfect day. Fire, sun, silence.
The next week Im back out at Yoxter doing more burning that I unfortunately couldn’t get finished last week. This has to be the last day’s burn as the rest of the month is packed out and I can already hear a few birds around looking for nesting material. Not quite so sunny this time so was a bit more challenging getting the fire going, but true to form it was a raging inferno before long and I managed to finally get everything finished. Next on the list I was out with one of our contractors Ian at Yarley fields pollarding one of the willows along the hedge line. Ian was up the tree like a monkey so we were left at the bottom clearing the branches and putting them through the chipper. This was great fun as we don’t often get to use a chipper, and it makes work a lot quicker. You also get a product at the end of it. Win Win I say. The next morning I was up early doors for the annual Bittern count at Westhay and Catcott down on the levels. This year I was paired up with my old college buddy Becky, and we were located at Catcott. We did hear one Bittern in the distance but not quite as much activity as last year when I heard three in the same location. Over all the results were pretty stable so the population of Bitterns appear to be really well. The mornings monitoring was capped off with the customary full English breakfast served up by some of the wardens. Great start to the day. My week was finished off by going back out with the contractor Ian to Kings castle wood in Wells to do some Lime layering. This is kind of a mix between felling and hedge laying where you try and keep the tree attached after felling and encourage new growth. The felling also opens up the canopy to allow light in and hopefully encourage even more growth, as well as forest floor flowers. Great day’s chainsaw work, and feel I’ve learnt a lot and also a new way of forest management.
Myself and Ronan started this week by preparing the area at Hollow marsh where we have a large dead Ash to come down next week by a contractor. We needed to clear a patch of brambles where we intend to burn up the bulk of the tree, and hopefully it’s roughly where it’s going to land also. We also took apart a stretch of post and rail fence next to the tree so that it didn’t get destroyed when it came down. Once that was finished we stayed Hollow marsh to clear some overhanging branches on the fence line to allow more light in the marsh and hopefully encourage some new flower growth. I then went out with the west Mendip volunteer group and also the R.A.G.S group to spend a day clearing an old pond which was part of their pond clearance project to hopefully encourage more invertebrates throughout the county. The pond itself had almost completely silted over, and was filled with old rocks from a nearby wall. There were about sixteen of us in total so we were able to make some pretty rapid progress. Probably my muddiest day ever, however by the end of the day we were probably about six feet deep and at the bottom of a beautiful stone lined pond. Great days’ work. The next day couldn’t have been any different. I went to the offices in Taunton to take part in a lesson on using the new twitter accounts, and the kind of things we should and shouldn’t be tweeting. This was a great chance for me to make a real effort to get tweeting more regularly about the things we get up to on reserves, and all the different species we see. The session was brilliantly laid out by Lisa and I feel we all got a lot out of it. My week ended by me going out on my own to several sites and installing some new interpretation signs, as well as fixing some of the boards and installing new edging. This was my first time doing any sign work, and although there was a lot of long walks with lots of equipment, I was able to get them all finished and looking great by the end of the day.
The month has ended much as it started, more coppicing and felling at Edford wood which we have now officially finished. Im now a lot quicker at coppicing so we were able to get it all wrapped up in good time. Will be great to see the new growth appear over the coming years. The much awaited Ash was felled by our contractor in the week and we then burned the aftermath of shattered, dead limbs. If I’m half as good at felling in my career as Ian is I will be very happy. He managed to get it inch perfect between two posts without touching either. Very impressed. We were able to get everything tidied up pretty quickly so me and Ronan went off to Edford wood and finished felling the last few beech trees that were left over from last month. The forest floor is already starting to come alive with wild daffodils and wood anemone so all that felling has already paid off. With a whole months’ worth of burning and destroying it was great to spend the last few days of the month creating some new life instead of burning it. Liz and myself went out to Yoxter and planted up about two hundred Hawthorn, Dog rose and Hazel whips along the hedge line we are trying to restore. It’s quite a long process digging in the whips and securing them to bamboo canes with tree guards, however we finally got them all in, so fingers crossed in about ten to fifteen years we may have a beautiful new stock proof hedge.