Hello again. Hallam Greene reporting from Westhay Somerset Wildlife Trust reserve on a Young Wardens’ Day, Wednesday 10th April 2013 for a reserve management experience.
The Young Wardens programme designed for 12-16 year olds covering a range of practical skills useful for those interested in wildlife, conservation work and perhaps future study or employment in these areas, or just for enjoyment. It is run in partnership with the RSPB, the Hawk and Owl Trust and Natural England.
Sphagnum moss: a genus of mosses that prefer wet environments and contribute to the creation of peat bogs and mires. Today the Young Wardens, I amongst them, would be performing a similar role.
We arrived at Westhay moor just before 10am. It was a bright day and I looked around the nearby reserve whilst waiting for people to assemble. A few Hirundines, probably sand martins, flew in the distance and a solitary chiffchaff fed in a nearby tree; reed buntings chased each other around the reeds.
After we had all gathered, we were briefed on what we were going to do. Today we would be burning and bundling some of the brash from the trees cut down in the raised marsh or mire in the centre of the SWT reserve. This brief was followed by a short health and safety run-through, and then we grabbed saws, loppers and a big bag of fire-starting material (!) and set off for the mire.
A mire is a wet, peat bog. Mires were once the main habitat of the Somerset levels but, over time, the levels and mires have been drained and the sphagnum peat extracted and so the numerous species of plants and animals that live on them have disappeared. The Somerset Wildlife Trust has started to counteract this by restoring an existing piece of remnant mire: the largest low - land fragment in the south west. Trees have been felled (they drain water from the land) and the area has had a plastic rim installed to keep the water in. A wind pump was also installed to assist in keeping ditches wet and the peat damp. The land is grazed in the summer to keep invasive purple moor grass down and also to keep down any scrub and regrowth from previously felled trees. It’s still work in progress but there are already many pools containing sphagnum moss - the building block of the peat bog - that can hold 25 times its weight in water and can lower a pools pH to as low as 3 encouraging other acid-loving mire plants such as sundews (insect-eating plants) to grow.
Dumping our non-essential kit (lunch, binoculars etc.) we went to collect brash and carry it over to a raised platform where it would be burned. The soil around the mire is peat-based and so all fires have to be raised to prevent the peat itself from catching fire; after all, peat is burned as a fuel in some places. We dragged branches across to the fire; throwing them over bogs or streams, or building rudimentary bridges or stepping stones where required. One of the other young wardens discovered a duck’s nest with eggs inside; apparently the female had just flown off so we gave the area a wide berth and hoped she would return.
With the brash piled up near the fire we set to work hacking, chopping, cutting and sawing until the wood was in manageable pieces for the fire. The fire itself had already been lit and we slowly fed it with increasing grades of brash until we had a large fire going. More brash was chucked on and we started cutting up some larger logs to put on the blaze.
Making rafts to form floating islands
The fire was burning away nicely so I turned my attention to the other task of bundling. We were simply tying up long bundles of brash with the aim of creating some kind of large raft which we would put out on a lake. The lake in question already had a floating island, called a hover, which was supporting various types of plants, including sphagnum moss. The raft, when created, would be pushed out onto the lake and, over time, various plants would colonise it and it would add more habitat.
In the end we bundled together a good 6 or 7 bundles and carried them down to the lake. There weren’t enough brash bundles to make the raft so instead a few of us decided that we would lash together some logs to make a smaller raft to put on the lake. These logs could then be the base of the larger raft when more brash bundles had been made.
After half an hours lashing and tying we had a rudimentary raft and we pushed it out into the lake, tethering it on a root near the side. It drifted out to the hover and stayed by the side of it.
Time to explore
With the hard work done, we had lunch then toasted marshmallows (or just one for those of us who had been building the raft and were a little late getting back) over the remains of the fire. We collected up the kit, doused the fire and set off to explore the reserve.
We walked over to tower hide where we all crammed in and peered out of the narrow window. A teal paddled in front of some reeds and a water rail broke cover momentarily before disappearing again. A male marsh harrier patrolled low over the reeds in the distance.
After leaving, we continued round to the Viridor hide, where a group of gadwall were feeding at the front and a coot pecked at the grass on the muddy path outside. I walked round to the Lake Hide, hoping for an encounter with the bearded tit whom I had met there before, but I wasn’t that lucky again. With our entertaining little exploration complete, we loaded the stuff back into the truck and departed.
It had been a rewarding and interesting day. The actual tasks were worthwhile work, but also enjoyable (after all, who doesn’t enjoy throwing wood onto a bonfire). We had, I felt, helped with the management of the reserve as well as having a good time.
If you'd like to know more about Westhay Moor, go to the webpage - Visit Westhay Moor
To find out more about the Young Wardens programme contact Rosie Withill - firstname.lastname@example.org