This month Abi and Leighann helped out at the Trust's AGM, where they got the chance to hear Iolo Williams speak, whilst Ralph and Leighann have been busy on the reserves with coppicing, dry stone walling, and the practical volunteer teams, who are a great excuse to have a bonfire and treats! Meanhile, Abi has been filling her time with school visits and Becky had managed to fit in some more invaluable training for her role as surveying and monitoring trainee. Read on to find out more!
During November we started carrying out tree safety inspections and the work to make safe any dangerous trees. We checked for any trees overhanging the path, or those that are rotten or likely to fall on the pathway. Using the chainsaw I helped trim back or cut down any dangerous trees as needed.
On bonfire night we were out scrub clearing with the Magnificent Meadows volunteers, against all odds and all the rain thrown at us we managed to get a bonfire going and thanks to Olivia even had toasted marshmallows to go with it!
Toasting marshmallows (and ourselves) by the fire at Edford Meadows
I went hedge planting and scrub clearing with the West Mendip volunteers at The Lots reserve. This was great as I hadn’t done much planting before and they are a lovely group of volunteers.
I have put my new found routing skills to further use by making a new routed interpretation panel for Edford Woods. It’s definitely easier routing on a flat surface!
Shiny new interpretation board for Edford Meadows
As a wall fell down on Chancellors Farm I have also had the chance to practice my dry stone walling technique, which I think is slowly getting better.
I’ve taken advantage of further opportunities to broaden the scope of my traineeship- completing a Phase 1 Habitat Surveying course with Acorn Ecology near Exeter. Phase 1 surveying is a means of assessing, relatively quickly, the habitat types present at a site, based principally on vegetation and can also give an idea of its ecological value. It’s the basis of a lot of ecological work and is generally one of the first stages in writing up a management plan or report and can lead on to more detailed surveying for a particular species/habitat indicator species or for a particular piece of research.
A very compliant frog!
At White field we had to put up some emergency and rather basic fencing, the sheep that graze the site in the autumn to keep the sward short for next spring’s wildflowers had munched their way through most of the available vegetation and some of them had started stripping the bark from the apple trees in the small orchard adjacent. A roll of stock fencing tied to the fence posts with bailer twine may not be the prettiest or sturdiest of structures but it should be enough to keep them out until they are taken off. Unfortunately, one of the trees had already been completely ring barked and is unlikely to survive; I guess we should look at it not so much as an apple tree lost but as standing deadwood gained!
Lichen in the winter sunshine
Last year’s trainee in my position, Olivia, is now a seasonal reserves assistant with the trust and will be working with Mark and me on our reserves every Friday. Our traineeships overlapped for a couple of months in the summer so on the 13th it was good to have the chance to work with her again, brushcutting through scrub on the slopes of Green Down just like the old days!
The end of the month has seen lots of coppicing (cutting back deciduous trees to the base) when they are in a state of winter dormancy, to let in light for the benefit of ground flora and insects whilst allowing the coppiced trees to regenerate with a multitude of stems, creating bushy undergrowth as a complement to the surrounding high canopy. Although given how unnaturally warm November has been, with much of the hazel still holding on to distinctly green leaves, both Mark and I did wonder whether it was still a bit early. Its always a bit of a juggling act trying to schedule tasks regularly throughout the year, it often seems everything needs doing at once, but sensitive habitat management gets a fair bit harder with climate change to confuse matters.
Exmoor pony in the fading light of early evening
At Dundon Beacon there were a couple of huge overgrown Hazel stools to work on, trees that hadn’t been coppiced in at least 40 years and had the thick, twisting interweaved stems to match. Just to make matters even more ‘fun’ the whole lot were entwined with Old Man’s Beard meaning most of the stems got hung up, suspended on a safety line of taut clematis (its amazing just how much weight it can hold) oh and it was right by a barbed wire fence so I couldn’t work from uphill... I reckon it took me the best part of two hours to finish felling just one of the big stools!
November has been quite a quiet month for me; partly as ten days of it I had used up some much deserved holiday and took the opportunity to relax, a rarity in my busy trainee schedule! After this break I was ready to get back to it, and the rest of the month was filled with the usual school visits from Priddy out to our reserves and my weekly trips down to Taunton for some forest school fun with the YMCA pre-school.
With rain, brought mud! This month the pre-schoolers have enjoyed getting head to toe muddy in the parks puddles.
I also attended a ‘Fundraising for outdoor learning’ training day held by Natural Connections in Devon, where I was joined by Amy and Jack, the two community engagement trainees from Devon Wildlife Trust. Here we learnt the key skills needed in order to raise funds for a project and were taken through the process step by step. Although we are not currently in a role where we need to deal with fundraising directly, I feel these skills will be useful in a lot of future jobs we may end up in.
This month was also time for the Somerset Wildlife Trust AGM, which included a talk by Iolo Williams. Leighann and I were helping out for the evening and so were tasked with checking tickets of the 400+ guests to the talks! This was actually a lot of fun, and seeing Iolo talk so passionately about wildlife from his homeland, Wales, was really inspiring.
Unusually for me, I have been out doing some practical work on the reserves this month, joining in with the volunteer groups out at Edford Meadows on the 5th of November (Bonfire Night!) with Leighann, Olivia and Liz. I also went out with Ralph and Mark at the volunteering day on Turn Hill, where we spent about 5 hours raking on a steep hill, which was much harder than it looks – I was really aching the next day!
Ralph and I went out to Jann Hobbs reserve to complete our visitor risk assessment, finalising our health and safety training once and for all. We also spotted a few nice waxcaps here, one of which was the size of a dinner plate!
I also went on the Phase 1 habitat survey training course with Ralph, which something that keeps cropping up in job descriptions, so I am pleased to have that to add to my list of completed courses. As I am going to be helping out my mentor Matthew with hedgerow surveys later in the season, I travelled the long two hours down to Hampshire for training on Hedgerow assessments and identifying hedgerow species in winter.
This month I have also been learning how to analyse bat call frequency from surveys done in Taunton back in the summer using BatSound, which displays audio recordings of bat echo location calls visually. This is all in an effort to help with the Taunton urban wildlife project, which is looking at how to help wildlife move through urban spaces and link up habitat between existing locations.
A screen shot of bat calls analysis using BatSound (software kindly donated to SWT by Lars Petterson)
Wonderful view from our Waxcap survey location on the Quantocks
I got the chance to use my Waxcaps ID skills on a fantastic site on the Quantocks, joining Ann from SERC on a Local Wildlife Site survey. This steep slope was rammed full of Meadow Waxcaps, where we also found 8 other species, including one which we thought may be much rarer than we were expecting to find – although we couldn’t be 100% sure in the field!