We're well into the swing of our roles now! In the past month, Ralph passed his chainsaw felling assessment (well done!), Abi has been teaching schoolkids about meadows, Leighann has been busy clearing invasive Rhododendron and honing her hedgelaying and dry stone walling skills and Becky has got stuck in to some surveying of Brown Hairstreak eggs and veteran trees, with Ralph assisting. To find out more in depth, keep reading...
The first week of the month was all about chainsawing for me as I had my felling assessment booked in for the 5th. I completed the maintenance/ cross-cutting award some years ago, and I’ve done a fair bit of chainsaw work since, but hadn’t been able to afford the full felling license so it was good to finally have a chance to get this ticket. We don’t have a great deal of suitable trees to fell on our South Somerset sites so on the 2nd I travelled up to Chancellor’s Farm, Priddy which is a SWT base (via Chancellor’s Farm, Redhill, which is not) to get some practice in with the Mendip’s team, felling Beech in Edford Wood. It was good to actually have a practical workday with Leighann, as we’re normally at opposite ends of the county, and visit a new site whilst the sunset at the end of the day was worth it alone.
Final assessment - a cut of the 'Danish Pie'
As chance would have it we had pretty much the entire South Somerset team out on the day of my assessment- myself, Mark, Olivia and Ian but they promised not to spectate! In the end it was all quite straightforward and only took two trees (you are allowed a maximum of four). My hung up tree came down easily with a bit of felling lever rolling, the Danish pie cut turned out nice and neat and I set off merrily downhill to join the others scrub-bashing on Gilling Down.
I took part in a veteran tree survey near Cothelstone in the Quantocks with Becky, to monitor trees first surveyed back in 1997. We recorded features like the girth, numbers of holes and limb stubs, amount of dead wood, presence of rot and bryophytes and any signs of fauna. They were mostly open grown Pedunculate Oak, 18th century parkland trees, but we also found the previously unrecorded shell of an old Beech tree, 8 metres in girth and entirely hollowed out but still with a single limb of new growth emerging from the top.
Becky inspects the hollow of an Oak whilst Ann checks the tree location
On the 14th Feb, I led our East Poldens volunteers on my own for the first time, creating a new glade in Great Breach Wood to improve the amount of woodland edge habitat. We cleared an impressive area for one day’s work with hand tools which come the summer will let in a considerable amount of sunlight to stimulate ground flora regeneration and help encourage the dispersal of butterflies and other insects around the site.
Spot the volunteers at work in Great Breach Wood!
I’ve also carried out a bit of fencing work, replacing an old boundary line in the liquid mud at Yarty, nice and easy to drive the posts in but slightly less easy to drag the materials to the site! We also did some repairs at Wellington Castlefield, around a beech that had had a disagreement with the previous fence...
Repairing the fence where the beech came down
And to end the month Mark and I finally finished the 1.6km of ride edge coppicing which had to be completed for the Great Breach management plan this winter, took some doing but we got there!
Ralph joined us at the start of February for a day of Beech tree removal at Edford Wood South. As Beech is not native to this woodland and the dense canopy can block light from reaching the woodland floor, we cleared areas of trees to give the ground flora the chance to re-establish.
I also spent another day at Edford Wood South leading the East Mendip volunteers on their Sunday task. We had a very successful day removing some invasive Rhododendron, Box and some small Beech saplings. Later in the week when the weather was better we returned to treat the stumps to prevent re-growth.
Invasive Rhododendron to be cleared - before... ...and after!
Chris Claxton kindly let me tag along for a days’ hedge laying with him at Harridge Woods. Using a billhook was hard work on the wrists but looking back along the laid hedge was very satisfying and well worth the effort.
Results of all our hard work!
Liz, Olivia and I have spent some beautiful days at our Chancellors Farm and Yoxter reserves, repairing water troughs and sections of dry stone wall and scrub clearing thick patches of Hawthorn and overgrown Gorse to open up the grassland areas.
Blue skies at Yoxter reserve
With the approaching end of winter, February is the last month we are able to get out and survey for Brown Hairstreak eggs before they start hatching. Matthew and I have therefore been putting our new found skills into practice – or at least trying to! Perhaps we haven’t looked quite exactly on the right part of blackthorn and missed those little white pinheads, or maybe they weren’t there, but either way we were unlucky and sadly didn’t manage to find any at the sites we headed out to. Nonetheless, some of the survey locations were lovely and we had one particularly nice sunny day when Gemma, one of SWT's volunteers, was with us and we spotted a Willow – or perhaps a Marsh – tit, which broke up a day of staring at Blackthorn twigs!
One of the many veteran pedunculate oaks at Cothelstone
I’ve also been able to get out a bit more on the Quantocks, helping out SERC with veteran tree surveys at a Local Wildlife Site near Cothelstone. This involves making several measurements, judgements and estimates to do with the tree size, health and potential for fungi, insects and mammals, and with around 90 trees in the area, it’s proving to be a rather large job! However, I can’t complain about getting out of the office and into the fresh air, especially at a place with such fantastic views. Ralph joined me on one day in early February (as he mentions, above) and Chris - last year's Surveying & Monitoring trainee - joined me on another day later in the month.
A sample of the wonderful views at Cothelstone park - over the lake (left) and towards the Poldens past Cothelstone church (right)
With Matthew’s new responsibilities as Hills to Levels advisor, some of the trips down to Selwood have involved more discussions about flood prevention through softer approaches such as woody debris dams and leaky ponds – as well as some walks around soggy areas!
We have also been putting out Dormouse tubes in hedgerows, to which we will return to in a couple of months to check for signs of nesting. Promisingly, Matthew found some hazelnut shells that show evidence of recent Dormouse feeding, so fingers crossed we will return to find some nests or mice – watch this space!
February has been a busy month both in and out of work for me, as I prepare for more school groups as well as moving house!
The spent a lot of time planning for the eco-orienteering family event at Black Rock, this was a compass trail around the reserve with different sensory activities along the way. They made smelly cocktails, created natures pallets and learnt about the wildlife living at the reserve and although the day was a bit of a wash out, three families braved the weather and thoroughly enjoyed their day. This has been the first event that I have fully planned and delivered and I think I can count it as a success (minus the weather!). Hopefully in the summer I will have more opportunities to plan events that won’t be rained on!
Teaching children at Chewton Mendip School about wildflower meadows
This month I also visited Chewton Mendip School with the Save Our Magnificent Meadows team to teach the children more about meadows and help them to plant up some seedlings. The school children will then look after the seedlings, growing them up ready to be planted out in a meadow in a few months. During the day we had a circuit of activities for the children to complete in small groups, including investigating seeds under a microscope, making pebble mini-beasts and a drawing a meadow mural. However it was my job to help them with the plug planting outside in the sunshine. The teachers and children seemed to really enjoy the day, and were both excited and nervous about looking after their own plug plants (being quite scared that they would die in their care!) Luckily, meadow plants are quite hardy, so hopefully they will all survive to see the meadow!
Plug planting with the school kids - let's hope those little plants survive!
I’m now taking some time off to move house, (wish me luck) so that’s all for this month!