After a nice long break for Christmas I’m straight back to it at Hollow Marsh digging in a new gate post and hanging the gate on some new hinges. The art of gate hanging is something I’m still trying to master as it always seems to end up on the low side, but with a little tweaking with a lump hammer, it slotted in to place. The following day we were back at Hollow Marsh cutting and treating the invasive blackthorn which has been encroaching on the meadow. Although not the most strenuous of work, it certainly is back breaking, but job done. Along with showing contractors around Harridge Woods for some much needed thinning and felling, the week ended with having to post an eviction letter to one of our unwelcome squatters who had pitched camp up at Kings Castle Wood. This was a first for me, and although there had been no mess left behind unfortunately we cannot allow people to camp on our reserves. You certainly do have to do some unexpected things in this job.
The month continues at Hollow Marsh with a day’s scrub clearing with Ronan who is our seasonal Reserves Assistant. We used brush cutters to take out several clumps of brambles which were taking over the woodland edge. This work allows a greater area for wildlife to feed and breed, and allows light in to allow wild flowers to establish. We then spent a couple of days at Harridge Woods coppicing a large area (or coop) of Hazel and a small amount of Ash. This work will allow new growth to establish and maintain a healthy and balanced eco system. This is a prime example of woodland management, and a great excuse to get out with the chainsaws. The last task for the week was to take out the Mendip volunteer group to Deer’s Leap and take out a section of Hawthorn. This was a new location for me, but probably one of the best views in the Mendips. All the Hawthorns removed was burnt on site which is always a favourite and meant more well needed chainsaw work. We were also being filmed for the reserves fund video which if you watch may just catch a glimpse of myself.
Week three is our third residential week away with the other trainees, and this time round we are in Oxenwood in Wiltshire. This is a county I have spent very little time in so I’m looking forward to the week’s events. Firstly we all went on a guided walk around Jones mill which is located close to our hostel. Peter, one of the Wiltshire trainees did a fantastic job of showing us around this reserve which had a lovely mix of grassland, woodland and boggy marsh. This was also my first experience of Jelly Ear Fungi which looks exactly as you would expect. Day two of our trip started with a morning of learning about wildlife ponds and how they support a wide variety of wildlife. This was actually a bonus AQA module for us, so it has actually enhanced my C.V, as well as giving me lots of ideas for my own pond at home. At lunch time we were lucky enough to see a pair of Red Kites and a couple of Hares - which is actually the first time I have seen them, so felt really lucky. In the afternoon we finished off our volunteer management classroom work so can now crack on with getting the work finished and put all this hard work in to practice and carry on taking volunteer groups out. In the evening we all went to Devizes to attend a talk about British Owls and the threats they face and how we can protect and enhance there habitat. I found this talk really inspiring and also learnt a lot about these amazing creatures.
On to Wednesday, this was definitely a very different experience, as we went to the Help for Heroes Centre at Tedworth House. We were there to help with some brush clearance on the grounds, but also to take a look at the facilities and see how they help injured serviceman. It was really interesting to see how they approach physical and mental issues. In the afternoon we had a session in wheelchair basketball which was great fun which I think everyone enjoyed. On Thursday we went to Langford Lakes where we were lucky enough to take part in a morning’s bird ringing. There were lots of birds already netted when we arrived, so it was really exciting to see the process of recording and ringing the birds and then releasing them. These included Robins, Long Tailed Tits and Dunnocks. After lunch we had a photography session with a very talented professional wildlife photographer. This is something that we all do on a daily basis, and also is something that can help us in the future so I feel it was something we all got a lot out of and also really enjoyed. That evening after dinner the Dorset trainees led a wildlife quiz which was great fun, and once again I was on the winning team. Maybe just a coincidence. Our last morning was spent having a very laid back guided walk over some beautiful Wiltshire scenery, and was a fantastic end to a particularly enjoyable week.
The end of January begins with a day’s bramble clearing at Cockles Field. This task is done yearly, but we just keep it from spreading too far from the wood’s edge, as brambles are still a good habitat and a source of food for many birds and insects. It was a particularly glorious day on this day, with some brilliant views over Harridge Woods, and the same resident Buzzard flying overhead - definitely some of my favourite time spent out on the reserves. Later that day we made a quick trip to Edford Meadows to make a start on clearing some patches of brambles, and although we only scratched the surface we knew the task would be finished later in the month by the east Mendip volunteer group. The last job of the month was clearing the edge of the pond of overhanging branches and scrub at Edford Woods, to allow light to come through in order to improve the health of the pond, this will hopefully increase the amount of invertebrates and fish. The pond is situated right next to a rather large badger sett, and although we know it is active, and no matter how much I pray, I still haven’t had a visit from one of our little friends yet. Finally we made a start of coppicing a coop of Hazel back from the pond, which again will allow new growth to establish and hopefully create new habitat for dormice to find and nest in.