Down in the Dell

Yesterday was my second day with the Thursday midweek volunteers and was just as enjoyable as my first.

I arrived at the Wolseley Centre early again due to the bus but I’m beginning to really enjoy my little wanders round the grounds. I had planned on sitting on one of the benches and watching the ducks but found that due to the vegetation if you sat down you couldn’t actually see that far. I think that disappointed the ducks, who seemed to think I had food for them as they made a be-line straight for me.

Some dissappointed looking looking ducks
Some disappointed looking looking ducks

I decided to have a little look around the wildlife garden as I haven’t been in there for a while. According to a friendly bee on a noticeboard, gardens cover more space then protected nature reserves, a fact I didn’t know! That is one of the reasons why it’s so important to have a wildlife friendly garden. If you want some ideas on how to do this check out the RSBP Giving Nature A Home. (No I haven’t done any of these yet; my little brother doesn’t know it yet but I’m waiting for him to come back from his holiday with my parents in Australia and then he’s going to be my glamorous assistant). My appearance into the wildlife garden startled a couple of rabbits but it wasn’t long before they were back and feeding amongst a bunch of nettles. The bird feeders caught my attention as there seemed to be a fair bit of activity on them, some of it not quite what I expected. As well as the expected song birds a moorhen was making the most of the feed that had fallen onto the ground. When it noticed me it made a quick exit but it was soon replaced by a pair of female mallards. I saw a flash of grey on a feeder attached to a tree. It turned out to be a rather cheeky rat! The squirrel that I’d   expected to see was enjoying itself up in the branches above the feeders.

Another day of removing yellow flowers
Another day of removing yellow flowers

Half past nine saw the volunteers for the day boarding the minibus (I love being driven round in a bus with the staffs wildlife logo on it for some unknown reason) and setting off for Cotton Dell. Cotton Dell is a mixture of grassland and woodland following the course of a stream. The Wednesday group had been out the day before and started on the ragwort and balsam removal and we were finishing it off. We collected a few more volunteer from a car park  a minutes drive from the site and then ,after some excitement about some new work gloves, we were ready to go.

The area of grassland that we started in had had almost all of the ragwort removed apart from a section at the top of the hill, so we started the day by clearing that. There were a lot less cinnabar caterpillars at this site; I think I saw two which is nothing compared to last week! Their absence was more then made up for by the number of bees and hoverflies on the flowers. I also put my grasshopper catching skills to the test rather successfully.

Our mystery beetle from last week; the red soldier beetle
Our mystery beetle from last week; the red soldier beetle

We were not alone in the field; a few young bullocks stared on rather bemused as to what these people were doing pulling up plants and dragging bright coloured bags around. Although they watched us they kept a wary distance from us. That was until we all sat down for a tea break. At that point we became the most fascinating things on the planet and they couldn’t get close enough. I never realised that cows had such a strong liking for cereal bars, ham sandwiches and flasks of tea!

They wanted to join in our tea break!
They wanted to join in our tea break!
Think I could have won a funkiest welly competition
Think I could have won a funkiest welly competition

I was hoping that this would be a chance to break in my brand new walking boots (also my first ever pair!) that my grandparents bought me as a graduation present but as it had rained so much on the Wednesday I decided wellies were probably the safest course. I think my leopard print ones stood out a little against everyone else’s green ones!

After the tea break we took the very short bus trip up to the next area of grassland. This section was so a lot steeper leading down to the wooded valley through which the stream runs. There were lots of boggy bits to dodge proving wellies were a good call. There wasn’t a massive amount of ragwort in this area but it was more spread out and the terrain was a bit more difficult to drag the full bags over. There were so many butterflies everywhere. It was a really nice sight after reading recently about it being a bad year for butterflies; this hot spell seems to have been good for them. The vast majority of them were Whites but there were plenty of others. I spent a few minutes stalking a Peacock to get a photo. We also found plenty of tiny  frogs and the grass was swarming with some little blueish insects that were jumping everywhere.

Peacock butterfly
Peacock butterfly

2013-08-01 12.57.51

Once the ragwort was cleared we stopped for lunch. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful spot to eat. We sat at the top of the hill so were looking down at the trees that sheltered the stream from sight. Butterflies were dancing above the flowers, and across the valley above the grazing cows and one solitary house a buzzard flew, it’s call almost the only sound we could hear.

This picture really does not not the view justice!
This picture really does not do the view justice!

After lunch Lucy drove the ragwort back round to our original sight whilst one of the volunteers, Alan, took us down through the woods and along the stream, to get back there by foot. After climbing the stile the first thing we got to was a big pool. Apparently years ago the people at the college nearby used to use it to swim. I wouldn’t have fancied trying that, it was rather squelchy looking. There were hundreds (maybe a slight exaggeration) of common blue damselflies and one rather large rusty dragonfly flitting across the water.

The pool though you can't see the damselflies
The pool though you can’t see the damselflies

We then headed off following the path along the stream. What had started off as a cloudy day had turned beautifully sunny and being beneath the trees was quite a nice relief from the heat. As we walked along everyone was still in volunteer mode and any Balsam that was spotted was quickly pulled up. This normally required a scramble down a bank and a quick paddle in the stream. The balsam is another invasive plants that can be damaging to natural habitats so needs to be removed. Once it’s pulled up, it can just be left to dry up, as long as the roots can’t get back into the ground. We just hung it from a branch so that wasn’t possible.

As we walked along I had the chance to see my first dipper. I’ve seen pictures of them before but never seen one in the wild. It was flying along the stream in front of us. At one point it stopped and did the dipping motion that gives it it’s name. It was really rather sweet.

The day also turned out to be a bit of a botany lesson. I acknowledge that plants are essential but at my time at University I was a Zoologist through and through; I chose to do a biochemistry module over a plant one! There were lots pointed out to us but I think I’ve managed to remember a few: self heal, knapweed, hawkbit and woundwort (the last one just makes me think of General Woundwort from Watership Down). Hopefully I’ll be able to test whether I do actually know they next week. I love how helpful everyone is and how willing they are to help each other learn.

After a lot of stops to look at various things we made it back to where they’d been dealing with the ragwort. By that time the fire had all burnt down and somehow we ended up at the pub next to the carpark where we’d picked some of the volunteers up. After around of ice lollies and drinks  it was back on the bus and back to Wolseley Bridge.

I know I’ve only done two days but I really do love volunteering already. The people are so friendly and helpful, I learn new things and it is the perfect way to get out and get close to the natural world. Starting next week I’m helping out with a group on Tuesdays as well that does jobs around the Wolselely centre. I can’t wait.

Beth x


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