After not being able to make it last week due to other commitments, I was rather happy to be back on the white minibus with the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust midweek volunteers today, heading off to Brankley Pastures.
The Trusts webpage for the site describes the site as a work in progress. One area of the reserve was, until a few years ago, used for arable crops. Now it is in the slow process of becoming a wood pasture habitat. As the name suggests wood pasture is a mix of both grassland and woodland. Ancient trees are a main feature in wood pastures so this area of the reserve will be a work in progress for a long time! The rest of the reserve is a combination of fields/grassland, woodland and already established wood pasture.
Once again the majority of us were on the hunt for a certain plant with yellow flowers whilst a few others were using the cutters to tidy some of the paths and tackle the plants. We started off in the area where all the new trees have been planted. The Wednesday group had made a start on the area yesterday but there was plenty left for us. It was a slightly different setting today having to dodge young oak trees and bramble patches to get to the ragwort, rather then cowpat and thistles, and dragging the bags was more awkward than normal. I could tell that it was getting to the end of the ragwort pulling season. Lots of the flowers were going to seed. We’ve been trying to remove them before that happened though today it was a bit touch and go. We may have spread the seeds a bit further then the plants would have managed themselves though I guess we did manage to remove a lot of flowers that hadn’t yet gone to seed so it probably cancelled out. It was a lovely setting though; lots of young trees and wildflowers. There was also plenty of creepy crawlies to keep us company; hoverflies, ladybirds and butterflies alongside many others.
There was a few moments of excitement when Greg found an egg. It was all rubbery and lacked the hard shell you see on bird eggs. There was speculation for a few minutes that it might belong to a reptile though it looked a bit big. Luckily Lucy was nearby and came over to solve the mystery. It was a bird egg; sometimes if the bird is not getting the correct diet then they can’t produce the hard shell of the egg and lay them without it.
After the tea break I was sent off to a different part of the reserve, a field, with a few of the other volunteers, Dan, Laura and Paul. There was a lot less ragwort there and it was a lot easier to move around. It was probably more important to remove it from that area too as there was a group of young cows that had the run of the field. I ended up spending quite a bit of time crawling round on my knees attempting to get some photos of a few moths and butterflies on my phone. They’d let me get close enough to focus then just before I took the picture they’d decide that the next flower along was much more appealing. With the group of us we managed to clear the field fairly easily, getting it done just after lunch. Starting at the top and working down to the bottom probably wasn’t the best idea though. Our bag was full and dragging that back to the fire was not fun! I’m pretty sure that I’m going to have rather achy arms tomorrow. Though I shouldn’t complain too much as it’s all for a good cause.
Today was our last day pulling ragwort as there’s no point doing it really once it’s started to seed so to celebrate we went to the pub for a drink. I get the feeling that I may end up visiting a few different pubs all over Staffordshire whilst I volunteer; I don’t think I’ve ever been to a pub for a drink in Stafford where I live. It sounds like next week we’re back to Loynton Moss to do some grass cutting which means raking and frog rescue!