Thorswood and Jackson’s Marsh

This week I’ve been out with the Trust for three days doing different things each day. Some of what I’ve been doing is the normal sort of work party stuff whilst one of the days, and a little bit of another was something new. Today’s post is about going out with the work parties but keep your eyes peeled for a post about the other mysterious goings on!

Yesterday I was offered the chance to go out with Lucy and help with a group that meets on Tuesdays. This was a different group to that I normally go out with and I think that they usually work on reserves in the north of Staffordshire. Those volunteers meet where they’re working each week rather then having the mini bus take them, so I got a lift over in the Landrover.

Tea break view at Thorswood
Tea break view at Thorswood

The reserve we were working on was Thorswood. Like many of the reserves, this was a mixture of different habitats including flower meadows and heathland. We were working up towards the top of the hill cutting back gorse. The gorse is cut fairly regularly as left to it’s own devices it takes over and can swamp out other plant species. Cutting the gorse required the use of loppers and bow saws, getting in close to the ground whilst trying to avoid the prickles! To make matters worse there was a lot of bracken mixed in amongst it. We started by clearing a strip alongside the fence pushing the gorse back. After finishing that and a quick tea break it was time to up the offensive and forge a path through the vegetation. I’m not sure if there had been one there before or not but by the time we were finished there was a lovely path right through the gorse and bracken. Being up at the top of the hill it was rather chilly in the wind but there were some rather enjoyable views across the surrounding countryside, and if it got too cold there was always the fire we were burning the gorse on to stand by.

Before...
Before…
... and after.
… and after.
Nice toasty bonfire
Nice toasty bonfire

After an evening checking that I’d hunted down and removed any gorse that was caught in my boots or fleece it was back to the Wolseley Centre ready to get the minibus out for another day in the Staffordshire countryside this morning. Our original plan had been to head back to Loynton Moss to deal with the willows but the forecast looked awful and it isn’t possible to treat the willows in the rain. To be on the safe side and ensure we didn’t have a wasted day we were headed to Jackson’s Marsh to cut the reeds.

Jackson's Marsh
Jackson’s Marsh

As I’d never been to to Jackson’s before some of the other volunteers warned that it can be rather soggy underfoot. They weren’t wrong. Pretty much wherever I stood was soggy but some places were a lot worse then others. At more then one point my leg disappeared up to my knee in mud! I was very glad I have waterproof over trousers at that point as a welly full of muddy water would not have gone down well!

Just a little bit wet under foot!
Just a little bit wet under foot!

The big grass cutting machines can’t be taken out onto the marsh as they’d just disappear into the mud. Instead the reeds are cut with brush-cutters (imagine bigger heavier grass strimmers). I started off raking up the cut reeds but later on had a go with the brush-cutters. They’re not too difficult to use once you get the knack of stopping vegetation getting wrapped around the blades though the harnesses which are meant to take most of the weight are definitely designed for men! Lucky for us the rain held off and it stayed quite warm. The temperature and the rather difficult footing made it hard work if you were using the brush-cutter for too long so we swapped around fairly regularly. At one point I was cutting reeds on the far side of the marsh, sinking further and further into the mud when I slipped over backwards onto my bottom. I did think I was going to be stuck there for a while; getting out of the mud whilst holding a brush-cutter was not easy.

Bullrushes
Bullrushes

Wildlife wise there were plenty of amphibians around; I saw a few frogs and toads making there way to safer spots. There were also plenty of creepy crawlies about if you stopped for a close look. Whenever a pitchfork was left in the ground spiders were making their way right up to the top, a few caterpillars were around and there were some beautiful shiny blue beetles here and there. One of the volunteers spotted a nuthatch at lunchtime and it was a really good site to just sit and listen to all the birdsong.

One Toad
Toad

I’m not out tomorrow as I’m off to Nottingham to see some University friends but I’ll be out for more volunteering fun next Wednesday 🙂

Beth x

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