Hem Heath and a little of the Wolseley Centre

Yesterday saw the first outing of 2014 for the Mid-week Volunteers and for me it was a very welcome break from standing behind a till or filling in application forms.

As is often the case my day consisted of two different parts; a little wander round the nature garden at the Wolseley Centre to see what I can find and then the main bulk of the day out volunteering at whatever reserve we’re heading to that day.

The awful weather we’ve been having lately had, luckily for me, reached a break and it was clear and sunny for the first time it what felt like forever when I arrived at the centre. I’ve been working lots over the holiday period and when I haven’t been stood behind a till I’ve been searching for a new job, which means hours of staring at a laptop whilst filling in application forms, so I haven’t had a chance to get outside and properly enjoy it as much as I would have liked.  I’d have still enjoyed being outside even if it was raining but the fact the sun was out made it even better. And it seemed that it wasn’t just me that was enjoying a rare bit of sunshine.

There seemed to be wildlife everywhere; I’m not sure if it was just that they were enjoying the sun like me or that I’ve become better at spotting and identifying the animals I see, but I saw more species than normal in my ten or so minutes wandering around, and they seemed to be in greater numbers.

Walking along the path that runs alongside the lake within a minute of being on the grounds I’d spied a magpie and the normal rabble of mallards hoping for a snack. Back in early December I’d spotted a duck on the lake, I was unfamiliar with that a few people helped me to identify as a male Goosander. Yesterday I was treated to seeing three; one male and two females. I tried to get a bit closer to them as they were a fair distance away but they didn’t seem to appreciate admirers and flew off further down the lake, out of sight.

Beautiful morning at the Wolseley Centre

With the Goosander gone I turned down the path into the Nature Garden. My arrival sent a rabbit scurrying and I had a quick glimpse of red and the sweep of a long tail as a cock pheasant ducked for cover. As usual the grey squirrels were about helping themselves to the bird feeders and bounding up and down branches. The Brown Rat was around also, picking up the bits scattered on the floor, and when it got too close, it chased a squirrel off into the undergrowth.

With the air full of the sound of bird song I plonked my bag down in the shelter and fished my bins out of my bag. It turned out that I didn’t need them. Great Tits and Blue Tits darted between the trees and the feeders, their white patches bright in the sun. Blackbirds seemed to be out in force, one hopping along the grass, feeding on the fallen seeds, whilst a pair chased after each other around the compost heap. A little Dunnock, quickly becoming one of my favourite birds, unobtrusively shuffled around near where I’d left my bag. A robin sat in the tree’s singing loudly, it’s red breast easy to spot amongst the bare branches.  A couple of Chaffinch put in an appearance as well as a small brown bird I wasn’t able to identify. I looked up into some nearby birch trees to see two rather plump looking  wood pigeons for a few seconds then turned back to my bag to be confronted by a rather brave female Blackbird on the bench next to me. After a few seconds of mutual examination she decided she’d been brave enough and took off. She wasn’t the only animal feeling bold. Whilst I was watching the Blackbirds by the compost heap a rabbit slowly lopped past me, seemingly oblivious of my presence.

My highlight of the day had to be the appearance of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. It’s one of those species that I’m sure I must have seen before, but can’t remember when, though that doesn’t take anything away from the delight I felt when it landed on the bird feeders. After feeding for a little while the beautiful black, white and red bird flew up into one of the trees. I was able to watch its awkward hopping motion as it moves up and down the trunk and the pecking, feeding behaviour that these birds are named for. When the woodpecker flew off I managed to drag myself away from the garden and went to meet the other volunteers.

Our task for the day was to head back to Hem Heath to carry on the work we’d started before Christmas on improving a glade. It’s part of a five year project, each year focussing on removing trees in another part of the glade. Last time I’d been there there’s had been plenty of trees felled so all we’d had to do was chop them up into smaller parts. This week we were given the job of chopping more trees down!

Back at Hem Heath

I’d never cut down a tree before and was filled with images of it all going wrong. Luckily I had nothing to worry about and it wasn’t too difficult to do. One of the volunteers Nick walked me through the first one before I was let loose on trees by myself. The first step is to cut a small wedge out of the front of the tree, which influences which way the tree will fall. A cut is then made from behind, parallel to the bottom part of the wedge. This creates a sort of hinge. After cutting so far into the trunk, the creaks and groans of the tree indicate it’s ready to go by itself. At this point it’s best to step back and let gravity do the rest.

First tree down

Once down the tree is cut up. Smaller branches are burnt on a bonfire, as sadly leaving it around may be just too tempting for local young pyromaniacs. The rest is cut into fairly large pieces and stacked off the ground to prevent it from rotting. Sadly there is just too much for the Trust to take away and use but they hope that they’ll find someone who will find a use for it all. It was really quite astonishing how quickly a few volunteers can reduce a series of trees to piles of timber!

Making notes on how to chop down a tree

I was talking to Lucy about the site and the work and she said that it is one of the only sites where they get to fell large trees. The trees we were working with (at least some of them) were Wych Elms, according to Nick (Yes I first typed in ‘Witch’ Elm when I googled it) whereas at other sights it’s smaller spindly trees which are coppiced rather then felled. It was easy to see the areas where they’ve worked in previous years. Although there aren’t any trees there is still plenty of vegetation, apparently there are lots of flowers in the summer, and there is already evidence of some regrowth.

The area that has been worked on in previous years

Next week we’re back at Hem Heath to continue with the work, though it should hopefully be our last week there. I can’t wait as my job with Boots will have finished and I’ll be able to go out both days again 🙂

Beth x

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