Here’s a bumper post with what I’ve been up to over the last two week with Staffs Wildlife Trust
Tuesday 25th February
I was out on a Tuesday as I’ve started doing an extra day with the Wildlife Trust, shadowing Lucy and having a glimpse into what other work goes on beyond the midweek volunteer party. This was my first day doing this. The original plan had been to go out to one of the reserves and do some safety checks but Lucy had received an email from one of the volunteers about a fallen tree at Loynton Moss, so we headed off to check that out.
As we walked along the path between the reed bed and the canal it was quickly clear what the problem was. A giant beech tree had dropped a limb, which had knocked down other trees and then got caught in the fork of a neighbour so was hanging horizontally across the path. It was tree carnage! The noise when it had fallen would have been something spectacular! On closer inspection of the tree we saw some bracket fungus which may have been the cause of the fallen limb. The job was too massive for us to even think about dealing with ourselves so Lucy got in touch with a tree surgeon who does some jobs for the Trust.
Further along the path we came upon another fallen tree. This one was not as large and it was mostly the smaller branches that were obscuring the path; though there was a clear space where walkers had forced their way through.
We saw a lady walking her dog and she said that the fallen trees had been like that for a least a week. That amazed me! It was obviously dangerous; you had to climb over one and then under another and yet no one had thought to report it.
The next step was to close the footpath. That required a quick trip back to the Wolseley Centre for supplies. We blocked the path at both ends with red tape and signs. We were aware that there probably would be people that would ignore the signs, determined to do their circuit of the reserve, but we’d done all we could and anyone venturing near the trees would be doing so at their own risk.
It was nice to get back to Loynton as we’ve done lots of work there before and this visit let me some some of the results. Back in the summer, when I first started volunteering, we’d cut back a lot of vegetation in the woods to clear an area that is known to be good for snowdrops. They were in full bloom, a whole carpet of the small white flowers. As we’d walked along the path I’d also been able to see down onto the reed bed which we’d worked on in the autumn. Regrowth was already evident. Quite often we visit a reserve and carry out our task but don’t get a chance to see the results of the work as it’s evident a couple of seasons later in the year, and we’re busy working somewhere else so it was a rewarding experience.
After dealing with a small fallen tree that encroached onto a path slightly it was back to the Wolseley Centre. There, Lucy showed me how they record any safety issues on the computers. The programme is accessible to all staff members, meaning that even if a member of staff is ill, others can know what they’ve been working on and how close to being resolved the problem is.
Of course, whilst I was there, I had my normal wander around the grounds of the Wolseley Centre. There were lots of signs of Spring in the air. A pair of mallards were busy creating the next generation of ducklings and some of the daffodils were open. Over by Swan Lake I watched a female Blackbird collect nest material.; the amount of stuff she could hold in her beak was pretty impressive. I think I know in which tree she was building her nest but of course I kept a respectful distance so as not to disturb her.
Wednesday 26th February
Back out with the midweekers, I was helping to continue the clearing of scrub from grassy areas at Bateswood. As we worked someone drew my attention to the song of a skylark hiding somewhere nearby. Bateswood is a good site for them and it was the first time I’d heard one, at least to my knowledge, but unfortunately I didn’t manage to spot any. We were also treated to the sight of two ravens flying overhead at lunchtime, identified by Lucy by their calls.
Thursday 27th February
To start with we were carrying on from where we’d left off the previous day, finishing clearing the last bits of scrub in the areas where the orchids grow. A bit of poking around unearthed me a seven spot ladybird, a unidentified grub and four metallic blue beetles which were sheltering in the fork of a branch. Despite some rather menacing dark clouds looming nearby for a while we stayed dry and were treated to blue skies for some of the day.
After lunch we headed up to the track around the edge of the plateau. Some trees had got past the fence and were in the way when taking the Landy across the track so we were cutting them back and treating the stumps with round up. I had a good luck across the plateau from the viewing platform with my binoculars as there are snipe there, but they were hiding too well and I didn’t spot anything.
Tuesday 4th March
I was back out with Lucy again on Tuesday. This time we were with the Northern Volunteer party working at Black Brook, part of the Staffordshire Moorlands. Black Brook was once a conifer plantation; the trees were planted for their timber but never harvested. Upon gaining ownership of the reserve the Trust has been working on removing the plantation and returning the landscape to moorland. It was an interesting reserve to visit as it’s easy to spot the various stages of work being carried out around the reserve.
In one area where the trees were removed a few years ago. there are signs of moorland plants making a comeback. Plastic tubes protect broadleaf saplings from the reaches of hungry deer. One slope has only recently had the conifer trees ripped up, and whilst we were there a lorry was taking their trunks away.
We were there to carry out a few little jobs but all primarily to fulfil one function; keeping deer out. We split into two groups as all the tasks were dotted around the reserve. Firstly we inspected the dry stone wall; in certain spots the deer had knocked down large patches. How they’ve managed that without seriously damaging their legs I don’t know! This also gave me my first ever sighting of red grouse! We could hear them off in the vegetation behind us and we happened to look around at just the right time to spot three of them fly up above the heather.
Our first task was to replace a few rails in a fence on the top of the hill. To get there we were walking through where the trees had recently been pulled down. One area was like walking through a sheep grave yard; there were bones everywhere. The theory is that when it was trees the farmer found it easier to sling the dead sheep over the fence then doing whatever it is that farmers do with dead sheep. The task was relatively straight forward, once we’d decided which was the best way to do it. As there wasn’t enough for all of us to do I went off with Lucy to join the other group of volunteers.
They were down at the bottom of the hill where the broadleaf saplings are. They’d been uprighting some of the deer tubes that had been knocked down by the recent weather. Lucy and I arrived with some fence posts and timber to attempt to deal with a gap the deer had made under the fence. It was a small gap over a puddle and the deer must have been crawling through the mud to get under the fence; the mud on the other side was full of their slots. After a bit of debate and some creative thinking we finally worked out the best way to block the gap.
After that it was time for a very late lunch. Some of the volunteers went off to prop up a fence that had started leaning over rather precariously whilst the others started on repairing the dry stone walling. It was something I’d never done before so I was just watching. It looked like a lot of hard work but it was definitely something I’d like to have a go at in future. Once the fence was looking a little more secure it was time to pack the tools up and head home; the rest of the wall will have to be fixed another day.
Wednesday 5th March
Wednesday saw us heading off on a bit of an adventure. The midweekers had been called in to help out clearing some scrub on a reed bed in Tamworth. It was a place that none of us had been to or heard of and I was surprised that it was so close to the centre of town; Tamworth is where we went shopping or to the cinema with my mum when I was younger and I had no idea that this place existed!
It was the fairly standard scrub clearing job; cut down the scrub to ground level, treat with round up and burn the brash.
For this job we were joined by Ed Marshall, an old university friend, fellow AFON member and a wildlife photographer (you can check out some of his work here). Ed is keen to develop a portfolio of people engaging with nature and as Tamworth is his home town it was a good opportunity for him to come out and get some images. It was really enjoyable to have a catch up with him, find out what he’s been doing and of course we spent a lot of time talking about AFON and future projects.
At one point I had a slightly confused dog walker approach me. She hesitantly asked me if I minded telling her what we were doing. We must look an odd bunch with our bow saws and loppers. I explained it to her and she seemed genuinely interested. It highlighted to me the importance of letting people know about the work that is carried out and the reasons why. I think that the work can often go unknown about and underappreciated.
There was no volunteering for me on Thursday. I had an interview in Derbyshire which I’m still waiting to hear the result of so keep your fingers crossed for me!