I’ve had a brilliant time with the Wildlife Trust this week. I think the amazing weather may have helped a little but I’ve been out and about doing various bits and bobs and it’s just highlighted even more that I want a career in conservation.
Tuesday 11th March
On arrival at the Centre on Tuesday Lucy informed me we were heading down to Highgate Common to collect some bricks for some work we were doing later in the week. Lucy had only been there once before so I was handed two sets of googlemap directions as I climbed into the Landrover and told I was navigator. Luckily it was a pretty straight forward journey and I have a decent sense of direction so we got there without any trouble.
After being told that the pile of bricks we were looking for was a decent size we were a little confused to only find a small scattering. We were shortly joined by some Highgate volunteers who had piled the bricks originally three years ago! A little rummaging around in the vegetation revealed that the rather pitiful pile we’d first found was actually a lot larger one, once you pulled off all the moss and brambles. It was then a case of transferring the bricks into the trailer so we could take them back to Wolseley. The help of the Highgate volunteers made it a pretty easy task and I had a chance to marvel at some of the inverts we’d disturbed. It was a creepy crawly heaven and I found myself wishing I’d thrown an ID book in my bag. A millipede curled tight into a ball, centipedes darted away out of sight and earthworms buried into the earth, escaping the bright sun. I admired a rather large ground beetle for a little whilst before returning to shifting bricks.
Once the trailer was loaded we were invited to join the volunteers for their tea break. I was more than happy to go along as it was the first time I’d been to Highgate and it gave me a chance to admire the views. It was pretty clear Spring has arrived with clear blue sky and the sun warming the air just nicely. We wandered through an area of woodland and out onto the heath. We joined Vicky and the rest of the volunteers over by some ponds where they were having a break from removing scrub. The removal of the scrub encourages growth of plants such as heather and bilberry. Unfortunately I didn’t spot any of the beetles or bees that Highgate is known for but that’s a good excuse for going back another time.
We managed to get the bricks back to Wolseley without any mishaps and I wandered round to Swan Lake to eat my lunch. Whilst there I found out I didn’t get the traineeship I had the interview for last week (booooo) but at least I had a decent view to console myself with. Lots of the Canada Geese seem to have moved on so it’s a lot quieter and I haven’t seen the Goosander for a while but there were still mallards, coots and a moorhen to watch. I also think I’ve found the male partner of the female blackbird I was watching collect nest material last week.
Sandwiches eaten it was time to head off for the next task; visiting George’s Hayes to check on a dodgy tree and inspect some boundaries. We were on the opposite end to where we were working whilst thinning ash so was a new area for me. The tree, though damaged, hadn’t fallen and as it’s close to the path will have to be taken down. The path took us up past all the native daffodils. A few brave flowers had emerged but most were still hiding in their pale green buds. When they all do emerge it will definitely be worth a visit; a beautiful yellow carpet of flowers. As we walked along Lucy pointed out different plants to me, bluebells just poking up through the earth, wild garlic, with its pungent leaves, and dog mercury. Plants are definitely my weak point and I really need to get myself a decent plant book so I can begin to remedy this.
Wednesday 12th March
We headed up to Bateswood to do some work with an invasive plant. We were dealing with Crassula helmsii which is also known as Australian Swamp Stonecrop or New Zealand Pygmyweed. It was orginally imported for garden ponds but has managed to get out and spread into our waterways. It grows mostly around the edges of ponds and can form a dense mat of vegetation, out competing our native plant life. What makes it so tricky to deal with is that the plant can regrow from the tiniest little fragment. There are a few ways to deal with the plant but some can be expensive. The way we were using is covering the plant with large black plastic sheets. This is left for a long period of time, blocking out the sunlight and killing the plant.
As we were working with the ponds this meant we were allowed up onto the plateau. The bricks that we’d picked up from Highgate were to weigh down the sheets so we started off by throwing them over the fence whilst a couple of volunteers started using the wheelbarrows to make piles of them around the pond. I was sent off to do a lap of the pond to cut down any small trees growing near the edges. I got a little bit distracted upon finding a large quantity of frogspawn but got the job done just as they were starting to unroll the first role. Upon realising that the frogspawn was likely to end up under the plastic, if it was left where it was, I offered my services to become a frogspawn hero and move it out of harms way. It was rather difficult to move as there was so much and it was in such large clumps (I only have little hands). We ended up filling one of the wheelbarrows with it and managing to take it out to around some rocks a bit further into the pond. Whilst
playing with moving the frogspawn I managed to catch a Great Diving Beetle and also noticed some rather sizeable pond snails.
Distractions from pondlife over it was time to join the others with battling the plastic sheets. The edge had to overlap with the ground enough that it could be dug into the mud to stop the wind pulling it up, whilst also stretching far enough out into the water to cover up the Crassula. It was definitely a team effort. Lucy and Alan were out on the far edge of the plastic, weighing it down with the bricks, I was attempting to balance standing in the middle of the sheet, passing bricks from the two Dave’s, who were on the muddy edge to the two in the water. Even standing on the plastic didn’t stop the mud from sucking at your feet and there were a few moments when I thought someone was going to end up head first in the water. I managed to last until after tea break before the water trickled into my wellies. After then I just didn’t care. The far side was a lot deeper and I ended up thigh deep at times. At that point I was glad that the fog had cleared and it had turned out to be a nice day; definitely a good thing when you can actually pour the water out of your wellies!
Strange as it would seem considering I was stood thigh deep in cold water for a large chunk of it, I had a brilliant day; possibly one of my favourite so far whilst volunteering. I think the weather had something to do with it but it wasn’t just that. We spent the whole time listening to skylarks (another ‘tick’ for my ‘list’) and I flushed a lapwing whilst cutting the little trees. All the volunteers were in good spirits and laughing despite the rather unusual working conditions and it was enjoyable to do something that didn’t require loppers and a bow saw.
We managed to do both of the long sides of the pond but there is still some left to do. That’s a job for next week as our wellies need time to dry!
Thursday 13th March
Thursday saw us at Loynton to carry out a couple of tasks; a fence was down along one of the fields and the farmer had cleared the ditches after all the horrific weather leaving plenty of brash to burn. We split into two groups and my group headed off to start attacking the massive piles of branches. I was put in charge of the group, though as everyone knows what they’re doing it only entailed shouting tea break and lunch break at the right times. Despite it looking like a massive job, with two fires going we actually managed to clear all of the brash, even a giant stump that had to be rolled over to the fire as it was too big to carry. It sounds like we had more success then the fence building group who managed to break a few tools.
Thursday was a pretty good day for wildlife too. On the bus en route to the Wolseley Centre I spotted six or seven fallow deer just on the other side of the hedge going into Milford, at least four of which were stags. As I had a walk through the nature garden I spotted some frogspawn in the pond, the normal Great Tits and Blue Tits on the feeders and a male Blackbird pulling a earthworm from the soil. Buzzards were around all day; with three circling together at lunchtime, a pair of robins squabbled in the mess of branches we were working near and a Lapwing ‘pee-wit’-ed before settling down in the boggy part of the field. Heading back to the minibus I spotted a dead fox lying on the grass though didn’t get too close so couldn’t see what may have killed it and on the way back to Wolseley, looking out of the minibus window at just the right moment treated me to a view of a beautiful buzzard stood in a ploughed field.
I’m looking forward to next week; visiting a new reserve for me with the northern group on Tuesday and then back to Bateswood for more paddling on Thursday with a trip to Loynton in-between.