Better late than never!

A little late but here’s the week before lasts volunteering fun:

Tuesday 18th March
Lucy and I went to Swineholes, to meet the Northern work party to do a final bit of scrub clearance. Despite the sun shining when I left my house in Stafford by the time we’d made it to the car park where we were meeting the other volunteers, the wind was blowing and the rain had started. We bravely decided to face the weather and started clearing some scrub. We hadn’t been going very long when the rain turned to horizontal sleet and we were all starting to feel a bit soggy despite all our waterproofs. At that point Lucy decided to call it a day; even though we hadn’t even made it to tea break. Yes, for a career in conservation, you need to be able to work in all weathers, but you also need to know when working in awful conditions is going to be no good to anyone!

Back at Wolseley, I had a meeting with Jeff and Lucy. It wasn’t anything too serious; just making my placement feel more official and going through what it will entail. It was all very exciting and will definitely help me on this never ending job hunt!

After that we went for a trip to Brankley Pastures; some work had been carried out there by some contractors so we were checking on that. As we walked around the site we kept an eye out for where willow and other trees were growing, where they aren’t wanted and also noted a few ragwort rosettes. A company had been in to cut back the trees and hedges where they grow close to powerlines, and the brash had been left behind. Back at the centre all of this was recorded on a map of the site for future reference.

I was shown various bits and pieces back at the centre; all glimpses into what goes on behind the scenes. This included the document in which all pesticide use is recorded, risk assessments for various tasks and maps of the reserves with all potential hazards marked on. I was also given a copy of the ‘Workparty Competency Checklist’ which details various health and safety points that need to be considered whilst leading a work party. There’s lots of things for me to look through and read when I get a spare few minutes and lots to learn which is always good πŸ™‚

Wednesday 19th March

A different view of Loynton
A different view of Loynton

On Wednesday I was back at Loynton with the Midweekers carrying on burning the brash left from the farmer clearing the ditches. I’m using brash in the loosest sense here as rather a lot of it was full trees. We split into two groups and had two fires to try and tackle as much of it as we could. It was a pretty straight forward job, cutting up the branches and putting them on the fire. The Landrover had a little accident when a tree that was being dragged closer to the fire came into contact with the back window, shattering it! Lunchtime saw the group attempting to ID a flock of small birds that were flittering along just above the ground and, unhelpfully, landing behind molehills and tufts of grass. In the end we didn’t manage to get a positive ID though a few suggestions had been thrown around. Despite our best efforts we didn’t manage to clear all the brash but we made a very respectable dent in it!

That scruffy looking hedge is just some of the 'brash' left from clearing the ditches
That scruffy looking ‘hedge’ is just some of the ‘brash’ left from clearing the ditches

Thursday 20th March
Last Thursdays job was to carry on messing around with big plastic sheets and Crassula up at Bateswood. We started off by removing some of the plastic from a scrape that had been covered previously. Upon it’s removal it became clear that it is an effective method for killing off the Crassula; all of it was dead apart from a small patch where the sheets had drifted apart, which we re-covered. It was rather windy up on the plateau, Β so lifting the sheeting resulted in a lot of mud being flicked everywhere! We used the plastic we’d just pulled up to cover up the bottom end of the pond we hadn’t managed to do the week before. The wind started causing trouble, threatening to pull the plastic away and resulting in Greg making the first fall of the day.

Crassula helmsi - this is the plant we were dealing with
Crassula helmsi – this is the plant we were dealing with

The wind became a real nightmare with our next task. One of the sheets from the previous week had somehow become un-tucked along the edge that had been in the water and weighed down with bricks. We did start attempting to put it back into place but at that point the wind decided that the plastic sheets would be better used as its play thing. I had a few minutes where I though I was about to be pulled across the grass when the wind caused the plastic to billow out like a sail with me clutching one end desperately, and one of the volunteers had the plastic pulled out from under his feet. It was clear we weren’t going to be able to put the plastic back out, so it was wrestled into something resembling a roll and bundled back to the vehicles. We had to do the same with another of the plastic sheets on the opposite side of the pond and then used the now spare bricks to weigh down the sheets that the wind hadn’t managed to pull up. Our last task before calling it a day was straightening out some sheets on a scrape round the other side of the plateau that Β had started to separate.

2014-03-20 11.12.15
Pond snail
Pond snail

It was a brilliant day for seeing pond life. Access to the plateau is normally prohibited so it was rather exciting to see what was about there. As well as the pond snails, which I’d seen last week, there were plenty of leeches on the plastic we removed. I went along throwing them back into the water and marvelling at how much they can stretch out. Skylarks were serenading us once again and I happened to be looking up at just the right moment to catch a glimpse of a snipe in flight. Alan managed to catch a water scorpion for me to have a closer look at and there were plenty of toads and a frog about. The highlight for me though was the newts! I spotted the first in the furrow in the ground where the plastic sheet had been dug in. It was a little smooth newt and seemed completely un-fazed by me staring so intently at it. My attention was pulled away by Lucy announcing “Now this is a newt!” and showing me my first ever Great Crested Newt. There upper parts are a fairly uniform dark colour but the underside is a stunning contrasting orange and black. We were soon spotting loads more, crouched in the mud or slipping into the water; they seemed to like the spot where the plastic was tucked into the soil so we had to proceed carefully whilst rolling the rest of it up. I felt really priviledged to have such great views of these beautiful little creatures and it left me with a grin for the rest of the day.

Toads getting busy
Toads getting busy
Smooth newt
Smooth newt
Beautiful Great Crested Newt!
Beautiful Great Crested Newt!


So the weather may have been trying it’s best to prevent us doing what we’d set out to do for the week but we did all we could given the circumstances, and I still got to see some pretty cool things πŸ™‚



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