The last two weeks have been enjoyable as always though tinged with a hint of sadness, as they’ve been my last few outings with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and the MidWeek volunteers.
I started last week off by doing Shaun a favour, and taking out his Wild About Stafford Volunteer group. It was only a small group of three and we went to Barlaston and Rough Close Common. We were bracken bashing with scythes, as left to it’s own devices the bracken can go a bit crazy. It was the first time I’d used a scythe and I now think that if you were angry it’d be a great way to relieve some stress! There were a few beautiful red poll youngsters who decided to have a nosey at our bags as well.
I dropped the volunteers back at the carpark just in time to meet up with Shaun who was taking a group of school children out onto Doxey Marshes. We started off with some pond dipping along one of the ditches. It was brilliant to see the kids get so excited about what they had in their nets and running around to see what others had found. There were some great finds too; giant beetle larvae, monstrous water scorpions and a fresh water mussel. After pond dipping we went along to the hide and they all got a chance to try using some binoculars. I pointed out an Oystercatcher and Shelduck to the group I was sat with and it was lovely to hear their cries of delight once they’d managed to focus in on them. After looking at the birds they had to design their own creature and explain how it’s different features made it possible for it to live in it’s habitat. Children’s imaginations never cease to amaze me!
On the Tuesday it was time for the Northern Group. We were at Swineholes dealing with the bracken. I had a quick lesson in the difference between ferns and bracken, which was pretty obvious once you’ve looked properly but I’d never given it that much thought before. We were clearing it from all the open areas and managed to pull some up amongst the trees on the bottom of the hill too.
On the Wednesday we were at Cotton Dell mainly to put in some steps after one of the bridges. As there were quite a few of us, some of us got sent off to do a few odd jobs. My first task was, along with Nick, to go and find the branch across the path I’d spotted whilst doing the safety audit. It was a bit bigger then I remembered it being but we got it cleared up. After tea break we headed upstream in search of Himilayan Balsam. There were a few little bits and whilst we were in the area we had a quick check on how the ragwort was doing in one of the fields. There didn’t seem too much there, which is always good news, but there were plenty of orchids and I saw my first Meadow Brown of the year. After lunch I headed down the stream in the other direction to pull up a few more bits of Balsam. The banks were steeper so getting down to it was trickier, though when I did fall over it was on a completely flat part of ground and not down a slope. Typical me!
On Thursday we were at Loynton Moss for a lot of odd jobs. Dave and John were set up with the brushcutter and mower to attempt to reclaim the rather overgrown paths. Sally, the other John and I went off to deal with the last bit of brash we hadn’t managed to burn from when the ditches were cleared. That had all been dragged into one big heap so was all we needed to do was light a fire within it and keep an eye on it. John was left with that job, in the company of some rather silly cows whilst Sally and I were sent off the check on some trees and remove some ivy.
When Lucy first said about removing ivy I thought it’d be a fairly easy job. I was wrong. Some of it was easy and could just be pulled off. Others bits had become one big merged mass of stems that it was impossible to get the saw into. We did our best and removed what we could but weren’t successful with all the trees. (We also didn’t manage to locate all the trees but we’ll ignore that fact for now). That kept us occupied for the rest of the day.
This week I only went out on Wednesday and Thursday as I’ve been busy attempting to sort my life out ready for the move down south. We were at Jacksons to tackle Himalayan Balsam on both days. The problem with balsam is that it out competes and smothers other vegetation. It also spread very quickly as each plant produces 100’s of seeds that are released in an explosion. The plant likes to grow in wet areas so the seeds are often transported downstream, meaning the plant can spread over a distance and cause problems else where. When it dies back in the winter it can expose the soil of river banks to erosion. You also need to be careful that the whole plant is pulled up as it can regrow if part of it is left.
Our main focus was along the banks of the river but we did have to wander into the marsh at times to deal with patches in there.
Wednesday was a pretty successful day. Although the ground was soggy I only really got stuck once, and that was because I’d strayed a little too close to the river. Thursday was a slightly different matter. Both Sally and I seemed to get stuck numerous times, and had to be pulled out. Sally lost a welly at one stage and towards the end I sunk that deep I had to have my foot dug out. It was definitely one way to ensure that I remember my last day volunteering.
Despite all the time spent trying to free our selves from the mud we did make headway with the balsam. According to Lucy the areas that we’d covered often take a lot longer to remove all the balsam, so the efforts of the Trust and the volunteers is paying off.
We ended both days with a visit to the pub, as I sadly was saying good bye to everyone. Over the last year I’ve learnt so much from all of the midweek volunteers and they were always friendly, welcoming and willing to help me. I felt all emotional saying goodbye at the end of Thursday as I’m going to miss them all lots, although I have promised if I’m ever back in Staffordshire on a day they’re going out then I’ll pop along and say hi.
So that’s it; my last day as a midweek volunteer! It’s been a brilliant year but it’s time for my next new adventure!