End of September – a quarter of the way through!

This is going to be a bit of a jumbo post because I wrote half of it last week and then forgot to post it so you have the last two weeks and two days of September’s goings on to catch up on!

So a couple of weeks ago the rest of the Trainees and I spent the day together at Callow. We were meeting various members of staff in the morning. First up was Michelle Bowe who is Head of Conservation Stratergy and Policy. She outlined some of the work she oversees and then went on to talk about ecological networks, a big subject at the moment. Talk of habitat permeability and maximum dispersal made me seriously miss studying science at university whilst the discussion raised some interesting points – such as mono-cultures grown for biofuels or organic food may be ‘green’ but are awful for biodiversity. After that Jake and Pippa both came to talk to us. They each work on projects relating to grasslands and meadows such as Seeds for Change, Coronation Meadows and Save our Magnificent Meadows but each has slightly different aims. Pippa is working on some community engagement activities whilst Jake has been gathering seed and using it for improving and restoring grassland. It all sounds rather exciting and all links in to improving the Mendip Living Landscape by working with landowners and communities.

In the afternoon Liz was busy in the office but said I could put up an interpretation board. The others were still in the office so I offered them a chance to ‘come on an adventure’. It did turn out to be a little bit of an adventure; after picking some tools up from Chancellors and giving Olivia and Chris a very quick tour we ended up driving circles around Wells as the OS map didn’t show which roads were one way! Eventually we made it to King’s Castle Wood and set about putting up the interpretation board. As it was the first time I’d put one up without Liz I was glad that the others were with me to help juggle all the equipment. We even managed to get the sticker on perfectly straight without any bubbles! And of course we had to have a photo with our achievement! (Thank you to the member of the public who happened to walk past at just the right moment)

Mission accomplished!
Mission accomplished!

The rest of the week was rather brush-cutter heavy; clearing glades, rides and paths at various reserves with Liz and James. We took the flail mower to Harridge Woods to see how much of the ride it could cut; to the delight of James and Liz it could handle a lot, greatly reducing the amount of time needed to be spent there. Where the flail could not get to it was down to us to cut and rake it all up; putting my newly gained brush-cutter qualification to good use πŸ˜›

Ride at Harridge
Ride at Harridge

In amongst all the brush-cutting we had a meeting with some of the volunteer Reserve Wardens, cleared some Himilayan Balsam, cut up a fallen tree and I’ve started filling in my workbook for a Volunteer Management course I’m taking.

Last week started with Dormouse box checks at Edford Wood. They were boxes we’ve done before as checks are carried out monthly up until the Dormouse go into hibernation. There had been some activity as the boxes that had been full of nuts before were now empty and some empty ones did have nuts in (though the nuts did look like they’d been eaten by Woodmice). As we expected we didn’t find any dormouse. In fact we didn’t even get a glimpse of fur; the pygmy shrew and and even the wood mice were out!

Liz had lots to do in the office on Tuesday so she gave me a list of jobs to do by myself! First on my list was to put up an interpretation board at Harridge Woods East. This was a lot trickier just by myself having to juggle holding the board and using the drill but I managed it in the end. I think the hardest part may have been taking off the old boards as I may have had the wrong drill bit on and ruined the head of the first screw I tried to take out (oops!). I swapped it and got the other screws out fine but that one corner was determined to stay attached to the post. In the end I went for the old fail safe of if something isn’t working whack it with a hammer!

Feeling proud!
Feeling proud! Board up and looking straight!

When I was finished at Harridge I went around a few different reserves putting up some ‘Welcome’ and ‘Thank you’ discs. They’re going up on all reserves as a way to make it easier to recognise when you are entering or leaving Trust reserves. I managed to navigate my way around Harridge Woods, Cockles Fields, Kings Hill Gully (where I also pulled some Himilayan Balsam) and Withial Combe all without getting lost! Investing in some OS maps was definitely money well spent.

New discs up
New discs up

On Wednesday James and I were out with the volunteers at Mascall’s Wood doing some scrub clearance. The group were working in the old strawberry fields stopping the scrub encroaching on the grassland. Scrub clearing season also means bonfires! It was a little bit warm for a bonfire to be honest but give it a few weeks and I’m sure I’ll be appreciating the warmth a lot more.

It may be autumn but there are still plenty of Speckled Woods around
It may be autumn but there are still plenty of Speckled Woods around
Volunteers cutting back scrub
Volunteers cutting back scrub

Thursday saw me venturing off the Mendips and heading down to Ford Farm to spend the day with Olivia, her mentor Mark and Ian out on the Poldens. We spent the day at Dundon Beacon finishing clearing a glade that they’d started the week before. Once that was finished we moved up to the top of the hill, the site of an Iron age fort, to cut back the vegetation that grows on the banks. It was great to catch up with Olivia and share our experiences so far. Hopefully we’ll be able to spend some more days together carrying out some tasks.

Dundon Beacon
Dundon Beacon

On Friday one of the volunteer Reserves Wardens, Chris, was doing Dormouse box checks at Black Rock and had very kindly said that I could go along after I’d mentioned I’d yet to see a dormouse. There has been dormouse monitoring going on yearly at Black Rock for nearly 40 years. I didn’t want to get my hopes too high in case I was disappointed but not only did I get to see my first dormouse we also found a couple of litters of baby Dormice! They were absolutely adorable and I had a big grin on my face for the rest of the day! The adults all got weighed individually, and the youngsters together, and then the weigh averaged out, to see whether they were up to size for surviving hibernation. Most of our little ones were about 8g each, which means they should be on track to building up enough fat to survive the winter months. There were also plenty of Wood Mice using the boxes and in one of the last ones we checked Chris found a Yellow-necked mouse. At first glance they look very like a wood mouse but they are bigger and if you can manage to turn them over to look, they have a yellow band of fur across the neck.

My first dormouse!
My first dormouse!
Babies!!!
Babies!!!

Dormouse box checks done it was time to join Neil and do some work. We headed over to to another part of Black Rock, where Sam, a new volunteer, and I were cutting the ride whilst Neil and James were treating stumps and marking up some Sycamore to come out of the woods.

I started this week with another trip down to Ford Farm, this time so Olivia and I could get our chainsaw gear as our course is in a couple of weeks. We went down to Exeter with Mark so we could try trousers and boots on rather then ordering in things that then might not fit. The trousers are really heavy so I think I may be getting super fit wearing them this winter! My boots also look like monster boots when I compare them to my normal walking ones. I’m now really looking forward to doing our course and being let loose on some trees πŸ™‚

Olivia and I then spent the rest of the day carrying out some tool maintenance tasks. We did all the checks on the brush cutter, following the tick list, filled up the fuel cans and then turned our hands to fixing a rake. I really enjoyed that we were left to muddle through on our own, working things out rather then having someone there walking us through everything step by step; I think we learnt more that way.

Putting 'teeth' back on a rake
Putting ‘teeth’ back on a rake

Tuesday was spent at Callow mostly in a Living Landscapes meeting. Staff from various areas were all in attendance to talk about current work that is carried out on Mendip and how that contributes to the Living Landscape and what they hope to do/see in future. And that is September done!

So I’m now a quarter of the way through my time in Somerset. That is incredibly scary when I think about it so I am trying to look at it the other way round – I have three quarters left! Either way time seems to have flown by. I’m in the process of putting together a presentation of my experience on the traineeship so far for our Devon residential and I’ve done so much! We only have five minutes and I’m sure I could waffle on for much longer then that. It’s good fun flicking through my diary and photos to work out exactly how much I’ve done and where and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with the other trainees but also hearing what they’ve been up to.

Here's another baby dormouse photo just because :)
Here’s another baby dormouse photo just because πŸ™‚

If you want to know what the other Somerset Trainees get up to then check out our section on the Somerset Wildlife Trust websiteΒ for monthly updates which the wonderful ClaireΒ has put together.

Beth

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