Sunday, 8 December 2019

There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza

Way back three quarters of the way through the last century, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a hit with ‘Blinded by the Light’, and I was reminded of that when I arrived at the Common this morning. The day before had been horrid, but after a windy night the sky was clear blue, and the sun was bright and so low I couldn’t see a thing in front of me as I walked along the boardwalk. Here’s the view across the central section, Area G, which was cut in the early autumn.

A fallen Oak leaf at that spot lent itself to an arty shot:

I promise that I try to arrive by the advertised start time, but usually most of the company has assembled before me. This time they had unloaded the cart of most of its tools and Team Leader Margaret was displaying leadership by sweeping leaves from the boardwalk.

The purpose of our visit was to have another crack at clearing scrub from the area to the east of the fen on the Warren Road side of the Beck. This has been given the enticing name of Area X, and our regular reader will remember that two weeks before we had made great progress in meeting Natural England’s requirement that it should be opened up to allow more fen vegetation to thrive. We surveyed the challenge that lay ahead with grim determination.

Only last Sunday Sir David had been showing us that Alligators in the swamps of Florida can survive cold spells by slowing their heart rate right down, and keeping their nostrils above the ice. This led us to wonder if some lurked in these desolate and little explored Southrepps swamps. Great caution was observed, and every log poking above the surface treated with suspicion. We all jumped at the sound of a great splash and a yell, but it turned out to only be Brian as he took an early plunge. My, how we laughed with relief!

Such was our devotion to the task that the 11 volunteers were uncharacteristically quiet, with the only sounds being of loppers and saws being deployed to great effect.

Whilst some people wielded those tools with great aplomb, others dragged the resulting cut material to the edge of the site, where a small but highly efficient team created a pile for the decay agents of Nature to work their magic on.

Some of the stuff was pretty hefty, but these are Southrepps Volunteers, and nothing deters them.

As we removed more of the undergrowth and revealed more undiscovered country, we revealed first an old galvanized tin bath, and then a bucket. Noel helpfully demonstrated that the bath is no longer completely watertight. We wondered if it’s a candidate for The Repair Shop.

Naturally there was a break for refreshments, and this being the last session before Christmas, festive fare was on offer, in the splendid form of Rita’s mince pies.

One of the success criteria Natural England has set for this particular job is that standing water should be evident. As illustrated by this panorama view taken at the end of the session, we feel this is a target we have already hit, despite the risk of Alligator attacks.

When the time came for us to leave, each footstep was accompanied by a slurp and a squeltch, or was that just volunteers finishing off the pies? What is certain is that on that perilous walk out through the treacherous swamp, all present were concerned that the tin containing the few remaining pies was well protected, even if that was all that remained above the surface as its guardian sank into the ooze without trace. Luckily we also had a backup supply from Linda and Kevin, which we felt constrained to scoff when we made it back to the storage container.

Here is Team Leader Margaret’s message of thanks:

What a lovely morning. Clear and bright and a good temperature for working. 11 bonkers people turned up to carry on with the scrub clearance. I thank every one of them as it was hard work with the mud sucking on your wellies making every step a challenge and in Brian’s case a challenge too far as he sank gracefully into the mud. The team was amply rewarded with festive mince pies supplied by Rita and Brian, and Linda and Kevin so we had to work harder to burn of the extra calories
You have all done a wonderful job. George is coming with his chainsaw in the New Year.
On the subject of George, he has reminded me that I have not arranged a trip to Cley for everyone. I am going to suggest a Thursday in the New Year. Once the date is confirmed I will give you all the details.
My I wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas and look forward to seeing you all on the 5th Jan, to start the reed bed.
Many, many thanks


Sunday, 24 November 2019

Winter waders and bog snorkellers

Natural England has been asking for some time for work to be done on reducing the extent of the scrub developing at the eastern edge of the section of common off Warren Road known so poetically as Area B. It is very thick and very wet (I’ve known some people like that), and rarely visited (ditto). We normally only venture in there in pursuit of Himalayan Balsam, but today was the day decreed for some serious scrub bashing. Previously, we have had no time to deal with it, as the precious autumn and winter months during which such disruptive work is permissible have been taken up with reedbed and open grass area management. This year of course is different; Natural England wanted the grassy areas cut much earlier than previously, so the opportunity now arose to have a crack at the scrub.
This is very different work to our usual fare, but nonetheless 18 hardy folk turned up, armed with loppers and bow saws.

These turned out to be really challenging conditions: the ground was saturated, and with our disturbance it soon turned into cloying mud, in which were buried numerous trip hazards in the form of tree roots.

Such was the similarity to mangrove swamps (apart from the temperature) that I began to imagine alligators rising up and snatching an unwary worker for lunch. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Attenborough. There was however an alarming looking garment hanging from a tree, and I began to imagine battling banjo music, but we think we went back with as many volunteers as we started with. 

There actually weren’t any alligators or crocodilians of any sort to be seen, but a couple of frogs and this rather disgruntled toad decided the time had come to move to a quieter neighbourhood.

Nothing daunted, the erstwhile working party became the inaugural meeting of the Southrepps Bog Snorkellers, as volunteer after volunteer either crashed headlong or subsided gently into recumbent positions. Julia led the way, but was up again before your correspondent could do the un-gallant thing and photograph her. As time went on, no sooner had one person picked themselves up, dripping and pungent, than there would be another splash accompanied by an unsympathetic cheer from the unfortunate volunteer’s unfeeling comrades, loud enough to make you think you were at Carrow Road on a rare good day. Dave was particularly active in this regard:

Our own beloved Team Leader John doesn’t fall often, certainly not as frequently as your correspondent, but when he does, it’s a good one. This time he took some rescuing, and I think it’s to our credit we went to so much trouble to extricate him, but then again, Natural England did say they wanted the place cleared.

Not before time, tea break was called, this time with the welcome addition of Sheila’s greatly appreciated buns.

Being of a playful disposition, and desperate not to go back to bog snorkelling too soon, in the tradition of previous working parties another new game was invented: tea cup Jenga.

Our spirits rose even further at the sight of a wine bottle, but on tipping it up it turned out to contain milk. Imagine our distress!

A bright green Shield Bug joined us for tea, sitting on the hot water flask to have its picture taken.

By the end of the highly successful session, the site certainly looked clearer.

All that cut stuff has to go somewhere, so piles were created further back from the area being cleared. This one became known somewhat complicatedly as the Bear Grills heap/den/insect hotel.

At the end of a fruitful couple of hours our weary band trudged back across the boardwalk, to hose themselves down and get treatment for trench foot.

Here are a few more photos to give a fuller impression of the day:

Here is Margaret’s message of thanks:

Thank you is really not enough - I am in awe of you all. Not only did you exceed my expectations today you did it with your usual good spirits and bonhomie. This despite many people ending up sitting in very wet and smelly mud. Cornel your fall was particularly graceful and we trust you have suffered no ill effects. You are all the absolute best volunteers ever.

I hope that those of you who have now received your T-shirts don't find them too small as a result of the rippling muscles you will all have developed today.

We were going to call it a year today, but so many of you have the bit between your teeth or just like having a saw in your hand that we will return to the task in two weeks the 8th of December. Definitely the last one of 2019.This is just an added extra for those who just can't keep away.

Many, many thanks.


Monday, 11 November 2019

Scrub significantly rebuked

Your regular correspondent having once again taken to the hills, or at least the Scottish Lowlands, it has once again fallen to Team Leader Julie to keep the world informed of the prodigious efforts of that splendid corps known as the Southrepps Commons Volunteers. This blog posting describes the working party on 10th November, where a signficant section of thorny scrub which has been encroaching on the edges of the boardwalk was given a good talking to. At the same time, the section beside the boardwalk spur from Bradfield Road was cut, ready for the coming winter's snowdrops to shine.

Despite Remembrance Day commitments we had a good turnout of fourteen today.

We started with Bradfield Road and the boardwalk looking like this...

We split the party into small groups and had several mini teams working like clockwork together.
Grizzly mowed the reed and it was cleared to a heap at the side in no time....what a difference!

These two look pleased with their efforts...though the poised hammer looks a little dangerous!

Progress was no less amazing on the boardwalk...

 An area was cleared to receive the branches cut

Volunteers sawed and lopped and dragged branches to our cleared area

Of course it wasn’t all hard work. We had some quiet time at 11.00 and some coffee and choccie biscuits and a good old natter!

We were relaxing but this little fella was very busy (his haven was left intact)....

All the cuttings were neatly stacked in the cleared area and will hopefully provide havens for more wildlife over the winter

 Anyway after more furious activity in the second hour it was time to clear up the boardwalk...

As it was my first ‘solo’ lead of a Sunday work party (though it’s always a team effort in reality) I was trying to thank everyone. If anyone out there is a Strictly Come Dancing viewer you will understand if I say I felt like Giovanni ‘thankyou thankyou thankyou’ though without the glitter and spray tan!!!

But what a difference again!

The cutting may look harsh in places but in the spring the new growth will come through but not impede progress along the boardwalk. You can also see into the wooded area also which has its own value.

The Bradfield Road entrance now provides a great welcome for visitors to a site that Katherine from Natural England said was the best volunteer run site that she knew of.

What more can you say!

Only that here is Julie's message of thanks:

Dear Volunteers

This is a double thank you today.

Firstly a huge thank you to ALL our volunteers. We had a visit from Katherine from Natural England last week and she was extremely complimentary about our SSSI Common. She said it was the best site run by volunteers that she knew of. She asked if we had won prizes (which we have of course when we were the Trust) - as she thinks we certainly deserve them. High Praise indeed from Natural England. So well done everyone.

Secondly, another huge thank you to the fourteen who turned out today. We understand that several people had remembrance day commitments,and so were, as usual, amazed by a good turnout of volunteers and even more amazed by the amount of work we got feels as though we had 28 people working! Thank you so much for all your hard work,it is very much appreciated.

We managed to completely clear the small area next to the Bradfield Road entrance to allow the snowdrops to flourish and we cut back huge amounts of willow, bramble and scrub along the boardwalk from the car park right along to the Bradfield Road entrance.  We also managed to clear the boardwalk of all cuttings and stack them neatly for wildlife to make use of in a small cutting in the trees. An extraordinary achievement. We will now be able to walk along in the winter/spring two a breast without getting poked in the eye! Also the Bradfield Road entrance to the Common gives an appealing welcome in to passers by.

Have a great couple of weeks and hopefully we will see some of you again in two weeks (Sunday, 24th November) when we will now be relocating to the Warren Road end of the site for some scrub clearance. A reminder will be sent nearer the time for this.

Thanks again, Julie   

Monday, 28 October 2019

19 Volunteers went to mow a meadow

In this period of wildly fluctuating weather, Sunday 27th October was definitely at the top of the lovely end of the spectrum. Dawning gloriously sunny, the overnight jiggery-pokery with the clocks left everyone (or at least your easily confused correspondent) in a spin. Was it dawn? Was it getting on for dusk? Yesterday it never seemed to get light; everything was seen through a sheen of drizzle. Today was the exact opposite, and for another Commons working party we all sprang to with a will, and a cheery whistle on our lips.

The work required was again somewhat out of the normal: this time we were turning our attention to School Meadow, which we have previously had little time to devote to it. This is an open area to the side of School Common, and I suspect one that is often overlooked by visitors. A side-track from the main path through School Common leads into the meadow, and that in itself was in need of attention. David Attenborough once did a series called “The Life of Plants”, featuring a lot of time-lapse photography of flowers opening and the like. I remember being particularly impressed by a sequence showing brambles growing, which as we all know is something they do a lot. That sequence showed the spikey things shooting about all over the place, at such speed that anything in their way was going to get smothered. Having seen the path leading into School meadow, I now think the sequence was filmed in real time. Only a few days before, I had walked down there relatively untroubled by the fearsome stuff, but now it was clogging the place up with almost Amazonian zeal. Something had to be done.

Armed only with loppers and bow saws, a crack squad of volunteers set about hacking the stuff back (that’s Commons speak for “trimming”).

Meanwhile, the meadow itself submitted to the irresistible force of Grizzly.

The resulting mass of cut grass was then rolled up by rakers, and plonked onto a dragsheet by pitchforkers in time-honoured fashion. Those rakes are really useful, and as one lady raker said, she does like a big rake. This was not the time or the place for the winch, so also in time-honoured fashion the drag sheet was, yes, you guessed it, dragged to the edge of the meadow and emptied of its grassy contents.

Loppers to the fore, the crack lopping team set about advising the encroaching bushes to mind their manners and stand respectfully at the edge of the meadow, thus allowing the sun’s rays to have full effect on the sward below.

There was an excellent turnout of 19 of us, so, especially as we were working in a small area, it was possible to split our forces, and our two top brush cutter operatives were sent to, well, cut some brush. At least they were far enough away so that the noise of their machines did not drown out the noise of Grizzly or the grunts and groans of the labouring loppers and rakers. The real explanation was given that the wretched machines again declined to start without considerable effort and, it must be recorded, fortitude on the part of those two top brush cutter operatives. Even so, we delicate souls were spared having to hear the coarse imprecations that doubtless accompanied their efforts: not what one wants on a Sunday morning.

They were summoned back for tea break, which they did with alacrity: see the conquering hero comes.

Here are the obligatory shots recording the break; the biscuit options are definitely improving all the time.

This was an expert demo of our new sport of hurling the brambles:

It might come as a surprise to the uninformed reader, but dragsheet management is a crucial element of the work, and is not to be taken lightly or scornfully. Making sure they are facing in the right direction is necessary; starting them off when winching is best done with a whistle (providing a whistle blower has turned up); and packing them up neatly at the close of play is self-evidently The Right Thing To Do. Your correspondent includes this image with all due modesty; the caption is the photographer’s:

Showing us how to roll the sheets - an expert at work:

Being nature lovers, we are privileged to work amongst some wonderful flora and fauna (as well as brambles). Here is some very attractive lichen (thanks Cornel for pointing it out).

After a very successful two hours, the meadow and its furniture were left looking good.

As the poet W.H. Davies asked, “What is this world if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” We can’t tell from this angle, but it’s possible these tired, but essentially satisfied souls had straws in mouths as they contemplated the sunny scene.

Here is Team Leader Margaret’s message of thanks:

Thank you all for a tremendous turnout on such a lovely morning. Shame Wales didn't win but at least you will all be free to watch the final next Saturday.

You all did a brilliant job as hacking through brambles and blackthorn is never a nice task. We will be writing to the School to tell them that the area has been tidied up in the hope they might be inclined to use it a little more.

So that you can forward plan a little, in two weeks time 10th Nov we will be trimming back the willows that grow along the boardwalk near the container with the aim of cutting it back by up to 6ft to reduce the summer growth. Then the last weekend in November we will cut the Bradfield Road spur where the snowdrops are and hopefully the rest of the fen.

As usual we will not work in December returning on the 5th Jan to cut the reed bed opposite the container down towards the beck. We anticipate this taking 4 sessions Jan 5th, 19th, Feb 2th and 16th. We hope to see you all there.

Once again very many thanks for all your hard work