23 Mar 2009

Forest Glen

As I and a couple of others helped Brian to his feet after falling ungainly backwards on the slope below the Forest Glen rock face, it suddenly occurred to me that there's been a lot of this just lately.

Has anyone else noticed the increasing number of ground-hitting Wrekin Forest Volunteers or is it just me?

Alistair kicked it all off in January with a spectacular back flip and 2 half-twists on the stile at Muxton Marshes. Since then a bewildering number of group members have taken similar gymnastic tumbles:-

I managed a fairly sedate connection to the ground - also at Muxton Marshes - damaging pride more than body.

A small party of us then toppled at different times in deep snow when walking around the Wrekin hill-fort after deciding that a photographic erosion-survey was impractical due to the fact that the white stuff covered all eroded areas!

Liz then cracked a rib falling at home whilst negotiating a tricky knit-one, purl-one.

And Les took a trip from top to bottom of his stairs holding a full glass of wine which apparently landed intact - unlike his left shoulder! It really is about priorities isn't it?

In all seriousness; get well soon to all the WuFuV's who are still suffering. Oh and the above pic wasn't Brian on his back - it was yet another example of a missed photo opportunity so I just spun the pic around!

So after Brian's little sojourn to the forest floor last Friday it occurred to me that we should perhaps have an organised 'all-fall-down' event next Friday in an attempt to get it all over and done with in one fail-swoop. Safety in numbers and all that?

Such are the mad meanderings of a soul still tortured by adolescent adventures involving many similar falls - although usually out of trees I have to say.

Enough of this frivolity!

Forest Glen Clear-Up
The end of our winter programme, Friday March 20 brought a nice sunny morning and the first day of spring as we split in to 3 main groups for Rhododendron bashing on the Buckatree Lane, Litter picking on the access path to the Wrekin and Olly and me tidying up a couple of 'campsites' in Ercall Woods.

Olympic Synchronised Lopping Team in action...

The Wall
Later at 12.30 we congregated at the main access gate to The Wrekin for the official opening of the new wall that's well on the way to completion. Pete presented a bottle of Port to Rick Sanderson for his unstinting work on the wall. Rick has been working here almost every day for the past 4 weeks and estimates another 2 weeks before he's finished.We then all shared and enjoyed 2 bottles of celebratory champagne.

Nearly all the stone has been shipped in from Wales and when completed will blend nicely with the original part-remaining wall which Rick estimates is well over 100 years old.

Working the different shapes and sizes of stone into a aesthetically pleasing wall that will stand for a couple of hundred years or more is a pain-staking process which takes a tremendous amount of care and attention to detail on Rick's part.

It's a job that Rick obviously enjoys doing and as a stone worker for 20 years now he told me he couldn't imagine doing anything else. It's a very substantial wall too with it's own drainage built into the back to take away the rainfall that gushes from the hill on wet days.

Peter Holt from the Orleton Estate also joined us and not, I hasten to add, just for the champagne!
Then it was back to work for more bush-bashing, litter-picking, thorn-planting and cups of tea brought to the face in a bucket!

A little digression
One thing that never ceases to amaze me, and I was relating this to my long-standing friend Vera Wayfromer the other day and I know I've mentioned this before, is the very varied and almost limitless wealth of countryside knowledge the group holds beneath its many caps.

Vera suggested we could go on TV with our vast knowledge and she's convinced we'd do extremely well as a team in many of those TV panel games. For instance University Challenge, Eggheads, Mastermind or Weakest Link.

We could have as our team:-

Brian reading Geology, specialist subject bus-napping
Liz reading Natural History, specialist subject floppy hats
Nigel reading Spiders, specialist subject lunch-break chairs
Penny reading Lichens, specialist subject pyromania
Jim reading a Book, specialist subject long distance walking
Olly reading woodcraft, specialist subject the life and works of Pete Docherty
Les reading Fungi, specialist subject little-known 60's music and silly banter
Pete reading Conservation, specialist subject beard-growing
Lis reading Berries, specialist subject Swiss hats with dangly things

Any suggestions for those esteemed group members not yet featured? Or can anyone improve on any of the above perhaps? Bottom of post for comments...

Garden Moth Scheme
Week 3 produced just 2 Hebrew Characters in my trap on Friday night - down on last week's trapping but still 2 more than Les captured who in 3 weeks involvement in GMS hasn't caught a thing. Perhaps I should have left his garden gate open when I picked up the cakes for the Horse-Logging event?

I have to mention Nigel here - well I don't HAVE to but I will: Nigel is not in the GMS but has managed to trap more moths in his front porch over the last few days than Les, I and many of the national members of GMS! Well done Nigel. Here's a great shot of an Oak Beauty porched not trapped!
Yahoo Group
Don't forget to join the Yahoo Group and join in the banter and comments - open to all. You can also upload / download pics, files and add links to websites that may be of interest to us all. Join in, say hello and have a look around.

Thanks to Nigel for some of the pics on this post by the way and I'll catch up with you all shortly for horse-logging, soup, cake, tea and coffee.

Centuries ago horses were used for hauling timber from woods and forests. Timber that would have been used for the industrial furnaces and for charcoal making.

A demonstration of this practice will take place at Ercall Woods on Saturday March 28 11am - 4pm organised by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and is open to the public with free refreshments. Park at Forest Glen and follow the signs.

Hope to see you there! I'll certainly be trying my hand at having huge shire horses drag me through the trees and scrub!

Click the collage below for a few more pics...

17 Mar 2009

Allscott Settling Pools - the migrants are coming!

Another great day at Allscott
Friday March 13 saw the Wrekin Forest Volunteers return to the now defunct Sugar Beet site at Allscott to join the very enthusiastic Julian Langford who is shortly to be ringing in his 49th year of ringing birds here.

Allscott hosts a very special SSI and one that we all hope will develop into a Nature Reserve in its own right. The towers have now all been demolished and the area immediately surrounding it is in the final stages of a clean-up with its future as yet to be determined.

The reed-beds saw a full day of activity as we chopped more willow and had a big burn-up with Julian's insistence on two fires.

This site would normally be a very quiet place to be but the huge arable field at the side was being ploughed and set with seed potatoes by a contract firm who operate with great precision and impressive organisation with no less than eleven very large and hugely expensive tractors each coupled to an equally large and expensive piece of equipment. As Penny pointed out the choreography was amazing! Everyone seemed to know exactly what they had to do next and all were in radio contact. Amazing!
We estimated over £1.2 million in farming tools! So, coupled with the frequent runs with RAF helicopters immediately overhead, it was at times very noisy.

At least the tractors will have long since vacated before the first of the African bird migrants arrive which is what our day here is all about; preparing for their arrival. We plan to return in July to watch and maybe help in the bird-ringing operation which is something that we're all looking forward to. (By the way I'm quite sure that this is not the same as chicken-ringing, the end result of which is a bird for the table of course!).

We found many of the brightly coloured elf-cups around the site.

Nigel had obviously fallen over and landed face-first in one!

Well... it was Comic Relief day.

After we'd cleared and burned all the designated willow some of us were treated to the customary walk around the site by Julian. As we trailed around the edge of the ringing area he pointed out the row of large and established willows that formed the whole of one side of this area - Julian had planted himself back in the '80's to form a solid barrier between the reed-beds and the farmer's field.

As we walked over to the long and somewhat rickety footbridge crossing the River Tern and beyond I pointed out that the site was the better for the demise of the sugar-beet towers and was surprised to hear that Julian didn't share my view on this. In fact I think he rues the day when the end was announced - I suppose it's been a part of the landscape for so many decades now that many will miss this almost ancient landmark.

On the way back in the Trust bus it suddenly occurred to me that there may be another reason and perhaps a little consternation on Julian's part although he didn't mention it; the fact that many of the migrants who are soon to leave the African continent for the long and dangerous trip to this wonderful spot may have been using the towers as a guide. Will they still find the spot? Will they be confused if they don't see them? Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Graham? Pete? I suppose time will only tell.

Anyway, yet another great WuFuv day soon closed and as I watched Brian nodding off on the journey back I smiled as I recalled a tale related to me by my long-standing friend Vera Wayfromer who came across a man looking at a gorse hedge using a magnifying glass. Curious, she asked him what he was doing. 'Looking for Green Hairstreak eggs' he told her. 'Oh!' said Vera 'I didn't know they'd starting nesting yet!' Bless! You couldn't make it up could you? Or could you?

Centuries ago horses were used for hauling timber from woods and forests. Timber that would have been used for the industrial furnaces and for charcoal making.

A demonstration of this practice will take place at Ercall Woods on Saturday March 28 11am - 4pm organised by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and is open to the public with free refreshments. Park at Forest Glen and follow the signs.

Hope to see you there! I'll certainly be trying my hand at having huge shire horses drag me through the trees and scrub!

Yahoo Group
Having discussed this with Pete I thought it might be useful to set up our own Wrekin Forest Volunteers Yahoo Group which will be linked to the blog. So it's up and running now.

This means that any group member will be able to upload photos to the Yahoo Group site for use in the blog or just for others to view, add useful links to nature websites etc and post files that may be of interest to us all.

For example I've uploaded the WFV 2009 Summer Programme which Pete or myself can upload at any time so the current one is always 'live'.

If anyone has a walk it could be uploaded - I've done this with the Little Wenlock Bench Walk which Les kindly sent me. Pam and I walked this last Sunday in the sunshine and it's an excellent 2.7 miler with wooden seats at strategic spots. The accompanying leaflet explains a little of the history and flora and fauna. Highly recommended so if you want to grab a copy just go to the WFV Yahoo Group and print it off.

There are endless possibilities for sharing here; you may have a report about local wildlife for instance or maybe a survey or perhaps a short story you've written, poem etc. Anything as long as it has some link to wildlife in general or our work with the WuFuV's of course.

The WFV Yahoo Group is open to all volunteers and followers of the blog. A few email invites have gone out to those addresses I have. If you didn't get an invite and would like to join the group please look for the purple button in the right sidebar. See you in there! (If viewing this as an email or RSS feed please click the heading at the top of the post to visit the main blog where you'll see the button on the right)

Garden Moth Scheme
Last Friday was the second week of recording and my Skinner trap was slightly up from last week with Hebrew Character x 4, Common Quaker x 1 and Twin-spotted Quaker x 1.

Twin-spotted Quaker

Olly and I briefly talked about a moth-trap night at Apley Castle. We don't have a date yet - most probably a night in June. I'm sure Olly and Sean will welcome all - more info soon.

Catch you all later...

Click the collage below for more pics

8 Mar 2009

The Making of Beetle Bridge, Ercall Woods

Another project and another skill to learn!

This was a project that took a differing number of Wrekin Forest Volunteers just 5 days over a 5-week period to complete. A testament not just to teamwork but to the organisational skills of Pete Lambert who not only had to get bodies in the right place at the right time but also to ensure the supplies of wood, tools and other materials arrived in time too.

Anyone reading this post but not actively involved with the volunteers and would like to see the bridge just head to The Wrekin and park either at Forest Glen and walk up to Buckatree Hotel or park opposite the hotel at an entrance to Ercall Woods. As you head into the woods you'll see a large marker post and then the bridge which now connects 2 popular paths.

On the first day - Monday Feb 16 - there was just a small nucleus of us - 4 in total: Pete, Keith, Les and myself. We had a full day with quite a lot of ferrying wood from truck to stream to start with and then negotiating the slope in order to get said wood to the bottom.

Looks like someone was feeling the cold!
Is that Les tucked inside Keith's coat?

The following Wednesday saw the handrail go up and the start of the steps.

The next 2 visits progressed at an excellent rate and then on to the last day

Time for lunch break:

Brian Goes Bananas

Only in England would this happen:

It's winter and one of the coldest, snow-filled winters for nearly 2 decades. A group of people sit on the cold, damp earth for a picnic in the woods. A tall white-bearded man stands up and announces that it's 'Go Bananas' day and we're all to eat a banana in an attempt to beat the banana-eating record!

It's just quintessentially English eccentricity at its best and don't we all just love it! Thank you Brian! No idea whether we beat the record or not but it certainly wasn't for the want of trying on our part!

Actually, this was really all about raising awareness for Faretrade Fortnight and the aim was to have 250,000 children all over the world eat a banana over a 48-hour period. So it wasn't Brian just indulging in a passion for odd-behaviour it was in fact something very worth-while.

Why Beetle Bridge?
The name for the bridge came about initially through a Beatles pose - for those old enough to remember - on the famous Abbey Road album cover with the famous four striding over the zebra crossing. It was Pete's suggestion on our first day that he take a photo of the 3 of us in similar fashion.

Doesn't quite have the same zing though does it?

Not only that but... a chance remark on the last day of bridge-building was picked up by Graham when I mentioned the names of the 2 female members of the south bank step team (sounds like a River Thames Aerobics group doesn't it?!) - Penny and Elaine which was quickly shortened to Penny Lane and another Beatles reference.

Not only that but... again on our first day we were joined by a young boy who was stream-dipping for wildlife and was catching shrimps and water-beetles.

And so the name was born (or is it borne?).

What was this flower?

Brian ID'd this early spring flower and I can't remember what it was. I don't think Brian accesses the blog so can anyone help?

Bridge and steps complete

One of the 2 marker post teams: Graham, Joe, Jackie & Brian

On this final day of bridge-building at Ercall Woods, along with forgetting my flask cup I also left behind my camera (you'd think that would be an essential piece of equipment for the blogger photographer wouldn't you?). So thanks go to Graham, Nigel and Les for jumping in and taking a few pics for the blog. Cheers guys!

Garden Moth Scheme
Just wanted to briefly mention this. I'm involved for the first time in an organised moth-trapping scheme which has been running for 6 years collaborating moth records from around 150 UK gardens. I'm one of the few representing Shropshire.

It involves trapping and recording moth visits each Friday night between March 6 and November 6. At the end of the season all spreadsheet records are then uploaded to a national database and results published to participants.

The aim is to track species activity year-by-year to ascertain how rapidly certain species are declining in the UK and hopefully help towards discovering all the reasons behind this and ultimately perhaps what can be done to reduce the decline. Worryingly, sixty-two moth species are believed to have become extinct in Britain during the twentieth century. This, of course affects the whole bio-diversity and reduces essential food for bats and birds to name but 2.

So in a very small way I hope to help!

I will upload a pic or two of my attempts over the coming months. Last Friday was the first night and I trapped just 3 moths - which was slightly better than the scheme's creator who recorded a big zero! Some summer nights can bring moths to a trap in their thousands so it can only get better from here on in!

A few weeks ago we discussed with Pete the possibility of a moth night for the WuFuV's so hopefully we can get something sorted for later. Anyway, here's one of my first moths trapped - it's a Hebrew Character...

I also trapped a March Moth and a Satellite.

Incidentally, when I say 'trapped' I don't mean they were clamped in vicious leg irons eventually dying an excruciating death - I mean just kept snugly in a nice warm box out of the elements for a few hours, spoken to very softly and then carefully released into garden foliage hidden from predators, possibly to return to the same trap a week later!

For more pics of the bridge-building please click the collage below

And if anyone's interested here's a short 'Nearly Spring' movie with a great bit of foot-tapping, head-nodding piano (ignore the sunset slides at the end - it's a draft for a promotional thingy!)