15 Feb 2011

Ercall Dairypits

Blog post courtesy of fellow Wrekin Forest Volunteer - Keith Fowler
Pete got some money to permit the coppicing of the section of woodland at the Dairypits on the Ercall that we had started in Festive Mood for our Christmas day out. Unfortunately as the job had to be completed in a short time it was scheduled as extra work rather than the usual Friday tasks.

As we stared at the plethora of trees with our hand and bow saws at the ready some doubts about completing it did arise! But don’t say that Pete doesn’t look after us - we did have new saws and hard hats to help us.


However the chain saw gang arrived and we partitioned the area into the "beautiful handcrafted side" and the "cut ‘em down as fast as you can mechanically side".

We soon ran out of trees that we purists could handle so we had to yield to the “chain saw massacre” gang and go around clearing up after them.

After two weeks the carnage was complete and Pete decided that it was time for reinforcements so opened up the invitation to help to everyone in the group. This coincided with an unfortunate incident at Muxton Marsh that made Pete switch the Friday gang from there to the Ercall.

Some set about building a dead hedge for a deer fence whilst others collected the produce and created piles of logs for firewood, poles for the “proper” deer fencing, charcoal worthy lumps, fence stakes and rubbish. All of a sudden, we could see the wood from the trees! (Sorry tried to resist - but couldn’t.)


During our third week of work Domino the horse and his handler Phil came to clear the piles of firewood out of the coppiced area.


The Raby Estate sent their tractor and trailer to collect the wood. They estimated that we had provided about 9 tons of firewood: enough to heat a home for a year. Is that right - All that effort and wood for just one house?

The previous areas that we had coppiced had all suffered from the close attention of deer's’ habit of eating the emergent shoots which prevents the newly coppiced trees sprouting ready to be coppiced in future to complete the cycle. To combat this, deer fencing is to be erected around this new area and the one completed last year. This, thankfully, is being done by a contractor.

Unfortunately deer are canny creatures and will have no problem defeating this professionally erected fence so Pete devised a cunning plan - create an outer deer fence disguised as a dead hedge. At half the height that will outwit them!

So all hands to the fencing (apologies if I missed anyone – except Kevin who comes later):-


As different artists will paint the same subject in their own individual style so the same happened with the hedge. We ended up with a “charactful” hedge of different styles as the constructors brought their individuality to the task. See if you can identify the following five styles – I will give you a hint with one (but beware, I may be trying to mislead you):


In the process of coppicing the area we uncovered another mystery. A Pipe. Where does it go? Where does it come from? Kevin followed the pipe back from this area up the lane where there used to be a farm house so, perhaps it was a water pipe to the farm, who knows? Somebody will.


Being the Wrekin Forest Volunteers, we had fires most days and on the last day, when all was complete and we were patting ourselves on the back for a job well done we celebrated as only we can, with biscuits and baked potatoes.



10 Feb 2011

Nature Notes from Pete Lambert - Feb 2011

Climbing steadily up out of the Ceiriog valley we aimed for the summit of Y Foel and planned to take our lunch break leaning against the ruins of the Biddulph Tower.

We passed from the sheep cropped grazing land and into heather moor, to be greeted by a red grouse call, a loud, far carrying, barking laugh. Red grouse droppings are fibrous, tubular and brown with one end tipped with white. They occurred in piles in little hollows between the ling, mosses and bilberry. This delightful bird is declining in numbers due to loss of heather moorland and possible disease. Land demand for forestry and expanded grazing intakes has significantly reduced our national store of high quality moor; the red grouse inevitably suffers too. Work in uplands across the UK has sought to reverse this trend, I wished them all well as we allowed the sun to set before strolling down into the dusk.

I knew the winter would end when a white tailed Bumblebee swung by whilst I was otherwise pre-occupied. It was the 5th February and combined with the white nodding clumps of snowdrops I had seen earlier that day I was reassured that spring was making its annual return. Bumble bees form a new colony each year; it is only the mated queens that survive the winter. My improbable aerial visitor was searching for a handy mouse-hole or tussock base to make this years nest. A set of wax cells to rear the next generation is wrapped in a ball of grass and moss. Bumblebees collect pollen in large baskets on their back legs, which they feed to their young. Since 1945 95% of our ancient meadows and pastures have been lost and alongside this shocking figure of floral bereavement we have seen the extinction of such species as the short haired bumblebee. I made a mental note to open up a new bed in the garden and finally sow the boxes of insect friendly wild flowers that I had bought at the end of last summer to do my bit for our bee friends.

Powerful full blue skies accompanied a number of final winter working days in the woods, racing through the wooding to avoid trampling the spring display. Our toiling reverie was broken by the crashing sprint of a pair of roe deer pursued by a black Labrador. Roe deer are grey brown in winter and when alarmed their rump fluffs up like a powder puff. The dog worked hard whilst the deer pronged their way easily into the distance, we stared slack jawed taking at this mesmerising sight.

As one of our co-respondents discovered this winter it is worth travelling to a wildlife hotspot.

Coed y Dinas is a purpose made wetland nature reserve and even on a wet Saturday offered up Tufted duck, Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing and a very handsome Goosander. The pools can be found just outside Welshpool, a visionary project of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, intimate and with handy parking and a hide for birding in the dry.

In stark contrast to the delightful bobbing waterfowl earlier at their home a grim predator had made its deadly move. A reconnoitre by the Sparrowhawk in previous weeks paid off in a noisy pounce on a luckless blackbird. This sad loss was partially balanced by an infrequent visit of a Redpoll, also seen recently in a friends Shrewsbury garden. A result of the wide range of foodstuffs on this local bird table, sunflower hearts and Niger seed helping to draw in these pretty red capped residents, usually found feasting in seeding birch stands.

Winter I know has not left us yet but I sense a growing excitement as the spring signals its return, I think a visit to Coed y Dinas will help bring it all closer.

Wishing you happy animal adventures, yours Pete.

If you would like to share your wildlife sightings please contact me on petewoodman@thewoods12.fsnet.co.uk