A crystal blue January sky and oaks glazed with frost welcomed us on what was the first official conservation day of 2019. Frozen blades of grass crunched underfoot, as our merry band of volunteers wandered through this wintry scene to kick start what we hope will be an exciting, fun filled and productive year on the nature reserve.
The first point of call of the day was to give all our newly planted whips the best chance of survival possible. We have a fantastic selection of native hedgerow trees including field maple, dog rose, blackthorn and hawthorn, that we planted in strategic locations across the site during the tail end of last year. We hope these will provide great habitat, while also contribute to the security of the site. To aid them on this journey, the RBK contractors Id Verde kindly arranged wood chippings to be delivered to the site. And as both green and great spotted woodpeckers drummed in the surrounding trees echoing in the crisp air, we swiftly and evenly distributed the bark across the 200 newly planted trees. With the steaming mulch providing a nutrient and fungal rich environment which will support the trees development. The trees greatly appreciate this over the conditions which they were planted in, a grassland typically dominated by bacteria.
As this task was nearing completion, a team of volunteers armed with forks, mattocks and spades set to a job that has been on our radar since work started on the site almost two years ago! This was the removal of the winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans), an invasive species that originated from Southern Europe and Northern Africa. This plant was brought over as an ornamental, favoured for its white wintering flowers, first introduced in 1806 and recorded in the wild from 1835 onwards. Like many other rhizomatous plants, these can quickly spread and dominate the ground flora, out-competing many of the other plants which have important ecological roles. Interestingly the female version of the plant has not been recorded in the UK, so the spread of the rampant species is solely from it physically spreading and people introducing it to other sites, (typically accidentally). Though the volunteers made light work of this removing the critical mass in under half an hour, though so focused on their work they missed the dazzling site of a kingfisher, which darted past along the stream only a meter away!
After a busy morning a well-deserved break was in order, and committee member Derek was on hand to provide us with some delightful and homemade Whiskey cake. This prepared us all for our afternoon mission. This was to help combat the severe drainage issues that lie by the blackthorn tunnel, while also creating a small but greatly valuable patch of wet woodland habitat, a national priority habitat which supports an array of species.
We set to working on digging out the heavy soil, and created a small woodland pond. Regular volunteer Kay pointed out that the shape somewhat resembled a seahorse (perhaps without its tail…), so we now hope to fondly refer to this as ‘seahorse pond’. Hopefully as spring bursts into life, rafts of frogspawn may be seen floating across the surface – webbed-fingers crossed!
This as a fantastically productive day, which helped to create new habitat across the diverse nature reserve. We would like to thank Id Verde for sorting out the much-appreciated wood chippings, Citizen for supplying the much need tools and of course the 9 incredible volunteers who made the day such a success.
We will soon be running more volunteer days so please do watch out for updates, all sessions run between 10am – 2pm (unless stated otherwise) and all tools are provided along with warm cups of tea, biscuits and friendly company!