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Rhododendron Bashing on Brownsea Island
15-17 October 2004

At the request of the Dorset Wildlife Trust, we were heading back to Brownsea Island for the third year running. 9 of us made the trip this year : Russell and Anna, Mike, Gill and Roger, Graham and Joan, Dave J and Paul.

Anna, Russell, Gill and Mike enjoy the ferry ride across to Brownsea.

By 4 pm on Friday afternoon, we were all safely on the Island. Some of us had also found the time to sneak in a quick afternoon tea in the National Trust tea shop on the Island. We were soon all settled in at the Villa, and looking forward to the week-end's activities.

The weather was chilly but bright, so most of us took the opportunity to spend an hour or two out and about,with the bird-hides overlooking the lagoon a popular destination, due to the presence of masses of waders.

The lagoon was looking wonderful late on Friday afternoon.
Some honeysuckle was still in flower despite the advance of Autumn.

We all gathered again at the Villa by dusk, and settled in around the log-burning stove in the common room. Mike had volunteered to be chief chef for the evening meal, and with some help from Anna and Paul produced a fine pasta with vegetables-in-a-tomato-sauce meal that was duly devoured by all present.

The warden Chris explained that high tide on Saturday morning would be an exceptionally high one, and so would bring a tremendous number of waders into the lagoon, and therefore suggested that we might like to have the morning free and start the rhody bashing after lunch.

Saturday dawned brightly, so after breakfast everyone deserted the Villa to enjoy the Island. Those interested in the birds headed off for the Lagoon, to see the spectacle of over 1000 Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits, along with many dunlin, oystercathers, redshanks, wigeon, teal and gulls. We also spotted egrets, spoonbills, snipe, greenshank, wigeon, water rail and many others. At this point we should mention that an errant Western Sandpiper (which should have been in the Gulf of Mexico) had also been seen on the lagoon during the week. We didn't get to see it, but at about 10:20 (five minutes after the first ferry of the day arrived at the island), an invasion of twitchers engulfed the bird hides - they had travelled from near and far in the hope of seeing the Western Sandpiper! At this point, most of us decided to leave them to it, happy with the memories of the spectacle of so many birds on the water.

Back at the Villa for lunch, everyone was champing at the bit to get started on the rhody-bashing, so lunch was quickly finished and we then headed off to the heronry near the Villa, which was to be the location of the work. We were soon hard at work, and in no time a bonnie was raging away and rhodies were dropping from all directions. Perhaps it was the knowledge of only have to work for half a day, but the group worked like daemons, and by 3 o'clock, everyone was well and truly ready for their afternoon cuppa.

We're off, and already the fire is building.
Anna loads another ex-rhody onto the bonfire.
Mid afternoon on Saturday, and everyone enjoys a well earned break.

After tea, we set-to once again, with the fire now a giant. At about 5 p.m. and advance party set off for the Villa to begin preparation for supper, and the rest of us stayed behind to tidy up. Chris arrived and asked us to collect some water from the lake below to dowse an old fire. While Mike and Paul were down at the lake, the heavens opened, and torrential rain and hail came hammering down. As their waterproofs were up at the work-site, Mike and Paul got thoroughly drenched, and arrived back at the Villa like a pair of drowned rats, to see the smug grins of those who had arrived back completely dry! There were compensations though - Mike and Paul had priority in the queue for the shower.

Saturday's cook was Russell, and with his helpers produced another fine meal, a vegetarian-mince with potatoes. Once again, every plate was cleared, and the carrot cake that followed soon disappeared too. There's nothing like working in the great outdoors to give you a good appetite.

The view over Poole harbour from above the Villa on Sunday morning.
Autumn colours in the early morning sunshine.

Sunday morning was another beauty, with clear blue skies, and Brownsea was looking great - the Autumn colours setting-off the blue sky perfectly. Those up early took the chance for a stroll, and at this time of the morning you can't help seeing lots of red squirrels - they really are very different from their grey cousins from North America and were a delight to watch as they gathered beech nuts and chestnuts to store away for the winter. One or two people were also fortunate enough to see a water vole around the boardwalk opposite the Villa.

After breakfast, it was back to the heronry for more bashing, and once again work progressed at a great rate, and the impenetrable thicket of rhodies was pushed ever-further back, with a deep ditch adding to the challenge.

Russell briefy emerges from the ditch, to send another branch on its way to the fire.
Mike and Russ take a breather during Sunday morning's tea break.
The scene at 1 o'clock on Sunday, with Dave and Graham loading the last few braches onto the fire. The space beyond the fire is the area that we cleared during the week-end.
By lunchtime we all felt that we'd done a really good job by clearing such a large area, and lunch-time was spent in the Villa with a feeling of a good-deed having been done.

After lunch it was time to clear-up and clear-out of the Villa, but there was still an hour or so free to take one last stroll around.

We all caught the 4pm ferry back to civilisation, and headed back home - tired but happy.