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News - January 2005

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We now have a dedicated mobile phone for the group. The leader will always have the phone during tasks, so if you can't find us, you can now find out where we are.

We have also bought a fairly cheap digital camera for use on task. The camera is now available for everyone to use during tasks, and we hope it will result in lots of good photos.


The Spring 2005 task programme is now ready - click here for all the details.


The residential on Brownsea was another great success - click here for details.

Task Reports

These now appear in reverse-chronological order - in other words, the most recent reports are just below while the older ones are at the bottom of the page.

16 January 2005 Pamber Forest Coppicing bash

We returned once again to this area on the northern side of the Forest, to continue the job of coppicing and building a surrounding dead-hedge, to protect the resultant regrowth from deer damage.

It was good to see a healthy turn-out, so once we'd gone through the usual preparation, everyone got to work, with one group continuing the coppicing, and the other working on the hedge. Bruce set the pace for the cutting-crew, and couldn't resist bringing down a particularly large alder, of which Graham had observed "that's too big for a hand saw, no one will try to cut that down". Graham, Dave J, David S, John and Mike formed the hedging crew, and were working hard to keep up with the mass of material arriving from the cutters, with David B being particularly productive, while Tina, Paul and Pete also added to the pile.

Although making the dead-hedge does slow down the rate of coppicing, it has several compensating benefits other than just keeping the deer at bay. These include the creation of a good habitat for lots of small mammals and invertebrates and eliminating the need to burn all the cut material.

Although it was mid January, there was definitely a hint of Spring in the air, with birdsong echoing all around us and blue sky above. We even had a ladybird trying to drink David's tea! John and Tina headed home at lunch time, but Martina arrived to bolster our number again.

By the end of the day, we had almost finished the hedge, and a big step had been taken towards completing the work on this coppice-plot - hopefully the coppicing will be polished off during the next task here, and we can then perform the final task of putting up the fence along the border with the ride.

A plan of the work site

Paul Olive

9 January 2005 Burghclere Railway Scrub bash

The dawning of a New Year and the completion of the season's festivities would, I thought, leave volunteers raring for action on the first task of 2005. Alas, it was not to be, but myself, Dave and Bruce did not allow lack of numbers to dampen our spirits.

Our task involved a different section of the Newbury to Winchester railway to that we had previously visited. Further to the north, the line runs out of a chalk-lined cutting onto less limey soils. This results in a different plant community, notably including Pepper Saxifrage and Pale Toadflax. Some of the richer areas are being threatened by shrubs and vigorous mounds of brambles, which we were now asked to clear.

Dave quickly set to with the scrubcutter, while Bruce tackled a sizeable hazel bush and I started a bonfire. Teabreak was enlivened by the brief appearance of a very surprised-looking female sparrowhawk, clearly used to bombing down the verge of the railwayline unobserved. Dave gradually evolved a novel technique for getting efficiently through the brambles, while I raked the cuttings to the fire and Bruce finished off the hazel.

As we sat down to lunch, the first spots of rain heralded a change in the weather. Spots turned to drizzle and then steady rain as we neared completion of our designated patch. Peter Billinghurst dropped by and gave our efforts his seal of approval. As well as protecting existing areas of interest, the clearance of the bramble may also lead to interesting new growth from the seed-bank beneath, which may have been exposed by the raking. Dave offered to come back in the spring and survey the area. Having decided to stack the larger pieces of hazel, a final stint of cutting and raking completed the job and we were able to pack up and escape the gathering downpour.

Mike Norman

28 November 2004 Pamber Forest Coppicing
Peter works on the dead-hedging being erected around the coppiced area. A nice "after" photo, showing the freshly cleared coppice and the new dead-hedge, to protect the regrowth from deer.
7 November 2004 Fleet Pond Reedbeed Maintenance
The Cast :
Mike Norman Leader and path maker
Dave Jewsbury The author and tea drinker
Pete Fogg Ropesman and mud plugger
David Buckler Submersible lumberjack

The Story :

Outside the toolshed door the November sky hung as gloomy and dank as a YHA blanket. "I don't think we will need these waders" said Mike, "Colin said we were working around the edge". This comment was met with scepticism. Some of us had been there before.

In spite of the reputation of its fearsome mud, Fleet Pond is a site I have always liked. Although surrounded on all sides by the town, when working out on the reedbeds on a misty Autumn day you might be in the middle of some primordial swampy wilderness. This site is our one occasion for reedbed work and it is a pity Fleet Pond sometimes gets low turn outs.

We met up with Colin Gray, seemingly a permanent fixture on the Fleet Pond workparties. He had dodged over the treacherous reed bed for years and lived to tell the tale. We met at the base for the Hart District Council Rangers and he showed us an impressive array of shiny equipment they had at their disposal. Cautiously we edged out through the mist onto the reedbeds. One foot wrong meant the difference between a solid rooty footing and bottomless sulphurous mud.

Our job was to cut Alder and Willow trees at the waters edge. On the Sunday I was feeling a little fragile and decided to ease my way into work with some light cutting and dragging. Mike developed the tactic of using cut branches to make our dragging routes safer. Peter and David showed more pluck and had already donned waders. Not content with cutting the trees they had attached ropes and were hauling whole rootballs of submerged trees from the lake. During the day they seemed to be working further and further out into the lake, and I thought we may have to attach a rope to drag them back to land.

David gets to grips with an alder tree at the water's edge. Peter lines up his next target.

As the day went on the weather got worse and we finished, with all the work Colin had hoped for completed, and the drizzle filling the air. It is curious however, that Fleet Pond is one of those sites where the sense of achievement laughs at these little inconveniences and we left for home in high spirits.

Dave Jewsbury

31 October 2004 Bartley Heath Heath Restoration

In this wettest of Autumns, we were once again lucky to be working on a fine, dry day, the morning after the clocks were put back to GMT. We gathered at the eastern side of the reserve at the end of Holt Lane, at 10am, waiting to meet the volunteer reserve warden.

Due to a slight communication problem within HWT, we had to wait a little longer than planned, but by 10:30, Rachel Remnant, the HWT reserves officer for NE Hampshire was with us, and we were ready to get started.

Dave J was keen to get to work with a scrub cutter supplied by Rachel, so he started clearing an area around the fire-site, while the rest of us got stuck into the birch regrowth which was the target of the day's work.

David, David, John and Martin take a well earned rest during morning tea break.

The area we were clearing follows the path of some electricity pylons, and the original clearance by the Elecricity Board has resulted in a glade within this wooded area that is excellent for butterflies. So our job was to keep in check the birch and other scrub that was regrowing here, so that it remains open, with a grassy, heathy mixture of plants. There is also quite a lot of alder buckthorn in the area, and as this is the food-plant for the caterpillar of the brimstone butterfly, these were not cut down.

It turned out to be a men-only task, including no less than three Davids!

The size of the regrowth turned out to be ideal for the scrub-cutter, so the area cleared was dramatically increased by having Dave and Mike using it for most of the day. Martin valiantly tried to compete armed only with a slasher, and if nothing else, he had an excellent work-out! All the cut material was put on the bonfire, but it was a relatively small one by BCV standards. By lunch we'd opened up an area about 40m x 30m and enjoyed the sunshine while we sat around the fire and ate our picnics.

We pressed on after lunch, expanding the opened-up area, with Dave J putting in one last spurt with the scrub-cutter, before we decided, at around 3pm, that the fire should be allowed to burn down. After this, we stacked remaining cuttings into a heap by the side of Holt Lane.

This picture gives a good impression of the area cleared of scrub as the end of the day approached. The foreground area has been cleared of birch, but there's more in the background, to be tackled on another day ...

Rachel returned at around 4pm, to collect the scrub cutter, and she seemed pleased with our efforts, and we discussed plans for a possible return visit next summer to consolidate the work done.

Paul Olive

15-17 October 2004 Brownsea Island Rhododendron Bash

Click here for full details.

26 Sep 2004 Pamber Forest Heath Restoration

A fine, calm, early-Autumn morning greeted us as we gathered at the Burney Bit entrance to Pamber Forest to continue the heathland restoration in the NW corner of the Forest. There were two slightly unusual aspects to the day ahead though - firstly, we were joined by our friends from Berkshire Conversation Volunteers (BeC), and secondly we were expecting a photographer from the Basingstoke Observer to come along and take a few shots of us at work.

We were also pleased to welcome a new volunteer, Bruce, who is currently at school and working towards his Duke of Edinburgh award.

There were two main tasks at hand - the first was to burn the two large piles of birch and pine produced during the previous task here, when it was decided that the weather conditions were not suitable for a burn-up. The second was to continue the pine and birch clearance, thus allowing the bilberry and heather already present to continue their regeneration. We decided that we would need 2 fires, so Mike, Sally S, Tina and Dave J set about burning the first of the heaps on one fire, whilst Bruce, David B and I started cutting down pine and birch near to where BeC were clearing space to start a second fire. By tea break, the BCV fire was blazing away and BeC were just starting up the second fire.

Shortly after tea-break, the determined Observer photographer finally managed to track us down and he took several group and action shots, so we look forward to seeing the end result in the Observer in the near future.

With all distractions now out of the way, we completed the burn of the first heap, and started on the second, deciding that, for now, the BCV fire was the place to burn it, despite the large distance between heap and fire.

Lunch time came just as we were feeling the pace, and a pleasant break was taken with us all sitting pixie-like along the trunk of a large, felled Scot's pine. While BeC mulled over what vehicle they should buy to replace their ageing mini-bus, we celebrated a call from Sally H announcing that we now had a dedicated "leader's" mobile-phone. We hope that this will be a great help during future tasks - Gill and Roger take note of that number!

After lunch, the BeC fire was bombarded with birch and pine from all directions, and was soon a blazing inferno, while the BCV fire was allowed to burn down. Such was the volume of material that had been cut down that we had to admit defeat in the end and leave some to be burnt during the next task here.

It had been a very successful day though - both old heaps had been completely cleared, and a further large area of pine and birch scrub had been opened out again, as the heathland restoration project took another big forward step!

Paul Olive

25 July 2004 Pamber Forest Ride Widening

Three cheers for Dave Jewsbury here. Despite suffering from a heavy cold, Dave joined 6 other volunteers at the ride in question (near Bowmonts's Brook) to show us the area that needed to be cleared. The idea behind ride-widening is to produced a graded edge to the ride - the bare path is edged by a grass/flower zone, which then leads into a shrubby zone which then leads into the coppice/canopy. This creates a excellent habitat for many invertebrates, particularly butterflies, which enjoy sheltered, sunny positions.

With John,the two Peters and David B in energetic form, we managed to clear back about 120 metres of the ride, creating a border about 2 metres wide on each side of it. The cut material was mostly hazel, birch and bracken, with lesser amounts of oak and bramble, and all this was stacked into piles a little further away from the ride. We were helped by the weather, which had started off warm and sunny, but by lunchtime plenty of cloud had rolled in, making the temperature more pleasant to work in.

The ride forms one of the main public footpaths through the forest, so there were plenty of passers-by during the day - hopefully they appreciated our efforts, though one passing horse didn't seem to like walking past bow-saws for some reason!

By mid afternoon, we decided we'd done enough work, so we had a last cuppa before heading home. So, it's now over to the butterflies ...

Paul Olive

20 Jun 2004 Pamber Forest Dam Repair

People started arriving at Frog Lane, near Pamber Forest, from about 10am, including Tina, Dave J, Mike, Graham, Peter, Chris and Nick. John turned up a little later.

Mike looked after the introductions and Graham explained the project, after which Mike handled a safety talk and the company split into two groups before heading off to separate sites.

Our mission was to repair two dams, using stakes and soil. As we went ahead four new helpers arrived - Paul Olive and his family - who decided to join Graham. Group 1, the smallest, had the hardest job of all as they couldn`t find their dam! We had a nice walk though, and one person was dispatched to gather intelligence on the location.

We eventually found our project and work commenced, involving a survey of the site and materials gathering. First of all stakes had to be driven into the foot of the dam, a task made easier by therenot being any water in the stream. Following this, timber was laid horizontally against the stakes and soil packed behind the barrier.

Group 2 used exactly the same technique, the only disadvantage being that they had to get wet! Chris from Group 1 had brought along a video camera and had decided to make a diary of the goings on. Both groups were making good progress, so we made our way back to base at 11.30am for tea. After a chinwag and a cuppa we resumed our labours, agreeing to break for lunch at 1pm.

Group 1 had secured one sde of their dam by lunchtime and restored part of the other side before running out of stakes. Group 2 on the other hand had finished their dam restoration by lunch - an amazing accomplishment. Well done to those eight stalwart individuals! Group 1 had started to drift back to base by 1pm. Mike was already busy making tea and supervising Paul`s children. Another Dave joined the group around lunchtime, swelling our numbers to 13. Mike made some announcments and produced a carrot cake, which we scoffed before looking at Group 1`s dam. On close inspection Graham and Mike thought that this would be good enough, so it was decided to tidy up and head for home. The timing was excellent as it happened, because rain began to fall heavily just as everybody drove off (apart from the cyclists).

Peter Fogg