Basingstoke Conservation Volunteers
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News - May 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.

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

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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.

13 March 2005 Aldermaston Gravel Pits Boardwalk Construction

Aldermaston Gravel Pits is not a very promising name, but this reserve has tremendous potential and is already a wonderful spot, having SSSI status for its bird-life since 1955. When its commercial use for gravel processing finishes in 2008, the wildlife reserve will be about 60 hectares in size, and will be a wetland site of considerable importance.

The site is now owned by English Nature, with BBOWT holding a lease under which they will manage the reserve. During the next 3 years, leading up to the public opening of the reserve, BBOWT will be working to improve both the public access facilities and the wildlife habitat within the site. Our task was to work on the public access project, in particular to continue the construction of a boardwalk that will pass through the wettest area of the site.

We were met at the reserve entrance by Ali, who is employed by BBOWT as the Project Officer for the reserve. It was a lengthy walk to the work area, but this allowed us to appreciate the size of the reserve and get a feel for its potential.

As luck would have it, our section of the boardwalk would cross a particularly soggy area, so we were soon wallowing around in knee deep mud as we sized up the task ahead. The great thing about building boardwalks is that there are many different jobs to done, so there's plenty of variety. The not-so-great thing is that all the jobs are physically demanding, so it was going to be a hard day's work for everyone.

By lunch time we had already put in a lot of hard work, so Mike's provision of chocolate biscuits was a very welcome addition to our packed lunches. We enjoyed talking to Ali about the extensive plans for the reserve. Funded by an English Nature grant, these include two bird hides and much path laying, as well as the boardwalk. BBOWT also plan to create new reed-beds and ponds within the reserve.

Bruce and Ali Dave and Pete
Bruce and Ali nail down the cross planks. Dave helps Pete cut the cross-planks to size.

After lunch, we settled into an efficient groove, as we found our niches, and progress speeded up greatly. Bruce proved to be a dab-hand with drill and hammer, and helped Ali fixing the runners onto the legs and then the cross-planks onto the runners. Pete showed his "chippy" skills by preparing the cross-planks, and that left Dave, Paul and Mike to install the legs, which involved much digging, squelching around in the mud and eyeing-up of spirit levels and not a little gravel barrowing.

Paul and Dave Bruce and Pete
Paul and Dave line-up the next section. Bruce and Pete attach more cross-planks.

By around 4pm, we had completed 3 sections of the boardwalk, totalling 7-8 metres in length, and we were through the boggy section, so the next team to take up the baton should have an easier time. We then walked backed to the reserve entrance before heading off home. It was great to have a sneak preview of this reserve, and I'm sure it will soon be a great addition to the local environment. This task was quite complex and there was plenty of scope for things to go wrong, so thanks should go to Mike for leading this successful day's work.

Paul Olive
6 February 2005 Great Binfields Copse Ride Widening

This is a site where BCV did a lot of survey work a few years back and found it to be a woodland with much wildlife value. Amongst the features identified in our survey report was a damp ride resulting from the laying of a sewage line serving various developments at Chineham. We recommended that the ride be opened out to encourage the interesting ground flora and benefit butterflies and other insects. We were now being invited back by Amanda Robb, Basingstoke Council's Community Woodlands Officer, to have the honour of executing a section of our very own management plan!

The workforce was looking distinctly thin on the ground as I met up with Amanda. However, I was soon joined by Ray, and Dave arrived not long after. We made our way down to the ride and Amanda showed us some work that had already been done by local volunteers. The first task was to move some of their cut material that had fallen onto the ride. Our section of the ride was damp enough to suppress bramble pretty well, but patches of ash, birch and sycamore seedlings were beginning to invade. We started off cutting back these seedlings, also taking the opportunity to take a slasher to some of the ranker patches of grass. Around tea time, David arrived to bolster the workforce and we made good progress. We were soon able to move on to tackling some larger saplings along the north edge of the ride, thus widening the area of open ground.

Dave demonstrates   The end of the day
Dave demonstrates tree felling techniques.   The ride at the end of the day's work.

We spent the rest of the day on this, achieving good results, but it was clear that removing some larger trees from the Scots Pine plantation to the south of the ride would be of even greater benefit. I have since learned that Amanda has taken steps to arrange this, so it will be interesting to see the effects later in the year.

Mike Norman
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.


Burghclere Railway 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
Pete After photo
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 Peter
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 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.

Area cleared 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.