Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A few volunteers can make a big impact

Volunteering with the LWVP covers many different activities some involving physical work and others following people's particular interest such as photography. If you are interested in the environment and the local area you might have skills that you can contribute to the project or you might want to come along to learn new skills or to meet new people.
The LWVP practical group meets once a week on alternate Wednesdays and Thursdays at various sites in the valley but mainly at the two nature reserves Standlake Common and Rushy Common.
Out with the practical team Ian said, 'It is constantly amazing what a small gang can achieve in a few hours'. And it certainly has only been a few hours in this recent hot weather.
Much of the work recently has been at Standlake Common Nature Reserve. Here are Luke and Louise learning to use Austrian scythes which were brilliant for clearing the southern shore of docks before the ground was prepared for the green hay spreading the following week.

 Clearing pollarded willow logs from a ditch, pulling young willows encroaching on the lake shore and clearing the ever present ragwort have been other useful jobs tackled by the group in recent weeks.

That is all fairly typical work for a practical volunteer group so it was interesting to tackle a different type of job; measuring up to make a new sluice valve with Daryl from the Environment Agency. The aim of the sluice is to be able to have some control over the flow of water between the Thames and the reserve in times of average water levels. When the Thames floods there is nothing we can do to control it as it just pours over the bank.
Ian, a retired mecganical engineer, is project manager and was in charge of the technical drawing that day.

Matthew and Diego took turns to learn how to use the level. Just keep that measuring pole upright Matthew.

One week we found a nice shady location to work in; clearing the footpath between Standlake and Newbridge. Even so a couple of hours was enough and we were glad to finish by lunchtime.

If you would like more information about joining the practical work group or working on another volunteering project please contact me
email:  or call 01865 815426.


Ready for the Fair and goodbye to Matty

The display is done. Matty is just puttting the finishing touches to his study of the River Windrush before he finishes tomorrow so I am all ready for the Wychwood Forest Fair on Sunday. If you haven't been before it is a most enjoyable day out with country crafts, a huge book stall, cakes and plants, craft tent, morris dancing and Hatwells funfair for the children and much, much more.
Head out towards Hailey from Witney and signs will direct you to the car park at Southdown Farm on Crawley Road. Open from 11 until 5pm.

Matty has been a great asset to the Project over the summer and I wish him well with his continuing studies in the 3rd year at Plymouth University. If you would like a copy of his study of the River Windrush it will be available from the project office or on the website shortly.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Traditional scything at St Giles Church, Standlake

I don't think I could do this all day but according to Jim they only used to scythe early in the morning for a few hours then would spend the rest of the day drying and stacking the hay. Even with the new light weight Austrian scythes a two hour stint was enough for me today. But it is a great form of excercise and can be very satisfying if you can get the rythm and feel of it.

Jim is the most expert of the group. And Morag seemed to be really enjoying herself.
 I definitely need more training sessions. If we had a suitable field I would be delighted to organise a course.
 The end result got the approval of some people passing by and the hay went off to feed some very happy horses up the road. Hopefully, next summer Alison's species rich grassland will again be covered in flowers and a home or feeding station for all sorts of invertebrates.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Geology walk from Stanton Harcourt to the Devil's Quoits

Thanks to Lesley Dunlop from the Oxfordshire Geology Trust we learnt more about the reasons for the shape of the land beneath our feet and where some of the  materials in our local buildings came from.  Starting from the Harcourt Arms (and ending there for a welcome drink) we visited St Michael C of E church to see the building stones made mainly from oolitic Jurassic limestone and also some made from gravel conglomerate which we were to see again in the stones of the Devil's Quoits. We could also see some fine examples of Stonesfield Slate roofing tiles.

At the edge of the village Lesley pointed out the changes in level visible in the view across to Wytham Woods. The variations in the landscape, resulting from the action of the River Thames, are hard to see until pointed out by an expert and as  Kathryn emailed me after the walk .....'It gives us so much more of a sense of history when, for example, we drive up the hill at Linch Hill and are now aware that it is the division between one gravel terrace and another, formed by the Thames over thousands of years'.
Walking round the edge of the landfill site along the public footpath to Linch Hill we passed an area of grassland that now has a wealth of wildflowers including common knapweed and ladies bedstraw. This little known footpath then runs alongside an area of dense and scrubby woodland that has grown up naturally in the quarry bottom making an interesting contrast to the newly planted woodland further along by Dix Pit lake.
We then walked alongside Dix Pit which is a huge lake that is now a County wildlife site for birds; gulls and ducks in particular. During  the gravel extraction operations much evidence was gathered about previous climatic conditions and palaeochannels from around 200,000 years ago. The excavations revealed over 1000 mammoth remains-tusks, teeth and bones as well as the remains of forest elephant, bison, lion and bear and insects, snails and fresh water molluscs. Twenty six stone tools were also found.
When we got to the Devil's Quoits I was surprised at how many of the group had never visited them before.  This henge monument, originally built  4900-4600 years ago, was restored between 2002 and 2008 as a result of the  quarrying restoration agreement.

If photographed from a certain angle you would have no idea that this stone circle is right next to a massive landfill site.
By the end of the 19th century there were only three stones left standing but six others were found nearby and nineteen new ones were supplied from the current gravel extraction site at Gill Mill. These new ones are from a very similar strata of conglomerate but they are weathering away much faster than the stones that have been on site for thousands of years. They were formed in slightly different climatic conditions so the cementing sand is less resistant to weathering.
One of the original stones weathering slowly with quite a smooth surface.
 One of the newer stones weathering more rapidly with a much more fragmented surface.
 This walk will be followed by other walks and talks about a range of topics to do with the environment, wildlife and local history in the Lower Windrush Valley. If you would like to have early notification of future events please email me at