Thursday, 20 March 2014

How to scythe a reedbed

 First get your scythes set up, then spread out and get stuck in. Luckily there was plenty of room to keep out of each other's way. We all agreed that this is by far the best time to cut reeds and we won't be doing it before Christmas again. But with the flooding it only leaves us with a very small window to tackle it before the birds start nesting. As it was the ducks were a bit put out but, as we had created a network of channels for them, I think the effect will be to their benefit once we were out of the way.
Cutting the reeds is really just the easy bit. All the wire netting that was put in to protect the young reed seedlings from grazing by geese  has to be removed as well and that is a lot harder than putting it in once the reeds and willows have grown through  it. Then the posts have to be pulled out and they have sunk into layers mud, if you are lucky they have rotted and break off at ground level; if not, it is a long process of pushing and pulling to loosen them.
 Harry is new to scything but looks to be a natural
 It was far too windy to set light to anything today so the piles of reeds will be left for grass snakes and a handy resting place for Colin after battling with too much wire netting and being blown across the site with piles of reeds on a hayfork. The load of reed acted like a sail so you had to tack across the site to get to the pile as if you were on a dinghy.
 The grass snakes are going to have a variety of piles to choose from as Dan made another one out of the pulverised reeds that we had left from our previous scything before the floods arrived. They had obviously been pounded by the water and formed into mats of reed debris that would have made good bedding for pets.
Now we will leave the place in peace and quiet and hope that the reed warblers and sedge warblers will be back soon. The reed buntings have been here all winter so will hopefully be scouting for nesting sites fairly soon.

Springfield School come to Rushy Common

Look over  there, what is that on the island?  And that one coming towards us? Lots of geese, great crested grebes and several cormorants kept everyone busy looking for new birds. Walking down the path we found seven nests from last year that are still in one piece.

 This swan did a beautiful sail-by giving plenty of time for a lovely drawing to be made and peaceful contemplation of its beauty.

Look there are lots of ducks over there shoveler, teal and wigeon.

The quarry workings are still under water so we could safely cross the haul road to view the works from the bridge over the silent conveyor belt.
 Watch out someone is watching you.

 Lucky that perching post was just there when a rest was needed.
 Then it was time to go. I hope you will all be back for a picnic in the summer.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Part of the Bigger Picture (2)

Don't forget to come and hear Dr Carolyn Jewell talk about the restoration of mineral extraction sites across Europe and in the local area.

 The transition from industrial work site to wildlife haven or recreational setting is happening on our doorstep. Carolyn will describe how some of these developments are making such an important contribution to the conservation of threatened habitat types and species across Europe.

At South Leigh Village Hall at 7.30pm on Thursday 27th March. Parking at the hall is limited so please bring a torch and park down the unlit road in the Mason's Arms, the pub is currently closed but the new owners have given us permission to use their car park.

Clearing up after the floods

The students from Abingdon and Witney College set to with great enthusiam and goodwill as usual to help clear up the aftermath of the flooding around the reedbed. Rolls of wire that we had removed earlier in the winter were stacked up at the edge to make nesting habitat for small birds.  
Then they raked up a huge pile of reed debris that had been washed up by the water.
This area of grassland had a good showing of yellow rattle last summer
so, hopefully, now the debris has been removed it will be able to grow again this year. After lunch they collected several bags of plastic tree shelters, empty bottles and assorted plastic items, old shoes etc that had been dumped by the flood water. They were most fascinated by all the bones they found and thought they might recreate their own animal skeleton.

The Thursday gang also tackled clearing up jobs and had a surprisingly enjoyable and satisfying day. Ian and Colin creating a bit of extra parking space for when the group meets,
Ian carting all the bags of rubbish that the students had collected back to my car (anyone got a truck going spare?),
Ian putting up some nest boxes
and finding an old coconut, not you this time Ian!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Busy week with Poul Christensen and scything (not together)


I don't know where the last week has gone to or even the last month since I managed to put on a post. But last Wednesday a good sized audience gathered at Northmoor to hear Poul Christensen talk about his views about the future of environmental legislation and funding. He was very amusing but gave the serious message that whatever government follows on next year there is unlikely to be any boost to funding for the environment. He proposed that better engagement with business was going to be crucial and said that before he left Natural England companies were ringing to discuss environmental isues as they become more and more concerned about the sustainability of their supply chains.
Poul was clear that local problems would require local action in the future and said that there was plenty of expertise within the audience and there is great potential for the future if we work together. Partnership working was a key theme running through the evning. This was a very timely message for me for the next few months of work in the project. I am now working with consultants from ADAS to develop an up to date strategy for the Lower Windrush Valley Project and will be running a variety of consultation events over the next few weeks to hear what people think. Much has been achieved in the past with one project officer but there is such a potential for more, that if there is the will and people want to join in we could create so many more opportunities.
Questions ranged from 'Who is the Project for?' ,' How can we engage futher with businesses?' , 'Will farmers be paid more to hold water on their land?', 'What will be the best way to manage the Windrush catchment in the future?'.
I am very grateful to Poul for what was definitely a lively and interesting and also amusing evening and I hope that people are busy thinking about how we can move forward in the future.
Then as a total contrast I spent Thursday out in beautiful sunshine with the volunteer team training to use scythes in a reedbed. We had planned this as a joint session at Standlake Common Nature Reserve with BBOWT as we share volunteers and I wanted to get some more of the reedbed cleared. But my cunning plan was thwarted by the floods so we went to Parsonage Moor instead and BBOWT got their reeds cleared.
Training with Clive Leeke  whether scything or hedgelaying is always very relaxed but productive and I for one found my technique improved enormously. Some of us found that the addition of a bow to the scythes, made out of a long  hazel twig, made a great improvement as it stopped the reeds poking up your nose and in your eyes, but Elene preferred to use hers without the bow.
 Sharpening is as much part of the learning process as the actual scything and luckily no one sliced off a finger in the process. We managed to create a huge pile of reeds that will have to be burnt later. And now that everyone is so well trained we should tear through a patch at Standlake next week if the water has gone down enough.