Back to birch

Today was another spent at Wybunbury Moss with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers.  We were out in the very centre of the Moss clearing birch trees and then treating the stumps left behind.  With the fair weather and no sign of rain, it was one of the first chances we’ve had to take advantage of the newly acquired skills in the group for applying herbicide.  Without treating the stumps, the birch would simply regrow and we would end up with even more trees to clear in a few years time.  The herbicide is painted onto stumps and is therefore very localised and only affects the individual trees rather than the wider environment.

Whilst we had fewer people than usual, we still managed to clear a good-sized area of birch but unfortunately there is a huge area to go at and we’ll not doubt be back at the task over the next few months (and probably years!).




The Malverns – A very English autumn

Last weekend I had an autumn breather staying in a cottage beneath the Malvern Hills. Standing so clear above the flat Severn Valley to their east, the hills catch the eye even at some distance. Passing the hills when driving down the M5 numerous times in the past, for a while they had been on my UK bucket-list of places to stay.

I took the scenic route from my south Cheshire home – out to Shrewsbury and then winding my way down the A49 and on to Church Stretton, Ludlow, Leominster and Ledbury. I left the main roads and approached the cottage through the small village of Colwall Green and then down a narrow single-track, high-hedged lane. At the end of what used to an old farmyard stood the Threshing Barn, converted into a rustic retreat. The outside was a pure old world agricultural building but in stepping through the front door I entered somewhere special. I first passed a small farmhouse kitchen and then into a cloister-like corridor; this then led to a room not unlike a medieval banqueting hall with large dining table and sitting area all beneath the beams leading up to the full height of the barn – a quite spectacular room for a weekend retreat.

My plan was to get up early on the Saturday morning and to walk up to the Malvern Hills, only a kilometre away and then wander along their length to see where else the day took me. I was so glad that I had set my alarm when I stepped out of the door. The sun had already risen but was hanging low in the sky, shining through the trees and sparkling off the dew heavy grass. A mistiness was hanging in the air as I set off up the narrow lane, passing more timber-framed houses and barns. The bright light of the morning picked out the changing colours of the leaves as the greens were turning into reds, ambers and yellows. Up into the fields, gradually increasing the incline, my boots soon became wet from the grass and I nearly slipped over walking across a damp footbridge into the woods. The sun now shone into the pines, showing beams in the wooded mist and picking out cobwebs hanging between branches and twigs. I strode out onto the top road for a moment, having made good progress up the hill, and then stepped onto the last track to climb to the first summit of the day. Breaking the crest, the views opened up all around, a 360 degree vista over the flat valley to the west and rolling hills to the east, the Malverns reaching out both to the north and south.

I made my way north to Pinnacle Hill, Jubilee Hill, Perseverance Hill, Summer Hill, Worcestershire Beacon, Sugarloaf Hill and finally North Hill – all clear peaks in the Malvern chain. The weather improved all day with clear blue skies with a few small white clouds by mid-afternoon – all very summer-like and not the middle of autumn. I thought about retracing my steps after lunch but decided to form a circuit by heading down off the hills and into the lower rolling lands to the west. There I found sheltered pastures and quiet woodlands with small hamlets and villages hidden in the folds. I eventually came back to where I started but couldn’t resist a final hill of the day and went up Herefordshire Beacon with its old defensive earthworks clear to see. As I got to the top, the weather could be seen closing in from the south, large dark clouds starting to obscure the light and threaten rain. Dropping down into the valley, I made it back to the Barn just in time as the rain came on.

The overall sense I had throughout the day was just how English, typically English, the area is – the autumn colours in the woodlands and the changing of landscapes from flat valleys to steep hills and to rolling countryside; the villages of timber-framed houses with well kept gardens, the cricket pitches and narrow lanes; the red telephone boxes and post boxes and the country pubs. In a country that is changing fast in so many ways, the Malverns and the surrounding lands seem to have a sense of a constant, an unchanging way. Despite the M5 and M55 being so near, and large towns being only short distances down those roads, the pace of life seems slower, the traffic less and the time stood still – all except the seasons, with the colours of one of the brightest being on show.

As the sun set on my last evening there I headed back up to the top of the hills…


Back to burning trees!

I spent this morning with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV) out at Wybunbury Moss doing a task for Natural England.  I missed the last task two weeks ago, and with the early weather looking sparkling, I was keen not to miss another.


The group is a frequent visitor to the Moss and we have worked in today’s particular spot a few times over the past couple of years.  We were removing trees to soften the edge where the woodland meets wet pastureland on the outside of the Moss.  The strip that we have cleared so far has transformed over the summer, turning from a big patch of mud to an area of lush reeds and regrowing coppice.  This regrowth of the understorey plants will provide good habitats for breeding birds over the coming years but we will no doubt have to return to the cleared areas every so often to cut it back again.


Unfortunately, I could only stay for the morning – I had work to do – but at least I could go out for part of the day and enjoy the first fire of the autumn, it had been a while!

An apology to Greenpeace: it all comes down to money!

Recently I’ve had a go at Greenpeace on Twitter for pestering me to give more money per month. After recent news headlines of charities pestering people for money, I felt empowered to make a stand. I give monthly to a number of charities as well as giving quite a lot of my free time to charitable volunteering, so receiving calls from charities (Greenpeace certainly weren’t the first and won’t be the last) trying to guilt-trip me into giving more irked somewhat.

It started with one call, and then another, and another, and another. Over the past 18 months I’ve been plagued by nuisance calls by ‘companies’ trying to get me to make false claims for compensation as a result of the extremely minor and short-lived discomfort I suffered after a road accident last year. I have resorted to disconnecting my landline phone and not answering any mobile calls from a number I don’t recognise just to stop the endless harassment of these ambulance-chasers. These insurance scam companies don’t often use the same telephone number, they seem to be able to channel their calls through numbers all around the country, so when I started to receive multiple missed calls from the same number, I eventually called it back. When I did, I heard a recorded message saying it was a company working on behalf of Greenpeace and that they would be in touch again shortly. After a few more missed calls, I finally had my mobile on me when it rang from the same number and I spoke to a representative of Greenpeace. The nicely spoken young chap wanted to tell me about all the good things that Greenpeace had done recently; I instantly knew where this was going, eventually it would lead to a request for more money. At that time I was already giving more money per month to Greenpeace than any other individual charity, so I didn’t want to give any more. I said to the chap that I didn’t have time to talk and I politely ended the call. Over the following few days, I received more and more calls from the same number until I’d finally had enough. Not only was I being harassed by scam insurance companies, I was now being pestered by the charity I gave more money to per month than any other! (this is an apology, honest! Just keep on reading!).

I posted a tweet and got a tweeted apology from Greenpeace and I then sent an e-mail complaining about their behaviour and I cancelled my direct debit. I thought the only way that charities will learn will be for people affected by this behaviour to make some noise as well as stopping donations. I quite quickly got a nice e-mail in return again apologising, promising I would receive no more contact from them but saying that they hoped I would return to them sometime – ‘not I chance’ I thought! My mind was even more firmly made up when later that day I received a text from Greenpeace asking me to increase my donation to them by £10 per month. That was the last straw and I tweeted my annoyance again.

The issue of being pestered with calls from charities, which has been in the news quite a lot over the past few months, is, for me, coupled with a feeling that charities don’t always treat their staff and volunteers in the way they should. I should say here that I’m not pointing the finger at Greenpeace at all – I have no particular knowledge of their staff or volunteers’ conditions; this is a general rather than specific observation. For some time I have thought that some charities use those who want to work in their particular areas or ‘industries’, for want of a better word, by squeezing as much out of them as they can for as little investment as possible to a point where it gets close to, if not actually, exploitation. There are many charities, especially those working in areas where there is a great demand for jobs, which offer unpaid work, long term volunteering posts or internships, leaving those who want to get a foothold in those areas work without an income for months and in some cases many years.

However, these are blinkered, short-sighted views, of both the telephone calls and the employment of staff and volunteers, from a position of being comfortably off and already well into the career I set out to build. When the interests that environmental charities, for example, are up against can throw money at more frivolous activities such as the arts and sport (I’m not having a go at the hard work and dedication of sports men and women, just the elitist hangers-on) it just shows the difference in financial clout.

The hard truth is that the interests that cause the greatest damage to the earth and its environment are those with the most money. Oil companies, agri-chemical businesses, land owners or, indeed, whole groups or classes of people who have enough money and low enough scruples not to care what damage their desires have, all have huge vested interests against which environmental charities are struggling to have an impact. To be able to fight for their causes, charities rely on the contributions both in the form of money and time from the general public, and they have to account for every last penny and make the best of every hour. Few charities have products they can sell to generate millions or billions of pounds of revenue; they can only persuade the public to support them as much as they can. When those major industrial and landowning interests have such huge resources, and regularly don’t play clean, it’s no wonder that charities have to resort to sometimes less than comfortable practices to even vaguely compete.

The phone calls and the treatment of those who work and volunteer for charities is, for me, coupled with an increasing corporatisation of large charities. It’s not the local, individual charity staff who decide to make those calls, and they do not decide to squeeze budgets to such an extent that they have to turn paid jobs into voluntary posts; they have to deal with the day-to-day, the coal face, the delivery of the overall charity’s aims. It is, rather, the head offices of large charities that make those decisions, head offices in many cases staffed to a significant degree by people from the corporate world not the charitable one, people who have less interest in the charitable concerns and more thought on general finance and resources, as well that their own promotion and self-development. However, big charities need to have a corporate approach to enable them to combat the actions of the big corporates, but this can go too far. I get the general feeling that large charities, in trying to do their best for their primary goals, are actually moving away from what matters most; engaging on a human scale with those whose support they desperately need.

The sometimes hard actions of charities, whether it be nuisance phone calls or treatment of staff, do deserve inspection and frustration is at times understandable. However, these issues pale into insignificance when compared to the damage caused by the organisations and groups they are facing up to. It is right that charities have to account for the money they receive and spend, it’s the public’s money afterall, and they need to treat their staff and volunteers correctly. However, by fighting against them on these issues, we’re only making it more difficult for charities to succeed and hoping for them to succeed is why people give their money and time to them in the first place. Charities try to be whiter-than-white but this is a real struggle when they have to make the most of their resources and their opponents have enough money to liberally spray-paint their operations with white or, indeed, green-wash.

Time to give charities a break, give more money to support their campaigns, give more voluntary time in the hope they can provide more paid jobs and give them some leeway when they get it a bit wrong.

Sorry, Greenpeace!

It’s still summer!

I spent today with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers at Wybunbury Moss working for Natural England.  The Moss is one of the group’s usual haunts and this visit was the first for a while.  Soon it will be time for bonfires but today we spent our task clearing undergrowth that had encroached on the boardwalks around the outside of the Moss.





The weather was perfect with bright blue skies and warm sun making the approaching autumn seem a long way off. In fact, with a chiffchaff singing in the woodland, it seemed more like late spring than late summer.

Whilst we often volunteer at the Moss, we usually don’t spend much time out on the central part of the Moss itself. It’s out-of-bounds to the public due to the danger of falling through the thin peat surface into the lake below. Today, however, we had a walk around this part of the nature reserve and it doesn’t stop giving the feeling of being in the wilderness miles from anywhere.  Despite being close to the village and overlooked by one or two houses, the Moss has an atmosphere of the northern wildernesses – all that’s missing is a bear or moose.

When the trees growing on the Moss get to a certain weight, their roots fall through the peat layer into the lake and they drown. This action has left a number of standing dead trees and they make wonderful photographic subjects (although the shot below isn’t all that great).


A late summer gathering…

After being off exercise due to an injury, tonight was the first time in a week and a half that I had the chance to go out for a post-work cycle. For the last few days we have been blessed by a the Spanish plume that has brought warmth to a late summer and the air was still well above 20 degrees when I went out.

Part way along my route I came across a busy gathering of swallows lining up on the telegraph wire, waiting to start their autumn migration southbound to Africa.  I tried to get a picture of all of them on the wires but each time a car came along, they all took off.