A proper spring day – at last!!!

I’ve spent today on a task with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV) at a forest school near Barthomley. We spent a few hours coppicing, dead-hedging, making stakes and clearing nettles. The stand out for the day really was the weather, however, a really lovely spring day. The sun came out, giving real warmth, clouds were lighter and fluffier than they have been for a long time, and the birds were in full song. The plants were also really starting to show spring growth with some trees breaking into leaf and the wild garlic and bluebells growing on the woodland floor.

The afternoon was so nice, I actually sat in my deckchair in the back garden when I got home – if only my cold had gone away, it would have been a perfect day!

Great early spring day

I was up early today and out of the house an hour after dawn to do the first of four breeding bird surveys at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Bagmere reserve. I’ve been doing the surveys at the site for a few years now and it’s always nice to get started with them – one of the first tasks in my spring and summer of conservation volunteering.

The morning was chilly at first but the temperatures started to rise quickly and with a watery sun adding to the relative warmth, spring appeared to have sprung as I made my way into the reserve. The spring was also evident in the birds, even before I started the survey. There were some displaying lapwings looping over a nearby stubble field and there were plenty of birds singing the dawn chorus in the surrounding woods.

Into the reserve and there were a good number of birds to record with many of the usual species flitting or flying around the meadows, woods and fen. Of particular interest were a couple of water rail, a nice mixed flock of siskins and redpolls, some singing reed buntings and a few snipe flushed from the wet ground.

The scene was set at Bagmere for the spring migrants to arrive, making the intensity of the dawn chorus even greater and bringing even more vibrancy to the reserve.

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After the survey, I went to volunteer with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers at Wybunbury Moss and spent the morning and early afternoon clearing and burning trees from the woodland edge. This work will help other migrant birds by providing better breeding conditions in the thick cover than will grow in the space left behind.

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Not finished for the day, I then went out on my bike for 20 miles, peddling around the Cheshire countryside on the last light of what felt like the first proper weekend of spring – it can only get better from here (hopefully!).

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CNCV: Dairy House Farm

Yesterday I was out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers on a task at a new location for the group. We spent the day at Dairy House Farm, near Winsford; a farm under the higher level stewardship scheme, which as well as breeding livestock also has a farm school.


We spent the day clearing the regrowth of an old hedge line. It had orginally been removed to reduce cover for predators which had been taking the chicks of declining numbers of waders breeding in the wet meadows.

A nice bit of wheelbarrowing

After doing some work this morning, I turned up late for today’s Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers’ task at Sound Common. Working for Cheshire East Council, we spent the day removing birch saplings and clearing brambles. Some of us also moved the soil left over from the machines which had scraped off the surface of the heathland, revealing bare earth on which the heather can regenerate – I love a bit of wheelbarrowing!

CNCV: The first practical task of the year

It seems ages since I was last out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV); in fact, it was the Christmas task when I last attended a task.  Today, I was out with them at Wybunbury Moss, clearing trees from a wet pasture and burning the resulting brash. We also set about removing a fence that split the pasture in half.

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This task also signalled the end of the winter season for CNCV as it was the last time we could have a fire before the bird breeding season starts.  This is a sad day as far as I’m concerned – having a fire is one of life’s great pleasures!

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There were signs that Storm Doris had been passed as there were a number of trees felled trees dotted around the nature reserve.  It was still quite blustery and the cycle out to the task this morning was tougher than usual but the journey back when much quicker with the wind behind me!

Just before I left, there was a large mixed flock of starlings, redwings and fieldfares making a racket in nearby trees.  Perhaps winter hasn’t finished with us just yet.

A problematic fire

Today, I had another day out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers on a task at Wybunbury Moss.  We continued with the job of removing trees and spent the day cutting down birch saplings and burning them at the edge of open Moss.

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The task was made more difficult by the problems we had getting the fire started.  We had a good base of old tree trunks and some cardboard boxes to keep the bottom of the fire dry while getting going.  With firelighters, kindling and a bag full of my shopping receipts, the fire started straightaway but we couldn’t get it roaring.  The brash from cutting down the saplings burned far too quickly and left only light ash, so we cut down a couple of medium-sized birch to give the fire some more substantial wood to go at but none of this would catch properly while the fire burned straight through the light brash.  The conditions seemed quite good for a fire – it has stopped raining and there was a light breeze to feed the fire with air – but we couldn’t work out why the fire wouldn’t roar as usual.  It was only when we got stuck into some larger saplings that the mix of brash and thicker trunks, after at least a couple of hours of trying, that the fire started to burn well.  It seems that each autumn we have to re-learn the techniques of building a good fire all over again.

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It was quite a gloomy and moody day for most of the task; we still have a month to go to the shortest day but it seemed like we were already there.  However, the day was brightened by two skeins of pink-footed geese flying over the Moss, probably on their way east to Norfolk for the winter.

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Doing something constructive…

I was out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers today and rather than cutting down trees and setting fire to them, something we do often over the autumn and winter, we were planting them instead.  Much of our work to manage sites for nature involves destructive activities so it made a nice change to actually do something more obviously constructive.

Waking to snow on the ground, I reluctantly headed out. We spent the day outside in the cold but sheltered woodland around Brereton Heath Local Nature Reserve, near Congleton.   Working with Cheshire East Council Rangers, the group were helping to improve the woodland by planting understory trees including hazel, hawthorn and blackthorn.  When they have grown into thickets beneath the taller trees, it’s hoped that they will provide nesting habitats for summer migrants such as whitethroats and spotted flycatchers.

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CNCV: Christmas Task

Today was the Christmas Task for the local conservation group I volunteer with and like last time out we spent the day at Wybunbury Moss National Nature Reserve.

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Today’s task was to make good use of the burning platform that we built from logs a fortnight ago.  Natural England has been working at the site over recent weeks and our task was to burn the brash left behind by the tree removal operations.

It wasn’t all work and at lunch, with the fire having burnt through most of the brash, it was time to get stuck into the Christmas food.  Soup, potatoes and mince pies were followed some time later by the sausages I cooked over the hot embers of the fire.

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To finish off the day we had (non-alcoholic) mulled wine and chestnuts roasted over the last of the fire’s heat – proper Christmas food – and all consumed under a rare clear and bright blue sky.

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Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers: Wybunbury Moss

I spent today with CNCV working for Natural England at Wybunbury Moss National Nature Reserve.  Whilst I often go for a walk on the footpaths and permissive path around the outside of the Moss, today was a rare opportunity to spend time out on the Moss itself.

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Natural England employed us to thin the woodland cover on the edge of the Moss, taking out birch trees and using the large logs to build a fire platform.  Natural England has been much of the woodland thinning itself, so our task in two weeks time will be spent trying to burn as much of the brash as the fire will take.  Our next outing will also be our Christmas task – everyone chips in with some festive food and we use the fire to heat it, while keeping ourselves warm too.

Whilst today’s task wasn’t particularly cold to begin with, the driving rain in the morning soaked us and by mid-afternoon everyone was starting to feel the chill – an early finish was certainly welcome!

Working on the Moss itself is a real privilege as there is no public access to  the site due to the dangerous nature of the ground. Under as little as a metre of moss and peat, lies a lake which is up to 12 metres deep – walking across the Moss, the surface moves and ripples.  If it wasn’t for the odd house or two visible from then centre of the Moss, you could easily think you were standing in the middle of a wilderness area – it’s quite a special place.