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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last Sunday I went to Bagmere with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV) to work for Cheshire Wildlife Trust. We got on with our usual task of fighting back the encroachment of tree saplings onto the fenland landscape and burning what we cut. Unfortunately, the wood has to be burnt on site due to inaccessibility for vehicles and the distance from the road. However, it’s no hardship for most of us and some (well me, actually) always look forward to the colder months when we can have a big fire – there’s no better way to finish a task than sitting around a fire in the last of the day’s sun, as the flames die down and the last of its heat keeps you warm – marvellous!
I returned to Bagmere on yesterday to start my winter bird surveys for the season. Like the breeding bird surveys I do for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, I visit the Trust’s Bagmere and Blakenhall Moss reserves to record bird species. Unlike the surveys in spring and early summer, the winter versions are simpler as I only note the number of individual birds of each species I see.
Walking around the reserve on Saturday was lovely, the sun had broken through the early morning fog and a bright blue sky emerged. I spent just less than an hour walking from one end of the reserve to the other and recorded 22 species altogether. I didn’t find anything unusual but it was good to start the surveys with a reasonably good list.
Unfortunately, as with the four breeding bird survey visits between March and June and last of the previous winter bird surveys in January, I didn’t record willow tits, a red-listed species. This means that I haven’t recorded them at all so far this year across all the survey visits and several tasks with CNCV. The Wildlife Trust installed some nest boxes for them in the early spring, in the area of the reserve where I had last recorded them and I spent some extra time in that area to see if they were around. It would be a depressing finding if they have disappeared – this is only the second full year of surveys I have done at the reserve, with my surveys being the first ever undertaken at the site.
I don’t normally blog about the local volunteering I do with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers – not sure why – but I think it’s about time I started.
I’ve been volunteering with the group for four years, heading out into the South Cheshire countryside every other Sunday to do practical tasks for a number of different organisations.
Our tasks are varied and focused on helping to conserve or enhance particular habitats and environments. We often undertake similar tasks over several Sundays to enable us to complete larger jobs. Our tasks tend to follow the seasons with our cycle of chopping, burning, invasive species removal and meadow raking being very familiar to long serving volunteers. We also do some more obviously constructive tasks such as the bench installing and path building we did last weekend.
Over the course of each year we generally do tasks for Cheshire East Council Ranger Service, Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Natural England, although for a past couple of years we’ve also done some tasks for a private landowner.
The group doesn’t have an official motto but ‘Conservation & Conversation’ works pretty well – although something related to fire or biscuits could be just as apt!
The group moved into the 21st Century a couple of years ago with the launch of our own Facebook page and Twitter feed through which we keep follower up to date with our latest tasks.
As we move into the latter part of the year, my favourite kind of tasks start again – cutting down trees and setting fire to them! It may sound counter-intuitive to do this in the name of conservation but it is vital in helping to preserve some of the rarest habitats we have. Whilst I’m a believer in letting nature have its way, I also understand that if we did so without any management at all, we would end up losing some habitats that are now few and far between in the UK. That we have to do this at all is more than just a shame and entirely the fault of humans. Sometimes we need to take what would normally be odd action to help undo the harm we have done – if we don’t do something, some habitats may be lost forever.
Anyway, for me, there’s no better way to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon outside than chucking a few logs on a fire and spending a few hours poking it.