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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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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!

Spring has sprung!

I spent today with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers on another task at Wybunbury Moss working for Natural England.  Heading out this morning, it felt that finally spring is here, with a clear blue sky, strengthening warmth from the sun and birds starting to sing at the top of their voices.

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However, the task today was still very much a winter one, with more trees to fell and burn.  The task we have been doing for the last two visits has been focussed on softening an area of woodland edge by removing some of the smaller trees. This should encourage regrowth of the understory which should in turn provide improved habitats for scrub nesting birds.  After working in the same area last year, the signs of this regrowth are already there.

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With bird nesting season upon us, this could have been the last fire until autumn, a pity as I enjoy them so much, but having a fire in the sun does seem a bit wrong. At the end of what has seemed like a long, dark winter, I’ll quite happily swap having fires for more nice, warm sunny days!

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From brash to ash

Another day spent at Wybunbury Moss with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers burning brash left behind by Natural England’s tree clearance activities.

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It was a lovely spring-like day with blue sky and white fluffy clouds.  The woodland was full of bird song, not quite at it’s full strength but certainly starting to build.

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.