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.


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.


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!).


Could it be spring?

In many ways hopefully not…but today was a little glimpse through the window of the recent gloomy conditions into what spring could be.

I was out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers today working on a task at Wybunbury Moss. We spent the day clearing scrub from one of the large fields around the outside of the Moss, helping to keep the meadow wet, and then burning the resulting brash. The wind was keen at times but the clouds broke to reveal both the sun and lovely blue skies.

I usually forget but today I remembered to take along some hotdogs for cooking on the fire – one of my favourite things to do!

Afterwards I went out for a pedal on my bike taking advantage of the lighter evening due to the clear skies and the slowly drawing out sunset time.

It’s not spring yet but today it felt very close – certainly much closer than it has recently.

CNCV: More birch seedlings

Today I was out for another task with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV). This time we were at one of our favourite locations – Oakmere, a privately-owned site where we have been helping to restore a moss over the past few years.

When we first visited the site, the moss was very overgrown with birch trees and over many visits we cleared the trees all the way to the edge of the moss, opening it up and giving the right plants space to recover and grow. Our tasks there now are focussed on ensuring the birch trees don’t regain a foothold and we spend our days removing seedlings and some larger saplings that have started to re-establish themselves.

It was a lovely summer day today, starting off with blue skies and very little wind. The cloud started to encroach towards the end of the day but it stayed nicely warm. By the end of the day we had cleared a good section of birch seedlings, leaving a large pile at the edge of the moss.

Next time we’re there, in a couple of weeks’ time, I might get another go at one of my favourite conservation tasks – scything – cutting back bracken at the edge of the moss – can’t wait!

I’m not sure what came over me yesterday but I did my first ever batch of baking – and I took the results with me for the mid-morning tea break…


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.



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!).


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!