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!

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.

Before…

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After…

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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).

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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.

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.

Proper Autumn

Yesterday, as I often do if I have a quiet Sunday afternoon, I took a wander around Wybunbury Moss.  It had been a misty day but it had cleared in places.  The trees were shedding their leaves which have turned into a fine range of yellows, reds, oranges and golds. The last of the fruits and berries remain on the branches, yet to be picked by the birds.  There were signs of badgers clearing out their setts, ready for winter and some of our colder-month visitors were passing through.

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As I walked around my usual route, the sun dipped below the trees and the colder air began to sink into the hollow in which the Moss lies.  The mist started to form once again and as the last of the light, an eerie silence fell on the landscape, the land-hugging clouds seeming to mask any sounds from outside.

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Wybunbury Moss in High Summer

The next four weeks or so are, on average, the warmest of the year and the summer should be at its peak.  It doesn’t seem like high summer as I write this as the rain is falling and the temperatures are in the teens.  However, yesterday was a bit better and I took a walk around Wybunbury Moss, something I haven’t done for quite a while. IMG_6853 My now regular circular walk through the woodlands and meadows around the outside of the Moss really help to give me a sense of the moving seasons and how this small bit of countryside changes as the year moves on.  I got a good list of 30 birds yesterday (all recorded using the BirdTrack smartphone app, which uploads records to the British Trust Ornithology’s database) but the Moss is much quieter now than previous months.  The great rush to breed is now reducing and there was less bird song to be heard; July is a time when many birds are moulting after their broods have fledged so they tend to sing much less. Whilst the birds are quieter, the wild flowers are much ‘louder’ now and there’s quite a good show at Wybunbury.  Wandering around the area I saw plenty of flowers I knew and plenty I’ve yet to learn the names of but those I could identify included red campion, honeysuckle, rosebay willowherb, foxglove and common spotted orchid. In addition, the brambles aren’t just flowering, they’re starting to show the first signs of a good crop of blackberries. IMG_6857IMG_6855IMG_6859IMG_6854IMG_6852 As well as birds and flowers, there were a few butterflies around to be seen including large white and spotted wood.

There were also some mammals around including rabbits and the little dexter cattle being used to manage the grassland around the outside of the Moss.  They look a bit like Spanish fighting bulls but they’re quite friendly and are more like large pointy-horned dogs.

IMG_6862 On a slightly depressing note, the autumn migration has already started with the swifts starting to make their long return journeys south.  Thankfully, there’s still quite a few weeks of summer left!

Lacking inspiration…

Maybe it’s the winter blues or the need for a bit of a change but I’ve been finding it hard to motivate myself recently when it comes to my usual interests.  However, over last weekend I did push myself out of the house to do a Winter Bird Survey at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Blakenhall Moss reserve and had a walk around Wybunbury Moss.

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The survey was almost as atmospheric as the December visit to Blakenhall but the lack of sun, made the view much more dull.  The fogginess and general murk certainly made the place feel like it was at its lowest ebb of the seasons.  However, I saw one of the first signs of spring with the bluebell shoots starting to emerge from under the leaf litter; maybe a little early this year.  I was also cheered up by recording a couple of marsh tits during the survey; these are an important species for the site, are a nationally red-listed species in serious decline and are not well-recorded in Cheshire.

Bluebell shoots

Out at Wybunbury Moss, I took advantage of the new section of footpath recently designated and opened close to the church tower and behind the Swan Inn pub.  This new path enables a complete circular walk around the Moss without having to use the footway alongside the road through the village, which altogether provides a nice, quiet wander of around 45 minutes.

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Unlike at Blakenhall, I didn’t see any signs of spring at Wybunbury and even the birds seemed subdued.

Unlike me, it appears others have had more motivation than me recently, as I found the results of the work put in by my volunteering colleagues the previous weekend.  They (Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers) had spent the day clearing an area of small ponds and undergrowth within the woodland surrounding the Moss and had also laid more log pathway to make it easier to walk along the permissive path through the site.

With the first signs of spring starting to appear, I’m hoping the first ‘greenshoots’ of motivation and inspiration will also start to grow – I certainly need something to give me a bit of a kickstart to the year!