March

4th The sun was shining and Witton Brook had dropped, so conditions were ideal to continue the reed cutting and burning that had been going on for a couple of weeks as part of the 3 – 4 year cycle.burning We left the vehicles on Marbury Lane and walked through the woods carrying pitchforks and fire lighting material. Our job was to gather the cut reeds into piles and burn them. We had no difficulty lighting our fires. Seven volunteers were reduced to four by 2.30pm. Those three had not fallen victim to fire or flood, but had other commitments. They missed a bit of drama when the fire took hold to such an extent that I was reminded of a TV advert for Peugot, but it didn’t ‘Take My Breath Away’ as Jim was well in control. We withdrew for tea with just another 50 yards left to clear on that stretch.

11th  Joanne, Ian and I got involved in preparing for some charcoal production alongside Pete and Dave. Ian and Pete were splitting logs, while Joanne, Dave and I set up the kiln.  reed cuttingJoanne and I fetched and carried paper, kindling, undersized charcoal and browns from the previous burn, so that Dave could start filling from inside the burner. Once the lid was on, we tidied up the yard. There was still time for another job. Joanne and Dave went to tidy up after earlier work on the Sand Martin Bank. Ian and I stayed down by the reeds. Ian, the one with the wellies on, took a sickle and passed me the reeds that he cut. I managed to make three bunches using the bungee straps Dave had provided. These will hopefully go towards making a screen to put the finishing touches to the Sand Martin Bank. Disturbing the water and mud released odours that made Ian think that he might just as well have been in a sewer. Someone said that if you were being paid there were some jobs you’d refuse to do.

 

17th Our first job at Marbury was to unload timber from the trailer and stack 3 foot lengths under the cabin. This would allow it to dry for a few weeks before we could burn it for charcoal. Everyone else went litter-picking whilst I set up the charcoal riddler. picking stonesThen Chris summoned all available volunteers to the Horse Field. Harrowing had just been finished and, as predicted after the ploughing, many more bricks, stones and assorted rubble had been exposed and required removal. As this was a task associated with prisoners, I wondered what heinous crimes we had committed to deserve such punishment. The six of us loaded the bucket on the tractor half a dozen times with “anything larger than a tennis ball”. By lunchtime the tennis balls were getting larger and we stopped looking.

Peter, Jim and I emptied the charcoal kiln following last weekend’s burn. We sorted, riddled and filled 27 bags of charcoal, which means that we are prepared for fine barbeque weather over the Easter holiday. Meanwhile the other  volunteers were sowing wildflower seed on the Horse Field.

18th The Scrape Field had provided major problems for the harrowing yesterday. seed sowingWith first one and then two tractors stuck in the mud the contractors had fetched in the big machine with caterpillar tracks that had done the deep ploughing in the autumn. As a result parts of the field were not of the same fine tilth as others. Seven of us lined up along the track to trudge across the field and scatter our buckets of wildflower seed. It took three sorties to cover the whole field. It seemed as if we were scattering gold dust, because the cost of the seed for that field alone was £3000. troughChris selected Elna and me for a special job – emptying and cleaning the cattle troughs. He handed us buckets, a shovel and a brush and dropped us off at the gate to the first field. The first trough was under trees so leaves had accumulated and begun to rot in the bottom. It wasn’t as smelly as we feared and Pip thoroughly enjoyed splashing about as we scooped the water out. The trough in the second field was relatively clean.

After lunch Chris led us to Leftwich Meadows, which has recently become his responsibility. Whilst Chris, Ian, Jim and Mark attempted some fence repairs, Frances, Maria and I started a litter-pick. The others joined in gathering rubbish when their job was done and a couple of local lads mucked in as well. We clambered up and down banks and steps, into ditches and brambles retrieving abandoned waste. We had trouble getting it all into Chris’ van and there was no way it would all fit into the two giant wheelie bins back in the yard.

24th Everyone had to don wellies, or in Robin’s case waders, to complete turfing the Sand Martin chain gangBank at Haydn’s Pool, Chris took the tractor so that he could lift more turf with the bucket. He dumped it by the bank where we had built a bridge across the moat with a pallet and planks. Luckily we were a sufficient number to form a chain gang to transfer the smaller pieces of turf, which Ian and John had cut, across the moat. Robin was strategically positioned in the moat to reach the parts that other people couldn’t reach. Although Diana had a close call, no-one else slipped into the water and by lunchtime the remainder of the bank was covered. As we laboured, sand martins were circling over the pool and the first swallows arrived, whilst chiffchaffs were also heralding the coming of spring.

Elna and I were later on light duties, cleaning small mammal traps, fishing nets and trays, which Chris had used with a school group last week. I wished I’d kept my wellies on when I soaked my trousers using the hosepipe on the trays. The soaking was complete when it came on to rain, as we returned from the Woodland Hide after topping up the bird feeders.

 31st It was wet, windy and bitterly cold. Dave was back after his leave, so we could look forward to the possibility of suffering from exposure. The notice board displaying the Sand Martin Bank interpretation panel needed a good clean before the official ceremony next week. Dave and Liz had come prepared with buckets, detergent, water, cloth and brushes. Liz and I were the designated scrubbers. The most difficult part was negotiating the Haydn’s Pool bund, manoeuvring ourselves around the open doors at the back to clean the inside of the ‘glass’. The skid marks in the mud told the story, but we stayed on our feet. We left Dave to replace the panel, but even he came close to doing the splits. In the time remaining before lunch we joined the others, who were tidying up felled trees by loading the trailer and chipping. Some had been cutting and bundling reeds and these were piled at the top of the Stannah Steps ready for the afternoon.Gabion skirt

Ian, Liz, Jim and I helped Dave carry the bundles through to the Sand Martin Bank. Ian and Dave heaved themselves into waders. I had mistakenly thought that, with the turf on, the project was complete, but no. Liz, Jim and I had the simple task of cutting the reeds into measured lengths and re-bundling. It sounded simple, but tying knots with frozen fingers proved difficult. During the morning we had been in the relative shelter at the bottom of the bund, but up there we were out in the open and exposed to the elements. Ian and Dave managed to attach a grass skirt to conceal the gabions at the base of the Sand Martin Bank. Dave was pleased with the result, except for his cold, wet feet – the waders leaked.

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