Well, the weather has been pretty miserable, but that hasn’t stopped us from having a fun and productive week. We may have been blessed with the beauty of blue skies, sunshine and frost over the previous couple of weeks but it wasn’t half cold! It’s been nice not having to scrape the ice off of the car in the mornings.
On Tuesday afternoon Rob and I met a group of about 20 prep school kids and their teachers (who had clearly not been discouraged by the horrible grey drizzle) in the rather muddy woodland play area. They had come to volunteer for an hour to help clean up the site. They were in surprisingly good spirits (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been if I’d been dragged out into the rain to pick up rubbish at their age) and contributed enthusiastically in the discussions we had about the National Trust and conservation. We all got to work, dismantling dens that had been built outside of the designated den building area. These restrictions are there so that our neighbours are not overly disturbed by the ruckus of playing children. The scene reminded me of worker ants when they’ve found a tasty food source – the kids marching back and forth along the same line, carrying logs from one side of the woodland, dumping them in another and then back again to collect more wood. Within minutes, the dens were gone.
We then set to clearing any large bits of wood and rock debris from around the adventure course, which is nestled in a small hollow that used to be a quarry. The children had some time to play on the zip line and rope swings and then they went off back to school looking very cheery. A brief whirlwind of activity and it was done. Rob and I retreated back to the office and out of the rain. The session left me feeling very satisfied and invigorated. Not only had I had a good work out pushing a wheelbarrow laden with rocks up out of the hollow and further into the woods, the children brought a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm to the woodland and it felt good to have gotten a lot done in a short space of time.
The next day, Rob and I had a lovely stroll around Rainbow Wood Fields where we visited a very old beech tree (seen in the picture below), hidden away at the top of the hill – an old veteran that Tabi had discovered not so long ago. It has a magnificent shape; its biggest branch bowed over, back towards the hillside so that it rests upon the ground again. I’m not sure what conditions it has faced to end up like this but it has obviously seen some hardship and has battled well to keep itself going to strong. Rob very fondly named the tree George before we moved on.
We spent a couple of days continuing with the brush clearance on Sham Castle Down with the help of various volunteers and have had some lovely great big fires going. It is very gratifying work. There is such a stark difference in how the meadows look after you’ve cut and burned large areas of brambles and hawthorn. It opens everything up and makes it feel so much more spacious. I can’t wait to see what these fields look like in June and July when they are full of wild flowers and buzzing with pollinators.
Rachel had made an absolutely scrummy cake for my birthday (very thoughtful and generous) and we all enjoyed a well deserved tea and cake break on Wednesday afternoon. What a treat!
On Friday morning, Rob, Miles (a weekly day volunteer) and I took a trip to Priory Close Woodlands; a new site to me. We accessed the property via a suburban alley between two houses. You would never have guessed that there was a beautiful little strip of woodland than runs behind the street houses there, emerging at the end of the row to border a wonderfully unkempt hillside meadow. The meadow is on the other side of the valley to Rainbow Wood Fields so I could see where we had been walking and working the week before and, of course, there were fantastic new views of bath. The pathway through the woods is very rustic and it was clear that not many people pass through, which gives it a nice secluded feel. Unfortunately, the spot has a bit of a problem with people dumping unwanted garden waste, which can cause various problems like the introduction of non native garden plant species.
We were primarily there to prune some of our trees that were overhanging the neighbours drive and collect some large logs of ash that had already been felled. I learned how to use a extendable pruning saw, which is actually quite hard work, especially when trying to make an undercut to stop the bark from stripping when the branch you’re cutting snaps off. After working together on the pruning job, we took some time to clean up the woodlands a bit and take down a tyre swing whose rope was slowly being incorporated into the wood of the tree. It had started to rain lightly just as we had picked up our tools and had gotten heavier as the morning wore on. It was actually quite refreshing while ones heave-ho’ing on the pruning saw, but when we were done we were all quite happy to be heading back to the yard for lunch.
The week ended with a rainy afternoon at the yard. Tabi had spent some of the morning cutting new oak fairy doors for the family trail. Many of the old doors that have been outside attached to the base of trees for a few years have been looking a bit worse for wear and so are being replaced or refurbished. Miles and I worked together on planing and sanding the little doors so that they are ready for some styling and decoration. The shapes and wood grain of some of the doors are so elegant and pretty. I’m really looking forward to decorating them. We also worked on some tool maintenance, scouring the blades to get rid of any rust and giving them a light oiling.
Everyday I’m learning new skills, understanding more about what it is to be a ranger and all of the different jobs that need to be thought about and scheduled in – there’s a lot to it and it certainly keeps one busy and entertained. I really am enjoying every moment of it, helped, no doubt, by the fact that I have joined such a lovely and energetic team of rangers.