The last fortnight has been packed full of training and courses and I have emerged from it with a whole handful of new skills that will allow me to be much more independent as a ranger and considerably more useful to the team.
At the beginning of last week Rob got me driving the National Trust 4×4 Hylux, both on and off-road. I have never driven a 4×4 – I’m only used to driving my little Micra – so learning about the control and safety of the vehicle off-road was all new to me. As part of my driving practice, I also took us to pick up some hedging plant saplings (whips), including blackthorn, hawthorn and hazel, that we would be planting over the next couple of weeks. I also spent a day at St. Johns Ambulance in Bath carrying out my course in Emergency First Aid at Work for which I am now qualified. I feel confident that I could bandage someone up, perform the Heimlich maneuver, carry out CPR and use a defibrillator should I need to; though, hopefully, I wont have to test any of those skills.
Post Doris saw the most glorious day last Friday; still air, blue skies and sunshine. It was wonderful to have the whole team of rangers out together, which doesn’t happen that often. Joined by some of our dedicated day volunteers, we took a walk around Smallcombe Wood to allow Judy and I to familiarise ourselves with the site as neither of us had been there before and to assess whether there was any critical health and safety work to be done after the storm.
Smallcombe Wood is a beautiful copse of mixed deciduous ancient woodland. While much of the growth doesn’t appear ancient, you can see great old coppice stools of hazel and ash that are hundreds of years old.
At this time of the year the woodland floor is carpeted with moss and new wild garlic shoots and, even with the plants still so young, the fresh scent of garlic fills the air.
There has been little in the way of coppicing here over the last half a century, only bits here or there carried out by the rangers to open up the canopy and allow the light in. However, there has been exciting talk of plans to assign coppicing coups and start a proper coppicing program, but that will not start at least until next winter. Having walked a full circle, we began work on a small patch of hazel coppice on the edge of the wood, looking out over Smallcombe Vale. Not only would the coppicing help to encourage a greater biodiversity on the woodland floor, but it also provided a load of new den building materials which we took over to the Woodland Play Area in the afternoon.
We ended the day planting a thicket of hawthorn and blackthorn whips at the southern edge of the Woodland Play Area to provide some privacy for our neighbours from the ruckus of playing children.
I spent almost every day of this week commuting to Blandford Forum in Dorset where I completed my all terrain vehicle (ATV) training and chainsaw maintenance and crosscutting course. It was fairly easy to get the hang of driving the ATV – we did some basic off-road driving, driving up and down steep slopes and route planning in more complex, wooded environments – up until I had to reverse with a tailor around a slalom course, at which point I almost definitely would have failed had it been part of the assessment. Luckily, it seemed to be just for some additional experience and I passed the course despite knocking over all of the cones. It’s safe to say that I’ll need some more practice at that some time in the near future.
The Chainsaw course went really well. The first day was spent looking at health and safety and chainsaw maintenance. Tabi had helped me swat up on most of these bits already so I was well prepared when I got there. On day two, we practiced various crosscutting techniques and the safe use of chainsaws. At the end of all the teaching, we were instructed to make a stool out of a single log allowing us to practice a little more accuracy with our cuts. I completed the course competent and in one piece – so, definitely a success.
On our way out of the woodlands, after completing the chainsaw assessment, the instructor and I were driving across an open piece of grassland when we disturbed a great barn owl in the grass beside the road. It rose out of the grass and took wing, but flew alongside the van in the same the direction, keeping pace, for about 30 yards. I have never had such an extended, up close viewing of an owl in the wild – it was quite spectacular. We also had the pleasure of watching 4 young roe deer bouncing across the fields ahead of us. A wonderful end to a fun and productive couple of weeks.