Nearly twenty volunteers gathered on one of those days. You know, the ones where the sun shines and there is a little crispness in the air. We set to work , were ready for the tea break and really enjoyed the Water Meadows Oaties made to a secret recipe by Sue (some even had two!!), set to work again and by about 12.15 those with sensitive noses noticed the wind changing and the temperature beginning to drop. We gathered all the tools in and dispersed as the clouds began to darken a bit and before long it was raining and cold. Great timing. I would not blame anyone who turned up the heating and relaxed with a good book and a cup of tea for the afternoon and evening.
So what did we do during the volunteer session? Well, we all commented that it felt like spring was within grasp. While there were no lambs gambolling in No Man’s Meadow, there was plenty of birdsong. A robin sang his heart out, while keeping an eye to see if we turned up anything juicy for a snack. A flock of tits flitted around. We see a mixed flock of blue tits, coal tits and long tailed tits most days. It is lovely to see although it drives the local robins wild as they graze the very bird feeders which the robins consider their territory. The tits have worked out a cunning strategy for distracting the robins; it works every time.
One group of the volunteers set to on the meadow and Linnet bank part of the south Crankle. A lot of dried off plant material was gathered in using rakes. Essentially the material was gathered into 3 different types of habitat pile, all with their specific uses. The first is finer dried grass and plants; at wildlife Trust sites this would probably be burnt in situ, but it breaks down and in the process creates heat which attracts lizards and slowworms. The second was thicker twigs and small branches which will attract bird foraging for grubs and act as shelter. The third pile was cut bramble which the council will take away. Some bramble of course is left as it’s a favourite source of nectar for many beasties and it’s good nesting material for hedgehogs and birds.
What was really nice ? As the ground was raked it became obvious that there is already a lot of new green growth and there is a large variety of plants. Most spectacular today was the extensive carpet of snowdrops in flower. They had been completely obscured before the area was raked. Now there is a large patch beside the bee hives and a bigger stretch along the east bank of the Linnet to enjoy.
So a large part of the volunteer team was satisfied with the change they achieved. Big smiles from the team and from passers-by as well. The other part of the group was working on the north bank of the South Crankle ditch. While centuries ago this ditch and the others a few yards further south were probably kept in a very orderly way since they were the arms of the Abbey fish farm, in recent years an air of neglect has developed. A number of trees, some quite large, have fallen and the ditch is criss-crossed with the boughs.
Our task was to begin to tidy up while , at the same time, leaving the well rotted boughs to continue to provide a wonderfully rich habitat for birds and all kinds of “creepy crawlies”. For example, at one point I moved a foot fractionally and nearly trod on a beautiful green frog. It made me jump but it lived to hop another day. In the muddy bank, too, I saw the hoofprints of a muntjac deer.
Sometimes it is difficult to see what has been achieved. During this session the piles of twigs, branches and brambles were clear evidence and the objective of clearing “stuff” to allow fresh new growth to burst through was achieved. Congratulations to the whole group.