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Thursday 31 December 2009

Bob the Blog's Christmas Message 2009.

Having just spent countless hours trying to catch up with all the blogs that I hadn't published in 2009, one thing is VERY apparent - just how many start with " This week was another new venue for the Green Gym....". Also how many people are willing to give up a few hours each Wednesday - especially when the weather is so bad. It certainly appears that the IoW GG is going from strength to strength - well done to one and all.

I would like to give Carrie a big thank you from all of us. Without her, these blog pages just wouldn't happen. I can't bestow a New Year's honour upon her but I do think that a promotion from Cub Reporter to Senior Reporter / Sub Editor is long overdue. We might even be able to run to an extra biscuit each week as part of the pay rise......!

Those of you who follow this blog will know know that I run a software package that logs information about blog visitors (NO personal details...!) Since I started running it, we have had almost 1,500 visitors from 55 countries. They have made almost 4,000 visits and looked at nearly 8,000 pages. That must make all you GGymers International Celebrities.....!

On a personal note - my housebuilding project is almost complete and - subject to a couple of health issues being resolved - I expect to be back with you all in 2010. Buddy can't wait to get back to his GG friends (especially the biscuits at tea break...!)

All that is left is for me to wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best for 2010.

Bob the Blog & Buddy.

Wed 16th Dec 2009 - Shide Quarry, Christmas Bash.

Our last Green Gym of the year in our usual venue at Shide Chalk Pit, helping the rangers Nick and Richard with scrub removal, to help restore the area’s natural chalk grassland. Nick built us a nice bonfire to burn all the scrub, and Richard’s countryside skills were in use building a cooking fire for us to have a open air vegetable stew using ingredients brought along by volunteers, together with lots of other Xmas goodies – the stew was certainly delicious, and very warming on what was a very frosty but bright day.

Shide Chalk pit is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with a chalk grassland flora and a shaded stream, which has a good variety of mosses and liverworts growing by it. Since quarrying ceased in the middle of the 20th century, vegetation has been colonising the floor and sides of the pit. The quarry floor supports good quality, short tussocky chalk grassland, dominated by Sheep’s Fescue, with other species including Horseshoe Vetch, Salad Burnet, Thyme and Autumn Gentian. It also has populations of Bee, Pyramidal and Southern Marsh Orchid, and rabbits are a major influence in keeping the turf short, while adders and common lizards are known to occur. There are a good variety of butterflies in the area including brimstone, orange tip, holly blue, dingy skipper, green hairstreak and comma. The woodland is dominated by Sycamore and Ash, while hawthorn and ivy cover much of the woodland floor. The northern slope includes exotic shrubs such as Holm Oak and Sweet Bay, while the south-west corner contains more native woodland species like Wild Cherry, Field Maple and Spindle. Many common birds also nest within the site including great tit, wood pigeon, blue tit, chaffinch and jackdaw; other species seen in the area are the little owl, green woodpecker, chiffchaff, blackcap, goldcrest and long tailed tits”.

Wed 9th Dec 2009 - Carisbrooke Primary School.

A new site for us at Carisbrooke Primary School, and fortunately the weather was a huge improvement on last week with the excellent turnout of volunteers enjoying some good dry weather, if somewhat soggy underfoot. Our work area was behind the school next to a public footpath, and our tasks were to cut back some of the trees in the woodland, remove a large tree which had fallen down following the recent wet weather, and use the material to construct some habitat piles within the wood.

Our biggest task was to clear a pond (which was completely unrecognisable), and remove any ash and sycamore round the edges. Underneath all the weeds and ivy not only did we find a lovely concrete pond, but also uncovered a fairly large area of decking to one side and leading out of the access gate (see images).

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

This week’s find was a selection of three different types of harlequin ladybirds, which fall into three main types - succinea, spectabilis and conspicua. The most likely variations encountered in the UK have orange wing covers and 15-21 black spots, or black wing covers with two or four orange or red spots; they are also larger than our native ladybirds. They are an Asiatic species introduced to Europe as a biological control agent, and have now invaded much of north western Europe, arriving in Britain in the summer of 2004.

They are most commonly found on deciduous trees, such as lime, sycamore and maple, and low growing plants such as nettles. Their food range is wide and includes aphids, scale insects, eggs and larvae of butterflies and moths together with other small insects including our own native ladybirds. Its impact is considerable, as it easily out-competes our native species for their preferred food, and its lack of a dormant period prior to breeding and having a longer active period, gives it a further competitive edge on our native species.

Wed 2nd Dec 2009 - Carisbrooke Pond.

Our venue this week was Carisbrooke pond, which is owned and managed by Southern Water. Our last visit here was some 14 months ago, and the work started then has been continued by other volunteers, so the site is looking really good. Our first task was to remove the wire fence which had been placed around the edges of pond to protect the new plants from being eaten by the ducks; quite a tricky job as the level of the pond was very high due to the persistent rain we have had recently. Other tasks were a rubbish pick and a general tidying and raking over on the site. We also planted twelve trees including plum, apple and hazel, as part of the plan is to use the area as a community orchard. At this point the heavens drenched us with some torrential rain, as you can see from the picture, but we managed to finish the task.

Wed 25th Nov 2009 - Mornington Woods.

Mornington Woods was our venue this week, a site we have visited a few times in the past. A really good turnout, despite the fact that as we arrived on site, we were bombarded with a shower of hailstones! The plan for this site is to clear some of the larger trees, particularly sycamore, and a start has been made on this already. This will allow in more light to the woodland floor, which it is hoped will lead to greater colonisation of wild flowers and more wildlife.

Jobs for the Green Gym were a litter pick, which did not fill as many bags as on our last visit, so keeping the site tidy is obviously encouraging people not to dump rubbish. There was also a lot of lopping bushes and shrubs, together with clearance of a large patch of bramble at the lower edge of the wood near the steps.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

This week’s find was a spectacular example of a young parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota Procera). This is a species of agaroicus fungus, a member of the Agaricaceae family, and reproduces through windborne spores. It is found solitary or in groups and fairy rings in pastures and occasionally in woodland. It typically fruits initially in August, but is most commonly seen in October and can continue fruiting through into November. This very large mushroom resembles a woman’s parasol (hence the name), and the cap size may reach up to 40cm. Young specimens tend to be egg-shaped that expand initially to bell-like and then a flat cap, that is characterised by a dark umbro at the top. This central dome is surrounded by concentric rings of pale brown scales on a cream cap, with fine white gills.

Wed 18th Nov 2009 - Cowes High School.

Cowes High School this week and another new site for us, with the pond warden amazed to see the large number of Green Gymmers who turned up. The big task was to re-profile their pond, which has suffered from having rubbish thrown into it when the gate was vandalised. As you can see from the images, this included a lot of wood, an old chair and several large lumps of concrete. This was all removed so we could uncover the edge of the lining and make a gentler slope around the edges so they were not so steep. We then replaced the liner and put all the removed earth and turf back on top. Other tasks were a litter pick on the site, which filled six large black bags; clearing a large area of bramble; and using the concrete blocks removed from the pond to block a gap underneath the fence. We then covered these with earth, so they could not be thrown back into the pond.

While clearing the site, we uncovered a very interesting pathway, and also two frogs, which were carefully moved to a safe place.

Wed 11th Nov 2009 - Millenium Green, Ryde.

We have visited Millenium Green in Ryde on several occasions, and our hard work is starting to bear fruit. The butterfly meadow where we have done a lot of clearance work is beginning to colonise with wild flowers, and this week we cleared the re-generating growth and made considerable headway into more bramble at the back of the meadow. We also did clearance work on some invasive weeds, and also built steps on what was a very muddy slope to improve the access.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson - this is the time of year for fungi, and the woods here are no exception. The first image is Laccaria Laccata, a common woodland fungus not easy to identify, hence its popular name “the Deceiver”. It has a convex cap flattened or depressed, and often wavy at the margin. It is found from Summer to early Winter, in woods and on heaths and moorland. The second image is Clouded Agaric (Clitocybe Nebularis), which can be found in the leaf litter of both coniferous and deciduous woodland. The fruiting bodies can be found in rings, because they are produced on the outer growing edge or the circular underground mycelium.

Wed 4th Nov 2009 - Munsley Bog.

Mundsley Bog is an old favourite, which we have worked on every year for the last six years. The site is in the care of Island 2000 Trust, and the overall aim is to restore the natural bog. Nearly 40 volunteers turned up on a bright and gloriously sunny day, and certainly had plenty to do. We last visited this site earlier in the year, but it was amazing to see how it had regenerated in such a short time, although perhaps not unexpected due to the excellent growing conditions through the Spring and Summer months. Tasks were - to clear dead bracken; cut down the willow; build a dead hedge at the top of the site using the cut willow; and build a small dam over one of the ditches to encourage the water level to spread across the bog.

Wed 28th Oct 2009 - Haylands Farm.

An excellent turnout of volunteers this week at Haylands Farm in Ryde, which is yet another new site for us. There were three small tasks and one big task, the smaller ones being to clear an area of scrub and bramble, prune some apple trees, uncover a circle of concrete which used to be a pond, and dig over inside the circle. The big task was to clear a very overgrown pond of reeds and lilies, and remove the resident fish population. This was very wet and muddy work, and the children did a sterling job of fish catching with nets; we removed some 30 fish, one frog and some water snails from the pond, which were eventually relocated to a large bath with existing water and plants. We also brought some rocks in wheelbarrows to build a rockery at the side of the pond, which provided a new home for the frog. The plan is to make the pond a better habitat for wildlife, so some of the vegetation was put back in the pond, and the wooden fencing around the outside had a new coat of woodstain.

Haylands Farm project is for people with learning difficulties and run by the Isle of Wight branch of Mencap. It provides work and training services to adults with a learning disability, and aims to provide and maintain an environment which is supportive to the training needs of the students who attend Haylands Farm. There are individual allotments, pigs, free range chickens, goats, a Shetland pony, and they grow lots of beautiful flowers which are for sale to the public.

Wed 21st Oct 2009 - Bouldnor Fort.

A new site for the Green Gym again this week, helping the Forestry Commission in woods at Bouldnor Fort. The task was to open up a pond which involved clearing a large patch of bracken; removing several trees and using them to build habitat piles in the cleared area, before covering them with the cut bracken; and clearing weeds from the pond. This involved donning waders for two stalwart Green Gymmers and actually wading into the pond, which is apparently about ten feet deep in the centre, so great care was needed. The pond also contained quite a large area of Floating Club Rush, which is a very rare plant on the Island

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

Floating Club Rush (Eleogiton Fluitans, alternative name Scirpus Fluitans). This is a grass-like water plant with long floating leafy stems, rooting at nodes. Spikelets are solitary on long stalks, consisting of 3-5 flowers or fruits, whose glumes are green like the rest of the plant. The flowers have three stamens and three stigmas, and there is no bract at the base of the spikelet.

Wed 14th Oct 2009 - Botanical Gardens, Ventnor.

Our venue this week was Ventnor Botanic Gardens and, as usual, Trish had several tasks for us to tackle. The first two were tidying up the pond outside the cafĂ©, and trimming the growth on the willow dome. The third and largest task, was working on what they call the “Pumpkin Patch”. This is not in the main part of the Botanic Garden, but some 100 yards away on the other side of the road. Apparently this area was the site of the piggery when the original Hospital existed, but is now used to grow all the plants that are sold in the Botanic Garden. We had to clear a large area up to the boundary fence, which will be used by another group as a nursery for trees which can then be re-planted around the Island, and also to begin clearing the bank above the road. This will be an ongoing task to clear about a 100 yard stretch, and plant lots of shrubs and trees. The idea being that when people travel into Ventnor, it will look as if you are travelling through the garden itself, with trees visible on both sides of the road; this area is also accessible to the public on foot, and is very quiet and peaceful.

Wed 7th Oct 2009 - Quarr Abby.

This week was our second visit to Quarr Abbey, and unusually for the Green Gym it rained VERY hard after teabreak, but we still soldiered on. The job for this week had been to continue working on the vegetation damaging the old wall, but there had been some delay in erecting the scaffolding, so we had to go the Plan B. This involved cutting back a long hedge alongside one of the public footpaths through the Abbey, to open up the lovely view across the fields.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

Our find this week growing in the hedge was Spindleberry (Euonymus Europaeus), a large fast growing native shrub found in hedgerows and scrub, particularly on alkaline soils. Its narrow leaves turn reddish purple in autumn, and it has unusually shaped bright pink fruits. It bears tiny flowers in the summer and although mildly poisonous, is very beautiful - see picture.

Monday 21 December 2009

Wed 30th Sept 2009 - Quarr Abbey.

A new site for the Green Gym this week, in the beautiful grounds of Quarr Abbey, which is also next week’s venue. An excellent turnout, as always, and some kind words from Ray Harrington-Vail from the Footprint Trust, about the number of hours Green Gym volunteers have contributed this year - 6,000!! which apparently puts us ahead of the National Trust. The major work to be done here is conservation of a very old wall (which goes back to at least the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII if not further), which is being damaged by ivy. A small section has been chosen where we had to clear the scrub away from the base of both sides of the wall, so it can be examined and a plan formulated for its preservation, as the ivy has to be removed very carefully to avoid further damage. We also removed some scrub from around a gate to improve access, and cut back overhanging trees and brambles from one of the long pathways.

Wed 23rd Sept 2009 - Haytesbury Pumping Station, Parkhurst.

This was our first visit for some years to Haytesbury Pumping Station along Forest Road near Newport, with an excellent turnout on what proved to be a very warm day. Mark at the Kitbridge Trust, who own some of the land we were working on, had organised a very long list of tasks for us. These were making a bonfire of scrub which had already been cleared, putting in lots of plants, building a fence and clearing a very thick area of scrub along the boundary line some three metres back, to enable access for the tractor. The work is intended to improve the area for bees, as part of “The Big Buzz” campaign set up by Kew Gardens and Jordans, and also involving Blue Peter. This area was also the site of a huge muster of 10,00 troops in 1748 (due to fears of a Napoleonic invasion), and the stream close to where we were working had two dams made some 100 yards apart, where the cavalry used to wash their horses (military history information provided by Mark from the Kitbridge Trust - thanks Mark).


Their habitats are now in serious decline, due to the spread of diseases and the loss of habitat. The UK has 250 species of bee including the honey bee, 25 species of bumblebee and many solitary bee species. Sadly three species of bumblebee have already become extinct, with many more in rapid decline. Only six species are now common and widespread, as a lot of their natural habitats are being destroyed. Bees are a keystone species for conservation, which means they have a disproportionate effect on their environment compared to their numbers, because they pollinate the majority of our plants to help them reproduce. If plants cannot reproduce they may become extinct, and this could have a devastating impact on the whole ecosystem. Einstein is supposed to have said “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left” but there is no doubting the horrifying facts. The Honey Bee, which performs a crucial role in the farming process is headed towards extinction. No bees, no food. Bees need everyone’s help.

Wed 2nd Sept 2009 - One Horse Field.

One Horse Field is managed by Gift to Nature, who took it on in 2006 as a neglected piece of waste land rapidly reverting to scrub. After discussions with local people and other wildlife organisations, it was decided to manage the land true to its heritage - in this case a mowed meadow. Meadows are a man-made landscape feature, and require a little help to exist as fantastically diverse habitats. A selection of the invasive scrub was removed to open areas, which had succumbed to a monoculture of scrub land. The maintenance regime involves regular rotational mowing, which ensures the site provides a suitable variety of habitat to support a range of species, including many different butterflies and dragonflies. The site is also used as a relocation centre for displaced Slow Worms. Our task was to rake off the cut grasses and other vegetation to prevent the nutrient build-up within the soils, important to maintain the wild flowers and rich biodiversity. Following some recent mowing, we did find a couple of casualties among the slow worm population, with one dead and two injured, one of whom had lost his tail. We did, however, find one frisky one which we moved to a safe place - see picture below.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

Slow Worms (Anguis Fragilis) also known as the blindworm, are actually legless lizards, and neither slow nor blind. It is mainly active at night or dusk/dawn, but sometimes basks in the sun during the day. They can be found hiding under rocks, logs, black plastic and paving slabs, and seem to have a preference for old bits of discarded corrugated iron. They hibernate during the cold months of winter, sometimes gathering in groups of thirty or more under compost heaps, logs or tree roots, and the place they do this is known as a hibernaculum. Like lizards, they can shed their tail to escape predators, which eventually re-grows into a short pointed stump; this is known as autotomy. They are approximately 12-20 inches long, with smooth shiny bronze to grey skin, no legs, a small head and eyelids that can blink (snakes do not have eyelids). They are also exothermic (do not create their own body temperature), and rely on basking or warm weather to get their metabolism going.

Wed 26th August - Sandown Station.

This week was a new site for us, at Station Approach in Sandown. About two years ago this path, which leads to the station, was transformed from a tangled mess of concrete and weeds, to a border garden with plants and artwork, with local children from the High School involved in its creation and planting. The area has since become very overgrown, so our tasks were to do a fair amount of weeding and pruning of the many shrubs that were originally planted; we also had a large pile of bark delivered, which was barrowed round to the site once the weeding was complete to refresh the mulch.

Carrie’s Nature Lesson

Two for the price of one this time, our finds being Wild Carrot (Daucus Carota) and Purple Toadflax (Linaria Purpurea). Wild Carrot is a member of the Umbelliferae family, so called because their flowers are arranged into a flat umbrella-like head or umbel, and can be identified from other common family members because the bracts fringing the umbel are three forked. It flowers from June to September in fairly infertile, free draining and usually calcareous soils, and the long stout taproot allows it to exploit drier environments. Regeneration is entirely by seed, and it is attractive to a wide variety of specialised pollen and nectar feeding insects such as bees, hoverflies and beetles.

Purple toadflax grows on rough ground and walls, and was introduced from the Mediterranean. It has spires of small purple flowers similar to snapdragons, on tall stems with narrow grey-green leaves arranged in dense whorls. It will grow in any well-drained soil in a sunny position, and spreads by underground runners. It is a valuable species for bees, hoverflies and moths, including the day flying silver Y and hummingbird hawk moths. We also found a very faded looking Painted Lady sunning itself on the wall.