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Wednesday 25 February 2015

Wed 25th Feb 2015 - Sandpit Copse, Wootton.

We should have expected something different for our GG session this week when we received an email from Mark asking us to bring along PAINT SCRAPERS...! When we visited this site around a month ago we undertook our traditional task of "slash and burn", so why would we need a decorating tool this time? Once we had all assembled at the black hut and given a brief by one of the two PTES wardens in attendance and all became very clear..... we were doing a "Changing Rooms" makeover on dormouse nesting boxes. With some 600 nesting boxes sited around the adjacent woodlands, it was going to be some task to locate them all then clean them all out ready for the dormice to use in the coming breeding season. It was explained that the the Island is something of a Hot Spot for dormice. They like our woodland here because of the ground level growth, which is mainly brought about by our not having any deer roaming around to eat it.
Due to the widespread nature of the work, it was decided that the traditional 11am tea break was to be abandoned, with tea to be served at the end of the session (panic set in with some at this suggestion..!). So, equipped with our new found knowledge, a map of the woods  and the previously mentioned paint scrapers, we were split into teams and set to work. Even with the reasonably detailed maps it is quite difficult to locate so many small boxes in acres of woodland but Team GG are always up for a challenge...! Each box is has a unique reference number so we were soon scouring our designated areas to locate each and every one, give it a spring clean and repair or replace damaged ones before crossing it off the list and moving on to the next. We certainly covered some ground during the session but who could complain when walking through some of the most wonderful wooded areas here on the Island?
Come the end of the session, everyone met up back at the Black Hut for a well earned cup of tea and a biscuit. Initial indications show that we managed to complete work on around two thirds of the total number of boxes - so 400 boxes in three hours - amazing...!

Please use this link for further details - Briddlesford Woods - Peoples Trust for Endangered Species

Carrie's Nature Natter.

Two finds this week, the first being some wood mice, found in one of the dormouse boxes we were clearing out, and the second picture shows one mouse making his way out of the box by climbing over the others.  This species, also known as the Long Tailed Field Mouse, is Britain's most common rodent and found in many different habitats including woodland and farmland, although it tends to avoid very wet areas and exposed uplands.

It has dark brown upper fur, grey or white underside, large eyes (it is mostly nocturnal) and large ears.  It eats a wide variety of food including berries, seeds, nuts, fungi, buds, caterpillars and other invertebrates, depending on the season and what is available at the time.  Population levels are found to rise and fall depending on how much food is available to them in the autumn, and a good year for acorns means greater numbers of adult mice will survive through to the next summer, although most woodmice live for less than 12 months, usually succumbing to predation.

They often have complicated burrow systems beneath tree roots, with food storage chambers and nest chambers.  However, their nests are sometimes built above ground in places like hollow tree trunks or holes in old buildings, usually made with moss, leaves and grasses.  During the spring, each female finds her own territory, and up to six litters of young numbering 4-7 are normally born between March and October.

You can tell if woodmice inhabit an area by looking for evidence of their eating habits, as although lots of other animals eat hazels, the woodmouse has a characteristic way of getting the nut out of the shell.  It gnaws a roughly circular hole in the shell, but characteristically its teeth marks all point downwards, unlike those of the dormouse which radiate outwards from the centre of the shell.

Our second find was the empty nest of a dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) – these are one of Britain’s most endangered mammals due to much of their habitat of deciduous woodland and hedgerows being lost.  This small attractive woodland rodent is mainly nocturnal and arboreal, spending its active time in shrubs and trees searching for food.  Its diet consists mainly of fruit, berries, flowers and insects, while autumn hazelnuts can be a very important food source, as they have to build up their fat reserves to hibernate over the winter.  They hibernate on the ground rolled tightly into a ball in a nest of leaves and grass, lowering both body temperature and heart rate to become torpid and cold to the touch.  This “shutting down” during cold weather enables them to survive, although they can also do this in spring or summer, having long periods of inactivity which probably contributes to their long five year life span.

They breed once or twice a year usually producing four young which become independent in about two months.  Nests are often built of grass interwoven with honeysuckle and can be anywhere from a few feet above ground in brambles to high in the forest canopy.

Many thanks to Carrie for her Nature Natter this week.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Wed 18th Feb 2015 - Mornington Woods, Cowes.

Mark's Photographs.

Carrie's Photographs.

Sue's Photographs.

The "gloopy" mud - in the pond.

Clearing the watercourses.

Zig-zag path.

Partially dredged pond area.

General undergrowth clearance and bonfire.

Although it has been some five years since we were last at this venue, the memory of those visits is still very vivid, perhaps because of the nature of the jobs we tackled. Cutting railway sleepers in half using a bow saw, dragging them up a hillside to construct a pathway and planting numerous tree whips on a steep, muddy slope tends to stick in your memory....! Obviously things were going to be much easier this time around?
It was great to see how all our previous work had matured, the Catkins being particularly noticeable . Once we had all assembled in the car park, one of the site trustees (who is also a GG member) gave us a briefing on the jobs needing attention. Team GG then split into various groups to cut back overgrown areas on the zig-zag path, general undergrowth clearance, get a bonfire underway, clear watercourses AND to start dredging the pond area. What had once been a rain water holding pond had been filled in by the Council (to stop fly tipping) but this had caused problems with flooding during rainstorms. Digging out gloopy mud is never going to be easy but loading it into wheelbarrows and transporting it elsewhere is REALLY back breaking! Thank goodness so many Team GG members had decided to attend this week as everyone was kept well employed, certainly another memorable visit....
Although it clouded over as the day wore on, it was pleasantly warm for so early in the year.

A comment from one of the GGmers attending the session - "What an amazing site, I never knew it was there and I lived in Cowes years ago!"

Photographs this week courtesy of Sue, Carrie and Mark, many thanks to all.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Wed 11th Feb 2015 - All Saints' Church, Freshwater.

Carrie's Photographs.

Team 1- sorting out the hedge.

Mark's Photograph.

Part of the intrepid "Bag and Drag" brigade.

Sue's Photographs.

Oh what a NOT to cut a hedge..!

Above and below... Team 1 working hard.

Another good GG bonfire.

Team 2 at work.

Team 1 doing the "bag and drag".

Now doesn't that look better?

It was back out to West Wight for the GG session this week, at one of our "established" venues, the wonderful churchyard at All Saints'. We were met at the main gate and informed that the work we were expecting to do had been replaced by something of an emergency task. Due to the northern boundary hedge having been mechanically cut (mangled?) by the adjacent landowner, the priority job was to try and tidy up. Inspection of this area showed piles of cut hedging all over the graves plus numerous half-chopped branches hanging from the hedgerow. With around half the workforce (Team 1) trying to sort this problem, the remainder (Team 2) set to work along the eastern boundary. They were to carry on with work we had started on a previous visit, chopping back the dense undergrowth to establish the full extent of the church grounds. Team 2 had the advantage that the bonfire was close to their work area where as Team 1 had to "bag and drag" all their trimmings! Care had to be taken when walking around due to numerous spring plants and bulbs, many of which were already in full bloom. Although it was a cloudy, grey day the air temperature was a balmy 6 C - far nicer than the chilly days we have had recently. It was only when Teams 1 and 2 met up for tea break that it could be seen we had an excellent turn-out. Many thanks to the church wardens who served the tea and coffee with a delicious array of cakes and biscuits....yummy!

Carrie's Nature Find.

This week our "find" was a flock of Canada geese feeding in the field bordering the churchyard at Freshwater.  These birds (Branta Canadensis) are highly vocal birds with at least ten distinctive calls, and are monogamous throughout their lives unless their mate dies.  Their eyesight is very good as they can see more than 180 degrees vertically and horizontally, which is very useful during flight, and also have mostly monocular vision.

Their lifespan can be very large, with some surviving up to 24 years in the wild, however most die within their first year because of predators. There are eleven subspecies of Branta Canadensis ranging from being the biggest to one of the smallest geese in the world, and can travel more than 1000 kilometers in a day while migrating. As the circumference of the world is 40008 km, this means they could fly around the world in approximately 40 days!!!!  The first image is the flock feeding, and the second is a close up.

In light of all our recent bonfires.... something extra from Mark.

I wondered if the group might be interested in this poem...

Beechwood fires are bright and clear 
If the logs are kept a year, 
Chestnut's only good they say,
If for logs 'tis laid away. 
Make a fire of Elder tree, 
Death within your house will be; 
But ash new or ash old,
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold

Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last,
It is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread. 
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould, 
E'en the very flames are cold 
But ash green or ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown 

Poplar gives a bitter smoke, 
Fills your eyes and makes you choke, 
Apple wood will scent your room 
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom 
Oaken logs, if dry and old 
keep away the winter's cold 
But ash wet or ash dry 
a king shall warm his slippers by.

by Lady Celia Congreve, believed to have been first published in The Times, 2 March 1930

Thanks to Sue and Mark for the photographs and to Carrie for her Nature Find and photographs.

Monday 9 February 2015

Carrie's February Nature and History Natter.

Sometimes February can be a harsh month with snow and freezing winds however if you look closely, you can sometimes spot the first signs of spring.  Hazel catkins have begun expanding into golden tassels to release their pollen to the wind, beautiful and delicate snowdrops now poke their heads above the cold earth in abundance, and winter aconites are showing their cheerful yellow buttercup like flowers.

In the world of birds the winter migrants are still in Britain, with estuaries full of waders furiously feeding for worms and other titbits in the mud, ducks in large flocks on estuaries, with geese and swans at some locations.  Other birds have already begun their songs, with mistle and song thrushes proclaiming their territories from high perches, and a sunny day may reveal the repetitive “tea-cher tea-cher” song of the great tit.

In gardens, small birds are more than ever in need of the food put out to see them through the cold nights; siskins may be a treat at this time of year for the garden bird watcher, while others such as blue tits are already prospecting for nesting sites.  If you are very lucky you may spot a visiting waxwing, as these Scandanavian visitors work their way through the country feeding on any berry laden rowan trees, starting in the north east and moving to the south west.  Although normally birds of the wild, to some extent they seem to ignore humans, which can permit great views as they feed in bursts, then rest and preen for a period, only to start feeding again. Often travelling in large flocks, they call to one another with a pleasant piping chatter.

February was added to the Roman calendar in 713 BC,changing its length over time, and once had as few as 23 days.  When Julius Caesar remade the Roman calendar, the month was assigned 28 days during normal years and 29 days during leap years which occurred every four years.
It is the third month of winter, and named for the Latin word “februum”, which means purification, and together with January was the last of the months added to the Roman calendar. The Welsh call February "y mis bach" which means "little month", while the Saxon term Wol-monath means “cake month”, due to the practice of offering cakes to the gods during this month. In Finnish, the month is called helmikuu, meaning "month of the pearl"; when snow melts on tree branches, forms droplets which re-freeze and look like pearls of ice.  In Polish and Ukrainian respectively, the month is called luty or лютий, meaning the month of ice or hard frost, and in Macedonia it is sechko meaning month of wood cutting.

Many thanks to Carrie for the above.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Wed 4th Feb 2015 - Birchmore Pond, Blackwater.

Starting work, note the hats.... it was COLD!

Clearing the south side.

Tea break.

The northern pathway after clearance.

Look how much of the pond is now opened up!

ICE - a good reason for leaving the waders in the van!

Southern edge - after clearing.

Western edge of pond after clearing.

A view from the south side.

More to clear...... another time, perhaps?

The opened-up entrance to the site.

With the temperature just above freezing and a raw northerly wind blowing, everyone was raring to go by 10:00 - so we could get warm! It was decided that we would NOT be using waders to enter the pond this session due to the thin film of surface ice..... so we all found jobs "ashore". To enable us to dispose of the cuttings swiftly, a bonfire was lit, which also helped with the chilly temperatures! The workforce divided into various teams tackling jobs across the site - from opening up the entrance to cutting a pathway around the southern edge of the pond.  Willow found overhanging the pond was cut away and the bramble (8 feet high in places!) hacked down to ground level. The bramble along the northern boundary was chopped back to reveal the drainage ditch and open up an access path. Perhaps it was the need to get warm but an amazing amount was cut down, so much so that it wasn't possible to burn it all. Any extra was piled up to dry, ready for the bonfire on our next visit? Even seasoned GGmers were heard to remark just how much improvement had been achieved during just one session, the pond really did look a different place when we had finished. To top it all, the sun managed to break through after tea break - nothing like our last visit to this site when the heavens opened and we all went home soaking wet....!

Many thanks to Mark for taking the photographs this week.