Marston Marsh – Building Squeeze Stiles

Thursday 6th April 2017

Marston Marsh totals around 26.5 hectares and is divided into a number of fields by a network of dykes and fences. The site is grazed by cattle during Summer and Autumn months to help manage the grassland. A series of gates aides the movement of the cattle to graze different areas. At the Ipswich Road end of the site the area grazed has a series of dykes with bridges for the cattle to cross but these are quite narrow and mishaps sometimes occur requiring the fire brigade to help pull cows out of the water. Contractors have recently built new, wider crossings, and our task on this very warm Thursday was to start building squeeze stiles at each end of the four old crossing points to encourage the cattle to use the new crossing points instead.

So this is what a squeeze stile looks like. Thank goodness for some instructions.

Squeeze stiles are “V” shaped stiles which are overall higher than a standard stile but low enough in the right place for people to hop through whilst keeping out the cattle.  We started by planning the shape and size of the stiles and where these were to be located. They needed to be close to the dyke edge but also in firm ground to ensure stability. Having knocked in the main supporting posts we cut the rails to approximate size and used clamps to work out the best position and angles for these. Crossing a squeeze stile requires a different technique from a standard horizontal stile (you hop through rather than climb over) so it was important to ensure that our construction was “user friendly”. After a few tests we got the shape about right and trimmed and bolted everything in place.

Getting the hang of constructing these squeeze stiles now and some wing ends to match.

We had three stiles to complete that day leaving five more to build over coming weeks before the cattle return for their summer grazing. We also had enough timber to build a “wing end” to the side of one stile to stop cattle sneaking around the outside of the stile to get to the bridge. The “wing end” consists of rails secured to posts which extend from the side of the stile out across the dyke – they look like wings once in place. We will fit “wing ends” to each side of all remaining stiles during our next visits to Marston Marsh – some sixteen in total!

The highlights of our work days are our tea and lunch breaks where we gather around the back of the truck to have some refreshment. Our usual fayre is tea and coffee and whatever biscuits Matt has remembered to provide. Often, one of the volunteers will bring a cake or flapjacks to cheer us up and maintain our energy levels. On this day, we had three cakes provided so energy levels for the seven of us out that day were particularly high! Our work experience student Will had made a tasty chocolate cake with a cream and jam filling, Paula made a delicious fruit cake flavoured with ginger wine, and Chris had made sugar-free scones with lots of fruit and apple. Robert, our photographer, brought along some Jaffa cakes but we will have to save them for another day.

A view of one of the dykes found on the marsh, a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) butterfly, Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris), an owl nesting box and one very tuckered out Paula.

We will now have a break for Easter to enable Matt and Paula and all volunteers to have a bit of a rest. We start again after Easter with a return trip to Marston Marsh. Our schedule of planned work days is now online on the Fringe website and just a click on a diary entry will tell you where we are working and the tasks planned for the day. You can find our latest volunteer work schedule here.