Whitlingham Marsh & Cooper Wood – Getting To Grips With The Vegetation

Thursday 18th May 2017

On Thursday, we returned to Whitlingham Marsh to finish off the path cutting. The good news was that we had the big DR mower back with us but only after Paula had wrestled it away from the service agent that morning!

First off there was a need for a few introductions. Twin brothers, Will and Ben, are work experience students from Easton & Otley College who come along on Thursday and Friday respectively. This week they swapped days so there was a need for Paula to introduce Ben to the Thursday group of volunteers. Easy to remember since today we had fireman Chris, Chris and Chrissie plus Rob and Robert (our photographer) on duty!

Mowing, painting and finally a break for a cuppa and some biscuits.

The DR mower is great for cutting large areas but is unforgiving in that it will cut anything in its path. Some of us have been trained to use the machine but hadn’t used this since last year so the first task was to re-familiarise ourselves with the controls and remind ourselves which lever operated what. Once refuelled we set off with Fireman Chris taking first leg and the other Chris, me, acting as banksman. The vegetation along the footpaths was standing over three-foot-tall so the mower had a tough job to cut through this. The ground is also bumpy in places and the operator needs to keep an eye on the area just ahead of the machine and hold on tight to keep it heading in the right direction. Thus, a banksman is essential to look out for walkers and other obstacles such as fallen branches and rubbish and alert the mower operator so they can stop in time.

Some of the sights that you might encounter as you walk around the marsh with Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens) and Red Campion (Silene dioica) flowering along the river banks and a local Jackdaw roosting in one of the Ash trees.

According to Google Maps the path along the river bank here is around 550 metres from end to end and we made three passes in each direction – that’s 3300 metres plus another 200 metres to get to the start point – all at around half-mile an hour. Naturally, we swapped roles at each end to share duties (and effort) equally between us. Rob, recently returned from an injury, also took a turn battling with the mower.

Other jobs included painting the benches in the hide and along the river bank to protect them from the elements. We also brushcut some of the path edges where even the DR mower would have struggled with the dense mass of cleavers and nettles.

Clearing the vegetation from the boardwalk at Cooper Wood at Lakenham and sightings of a Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) and a Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens).

Having finished the paths at Whitlingham most of us set off to Coopers Wood in Lakenham where we cleared the vegetation along the sides of the boardwalk, trimmed overhanging branches and did a litter pick (finds today included a computer monitor and a bike wheel). Coopers Wood is a tranquil site hidden away beside the River Yare with an open meadow area as well as the boardwalk through the marshy wood which loops back to Coopers Lane. There are many large willows along the bank and the slowly flowing river was teeming with young fish. The only noise (apart from some people with loud brushcutters) was the occasional train on the Norwich to Ely railway line that runs along the opposite bank.

It was a warm and sunny day which meant that the Jaffa Cakes had to be quickly eaten before they melted!