Thursday 5th April 2018
Today we gathered at Eaton Common on a bright and sunny day to remove an old cattle corral. The original plan was to work on Marston Marsh but flooding following the heavy rain over Easter meant that our intended work site was under water! A large area of Eaton Common was also flooded but our work area was on higher, dry ground.
Matt D was in charge today and briefed us on our task which was to remove the old corral and gates and start building a new corral. We had a large team of volunteers and plenty of work to keep them occupied. The corral is used to contain the cattle in readiness for moving them from site or for any inspections. The rotten supporting posts meant that this would not withstand the pressure of cattle so was effectively useless. The corral was also overgrown and covered in bramble along the back edge.
The easy part was getting the first side of the corral down. Several volunteers grabbed hold of it and easily pulled it over. Once down we set about dismantling the rails and posts, which was not a simple task with it lying on the ground. The thing was held together by lots of six-inch nails that were determined to show how well they could do their job. In the end the rails were sawn off and the posts with the nailed bits passed to another group to extract these with crow-bars. The removed nails were all safely stored so that they would not be a hazard for grazing cattle. Safely dismantling the first side took us up to lunchtime.
For the second side we decided that it would be easier to remove the rails while this was upright instead of pulling it over. So, the rails were sawn off and stacked and the posts then moved away for the nails to be removed. So, began another round of straining and cursing to loosen the nails sufficiently to get a hold and then cheering when these were eventually prised out. In time all nails were removed, and the timber stacked neatly to one side.
Meanwhile, Pete cut back the bramble with the hedgecutter so that we could get at the second side. The end gates were removed, and the hanging posts dug out. Chrissie and Keith de-barked the new posts to get them ready for installing. The chestnut posts have a high level of tannin which is a natural preservative, but the remaining bark had to be cleaned off first before they could be used.
Work then started on planning the layout of the new corral and working out where post holes would be dug. Keith took charge of building the new corral showing our students how to set spacing between posts to fit the length of the rails. Digging holes takes a lot of effort and although we have the right tools for this they are heavy and a bit cumbersome. There was also a lot of gravel and large stones in the ground.
Keith is a bit of a stickler for getting things right rather than “near enough” so is a good tutor for our students (Rebecca, Joe and Dan). It’s also the case that where things are upright and level that they fit together a lot more easily and also look better! So, the students were shown how to use clamps and other tools to set the position of the rails before nailing these in place. We didn’t have enough posts and rails to complete the corral but that will be a task for another visit in the coming weeks.
We wished Keith a happy birthday for the coming weekend too.