It is the time of year when we tackle a range of jobs across many sites. Much of our summer work is cutting back along footpaths and catching up with maintenance jobs and the past few weeks have been typical for this time of year.
We start with Smockmill Common near Newton Flotman where on Thursday 26th July our volunteers cut back the edges of footpaths. A path running alongside the River Tas had become so overgrown that it was barely passable. The Himalayan Balsam and nettles stood over six-foot-high (above my head height!) and were mixed with other stuff. Being close to the river the whole area was covered in a lush growth despite the lack of rain for many weeks. Fireman Chris and I tackled the path cutting, a metre swathe on each side while Paula cut the path edges up to the entrance and our other volunteers cut back overhanging branches. The Himalayan Balsam is very pithy and gets shredded by the brush cutters covering us in a sticky mess. The tall nettles fell back onto us as we cut them stinging our arms. It was very hot working in the open and with the forecast promising even higher temperatures of over 30 degrees we finished at lunch time.
On Friday 27th July we met up at Harrisons Wood in Sprowston, Norwich, to cut back an overgrown glade. It was a nice open glade but had a tangle of nettles and brambles which suppressed other growth. We cut this all back with brush cutters and raked and cleared the cuttings to the edge of the glade. This will give other wildflowers a chance to germinate and grow in coming years and eventually, with regular cutting, develop into a species rich meadow. We also cut the edges of other paths around the wood, and as for the previous day we stopped work at lunch time because of the soaring temperature.
Our next visit was to the Horsford Rifle Range on Thursday 2nd August. The range is a privately-owned site, leased to and largely managed by the Smallburgh Rifle and Pistol Club. It is a County Wildlife Site and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and the Norwich Fringe Project have worked with the Gun Club and Butterfly Conservation to ensure that the site is managed in a way appropriate to the needs of the butterflies and, in particular, the silver-studded blue butterfly (Plebejus argus). The site is also home to many adders, but they kept away from us noisy people.
Much of the bracken on the site had been treated with an environmentally friendly spray and had since died back. The site had been seeded with heather and the dead bracken needed to be removed to allow this to germinate and grow. So, our band of volunteers raked the bracken into piles and dragged these off to the edges of the site. It was blooming hot again! It took us until lunch time to clear the area when we were able to sit in the shade of the firing gallery to eat our lunch and survey our next task.
Young pine trees were taking over an area on the edge of the firing range and had to be cut down. But to get to these we first had to cut back the surrounding gorse. Cutting gorse is a messy job since it very sharp and pointed on the outside and a big pile of dust on the inside which gets everywhere. As always, we persevered and cut it all back. In this area there were many broken and complete clays from the clay pigeon shooting at the site. A few of our volunteers collected up some of the whole clays but I am not sure what they can really do with these. For a start they are bright orange on one side so a bit garish and who needs lots of ashtrays these days?
Friday 3rd August found us at Eaton Park in Norwich to install a flight of steps at the back of the pitch and putt course. The work had started earlier in the week with a group of gas engineers from Cadence on a team building day who we have previously worked with at Marston Marsh.
We were using plastic risers held in place with plastic stobs (stakes) which will last much longer than wooden equivalents. The dense plastic risers have a similar profile to sleepers and are just as heavy to handle. We had around ten steps to complete to reach the top of a steep slope which largely comprised of sand and gravel. So, it was difficult to dig out and even more difficult to hammer the stobs in place. We had to dig holes and then tamp the stobs firmly in place using Type 1 aggregate. The stobs were screwed to the risers and the steps back-filled with more of the Type 1 aggregate which binds together into a hard, firm surface.
A long day and a dusty job but at least we were working in the shade. We had a visit today from Liz one of our fellow volunteers who broke her arm a few weeks back and lives nearby. It was good to see her again, but it will be some time before she is able to return to working with us. Liz brought along lots of biscuits for our break since she cannot currently make any of her delicious cakes which she has spoiled us with previously. Thanks Liz.
Our final outing in this blog was a return to Earlham Millennium Green on Thursday 9th August to cut back around the boardwalk. This lush area on the banks of the River Yare has kept growing throughout the heatwave so needed a further trim to keep the paths clear. We also cut back the brambles and overhanging ash trees around the entrance gate on the Watton Road. This had become very overgrown hiding the ornamental gate posts and restricting access. This was our first wet work day for many weeks and fortunately we had finished our jobs by the time the rain really started to fall heavily.
A good few weeks of jobs completed to help us keep on top of the work needed at our sites. The weather has been glorious but somewhat wearing when you are using heavy tools and working in open areas. Once started a job has to be finished so regular breaks for tea and water helps us volunteers to keep going.