Our recent outings have seen our volunteers building benches and repairing a boardwalk.
The first of the benches was installed at Marston Marsh on 26 July to replace one that had fallen over when the supports finally rotted. It was a very hot Friday and only a few of us had braved the weather but there was enough of us to complete our tasks for the day. Robert brush cut around the cattle corral, Liz and Matt trimmed overhanging trees and Matt also ran the mower along the paths. Stephen, Andy and I installed the new bench. Essentially it was two upright supports with planks on top. We call them lollypop benches because the top planks are shaped like lollypop sticks. However, they are very heavy being made from thick slabs of green oak.
It was relatively easy to dig out the footings for the supports but took a bit longer to get the position and depth right. Working out the seat height takes a bit of trial and error to get a comfortable balance for people of differing heights. The levels were checked and adjusted in all directions to ensure the top would fit and be level. The supports were then back filled, and the soil firmly tamped to hold these in place. Supporting brackets were bolted on the legs and the top planks bolted onto these. It all sounds simple and straightforward, but it was a very hot day and we took frequent breaks for drinks and rest under the shade of nearby trees.
Our second set of benches were at Horsford watering pits on 8 August where we installed two to replace old rotten benches removed previously. We had enough volunteers, so we were able to split into two groups to install these. Keith, Chrissie, Robert and I installed one bench and the other volunteers worked on the second. We were using the same type of bench as installed at Marston Marsh, so it was the heavy oak planks again! Digging through the tangled roots under the trees was difficult, before we came to a hard layer of compacted material stained with iron. Fortunately, this was at more or less the right depth for installing the supports so gave us a firm base. Usual discussions ensued about seat height and therefore depth of the supports, but we reached agreement and firmed these in place. The battens and seat were fitted, and all joined together with coach screws. We worked away quietly and diligently but could hear the banter coming from the other group as they debated and planned their construction. It wasn’t a competition, but we finished first anyway! Although, to be fair, the other team did have to wait for us to finish with the clamps before they could complete their bench.
There was a lot of cake on offer today to celebrate Pete reaching 70 and Robert achieving the grand old age of 61. Paula had also made cakes so there was plenty to keep us going. We had a few brief rain showers and during our break Chrissie and Paula found shelter under the bracken. We had coppiced the willow around the watering hole earlier in February and this has grown back a lot since then. The watering hole had dried up completely since our last visit.
Cooper Wood was our next project on 9 August where we repaired a section of the worn out boardwalk. A six foot section of this was a trip hazard where the bearers had rotted and the structure collapsed. There were also other sections where individual boards had decayed and needed replacement. Keith, fireman Chris and Stephen dealt with the collapsed boardwalk removing the boards and replacing the bearers with new timber. I sawed lengths of timber to create angled boards to replace those which had decayed. It is a long job cutting along the grain taking around 25 minutes to work through a 1.5 metre plank. Fortunately, we only needed three lengths to be cut. The cut planks were used to replace boards where the angled pieces help turn the boardwalk from one straight section to another.
While we were busy on the boardwalk Matt gave the newer volunteers an introduction to brush cutters in advance of their training course. This sort of training provides an understanding of how the equipment works and tips on how to use this. Having a trained pool of volunteers enables the heavier work to be shared out more evenly amongst the team. After their training they turned their attention to the boardwalk where they helped replace the individual boards removing the rotten ones and fixing the new planks in place. In one section we had to use offcuts of timber to shore up the bearer where this had disintegrated. The boardwalk at Cooper Wood is regularly flooded and is in a wet area beside the river so will sometime need to be replaced since it is decaying and needs regular attention from our team.
The work at Cooper Wood was originally planned for 25 July but was cancelled by Matt because of the extreme temperatures forecast on that day. Our volunteers will turn out in most weather conditions but there is no need to take risks – especially given our maturity and value to the community! Although Matt, Paula and Matt did go out on that hot day to do some work at Horsford in preparation for planned tasks – but they are a lot younger (but, of course, also valuable).