Another Road Trip for our Volunteers

Following our three day residency at Swardeston Common during August our volunteers hit the road again to take their expertise to a number of sites around Norwich. We had a variety of tasks to undertake to keep on top of our Summer programme of cutting and clearing to maintain paths at our sites. So, as well as working our wonders at the sites we also had to remember which site to visit on which day! Anyway, it was an opportunity to explore Norwich and its surroundings.

Out first outing was to Marston Marsh on 16 August to deal with a fallen willow tree. This was a large three trunked tree and two of these had broken off and were blocking the footpath. The remaining standing trunk didn’t look very well either so the whole lot had to come down and everything processed. We don’t usually have fires in Summer, but the location of the tree was awkward to reach for a chipper, so it was decided to burn the considerable amount of brash and stack the larger pieces of timber. Fortunately, the tree was beside the river, so we had our water pump to hand in case the fire got out of control. The first job was to clear an area for the fire site and then cut up and remove the fallen trunks to give access to the standing trunk. Matt then felled the remaining trunk and our Volunteers steadily worked through the huge pile of wood. There was a lot of brash to deal with but once the fire took hold this soon disappeared. We took the opportunity to mow the footpaths around this end of the marsh and also clear around the kissing gates. Matt’s family came to see what we were doing, and Fireman Chris was in his element showing the youngsters how to handle a hose.

Many hands make light work. 😀

We had two visits to Three Score at Bowthorpe to cut the grass around the balancing ponds constructed in readiness for further housing developments. The balancing ponds act as giant soakaways taking excess surface water during heavy periods of rain and storing it. The water is gradually released into the dyke system on Bowthorpe Marsh and into the River Yare. Our first visit on 22 August was to the upper pond where we cut the grass around the side and then raked this and moved it to the side of the site. There were a lot of wildflowers in the area and cutting will gradually improve the variety and create a wonderful wildflower meadow in coming years.

Our second visit on 29 August was to the lower balancing pond at Three Score Bowthorpe where we again cut around the pond but this time going down into the (dry) pond itself. It was tricky brush cutting and raking along the steep sides, but we got on with it and all the grass was raked up and moved to the perimeter of the area. This will be another colourful meadow area in years to come. We also repaired the chestnut paling fencing around the pond and mowed the paths. I guess that at some point the ponds will be tested again but clearly haven’t seen any appreciable rain for some time!

Cutting the vegetation and fixing a fence near Three Score, Bowthorpe.

Between times we travelled to Harrisons Wood at Sprowston on 23 August to cut the grass in a glade and also the surrounding paths. The glade is the only significant open space in the wood and the grass and nettles had grown since we cut it last year. The glade is starting to look like a meadow and with annual cutting and raking will gradually improve allowing more wildflowers to colonise the area. There was a stand of nettles in the centre of the glade and we soon discovered that this covered many rabbit holes which collapsed under our feet. It was a very sunny spot with dozens of dragonflies zooming around the area as we worked.

On 30 August we clambered up the slopes of Ketts Heights in Norwich to assist the Friends Group with their maintenance of the site. We brush cut around the fruit trees we planted last year and cut back the brambles and other stuff that had taken hold along the terraces. Everything was raked up and carted to the spoil heaps in the old pig sties. A nice tidy job which will help the Friends of Ketts Heights keep on top of the area.

Getting on top of the jungle at Ketts Heights. 😉

We then had a visit to White Horse Lane in Trowse on 5 September to replace a stile along the River Yare. This is part of the Yare Valley path that runs from Trowse through to the Stoke Road near to the old Cock Inn. The stile was falling apart and was replaced with a kissing gate to provide easier access for walkers. The ground was hard and dry, so it took some time to dig the post holes. We were also working along the riverbank, so care had to be taken all round. We were using pre-morticed posts for the structure which meant that we had to be very accurate with our measurements and the placing of the posts so that the rails slotted perfectly into place.  The wood from the old stile and fence was processed to remove all nails and staples so that it could be chipped and recycled. There was a spectacular display of the “chicken of the woods” fungi in the nearby woodland which Robert photographed.

Replacing an old stile with a snazzy looking, brand new kissing gate. 👍

On 6 September we travelled over to Thorpe Marriott to deal with the reed mace in Suter Drive Pond. We cleared a large section of the reed in September last year and we were back to remove more of this. The reed mace (also known as bulrush) has been gradually filling the pond. While a certain amount of this is good for the pond, providing cover for ducks and fish and helping to clean the water, it will eventually take over the whole pond leading to silting up and encouraging the growth of willow and alder. So, the plan for the site is to remove areas of the reed mace to keep it under control. The best way to deal with it is to get into the pond and pull it out. The pond is not too deep but us shorter volunteers encourage the taller ones to don the “chesters” and get in. Mark and Matt along with volunteers from local conservation group Draituna Trees took the plunge and waded in and pulled out the reed mace. It comes away relatively easily and can then be floated to the bank to be pulled out and dragged into the nearby woodland. It is a wet job carrying the reed which is also muddy and a bit smelly. As well as the reed mace lots of logs and bottles and other stuff was removed. The finds included a child’s micro scooter and crash helmet! We also pulled out a lot of discarded fishing line since the pond is stocked with fish and is a popular spot for local anglers. We also brush-cut the surrounding paths and repaired some damaged boards on a fishing platform. Stephen clearly found that the Rees-Mogg position was the most comfortable for stapling the netting to the new boards! Fortunately none of the reed ”pullers” got wet although there were some very near misses. The wettest people were the volunteers carrying the dripping reed from the bank to the spoil heap!

Apparently, we are so skilled that we can knock nails in even when we are lying down!! 😊

On 12 September we were back at Marston Marsh to deal with the troublesome plastic matting that insists on coming to the surface. The plastic had been installed to stabilise a bank formed from the diggings from the nearby dyke. The dyke had been dredged to improve water flow and the bank created to provide a higher footpath through a wet area. The plastic matting had been covered with soil and grassed over, but sections had come to the surface and broken. We had cut out pieces on several occasions but this time we decided to remove all the remaining matting. It was a long and hard job prising up the matting and removing it since the grass and other stuff had grown through it and anchored it to the bank. So, it took most of the day to dig up, remove and then make good the surface. Some of the matting was a metre wide and some two metres wide but we didn’t know which until we pulled it up! Any grass cut off was re-laid on the path but now needs a good downpour to root and grow back again. We also mowed the path edges and brush-cut around kissing gates and the cattle corral which should keep things under control until Spring next year.

Wrestling with some mesh pulling at Marston Marsh, then an annual cut of old pub site in the inner city.

Our final outing of this Blog was to the site of the old Jolly Maltsters Pub on the junction of Carrow Road/Kings Street in the centre of Norwich. We were there on 13 September for the annual hay cut of the site located at this very busy junction. Around this time each year we cut back the grass, rake it off and pile the cuttings at the back of the site. First, we do a litter pick to remove any objects that might get caught in the machinery. We collected a bagful of cans and bottles etc, but it was not too bad given its location. The back of the site slopes steeply so is tricky to cut while trying to maintain your footing. The long grass had collapsed on itself and was wet underneath which makes it difficult to cut. So, we have to go over it again once the cuttings have been raked off to leave a neat finish. We noticed that there seemed to be a wider variety of flora on the site, so it appears that our annual hay cut and clearance is having a good effect. It is good to have this overlooked site looking neat and tidy, even if it is cut only once a year. It is a busy corner, especially on match days when thousands of supporters pass it on their way the football ground. I wonder to what extent our efforts on Friday inspired the Canaries to a brilliant win over Manchester City the following day.