Thursday, 19 April 2018

Keep Gibside Tidy

April 2018

For a while now, the National Trust has been encouraging young people to get out and about, experience the countryside, climb a tree, dip a pond, spot an insect – that kind of thing. At Gibside, visiting groups of youngsters get to build shelters from branches and twigs, and sit on logs around a communal fire just like we oldies used to do. All good stuff, we think. Those of us who were in the Scouts and Guides used to cook inedible pastry things on green sticks to accompany our charred-on -the-outside pink-in-the-middle sausages, but it’s unlikely that that falls within the perceived safety zone these days.
A camp fire circle

Anyway, to get to the point: last week, by request, we worked in the Den Building Area clearing the  woodland floor of branches, logs and twigs, and made neat, graded piles ready for use in building dens. We quite enjoyed the work. We even made a path. And it’s not unusual to heave timber around to improve the habitat or prepare the ground for planting. But tidying up nature before the children arrive is a new one.
A den and cleared woodland floor

This week, we’ve been at it again. The Forestry Commission have clear felled and removed considerable numbers of trees from West Wood, leaving much of the ground strewn with brash. So that the area can be replanted, we have to clear it. As previously reported, we made a start earlier in the year. Now we’ve moved to another sector, and bit by bit West Wood will become re-established as native woodland, and thoroughly deserve its designation as a Local Wildlife Site. Maybe we could get some children to help us tidy up; that would make it fifty-one things done before they reach the age of eleven and three quarters.
The scale of the problem

Building a wall with the brash

The finished wall or perhaps a fence for horse racing!

The weather has been miserable for the last six or eight weeks, postponing spring. But colour is returning to our woods. Wood sorrel, wood anemone, golden saxifrage, lesser celandine, coltsfoot, and ramsons are all in flower. The sun is shining, and birds are nesting.
Wood anemone

Ramsons just coming into flower
Even the cut western hemlock has flowers

Golden saxifrage
Lesser celandine

Leapmill Burn

Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

That was February

28th February 2018

It’s the last Wednesday of February, and Gibside is closed. Like much of the country, the weather has got the better of us. We bloggers quite like the snow, but working in it wouldn’t have been at all pleasant. Then there are health and safety considerations, I suppose.
A thin dusting of snow earlier in the month

The month started in a gloom of damp vegetation with little sign of new growth. But, it’s February. Soon birch, hazel, snowdrop and gorse were all in flower, with fresh hawthorn leaves providing a hint of green. We’ve had some very wet and windy Wednesdays, but some that have been perfectly still with an early morning light that has lasted all day. As so often happens as we work, robin and red kite visit to see if there are easy pickings to be had from us causing disturbance. Red kites drift off disappointed or uninterested; brave robins get a bite to eat.
Loading branches onto the truck

We’ve worked hard this month. One of our jobs is to move things from one place to another. Sometimes we move them back again. Recently we shifted branches from den building area to the Birthday Area, ready for den-building. That’s right, the Birthday Area. It seems not that long ago that we moved them from the birch wood (or Birthday Area) to beech wood Den Building Area. There’s a purpose to everything, I’m sure.
Building the "Great Wall of Gibside", a wall of brash
to mark out the boundary of a footpath on Skyline walk

We’ve had more fires in order to rid West Wood of western hemlock brash. Fire lighting and tending continues to be a little competitive. Consequently, we’re all getting better at it. Well, nearly all.  There is an art to it. Little tricks like knowing that birch bark lights whatever the weather, that feeding a fire by laying branches and twigs parallel, and not poking or otherwise interfering are key to success.


Sunlight through the smoke

Last week, before the snows came, we were back in Snipes Dene – pulling out or cutting down western hemlock and larch. We ring-barked a few of the larger larch. That is, by stripping bark from a small section in a complete circle around the trunk, the tree will die off, still standing upright. And dead trees standing create a different mini-habitat to dead trees lying down. And we don’t have to move them anywhere.

Gorse in flower

Hazel catkins
Laurel flowers
Auricularia auricula-judae

Western hemlock cones - seeds for future work!

Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

New Year, old jobs

January 2018

They knew we were working today

Though everything was sodden, Terry got the fire going with little difficulty. True, he did have a little help from the embers of the previous day’s fire, but his nurturing and judicial feeding of it ensured success. It was soon a furnace. There were two fires on the go that day. We were with Terry; the other lot’s fire was rubbish.

Terry gets things going
Fanning the flames

We were starting the New Year much as we had ended the old one by having a good burn-up. Not rhododendron this time, but brash left over from commercial felling of western hemlock. Substantial swathes of the Gibside estate were planted out with an assortment of fast growing conifers and some hardwoods – mainly sycamore. This patch in the West Wood had been planted in the 1960s by the Forestry Commission and now, nearly sixty years on, is ready for harvesting. For the time-being the sycamores remain.

A real fire
The other lot

Mary gets down to work

With the start of the Skyline Walk no longer defined by the felled trees, something will need to be done to mark the route. This is not because walkers will get themselves lost - for it is a short and obvious way to the next distinct section.  The reason is simply to encourage visitors to stick to the path, and not trample the woodland floor as the area regenerates with native flora and fauna. It may be a while before that process becomes obvious, and it may need a little help with some selective tree planting, and a lot of help in uprooting the thousands of western hemlock seedlings that will want to reclaim their territory, but it will regenerate quicker and better without unnecessary interference.

The Cleared Area

A substantial area of the West Wood beyond this small patch is already being harvested by Forestry Commission contractors, and that will mean more brash for burning. Environmentally that is regrettable, but there is simply too much of it to deal with by alternative means. The other lot had better hone their fire lighting skills.
Tree Fellers collecting their logs

Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne

Sunday, 24 December 2017

December 2017

We seem to have ended the year much as it started – uprooting western hemlock in Snipes Dene, and continuing to rid the Monument bank of rhododendron. Tending a fire in the rain to burn cut rhododendron is one of the great pleasures of being a Gibside Conservation Volunteer but, this time, it was a pleasure denied. Rangers Dan and Ollie got there first, unchallenged. Don’t know how that happened. Maybe they feel it’s their duty to keep us volunteers safe from the dangers of fire. Or it could be a new National Trust health and safety measure – like the one that now requires a fence to be erected around a fire’s dying embers, presumably for the protection of wandering barefoot backwoodsmen. We used to put them out with water.
The Team Hard at Work
Progress being made
Olly Hard at Work
Olly and Dan Keep Warm

Any way, it was a cold and miserable day, so we packed in early. There’s only so much pleasure to be had from sawing through a seemingly endless forest of rhododendron in the rain - especially when you can’t get near the fire.

Christmas Tree
Decorated Trees in Walled Garden
Happy Christmas to all our readers
Thanks to Nicholas Watts MBE for the robin photo
Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Autumn Hues

Autumn Trees

Autumn brings an end to grass snake surveys for another year. All the corrugated tins have been collected and the “nesting” heaps examined for any evidence of egg laying. Still no signs of the elusive grass snakes, perhaps next year…

The Wednesday conservation team is back and raring to go with various autumnal tasks. So far this season most of our work has involved pruning and thinning out several different tree species. We have removed Western hemlock from Snipes Dene, we’ve thinned out birches both in West Woods and in another part of Snipes Dene.
Glistening inkcaps

The team thinning out birches from around hazel trees

Oak leaves
Pholiota adiposa

Brash piles
Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor)
Bilberry leaves
Cleared area
The first frosty day of the season saw us thinning out birches and conifers to create small glades in an area of Snipes Dene, thus exposing large areas of heather which will look magnificent next year.

Frosty leaves

More autumn colour
This week we were joined by a team of volunteers from the Cragside National Trust Estate. They were really welcome as there was a huge area of rhododendrons to clear, a bit of a busman’s holiday for them. They also brought a chipper so that all the prunings weren’t burnt, some of them were chipped and will be put to good use. The other thing they brought with them was cake, mmm…

Starting a fire
The chipper in action

Puff balls billowing spores

The trees alongside The Avenue

Phil Coyne