Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Christmas Haircut

Wednesday 19th December 2012

Overcast and 5o C today.

Today a group of 9 conservation volunteers headed off to the bank up from the Octagon Pond to the Banqueting Hall. The task was to rake up the grass cuttings left after the area was strimmed yesterday

Rakers at work

The group quickly set to work raking up the loose grass into piles which were then collected and take off into the woods by the sides of the bank to create larger grass piles as part of the grass snake project. These grass heaps provide ideal habitats for grass snakes (well that's the theory) as well as insects and small mammals. Our conservation work often seems to involve moving "stuff" from one place to another!


One of the grass piles

Our task completed we headed off to the stable block for lunch and an early finish to the last working day before our Christmas break.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Success at last

Wednesday 12th December 2012

Another frosty but dry day.

Whilst most of the group headed off to do some coppicing around the Octagon Pond and Lily Pond, three brave volunteers headed off to the turning circle in West Woods. The task there was to try & burn a large pile of tree prunnings and to generally tidy up. We were determined not to fail this time.
Preparing branches for the fire.
The fire

With a bit of patience and some dry kindling we managed to get a small fire established. Little by little we were able to burn the tree prunnings (laurel clippings excepted).

A good going fire

Raking out the embers
At least we had managed to keep warm this week.

Phil Coyne

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Good Day for a Bonfire (or not)

Wednesday 5th December 2012

A frosty 0o C today as the conservation team set off to the area between the Column to Liberty and Brickfields. The task was to finish off opening up the vista onto Brickfields and to burn the rhododendron prunnings together with several small silver birch trees which were to be removed.
Work begins
The vista begins to open up

We quickly set about cutting back the rhododendrons and removing the small silver birch trees next to the fence. Lighting a fire was much more of a problem, but eventually a small fire was burning.
This won't keep us very warm!

Then disaster struck – it started snowing and despite all our efforts we were unable to keep the fire burning as all the wood was too damp.
Looking back towards the Column to Liberty
The new vista looking to Brickfields in the snow
Part of the task was complete, namely opening up the vista, so we cut our losses and headed back for an early lunch break. After lunch there were continuing snow flurries, so we decided to call it a day and left the prunnings to be burnt at a later date. One of the highlights of our day today was spotting three roe deer in the woods.
Phil Coyne

Friday, 30 November 2012

Clearing Leaves

Since the trees started dropping leaves, our teams have all been busy helping to clear them up.  Where they fall on to paths or lawns we clear them off so that the paths don't become slippery, or so the leaves don't cover the grass and kill it and leave a big patch of mud.

The collected leaves are put into compost bays and left to rot down for a year to turn into leaf mould for adding to the planting beds in the garden.

Keeping the Avenue clear of leaves is a huge job, so to provide a helping hand to the leaf collecting by the staff and volunteers, Tom came along for a day with his tractor with Amazone sweeping attachment.  In this time he cleared the Avenue of leaves completely filling one compost bay (even after repeated trampling down by Friday volunteers Colin, Andy and Michael) and added more to our overflow pile next to the Walled Garden Cottage.  This work saved us days of time, but the leaves are still coming down so the work goes on!

Tom sweeping up leaves on the Avenue

Tipping the leaves into the compost bay


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Leaves, leaves & yet more leaves

Wednesday 28th November 2012

There was a bit of a chill in the air today, 4o C and the ground was soaking after several days of rain, but the sun was shining! Normal Wednesday service has been resumed.

A large group of volunteers were given the task of leaf clearing from The Avenue. Many of the fallen leaves had already been cleared by contractors and our task was to rake up the leaves on the bank and from around the bases of trees where the leaf clearing machinery hadn’t been able to reach.
Raking Leaves

Leaves were raked down the bank into large piles where they could be collected up and taken off by truck to be recycled into leaf mould in another part of the estate.

Piles of leaves ready for collection

It was such a sunny day, that despite the chill, we managed to have lunch outside in the Walled Garden.

Phil Coyne

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

In Search of Squirrel Nutkin

We recently installed some squirrel feeders hoping to attract red squirrels to them.  These consisted of a small wooden box with a transparent front and a hinged top which squirrels are able to push open with their heads to gain access to nuts and seeds inside.  One of these was placed inside a wire cage with a mesh size that allows entry of reds but not the larger greys.  A camera placed overlooking the feeder captured lots of pictures of a red squirrel.

Squirrel feeder

Red squirrel on caged feeder

Squirrel lifting feeder top to access food

Squirrel feeding
Squirrel slipping through cage mesh

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Vista Management Revisited

Wednesday 21st November 2012

7o Celsius and raining, not the sort of weather the Conservation Team have become accustomed to on a Wednesday! Despite the inclement weather, five hardy volunteers set off with Keith to prune the laurel bushes on the ride up towards the Banqueting Hall, a task last undertaken in January.
A soaked volunteer
Equipped with secateurs we set about our task, the aim of which was to improve the vista and give a clear line of sight down towards Gibside Chapel. Some of the prunnings were collected to be made into Christmas decorations later (two tasks in one job!).
After a coffee break in Renwick’s CafĂ© at the Stable Block we returned to finish our task, and then it was off to the Pontop Shed for lunch.
Mary resting on her laurels!
View down the ride

The finished job

Although the rain had now stopped most of us decided to call it a day after lunch and headed for home, let’s hope the weather is better next week!

                                                                                                                                               Phil Coyne


Monday, 12 November 2012

Fantastic Fungi

One of the wonders of autumn is the spectacular hues of red, orange and yellow produced by our deciduous trees but take a close look at the woodland floor and you will find a host of fungi the colours of which would  rival those of the brightest rainbow. 

Pluteus aurantiorugosus

Coriolus versicolor

Scarlet waxcap

Amethyst deceiver

As well as a fantastic colour range you will discover they also come in an incredible range of shapes and sizes.  Some grow like spindles or coral while others are like small cups and a few are like small birds' nests complete with eggs.

Violet coral
Jelly antler fungus
Bird's nest fungus

Scarlet elf cup

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Autumn at Gibside

As you ramble round Gibside's landscape look out for lots of changes and signs now that autumn is with us.  Trees and shrubs are transforming their once green leaves into colourful shades of red, orange, yellow and purple prior to shedding them for the oncoming winter.

Red autumn foliage of cherry trees with roe deer feeding in foreground

Yellow foliage of lime trees

Unfavourable weather earlier in the year has led to many species of trees and shrubs producing poor crops of fruit, nuts and seeds.  The oak trees on the Avenue however have produced a fair crop of acorns and these provide a valuable food source for many mammals and birds.  Grey squirrels and jays have been drawn out from the surrounding woodlands to take advantage of such a feast with any surplus being cached away for leaner times.  Blackberries also provide a welcome meal to a variety of mammals and birds.


Badgers have been busy of late scuffing grass in their search for earthworms and other underground larvae so look out for these signs on the Avenue and pathside verges.  Look out on the Avenue for their communal latrines where they deposit their droppings in shallow pits and also their regular pathways running down from the Park fields.

Grass scuffed by badger 'snuffling' for earthworms

Autumn and the recent wet spell has seen an increase in the amount of fungi showing.  These too provide a seasonal feast for mammals such as squirrels and roe deer and come in a fantastic range of shapes and colours.

'Parrot waxcap'

'Chicken of the woods'

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Fungal Foray

We recently held our annual fungal foray and barbecue here at Gibside which as usual was very popular and fully booked.  The recent spells of rain led to an increase in the number of  fungi appearing following what had till then been a rather slow year.  On the day a total of fifty six different species were identified in a range of shapes and colours.

Yellow stagshorn Calocera viscosa

Pink waxcap Hygrocybe calyptriformis

Chanterelle Cantharellus cibarius

Amethyst deceiver Laccaria amethystina

Blackening waxcap Hygrocybe conica

Common puffball Lycoperdon perlatum

Fly agaric Amanita muscaria

The foray was followed by a barbecue which included the delicious 'hedgehog fungus' brought in by one of our rangers.