Sunday, 23 March 2014

What we joined for

19 March 2014

This time last year the lambs at Gibside got their picture in the national newspapers wearing little orange jackets to protect them from the relentless wintry weather. Today, they looked just as lambs should look, though, if the weather forecasters have got it right, they may need that extra layer yet.
2 young lambs with their mother Parkfields

Your Gibside Wednesday Conservation Team was on its way for another round of destruction. This time we were in an area of West Wood which had been felled about nine or ten years ago. An assortment of native species in plastic protective tubes had partially replaced the alien conifers; the rest had been left to nature. Nature – in the shape of silver birch and downy birch and some holly –now covered the area densely. We were there to give nature a helping hand by clearing around the planted trees and substantially thinning out the birch to allow the remaining plants to thrive, though leaving some protection for the odd other native species that had taken root.
A well built logpile

Sizing up the problem

There is always a satisfaction in visiting this area, for it is the site of a number of well-constructed log piles built in October 2006 as the first task of the then newly formed Nature Conservation Volunteer Team.  As we worked, a pair of buzzards called and circled; nearby are a couple of old nesting sites for them to reconsider. Blue tits and great tits twittered through the day and a tawny owl called. Amongst the undergrowth we came across the redundant nest of a song thrush – beautifully crafted and mud lined, with tiny fragments of blue shell.
Song Thrush Nest

Along the woodland fringe, dogs mercury is in flower. In the woods, leaves of wood sorrel are poking through, and leaf buds are coming out on birch, hawthorn and honeysuckle. There are patches of frogspawn in the woodland ponds. We sat out of the wind for lunch in the sunshine, sheltered by more mature trees, and watched a pair of treecreepers spiral their way up a nearby sycamore; a ladybird wandered across an idle hand, and the tits kept up their song.

Scanning the woods for signs of the Buzzards
Pond in Parkfileds
Frog spawn
At the end of the day, we passed the lambs again on our way back to our base. We found another large patch of frogspawn in the field pond, and a pair of mallards took flight; a moorhen hid itself away among the brown leaves of last year’s marsh vegetation. Chickweed has started to flower and, as we climbed the field fence, a red kite swooped not more than twenty feet above us. Ah, this is what we joined for.
Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne

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