Thursday, 17 July 2014

My Work Experience at Gibside

My Name is Rosie Plunkett, I am a year 10 pupil at Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy. I came to Gibside for my work experience (a week away from school in a working environment to have a taste of the world of work.) While I was working I decided that I wanted to do a small blog about my time here and add in pictures that I had taken. As a took GCSE Photography at my school it seemed like a great opportunity to document my time here. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

On my first day, I was working with Phil (a ranger) and Andy (a volunteer ranger) I was made to feel very welcome and was told roughly about my schedule for the week, so I was well prepared! One of the first things we did was go on a walk through Gibside that took us along the avenue and down to the river, this was to check up on things, like flower growth and to make sure nothing was out of place. It provided an excellent opportunity to get some photos and as it was such a nice day the lighting was really lovely to capture. After lunch I was taken for a tour around Gibside in the landrover, whilst out we saw a buzzard and a roe deer. All in all it was an amazing first day.

For day two I was working with a ranger called Vicky. We spent the morning going round to all of the first aid kits in Gibside to check that they were up to date and had all the appropriate equipment. This didn't provide much of a photo opportunity but it did give me an experience of working in the more public side of Gibside. Just as we were going to have a small break Vicky got a call from the Stables saying that a swallow had accidently flown into the cafe and couldn't find its way back out. So we went up in the landrover to see if we could give it a hand. It took some time but eventually the swallow was captured and after it was given some time to recover was released back into the woods. It was such a good opportunity to get close to such a pretty bird and I loved seeing it up close. In the afternoon Vicky and I did a butterfly survay to document the amount of them in Gibside. This will help to document the population in Britain and what types turn up were and when, this was also a brilliant opportunity to photograph the butterflies.

On Wedensday (day 3) I was working with Phil again to trim up bracken up near the top of the avenue so the heather wouldn't be swamped and killed. It was tiring work and sore, but it was satisfying to see the progress we had made by lunch time. In the afternoon I worked in the office on my blog for a while, until Vicky took me to help with the catering van that needed to be brought to the Chapel for the evening event of an outdoor Shakespear play that was taking place that night. There wasn't much opportunity to do any photography that day, but it was still a fun day full of learning and activty! That night me and my Dad were lucky enough to be invited to go badger watching with Phil and Andy, We saw 4 badgers and one came as close as 3 meters away! It was such an amazing thing to see real badgers and I got so many amazing photos! 

On day four I worked with Lisa and the garden team in the walled garden and Orangery. At first we were in the green house watering the plants, but then moved on to the Orangery to work on weeding and touching up the plants, and the before and after result was amazing! I got some lovely shots of the Orangery and as it is one of my favorite places in Gibside, I love photographing it!

On my last day I worked with Vicky again, we cleared bracken from the nature playscape and cut dock and hogweed from an area near the walled garden in preperation for the grass cutting that will be taking place in the next week or so.

I have had such a fun time working at Gibside over the last week. I have learnt lots about Gibside and the world of work. I really enjoyed the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere and it was such a nice place to be!

 I took so many photos this week that they couldn't all fit on the blog, so here are some of my favorites from the week...

The swallow we rescued, recovering from its ordeal


Looking up into the branches of a pine tree in the forest

Common Spotted Orchid overlooking the ruined Hall

Hogween next to the Avenue

Photoshoped picture from working in the Orangery

Outside the Orangery

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly from the survey

Common Blue Damselfly

A badger 3 meters away from us on our Badger watch

Another Badger from the watch, finding the nuts we layed out

People enjoying the sun on the Avenue outside the Chapel

A Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Not Many Snakes

2nd July 2014

Walking beside The Avenue, we sought out a patch of helleborine in the hope that their flowers would have opened; they hadn’t. These fairly inconspicuous members of the orchid family have spread from the other side of the track. Numbers are not great, but they are on the rise. Other orchids – mainly common spotted – littered our way. Continuing through the Hollow Walk, numerous butterflies – ringlet, meadow brown and the occasional small skipper – distracted us. But we were going somewhere else.
Common Spotted Orchid

Ringlet Butterfly

Meadow Brwon Butterfly
In the three weeks since we last visited this particular patch, the bracken and nettles had grown dense and high – up to two metres in places – requiring us to scythe a path through. What should have been a simple task at times had the makings of a jungle expedition. The nettles really hurt. But we managed.

Dotted around Gibside, largely out of sight of visitors, are a number of sites managed to encourage grass snakes to bask and breed. These sites consist of a number of artificial cover objects (ACOs) – that is, bits of corrugated iron, and nest heaps. Ideally the site should not be too far from water and also be near somewhere suitable for hibernation, such as a log pile. The ACOs offer grass snakes somewhere to warm up and get going for the day; the piles of warm, rotting vegetation that make up the nest heaps are intended to provide a suitable temperature and environment for the snakes to lay and hatch their eggs.

Our purpose in cutting our way through the jungle was to inspect the sites to see if we could spot any snakes, and to peer under the ACOs for signs of activity. Clearly, by the time we had hacked our way through, any creature capable of escape would have done so. And they had. As always, there were exceptions. Ants and spiders, of course, pay little heed to human activity, and toads presumably think it safer to stay put and not attract attention. The presence of toads under a number of corrugated covers was a sure indication that grass snakes hadn’t visited recently; grass snakes like to eat toads.
Common Toad

The other creatures, apparently oblivious to our being there, were vast numbers of Peacock Butterfly caterpillars dripping from their stinging nettle hosts. Black and numerous, they are one of nature’s less attractive sights, and give no hint of the beautiful adults they will become.
Peacock Butterfly Caterpillar

Peacock Butterfly Caterpillars on Nettle Leaves
 We’re not entirely sure that grass snakes appreciate our efforts to make them welcome in the neighbourhood. Up to now we haven’t seen a single grass snake although, a few years back, decaying eggs were uncovered in one of the nest piles. So they are around somewhere, perhaps.

Phil Coyne & Steve Wootten




Sparrowhawk feeding post & a tree-hugging badger

Sparrowhawks are busy feeding their young chicks at present and prey is usually brought by the male to a site close to the nest, often a fallen tree or stump, where it is collected by the female.  I recently sited a camera close to such a site and caught lots of great shots of this behavior.

Badgers are a favourite of mine and I often spend time unwinding after work sitting close to one of their setts watching them.  A couple of handfuls of peanuts & raisins hidden under logs and stones reveals how resourcful and determined they can be when foraging, moving and turning over heavy obstacles to get at food.  Below is a badger climbing a tree to reach food wedged in bark crevices.