Winter 2016 Newsletter 2016 has been a really busy year.
You think that all we do is work parties, but read on! The only activity for which we actually keep records of volunteer time for Rushcliffe Borough Council is work parties – however there is so much work going on in the background of which people are unaware. The hard graft! First however, the current priority manual tasks (aligned to the Management Plan) include maintaining Rights of Way paths in a state in which people will be inclined to use them without making lots of unofficial paths, even when there are muddy conditions.
Off path walking or play can destroy wildlife habitat at the lowest level, i.e. the invertebrates upon which many of the other species depend for food. The Wood is a very delicately balanced ecosystem in which everything depends on everything else in some way and too much interference by people can upset this. Muddy paths have caused many headaches in the past. Recent efforts have concentrated on laying stones in the worst places. This is a very onerous task in view of the weight of the stones and the lack of vehicle access into the Wood. In the past we have relied on the services of Scouts and volunteers to barrow stones into the Wood. In some places, in the past, woodchip was laid which has in fact exacerbated the mud problem hence the heap of woodchip near the east entrance, which we now use as mulch for new hedging whips.
For the same reason of under storey maintenance we have been working towards sturdy barriers around the Wood so that creation of unofficial entrances keeps destruction of under storey to a minimum. In some instances these barriers are destroyed when people decide that their own interests come first. Other measures include planting of young hedging plants, which then require aftercare (weeding, pruning of overhead branches to let in light, staking and guarding from depredation by rabbits). Dead hedging is incredibly hard work. It involves sourcing, buying and carting up the hill large heavy stakes which are then hammered into the ground to form a structure into which branches can be interwoven to form a barrier. These branches have to be collected and carried to the sites, sometimes from some distance.
Other planting involves identifying native trees appropriate to the Wood and seeking out appropriate sites where they have a chance to grow. These include the pedunculate oak, of which there are many already in the Wood. There are concerns about ash dieback, as some parts of the Wood are very densely packed with ash, and as with many conservation issues, there are many opinions as to how to deal with the problem. Recent information is that ash hosts fewer species of food source than other native trees e.g. the caterpillars upon which blue tits and great tits depend when nesting. Also, dieback may not decimate the ash tree population so quickly that other trees do not have the chance to grow into the canopy space left by the ash. So there is some hope!
Nesting This year has been poor as regards nest box results, we think due to the colder than usual May weather. This would not only be harsh for the baby birds, but affect the food available to them. Again this is a labour of love – the boxes are monitored weekly in the nesting season (separately from work parties) and the results painstakingly collated at the end of the season for the British Trust for Ornithology to contribute to national records. At the end of this season, the boxes were cleaned out and disinfected (there can be bird flu and other infectious diseases lurking in there), mended and some were taken down and re-erected in other parts of the Wood. We now have three walks shown by map which can be undertaken with minimum effort, about 40 boxes.
What have we got? Another time consuming task is organising and carrying out surveys. Some we do ourselves (birds, nest boxes, butterfly) however for others we are reliant on volunteers such as the Notts Fungi Group. One big omission is invertebrates – at the bottom of the food chain and incredibly important to the diversity of the Wood as a Local Nature Reserve. For the reasons mentioned above we need to monitor footfall and destruction of invertebrate habitat both in 2017 and in about 5 years’ time when the housing development has been established for some time. (More on this later.)
To this end we have approached Nottingham University and we are very hopeful that we can collaborate with the students from June next year and tick this important box.
For some years now this has occupied a lot of meeting time and generated thousands of emails as we try to put in place measures that mitigate against the destruction of the Wood as a Local Nature Reserve and Site of Importance for Nature Conservation. The trees may survive and people will think that from a distance all is well however our concern is more for the diversity of wildlife including many endangered species. We have been meeting regularly if not often with the RBC planners, and representatives of the developing companies to try to influence their mitigation plans. Our main concerns are:-
- New hedgerow corridors for wildlife to move between green areas to encourage diversity Buffer zone planting – this will happen on the east side, however the west side could be unprotected How will walkers be encouraged channelled around the wood rather than over the post and rail fence? Is a new entrance required on the east side?
- What the proposed management company would be responsible for in the area around the wood e.g. maintaining the fence?
- Provision of information boards
- Provision of secure storage facilities for the Group possibly shared with allotment holders provision of information about the Wood and the Friends’ Group to new residents to encourage them to respect and care for the Wood We are meeting with Bovis Homes in January (they have not yet started building however they are laying out roads and services). We haven’t yet included anything about keeping the Wood tidy. This is an important job and you may think on a casual walk through the Wood that it is not much of a problem, however if we didn’t do it, no one else would and the Wood would be knee deep in litter.
Summer and Autumn party going is very popular and these sites tend to be hidden. There are fires (using wood that is torn or chopped from the surrounding areas), drink cans and bottles (often creating broken glass) and crisp and sweet papers galore. Dog walkers often leave plastic bags of poo on the paths or hanging from trees. There are hidden camp sites with fire places. The recently introduced Public Spaces Protection Order should give Police and the local authority the powers to stop such anti-social behaviour as fire lighting however it is actually difficult to stop people when the Wood is so isolated and much damage happens after dark.
Blowing our own trumpets
Part of the Management Plan is publicising what we do and educating and informing local people, especially children. To this end we carried out several talks and events. In January University of the Third Age Gardening Section requested a presentation with which we duly obliged, and it was very well received – they kindly gave us a donation! Then in March we nominated one of our volunteers Harry Eustace for Wildlife on your Doorstep Award from NottWildlife Trust and the South Notts Local Group, which he duly won! In July we had a stall at St. Paul’s Church, Boundary Road with a quiz for kids with prizes for the best answers, an opportunity to educate about conservation, especially for birds.
In August there was a family event held at Skylarks Nature Reserve and again we ran a stall with information and quizzes for adults and kids. Great fun. We are all busy people and stretched by the demands of running the Group however we love to share our love of nature and Sharphill Wood. Volunteers needed We include the next section of this newsletter, firstly to set out the wide range of tasks involved in looking after Sharphill Wood to encourage anyone wavering about the physical work, but also to let everyone know just how many hours are required to run a Friends’ Group. With our left hands this is what we do:-
Hours recorded for RBC Attending work parties, helping with surveys, Bird box work, attending and supporting walks, litter picking Unrecorded hours Group meetings and meetings with Rushcliffe Council and the Notts Wildlife Trust – organising, attending, minuting….. Keeping survey records and reporting nationally where possible Financial record keeping and reporting Secretarial work e.g. minute taking, and distribution, letter writing, organising meetings Recruitment and training of additional volunteers Organising work parties including risk assessments Sourcing materials, plants and trees tools etc. Storing, cleaning and maintaining tools and plants Seeking, applying for and managing funds Monitoring the 5 year Management Plan Organising and/or attending publicity events, walks and activities, often outdoors Doing talks and presentations to schools, public sector and voluntary groups Assisting groups using the Wood for education Publicity material design and sourcing and storing Maintaining Website and Facebook with information, articles and photos Press handouts and interviews Designing ordering and storing leaflets, distributing them, including in the holders in the Wood Recruiting additional volunteers Producing and distributing policies, Health and Safety, Safeguarding, insurance, financial rules etc. Supporting strategy e.g. the Public Spaces Protection Order, liaising with RBC and NWT Attending the Local Area Forum to represent the Friends’ Group Housing Development issues – following and commenting on planning applications, meeting with planners and developers This is what we’ve been up to this year. Work parties are important, but they couldn’t happen without all of the above! Please join us if you have skills in any of the above. We would love to have your help!