Balsam bashing. Words that send dread and fear through the souls of conservationists everywhere. The yearly exercise of ripping up Himalayan balsam, the persistent invasive that never goes away, can be soul destroying. But should be pack up our weed whackers and let the balsam win? No. Balsam may be here but it doesn’t mean it is here to stay.
Over the last few years we have been bashing the balsam at Firwood Fold and we are now seeing the results of all that work. Compared to last year the area covered by balsam has significantly reduced, so much so that we had to think of something else to do in the afternoon. So, what is the story of balsam. The plant with the pretty pink flowers was introduced to the UK in 1839 by the Victorians as a decorative garden plant. And like many of the Victorian’s favourite exotic plans soon went on the rampage across the countryside’s water ways. Balsam creates dense stands that out compete native species, in winter it dies off leaving riverbanks and the shores of water bodies exposed to erosion. It also interferes with fish spawning areas. There are some plant experts who dispute the negative aspects of balsam and think we should just live with it. Generally though, besides the Victorians. the only creatures that likes it are bees.
Last year we did this exercise in August when many of the plants were in flower, this year we got here a bit earlier and with the exception of a handful of pink blooms the balsam was in bare naked. So, we gave it a good thrashing and left no stalk unbashed. Hopefully next year there will be even less or none at all.
With Firwood being the home ground of Bolton Green Umbrella’s organisers Barb and Trevor Hackett it seems appropriate to mention that Green Umbrella has been awarded a Bolton at Home Stars of the Community award, this link for more info.
The Wildfest/Educational/Wildlife Garden is located opposite the bird hide at Moses Gate Country Park. The garden contains a pond, fruit trees, planters and long and winding path all of which had been left to go wild for several years until Bolton Council gave us the site to manage for our own use. Since then we have add a strawberry bed, sensory garden, willow hurdles, wild flower meadow, and laid the hedge. The garden became one of our flagship sites and the location for our Wildfest events, the last of which was in August 2019. It is also used several times a week by Rick in his educational sessions with local schools.
The problem with wildlife gardens is that they tend to go wild and overgrown, which usually isn’t a bad thing but when a site is being used for a educational purposes some management is required to bring things back under control. So, every year we have a tidy up and restore order to nature’s chaos, essentially this is gardening and involves the same procedures as gardening: digging up weeds, planting new flowers, cutting back trees and hedges, and clearing paths, all with the help of BCV volunteers, Rock Hall volunteers and local families.
The weeds and unwanted vegetation were composted, the willow stems were put to one side for use in Rick’s willow weaving sessions with schools, and the more random bits of branch were used to make a linear habitat pile near one of the hedges.
Being a wildlife garden we did come across plenty of wildlife including, newts, toads,and damselfies. Our habitat pile will provide habitat for birds and small mammals, the flowers in the planters and meadow will benefit pollinators, and the de-shaded pond will support more amphibians and invertebrates. One interesting and unusual things we came across were trees covered in silk. One of the trees had a large sack of grubs hanging between two of its branches, the culprits were bird-cherry ermine moth larvae. These larvae produce the silk which they use for protection and cluster in large nests prior to pupation. The moth itself is white with 5 lines of black dots on the underwing with the appearance of being covered in fur. The infestation doesn’t damage the tree but can reduce its growth rate.
As well as a big reservoir Jumbles Country Park also has some smaller water bodies that are less well known. The three ponds we are working on today had become overgrown and shaded out by vegetation. During the week some of this had been cut back and also two of the ponds had been dredged to remove leaf litter and silt; today’s job was to introduce oxygenating plants to the pond and also tidy up the surrounding area.
Brash and branches were moved to linear habitat piles, Himalayan balsam was pulled up or cut down and more trees and branches were cut back to open up the canopy to allow more light to reach the pond. Aquatic plants were added to 2 of the ponds, including water forget-me-not and water violet.
The ponds should attract frogs and toads as well as insects such as dragonflies. We will be coming back over the months to pull out more balsam. Thanks to everyone involved.
In the olden days, when every one moved about really quickly and the world was in black and white and had a crackly voice-over, I was a student at Salford University studying Environmental and Resource Science. Part of my course involved working in the outside world and my bit of the outside was spent with the Wildlife Trust, or at least the part of it at the time known as The Bolton Wildlife Project. Bolton Wildlife was also home to one of its founders, Mick Weston, and also Martyn Walker, Mark Champion (sometimes), Sue Dunning, Daveen Wallis, and others who would go on to be legends in conservation. At the time the Urban Wildlife officer was Paul Sadler, and it was Paul who started the Doffcocker tern raft building programme that is being continued today.
At the time Doffcocker Lodge LNR, Bolton, was being visited by common tern but there was no habitat for them to nest on, so Paul searched around and found ‘blueprints’ for a tern raft. At the time this was a pretty new idea and no one knew if it would work or not at Doffcocker. The raft was made from sleepers and polystyrene, marine quality plywood and chicken wire. Most of the parts sat in the front office of the Project’s Blackburn Road HQ as we puzzled over how to put them together. The pieces looked like a giant game of Jenga. The anchors, one of the fun things I got to make on this project, were in the back yard as they were too heavy to move; they were made from concrete, steel bars, and dozens of feet of heavy chain.
Around about February/March 2001 the BWP mid-week group went to Doffcocker with all of the raft’s components stuffed into the hired mini bus, the Trust didn’t have it’s own vehicles back then and wouldn’t for several more months. Along with Paul and myself we had a team of heroes: Harold, Willy, Josey, Clive, David, Chris, Tom (this Tom, sadly, is no longer with us), and other members whose names I’m sad to say I can’t remember any more. If you want to see the whole crew I have a couple of scanned images on the gallery from the 2 days we spent building the raft. Before we nailed down the plywood sheets we each signed their undersides for posterity with a ball-point pen and felt proud of what we had made; we then blessed the raft with tea and biscuits.
Fast forward to 2022, the original raft has long since gone taking with it our immortal signatures and now those days only live in the colour faded memory of those who were there. But there are new memories to be made and new things to replace the old. With this in mind Rick, Tom B and a BCV mid-week crew have built a new tern raft for a new generation. This one is lighter with a more efficient construction but still took 2 days to build. Some things don’t change. Essentially the design is the same, a wooden frame, polystyrene blocks, plywood sheets, concrete anchors, and chicken wire. Paul T’s photos in the gallery show the process in detail. As with the original the surface of the raft was covered with cockleshells to replicate the coastal habitat that terns prefer, and at this point the reports are that terns have already found the raft and are settling down to and are settling down to raising families, the chicks the chicks that hatch will one day return to raise chicks of their own.
Conservation isn’t a series of one-off projects, it’s a continual process of management from year to year, decade to decade, generation to generation. Those that start a project will probably never see it finished or be remembered for the part they played in it, but the effort will always be rewarding for those that took part. Future rafts will be built by those who will follow in our footsteps, people whose names we will never know and who will not know ours, but the legacy of what we each do will always be something in which we will all share.
Sunday 3rd April Another Sunday and another two part post because time is too short for all the things I need to get done. So, the first Sunday of April saw BCV working near the area where we planted reedbeds last year. The reeds are coming along really well, however, the public, being the wayward beings that they are, like to wander around places without realising that they are causing damage. In order to encourage people to not stray from the path we planted a double line of young hawthorns along all points of access, and then built a linear habitat pile in front of the hawthorns to protect them. Guards guarding guards if you like.
Just around the corner there was a nice open area suitable for a new woodland, but it’s also an area used by scramble bikes. Finding safe places in the tyre scarred ground to plant new trees made the job a bit more of a challenge that it should have been, but anyway we got the job done. Hopefully the trees will reach maturity after the bikers do.
Sunday 17th April Easter Sunday and task day together again. This task was more tree planting but this time in an area around Nob End, not far from the place where James Mason ran down the cobbles in Spring and Port Wine.
In previous weeks Tom had planted some fruit trees so the first part of the day was spent clearing away bramble to give the trees a good start. Then, on the other side of the Bolton-Bury canal, off the beaten track, we planted loads more trees. It was a hot day and there was a very real risk that the trees’ roots would dry out before we got them in the ground, this is probably the last tree plant we’ll do until later in the year when conditions will be more suitable.
Finally, Easter wouldn’t be Easter without the Great BCV Egg Hunt. Jane hid 24 eggs containing choccy goodies in the scrub and bracken for anyone to find. One of the eggs contained a special golden star which would win the finder a full sized Easter egg: Willy Wonka eat out your smooth creamy heart. The bunny-eared volunteers hared away to find them, burrowing egg-citedly to find the hidden treasures. It didn’t take long, although three were so well hidden they were never found. Maybe future egg-splorers will one day find them and wonder at these ancient relics of a time long forgotten. Or maybe a pigeon will sit on one and try to hatch it. James found the special egg and was declared egg-cellent. Well done all for a great task.
These tasks were funded and carried out on be-half of Banana Enterprises.
Congratulations to Rick on winning the Bolton News Community Heroes award’s environment category. This is not the first award Rick has won, over the years he has been awarded Bolton Council’s Golden Elephant Award, Bolton News Green Hero Award, and The Cabinet Office’s Points of Light Award. Find out more at Community Heroes 2022.
End of an Era
A bit of sad news, Andy Grundy is retiring from Bolton Council’s Woodland Section after 27 years. Andy has been BCV staunch supporter over the years and has given us many memorable task sites over the years. Andy, thank you so much for all of the support you’ve given us, and thank you for your letter below. Enjoy your retirement, and we hope that you will visit us on task some day.
As you may already know, I shall be leaving my post at Bolton Council on the 1st April 2022. After 27 years of tree and woodland planting and latterly designating Local Nature Reserves and providing guidance and encouragement to those interested in wildlife. It is time for me to hang up my boots.
It has been a pleasure knowing and working with you and BCV and it will be this aspect which I will miss the most. I have learnt a lot from our meetings over the years and appreciate all the good work BCV have done over the years. It is good to know you are still passing on the knowledge and enthusiasm to the younger generations and potential BCV member of the future. I hope that together with the other voluntary groups around Bolton, you will continue to protect and improve the various wildlife sites to which you are all so committed.
At present, it seems unlikely that I will be replaced by a similar postholder but there are many changes happening in the near future, so who knows what that may bring. These changes will hopefully bring with them opportunities and I would urge you to be ready to take advantage of these when they arise. It will be useful to keep in touch through the Bolton Forum for Greenspaces (BFG) so you can share and support each other and take full advantage of potential opportunities.
May I now offer you best wishes for the future and hope you continue all your great work for wildlife and the environment. Make your work tasks enjoyable as it is important it does not become a chore and remember to take pleasure in the results of your improvements and wildlife in general.
Regards, Andy Grundy Neighbourhood Services
Our hybrid indoor meetings continue to run successfully, here are a few items that deserve a mention:
Thank you to Dorothy and Paul Rigby for their recent donation made in loving memory of their friend Ruth Heard. The money will be put to good use. Also thanks to Barb and Trevor Hackett, and Richard Smythe for their respective donations which are very much appreciated.
Andrew’s re-wilding project is moving forward with support from the Wildlife Trust.
Well done to Joe on his new job with the Woodland Trust.
Finally many thanks to Yogi and the Nam Ploy restaurant for the excellent meal and appreciated support.
Fan Pit Cottages We had an email from Anne at Fan Pit Cottages, I’ve shortened it slightly but the full version has been sent to Rick.
Just wanted to update you about my little project to attract more wildlife to our area. You might remember laying a hedge and clearing some of the land adjacent to our house at Fan Pit cottages. We were fighting a battle with Japanese Knotweed, which we have almost won!
In 2015 you created a pond for us, which has been very successful, attracting newts and toads almost immediately. Unfortunately this year a pair of mallards have decided to trash it, ripping weed out and feeding on the occupants of the pond, so I have covered it. I would love to create more ponds! We have planted a variety of trees, wild cherry and Rowan, with a few others. Sadly some of our mature trees have been affected by ash die back, so I did quite a lot of research to find trees that were suited to our clay soil and resistant to diseases.
We have a lot of marsh orchids this year and I am slowly adding more wild plants that survive the conditions. We still have hares living near the big pond, at the bottom of the field and deer have been spotted there too. Please pass on our good wishes to Rick and all the volunteers who remember coming to us. I can’t thank you enough for all your help and wish you could come again. Kindest Regards, Anne.
The Old Normal? Good news, from July BCV will be returning to it original format of having tasks every two weeks. In addition there will be no need to book ahead for a place on task, just turn up on the day. Tasks will be starting a 10:00am until further notice and the meeting point for each task will be noted on task calendar. Transportation is still an issue though, any one needing transport to the site should contact Tom well before the task date so that arrangements can be made. Although it’s a big step towards business as usual, we still need to take care and maintain appropriate safety measures in the interests of protecting our volunteers.
Return of the Hipster Good news, Rick has had his hip operation and is recovering. He dropped in on our Moses Gate reedbed task to say hello, after a chat he carried on to Rock Hall to see how things were going over there with our second team. More details of the task will appear in a post shortly. Hopefully Rick will be back out on task as his usual self soon.
Going Bananas BCV has joined forces with Banana Enterprises to help restore the grounds of Moses Gate Country Park as part of their Rock Hall restoration project. We have a number of tasks planned throughout the year so keep an eye on the task calendar.
We have Returned Well we’re back at work again with our recent tasks at Firwood, but there have been a few other activities that you might not know about.
Blackleach Hibernaculum We’ve finally got a digger in to finish the ponds and the hibernaculum. See the Blackleach Hibernaculum post for more info.
John Franklin The Wildlife trust has created a memorial woodland to John at Seven Acres. See the John Franklin post for words and pictures.
Hip Dude Rick is scheduled for a second hip replacement (sorry no pictures) in a few weeks, but tasks will continue with guest task leaders taking up the whip. Best wishes to Rick from everyone.