Norman’s Christmas List 2023

‘Twas the task before Christmas and all through the pond, nothing was stirring… except, maybe, a newt. As Norman Newt was sitting by his fireside making a list (and checking it twice) of who had been naughty and who had been nice. Most of his ‘nice’ list was taken up with BCV volunteers, the naughty list.. well, we just won’t mention.

So, who’s on the nice list? Rick, Tom and Caroline for everything they’ve done to keep the group wrapped in tasks for the whole year, definitely no naughtiness there; Claire for looking after the pennies, keeping a list and checking it thrice; Lynn for answering Santa’s emails; Colin for doing some website thingy; James for a list of things on Instagram; the multitude keeping Facebook stuff with stuff like a stocking on Christmas morning; everyone we have worked with: Green Umbrella, ARGSL, Banana Enterprises, Bolton Council, a list too long to write out; and finally the long list of BCV volunteers new and not so new for working hard through the year making Bolton great again… or at least the green bits. You all deserve a mince pie and a pint of sherry, so a big Christmas CHEER to everyone.

So, with all the cheering done Norman was going to celebrate one of BCV’s most important pieces of equipment by singing some cover versions of his favourite songs, along with his backing group The Newt Seekers. The songs would have included ‘Where is the Glove’, ‘Gloves Are All You Need’, ‘I Would Do Anything For Gloves (But I won’t do hats)’, and ‘Glove Plus One’, but The Newt Seekers had gone off partying with Frosty the Snowman who was on a photo shoot posing for Christmas cards. So, he wants to sing a couple of Christmas songs with you instead, feel free to join in and Merrrrry Chrrristmaaaas, every one!!

BCV is Going on Task

You better dress warm,
You better stay dry,
Better wear hats,
I’m telling you why:
BCV is goin’ on task,
BCV is goin’ on task,
B-C-V is go-in’ on ta-sk

Rick’s got us some work,
We’re doing it twice,
Out in the snow,
The day will be nice.
BCV is goin’ on task,
BCV is goin’ on task,
B-C-V is go-in’ on task.

Rick sees you when you’re planting,
He knows where there’s a hedge,
He knows if you’ve done bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake.

You better wear boots,
You better dress dry,
Better wear gloves,
I’m telling you why:
BCV is goin’ on task,
BCV is goin’ on task,
B-C-V is go-in’ on task.

The BCV Christmas Song

Rhodys burning on an open fire,
Cold mud dripping from your nose,
Tom & Caroline working without tire,
And people dressed in Sunday clothes.

Everybody knows a bow saw and a bill hook so,
Help to make the task day right.
Jane with her cheeks all aglow,
Won’t find it hard to sleep tonight.

Hedge laying season’s on its way;
Tom has saws and loppers in his ‘sleigh’.
And every volunteer will try,
To see if wildlife they can spy.

And so we’re offering these outdoor days,
To kids from eight to eighty-two,
Although its been said many times, many ways,
A very BCV Christmas to you.

Darcy Lever Marshes: New Frontier

Pond Management 5th November 2023

This task is dedicated to our friend and fellow volunteer, Evelyn Egan, who sadly passed away on 25th October 2023 from vascular dementia. She will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her. Our condolences and best wishes go to Evelyn’s family now and always.

Darcy Lever Marshes is a new site for Bolton Conservation volunteers. The site is hidden between housing estates near Hollycroft Avenue, playing fields and Radcliffe road and if one of Bolton’s secret wildlife havens.

The marshes provide habitat for great crested newt and other amphibians, and potentially could benefit dragonflies. About 20 years ago Dave Orchard and the Amphibian and Reptile Group for South Lancashire developed the site but willow trees are now starting to take over and threatening the site’s usefulness, a process know as succession (to find out more about succession see this earlier post).

To help restore Darcy Lever Marshes BCV and Dave Orchard are removing willow trees. As this is privately owned land we had permission to burn all of the material we cut down, on this particular site this method of disposal was preferable to making habitat piles.

Many thanks to the site’s owner for allowing us to work on this site, our volunteers for working so hard, and to Dave Orchard for his expertise. Also thanks to Rick, Jeff, Mark and Jayne for bringing food.

Halloween: The Dissector’s Cut

A BCV Halloween Story

To skip story and go straight to photos click link

The following is an account of a long lost task, the location will remain a secret to protect the curious from meeting their fate before their time, as too the names and personalities of those involved these have been changed to protect their dignity.

The day was grey and damp, the dark clouds were broken only by the pale disk of a false sun that cast no light and no warmth. It was a forgotten woodland and its trees’ branches reached upwards like skeletal fingers grasping as if for Heaven’s forgiveness. Along the wood’s only track came a group of figures, 13 in total, walking slowly and followed by a Land Rover pulling a trailer full of tools and implements needed on the day’s task: bow saws, chain saw, axes, loppers, a long-handled pruning saw, and a winch. Upon reaching a clearing the group stopped.

From out of the distance could be heard the faint rumble of a coming storm.

“Right,” said Rock, “Before we get on just a few words. As you know a number of conservation groups have vanished over the last few years, many of them we’d worked with in the past. No one knows what happened to them, volunteers just vanished leaving nothing but their tools and brew kits. So, in remembrance of these missing groups we’ll have a minute’s silence.”

One by one the assembled group doffed their hats and folded their hands: Rock, Tim, Cecilia, Kenny, June, Joan, Pete, Phil, Carlton, Catriona, Adrian, Em, and Kath. A long minute passed, the only sounds being that of branches creaking in the chill, damp air.

“Right,” said Tim, impatient to get the work done, “Let’s get started, forecast is for bad weather so we want to be in the pub before it arrives. We’ll be crown lifting and doing a bit of felling, the trees have been marked so they’re easy to find. Also, it looks like someone has dug a new pond in an open area a couple of hundred yards or so that way,” he pointed randomly, “There’s no water in it but be careful not to fall in, it’s a bit deep for some reason. Another also, don’t get too close to the chain saw, we don’t want any accidents.”

The volunteers picked out their tool of choice from the back of the trailer and separated out in to the woods to begin work. Over the next couple of hours could be heard the intermittent thrum of Tim’s chain saw, the creak and thud of branches as they were cut down, and the odd shout or expletive when untoward things happened.

Adrian, June and Joan stayed near the Land Rover cutting up branches and making a dead hedge.
“Joan?” said June, “I’m going to wander off and find a quiet place.”
“You mean a natural convenience?” said Joan
“Yes, one of those.”
“Be careful out there,” quipped Adrian in a spooky voice, “These woods have a bit of a reputation for being haunted, odd things happen here,” he then laughed ghoulishly.
“Thanks for that, you’ve not made made me worried at all now,” said June, “Joan will you come with me?”
A couple of dead leaves fell from the near bare branches above, Joan brushed them from her short brown hair.
“I suppose so. Adrian, don’t mess up the dead hedge.”
The two walked off into the wood leaving Adrian on his own. With nothing better to do he poured himself some herbal tea and sat down under a tree.
“Mess up the dead hedge. As if.”

Time passed and Adrian sat warming his hands on his tea filled cup. The woods had become quite except for the creaking of tree branches and the whispering of dead leaves. It was a bit too quite, something felt wrong but Adrian couldn’t figure out what. From nearby he heard something shuffling, something sneaking towards him stealthily. From behind the Land Rover came Kenny.

“Adrian,” said Kenny. “Have you seen Rock and Tim I’ve trying to find them to get a few photos?”
“No, no idea. June and Joan wandered off a few minutes.. er, half an hour ago maybe they’ve seen them,” replied Adrian.
“It’s really weird, I can’t seem to find any one except Phil and Em near that pond Tim mentioned, that was a while ago. They were having a cup of tea, so nothing worth photographing.”
There was a faint whirring of the chain saw coming from deeper in the mirky woods.
“Maybe that’s Tim. I’m going to wander about a bit more maybe I’ll run in to him. Can you stay here in case anyone comes back?” With that Kenny disappeared into the woods.
“Yes, sure,” Adrian said wearily to the empty air and sipped more tea, by now gone cold; he threw it away and poured some more.

There was a low growl of thunder, the storm was inexorably getting closer. More time passed and no one else came back. It’s passed dinner time, where is everyone? thought Adrian. Maybe it would be a good idea to get up and go in search of the rest of the group. Instead, feeling a bit drowsy he leaned back in the hollow of a gently creaking tree and fell asleep. As he slept, he dreamt. In the dream he could hear someone humming Riders On The Storm close by, then came a deep throaty growl, a sudden thud, and a dark shadow passed by; the humming stopped.

When Adrian woke there was something different. It took him a moment to realise that the Land Rover and trailer had gone. Had everyone gone home and left him behind? No, they wouldn’t do that would they.. would they? It was getting darker, rain was starting to fall and storm clouds were closing in. He had to try to find someone but where were they? The Land Rover had left ruts in the muddy ground, the tracks led deeper into the woods; Adrian decided to follow them.

Some time later Adrian came to a strange sight. The Land Rover was parked near a mound of earth and the trailer had been tipped up so that it was standing vertically with it’s tailgate flat against the ground and the towing hitch pointing skywards. From where he stood he could only see the trailer’s underside, two logs had been braced against its axle to keep it upright. The group’s winch was attached to a nearby tree. It looked as if the winch had been used to pull the trailer vertical. Why someone would do this was totally beyond Adrian’s comprehension.

From behind the trailer walked Emily Blandman, humming Thunderstruck and wiping the blade of her axe.
“Em, thank God, where have you been? Have you seen the others? There’s something really weird going on.”
“Adrian,” said Em with a mix of surprise and embarrassment. She glanced at the bed of the trailer, “er.. I’ve been busy doing a bit of snedding and my axe got stuck and I cut myself. Nothing to worry about.”
By this point Adrian had seen something behind the mound of earth that froze him in horror.
“Ahh..,” said Em, “You weren’t really supposed to see that yet. I thought the herbal tea would keep you asleep for a bit longer, I drugged it when you were talking to Kenny. It was touch and go when I drove the Landy past you though, so I shouldn’t be surprised that you woke up. You know, I dug that pit earlier in the week, but I still don’t think it’s deep enough.”
Adrian stood staring at the ghastly sight before him. The purpose of the mystery pond was now apparent. It had been filled with the dismembered remains of the other volunteers.
“You killed them, OMG you’ve even killed Kenny.. you… Blandman?”
“Yes, he was taking photos of my work so I had no choice. He was annoying anyway.”
Beneath Kenny Adrian could see other bodies and body parts, all dismembered.
“Is everyone in there?” gasped Adrian, “Why?”
“Well.. yes, or at least most of what’s left of everyone. I drugged them all first, I was very humane. No one suffered.. except maybe Kenny.”
Adrian stared at the pit, his arms hanging limp, “I though you were a vegetarian?”
Emily sighed and said, “I’m chopping them up not eating them. I have some principles. Come with me, I’ll explain on the way.” She pointed towards the trailer with her axe, “We’ll need to hurry though, the storm’s nearly here,”

As they walked towards the trailer Blandman spoke, “I’m not who you think I am. For a start my name isn’t Emily Blandman. For many years I worked for Megachem, I was their chief scientist. They developed all kinds of nasty things which I won’t bore you with. I disagreed with the path they were taking, I wanted to use our discoveries to benefit the environment and bring wildlife back from the brink of extinction. During my researches I came across the work of a man named West who was based at the Miskatonic University the 1900s. He developed what I decided to call the Elixir, the less enlightened called it the Demon Seed, and it can… well it would be easier to just show you.”
The two of them walked around to the front of the trailer and for the second time that day Adrian froze in horror.

“When it was discovered what I was doing I was fired and thrown out of the building, shareholders weren’t happy apparently, but I managed to sneak out the a vial of Elixir and I have been working independently ever since.”
They had reached the upended trailer; Adrian fell to his knees.
“You see, with the Elixir I can rebuild flesh in whatever way suits my purpose. My real name, by the way, is Fran K. Enstine.”

The creature stood strapped to the bed of the trailer, a patchwork of limbs and skin.
“This is NGOR-MAN, Next Generation Organic Restoration Manager, pronounced Norman, and he is the future of conservation. A super hero for re-wilding.” Enstine dropped her axe and took hold of the long-handled pruning saw that was leaning against the trailer and used it to point out the creatures attributes:

“Large feet for stability and thick legs for balance, good for uneven terrain; agile hands and strong arms, good for planting wild flowers or cutting down trees. The arms are also multi-jointed and are extensible, they unfold in order to reach higher branches, or for putting up bird boxes; he has teeth, jaws and a digestive system that can eat any invasive species; his skin is double layered to deflect thorns, excellent for hedge laying. His head is a bit misshapen but it does hold several brains containing all of BCV’s conservation knowledge.”

From her pocket she removed the almost empty bottle of Elixir, “See this, my greatest achievement. This liquid not only helps to stitch flesh back together but can also reanimate it,” there was a peal of thunder, “With the help of a few hundred thousand volts.” More thunder crackled above and rain started to fall more heavily, the storm clouds were almost directly overhead. “Nearly time.”

Enstine continued, “I’ve always enjoyed working with BCV; it was always greater than the sum of its parts, now literally so. I tried this a few times before but something always went wrong.”
“The missing groups,” gasped Adrian.
“Yes, them. All that work for nothing.”
“Anyway, there’s just one thing left.. successful environmentalists all tend to have ponytails, which is why I saved you until last. I’d use mine but it’s the wrong colour. Nothing personal. “
“Your mad! Your not human!” screamed Adrian.
“Humanity has a lot to answer for, so I’ll take that as a compliment.” Enstine removed Adrian’s head with a single stroke of the pruning saw. She then scalped her victim with her axe and attached the grisly piece of skin to the creatures head. She used the last few drops of Elixir along the line where flesh met flesh and the ragged edge of scalp immediately fused to the creature’s grey skin. Tugging NGOR-MAN’s hair once she whispered, “Happy birthday,” and threw the empty vial into the pit.

Lightning flashed, illuminating the clouds, and harsh thunder echoed across the sky. As the wind and rain whipped through woods, Enstine extended the pruning saw’s handle to maximum length and attached it to the trailers towing hitch, a lightning rod. All was ready.

It was only a matter of minutes until it came, a devastating bolt of energy screamed from the sky with the voice of a god, striking the pruning saw and turning it to a spray of molten metal, travelling trough the trailer, bursting its tyres and filling the air with the stench of burning rubber. The energy passed into the creature’s body making it shake and convulsed, arching forwards and falling back several times before slumping against the trailer’s upright bed. Steam drifting from its flesh, the straps that had held it in place crumbling to dust.

As the thunder echoed in to silence, Fran Kelly Enstine stood expectantly, her eyes riveted on the creature, looking for signs of success. Slowly movement came, a twitch of a finger, the flutter of an eyelid. The creature took its first ragged, tortured breath and opened its pale eyes.

“It’s alive, IT LIVES!!!” cried Enstine, “Speak NGOR-MAN, share your knowledge with the world! Let us do great things together.”
The creature stood upright, breathed deep, and with voice that seemed to emanate from the depths of the Earth roared, “JAFFA CAKE!”

Enstine’s shoulders slumped, she dropped to her knees, put her head in her hands and groaned, “Oh no, not this again.”

NGOR-MAN grinned.

Disclaimer: This is a work of slightly over long fiction and any similarity between this and events and entities in the real world (as if) is either an amazing co-incidence or the product of a very warped mind.

See the photos below to find out what actually happened on the Halloween task at Eatock Lodge on 22nd October 2023.

Chew Moor: A Crusade of Flowers

Meadow and Hedge Management, Chew Moor, Lostock – September 10th 2023

Autumn Crocus
Autumn Crocus

Bolton’s history didn’t start and end with the Industrial Revolution, the meadow at Chew Moor is a good example of the area’s forgotten history.

In the 1990’s the meadow next to St. John’s Wood, Lostock, was to be turned into a car park until it was designated as a Site of Biological Importance because of the presence of autumn crocus. Autumn crocus (Crocus nudiflorus smith) is native to the Middle-East so how did it end up in Lostock? The answer goes back to around 1100 AD when the land was owned by the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, better known as the Knights Hospitallers. A stretch of road in Chew Moor village is even called St. John’s Road. This religious order also owned land that included what is now the Smithills Estate and did so up until 1200 AD, at this time, being a Catholic religious order, they were suppressed by Henry VIII and their lands confiscated during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Hospitallers shouldn’t be confused with the Knights Templar who were more dedicated to martial skills and protecting the lands and wealth of the Catholic Church; the purpose of the Hospitallers was to aid pilgrims in the Holy Land, tend to the sick, and protect Christians under their care. The Hospitallers set up hospitals and hospices across Europe and to each they brought crocuses, the saffron they produced being used as a food additive and high quality dye and pigment; according to research by the late Fred Lovell clothing dyed with saffron was thought to provide protection against plague, the dye deterred fleas and their bites, something that would have been useful while tending the infected. But saffron was also a very lucrative cash crop that was, and still is, literally worth more than it’s weight in gold. In the Middle-Ages it was such an important commodity that saffron fraudsters would be burnt at the stake for their crimes, and in Germany they were buried alive.

The Hospitallers are still in existence and are responsible for establishing the St. John’s Ambulance Foundation which still carries the Cross of St. John as their emblem. Although the Hospitaller’s lodge at Lostock has long since vanished the crocus they introduced is still present and it is for this that the meadow is important. In the past BCV has helped the Chew Moor Conservation Group look after the site, more recently they were sponsored by Barton Grange Garden Centre. They have planted other species such as ragged robin to supplement existing species such as ladies smock and the late Fred’s famous yellow rattle.

Now that the Chew Moor group is unable to continue the work BCV has taken over the management of the site entirely. At the end of August the meadow was mown by farmer Stan and the cuttings removed to reduce the build up of nutrient, this will benefit wild flowers as they prefer nutrient poor soils. We also trimmed the hedge, this will help nesting birds. Our goal is to maintain the species richness that there is and build on it, to make this meadow the best wild flower meadow it can be and protect it for the future, continuing our crusade for wildlife.

Another job we did today was to cut back a few trees and re-install a fence post.

autumn crocus
autumn crocus

The crocus bloom around the end of September and at the time of writing were in evidence all across the meadow, although some have been stepped on or had been damaged by rain and wind. The fact that so many were in bloom last year is testament to the mowing regime, care and effort that has gone into our management of this site. So, if you visit be careful where you put your feet, you are walking through once and future history.

Find this and other posts about meadows here.

Anderton Centre: Habitat Management

Friday 11th to Sunday 13th August 2023 – Habitat Management

The Anderton Centre was built in 1990 on the site of Anderton New Hall. Anderton New Hall was built in the 1870s to replace Lady Hall which itself was demolished when Lower Rivington Reservoir was constructed in the 1850s, Anderton New hall survived until the 1930 when the derelict building was demolished. Lady Hall may have been built in the 1600s and was located near what is now the A673 at the bottom end of Lower Rivington Reservoir. The New Hall was built to replace Anderton Old Hall which was present on a site near Old Hall Farm not far from Crown Lane, Horwich. The Old Hall dated back to around 1281 and may have been demolished around the time of the Civil War.

The areas around the Anderton Centre are largely man made- farms, reservoirs, manorial estates, tree plantations, fields and ponds, but they have become home to wide range of species from crows to cormorants, from rabbits to roe deer. Regardless of how common or rare each species is it has a place in the world and even the most everyday or mundane maintenance helps them to keep it.

BCV’s involvement at the Anderton Centre began in January 2007, at the time the site was dominated by rhododendron. It took us 4 years to clear the terraced grounds. This year’s residential is the first summer resi since 2015. Our weekend was spent mostly repairing dry stone walls and trimming hedges, with a little bit of planting thrown in. Walls and hedges not only create boundaries but also benefit wildlife: dry stone walls create hiding places and refuges for small mammals and amphibians; hedges provide wildlife corridors, nesting habitat and sources of food.

Thanks to the Anderton Centre management and staff for having us back; Rick, Tom, and Caroline for organising; Lynn and Trish for cooking; finally thanks to all who turned out to help out.

Bolton Green Umbrella Festival 2023

Moses Gate Country Park, Bolton, Sunday 23rd July 2023

Rain dance
Rain dance

Bolton Green Umbrella was formed in 2016 to bring together all of Bolton’s green groups, individuals and businesses in a network to further their mutual goals of protecting green spaces, encouraging wildlife, and improving the environment in and around Bolton.

To celebrate the group’s success a grand green festival was organised with different groups showcasing the work they do in the areas where they work at numerous sites around Bolton. Bolton Conservation Volunteers chose to highlight the work done at Moses Gate Country Park. Our bit of the festival would include pond dipping and a treasure hunt. People following the treasure hunt would have a map that showed the locations of 6 letters to collect to make the name of an animal when put together. The six letters were located at sites where we have planted trees, managed ponds, created reedbeds, managed wild flower meadows, and various other projects. The problem was nobody told the weather that we wanted sunshine, and what we got was rain.

pond dipping
pond dipping

The wet weather highlights one of the reasons BCV and Green Umbrella do what they do: climate change. One of the predicted results of increased global temperatures was indeed wetter UK summers, which is what we have while the rest of Europe is literally burning. The wider consequences of global warming go beyond ‘rain stopped play’ and include crop failures, flooding, famine, melting ice sheets and glaciers, sea level rise, loss of productive land, habitat loss, and species loss to give you the short version. For wildlife our new ‘normal’ affects hibernation, migration, species viability, water quality and oxygen saturation, and habitat stability. Wildlife is facing more competition for survival, both against other species and against humanity as habitats are lost through climate change and human expansion. As more land becomes uninhabitable human migration and movement is likely to increase, pressuring wildlife even more.

Global warming isn’t a hoax, it isn’t a conspiracy of scientists it is very real and we are seeing the results NOW. The use of fossil fuels is having a very significant impact on our planet. Anyone who still believes climate change isn’t a problem should read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2021 Summary for Policy Makers, at 40 pages this is the short version of the full report and still makes scary reading. The beginning of the report states:

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”

“Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts,
and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened since AR5″. AR5 was the IPCC’s 2013 report.

These are the reasons why Bolton Conservation Volunteers, Bolton Green Umbrella, and all of its member groups, do what they do. What we need is for everybody else to also take a stand, to do everything possible to reduce human impact on our local and global environments: drive less, fly less, be less wasteful, make do and mend, reduce-reuse-recycle, and be less selfish, sharing the world with all species.

Food tent
Food tent

But this article isn’t meant to be a thesis on climate change causes and consequences, so back to the festival day. Although we did have a green gazebo an actual green umbrella would have been very useful, but having said that many brave souls came out on the day to fight the BCV corner. As well as volunteers we had several families that liked taking walks in the rain and walked around our treasure hunt route to spell out BADGER and win a meat free hot dog.

Many thanks to Barb and Trev and Bolton Green Umbrella for co-ordinating the festival, Tom and Caroline for organising BCV’s bit, Lynn and Gill for looking after the food tent, the meet and greet team, Rick for pond dipping, and everyone who turned out to lend a hand or take part.

Green gazebo
Green gazebo

You can read the IPCC report through this link. PDF 3mb