Going Bananas at Rock Hall

Banana Enterprises’ Restoration of Rock Hall, Moses Gate Country Park

Updated 29th September Skip to updated task report

Rock Hall was built in 1807 by Bolton’s premier industrialist’s the Cromptons whose paper mill, one of the earliest in Lancashire, already stood on the site. The paper mill closed in 1883 and reopened in 1894 as a bleach and dye works but was soon abandoned. The mill was demolished in 1972 and the site was turned over to recreation. Rock Hall itself was used for many years as the base for the Croal Irwell Ranger Service until cut backs forced it to close in 2014. Since then the Hall has fallen into disrepair.

In January 2021 Bolton Council gave Banana Enterprises the key to Rock Hall to renovate and expand it for use by the local community and as a training centre. Click the link to find out more about Banana Enterprises and the work they do. Bolton Conservation Volunteers have signed up to Banana Enterprises to improve the site for wildlife and nature. BCV’s journey on this project will be documented on this post over the coming months.

Tasks

26th September 2021 – How Do You Like Them Apples, Adam?
Our fairy tale romance with Banana Enterprises continues with the restoration of an orchard. The orchard had become overgrown with brambles to the point were you would expect to find Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the middle of it. Anyway, ridicule being nothing to be scared of our Prince Charmings started a-hackin’ and a-slashin’ while our Princess Charmings shook their heads at their silliness before showing the chaps how to do it without the song and dance. The orchard was planted many years ago with heritage varieties of apple and pear, then abandoned. The restoration will take several sessions and involve BCV, the Rock Hall Volunteers, and the Wildlife Trust. Subtle conservation follows, must be something outside.

Skip to photos if you don’t want to read about previous task.

1st August 2021 – Flower Terrace
Our final group task with Banana Enterprises and the Rock Hall volunteers was to restore the flower beds to the side od Rock Hall. These beds are arranged in terraces and in their prime would have looked magnificent, but today all we have is grass. So, today’s task was to dig out the grass and plant up the terraces. Thanks to Paul T for today’s photos.

Sadly in August 2021, days after the above task, Rock Hall was vandalised by idiots with no appreciation of their local history or the needs of their local community. Hopefully Banana Enterprises good work will continue and the Rock Hall Project will rise above the small minded irresponsibility of a handful of morons, and continue to benefit the real people of Bolton. Best wishes to Jayne and the Rock Hall volunteers.

Skip to photos if you don’t want to read about previous task.

11th July 2021 – Banana Balsam Bash
The Victorians loved exotic species, they loved them so much that they brought many of them back home from all corners of the Empire. The problem was that many of these species had no natural controls and if they escaped in to the wild would spread uncontrolled. One of these species was Impatiens balsamifera or Himalayan Balsam. Balsam will grow anywhere damp, out competing and shading out many native species, attracting bees and other pollinators to itself in preference to other flowers.

As it is edible the perfect solution would be to eat it out of existence, or persuade herds of goats to do the job for us, but instead we have volunteers to beat it with weed whackers and pull it up by hand. Ideally it needs to be cut just above the root, below the first node, or pulled up an hung out to dry, get it wrong and the balsam turns zombie and comes back to life. We have managed to clear other sites of balsam but it is a long job.. so we may be here a while. On the plus you get plenty of exercise.

Skip to photos if you don’t want to read about previous task.

23rd & 30th May 2021 – Banana Flower Beds
Our first job at Rock Hall was to clear out the old flower beds that had become overgrown with weeds and bramble. The job was done by both BCV and Rock Hall volunteers, including Banana Enterprises founder Jayne Allman. The week after the team returned to plant up the beds with a mix of wild flowers. When in bloom they’ll provide a nectar source for a range of pollinating species from bees to moths.

Firwood First

Firwood Fold 4th April – 8th August 2021

Updated and largely completely re-written 14/08/21, most recent task is at the end, sorry if your scrolling finger gets a bit sore.

Our first post-lockdown task of 2021 was in the same place as the last task before the first lockdown of 2020, Firwood Fold. At this point We were still limiting our numbers on task and keeping everything clean and safe, but in the coming months things would change. But for now, after months of nothing but Zoom meetings and virtual conservation we’d unboxed our voluntreers and put them back in the real world: wellies, mud, dirt, and aching limbs, happy days were here again.

Sam Crompton's birth place.
Sam Crompton’s birth place.

Sunday April 4th 2021 – Egging us On
Our first post-lockdown task of 2021 was in the same place as the last task before the first lockdown of 2020, Firwood Fold. At this point We were still limiting our numbers on task and keeping everything clean and safe, but in the coming months things would change. But for now, after months of nothing but Zoom meetings and virtual conservation we’d unboxed our volunteers and put them back in the real world: wellies, mud, dirt, and aching limbs, happy days were here again.

Hedges are great, they create wildlife corridors for all kinds of creatures to travel along, and also habitat for nesting birds. It’s estimated that a million miles of hedgerow has been lost since the 1950s, today’s little stretch might not fill that gap but a journey of a million miles begins with a single step, so we’re happy to keep on stepping up for as long as it takes.

The Bunk
The Bunk

Sunday April 11th 2021 – Leets and Feets
Back again and our job today was to cut back vegetation and trees from the path and to clear willow from the leet. Leets are also known as sluices, spillways, flumes but all are the same thing, a water channel generally used to provide water for industry. As we are in Sam Crompton’s birth place it would fit the historical theme and may have been something that inspired the 6 year old Mr. Crompton to invent a better way of working, who knows. Speaking of better ways of working, today we had two socially distanced groups, BCV and Friends of Firwood, working on different parts of the site getting twice the work done without compromising safety. We’re so good.

Himalayan Balsam
Himalayan Balsam

Sunday 8th August 2021 – Final Firwood
On our final visit to Firwood Fold for 2021 we had a mix of jobs to do. The first thing was to bash the balsam. Last year we gave the balsam a good thrashing, the result was largely successful and this year’s crop was a lot smaller and not as dense, but it was still in evidence. So, armed with nothing but gloved hands, and the odd weed whacker, we dismembered every balsam stem we could find from seedlings to triffid sized monsters. As we’re destroying the balsam before it seeds we should have less, if any, regrowth next year.

The second part of the task on this grey wet day was finishing off the path work. This involved cutting back vegetation and overhanging branches to make the path passable. Many thanks to Barb and Trevor, and the Friends of Firwood Fold for having us back, we love Firwood and hope to be back next year for more. Until then enjoy one of Bolton’s best kept secrets.

Doffcocker: Finding The Path

Sunday 25th July 2021, Doffcocker Lodge LNR, Bolton – Access Work

Doffcocker Lodge was built in 1874 as a water source for local mills, as the mills disappeared the lodge fell into disuse until it was renovated in 1980. In 1992 the lodge became Bolton’s first Local Nature Reserved and remained as it’s only LNR until 2000.

The site has hosted a wide range of bird species over the years including water rail, kingfisher, oystercatcher, common tern, tawny owl, and an occasional stop over by bittern. Historically the site has also had water vole, palmate newt, pipistrelle bats, and various damselflies.

BCV has worked on the site for around 30 years and was responsible for the planting of the first reed beds. We’ve also carried out out coppicing work, tree planting and created nesting habitat for tern, swans, and kingfisher. Recently we were given access to the site’s management plan and authorisation to carry out any work that the site requires. One of those jobs is keeping the paths clear of vegetation.

Balsam and bramble were making some on the paths impassable so our team of expert volunteers spent the day cutting back vegetation by about a metre on either side of the path. Although not proper conservation it does allow people to get around the the site and enjoy it. If people enjoy visiting then they may want to help look after it and keep it healthy which will benefit both wildlife and visitors.

Thanks to Paul T for the photos.

Hey, Presto-lee

Prestolee 25th October 2020

Updated 19/02/21

Prestolee Pocket Park, or Stoneclough Community Woodland to its friends, is a small patch of land between a housing estate, Trinity Church, and Prestolee Primary School that had been forgotten and ignored for years. That was until the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Society (MBBCS) decided to do something with it.

Their goal was to create a green space for use by the local community, school, church and groups for events, community food growing, and other great stuff.

Raising additional cash from Kearsley Area Forum, Bolton at Home, Prestolee Academy Trust and central government funding the MBBCS approached numerous volunteer to groups to help with the heavy lifting.

In 2019 BCV began the work of constructing dead hedges and removing brash and trash from the site, this year we continue with some new plantings.

This task was supposed to have been part of our Halloween fun task but nobody (dead or alive) wore their hats. Maybe the hats were socially distancing. See the Halloween Hall of Horrors for how things used to be including Tom’s team at Moses Gate this year.

22nd November 2020

This is our last visit to Prestolee Pocket Park for this year. Autumn and winter are the best times for tidying up woodlands as birds have finished nesting and most of the leaves are off the trees. Most of today’s work involved cutting branches that were overhanging the footpath or were unsafe. We also cleared the paths of fallen leaves and trimmed back the hedges to improve access.

Although not the best of conservation tasks it was still good to get out and do something positive. 12 photos below, the last 6 are from today.

Our Back Field of Dreams

Our Back Field, Hunger Hill
4th & 11th October 2020

The work of small local groups often goes unnoticed. In 2009 the Hunger Hill Action Group established itself to develop a patch of land behind Knutshaw Crescent for local amenity. The housing estate sits on the busy A58 where there were no safe areas for children or families to play and relax, and so the Action Group was born.

The land is jointly owned by Bolton at Home and Peel Holdings who were happy to let the group use it. With the help of Councilor Bernadette Eckersley-Fallon the group set about gaining grant funding, and then began the hard work of building paths, play areas, community art, and other stuff. The project was named Our Back Field. We think that the Wildlife Trust may have been involved in the original heavy work but that’s still to be confirmed.

Seating Area
Seating Area
Board Walk
Board Walk

Fast forward to 2020 and the site’s numerous paths, open green spaces and pond had become over grown and in need of help. Chris, the original founder of the Action Group, approached Bolton Green Umbrella, who introduced her to Bolton Conservation Volunteers, and like the A Team, we love it when a plan comes together.

After delays and set backs caused by the ever changing lockdown rules, and after extensive risk assessments, we finally got to start work on the site. BCV has been following the Rule of Six since before it had a name and the work on this site was no different. The task was split into two teams of six spread over two weekends.

Reed Mace
Reed Mace
Great Crested Newt
Great Crested Newt

On 4th October the target was pond and path work, the pond, which may originally have been an old farm pond, was choked with typha (reedmace). This was dug out and pulled out to create some open water for amphibians. A nearby path also received some attention. Future work could include replacing boardwalks. Although originally meant for amenity the site has good potential for wildlife which we hope we can build on over time.

11th October. With a fresh set of six, including a new volunteer, we started the next stage of our Hunger Hill task which involved improving access through the woodland. We cut back over hanging and encroaching branches to create more room and also cut away branches behind the path to let more light through to the path and the woodland understorey. This will make the walk more pleasant, safer, and also encourage the regrowth and regeneration of woodland flora.

Most of the residents were appreciative of the work we’ve done, although one gentleman took issue with the coppicing of the big willow in the pond the previous week. This tree was cut back to allow more light to get to the pond and reduce leaf litter, improving the oxygen saturation of the pond water and so improving conditions for pond life. Historically the pond contained great crested newt and is the reason why the pond hadn’t been filled in or the site developed for housing. Rick is planning to carry out a pond survey at a later date.

The same gentleman also took issue with the drainage of the path. The pre-existing drain had been cleaned out but he believed that this act had caused the pond to backflow onto the path causing flooding. This does highlight one of the problems of volunteer work: a group of volunteers, working in their own time to benefit a community they don’t live in, can’t please everyone.

Many thanks to Christine for inviting us to help her with her plans for the site, it’s a great site and deserves to flourish. We look forward to helping out again in the future.