Digging Up the Future at The Barlow

Sunday 2nd, 9th, 16 May and 22nd August 2021

Updated 24/08/21

The Barlow Institute was opened in 1909, in Edgworth, for the health and well being of the local community. It was dedicated to the memory of James and Alice Barlow by their children, one of whom was Sir Thomas Barlow, Professor of Clinical Medicine at University College London and the Royal Physician to Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and George V.

One hundred years later BCV arrived

2009: Barlow Institute, paths.
2009: Barlow Institute, paths.

In 2009 we held one of our residential weekends on the site and over 48 hours cleared blocked drains, cleaned out silted up ponds and installed new drainage near the river. Although the site had huge potential for wildlife we didn’t get to go back to do any further work. The grounds contain numerous trees and wild flowers including wood sorrel, wood anemone, lesser celandine, marsh marigold, bluebell, and a range of wildlife.

Wood Sorrel
Wood Sorrel

2nd May – Down in the Hollow
Fast forward to 2021 and the Barlow Institute has been re-branded as The Barlow, and they have plans to develop and improve the site. The original 10 acre site contained an open air swimming pool and a boating lake. It’s at the site of the old boating lake that most of our new work is being done with one team there, and another team working on de-silting the pond we worked at in 2009.

The boating lake had silted up and was completely overrun by a dense patch of willow carr, this needed to be removed before the new ponds could be dug out. The new ponds will create habitat for amphibians and dragonfly when finished. Everything we took down was used to create a dead hedge along the footpath which will create temporary habitat for wildlife. The down side of dead hedges is that because the material isn’t living it decays over time, but it’ll work for now.

9th May – Ducking and Diving
Our second task at The Barlow continued the work we started the week before with the rest of the old boating lake being cleared and the duck pond also being de-silted. Paul shot a short video of the work which can found HERE.

16th May – Chopping and Chatting
A slight change to activities today. We were joined by the Barlow Legends to tidy up the hedges and prepare them for a planting session with the local kids, and also for hedge laying later in the year. So there was lots of cutting stuff down, this creates lots of brash and at one time we would have burned the waste but not having a large enough magnifying glass to light the tinder we stuck to our now preferred method of using the brash and create a dead hedge. We’ll be back later in the year to continue with more work.

22nd August 2021 – Look After the Ponds and Pennies Will Spend Themselves.
And later in the year arrived along with the Barlow’s volunteers again, this time we returned to the new pond site started on 2nd May. There had been a bit of regrowth from the dogwood but the willow was thankfully keeping a low profile. Some balsam had also popped its head above the battlements but the Barlow Legends hacked them down the week before. Most of today’s work involved opening up an access route for the digger to get into the site, although the digger itself may not be seen for sometime yet. As usual the brash was incorporated into the dead hedge along the path and at the back of the site. Speaking of things dead, Francis found some dead man’s fingers fungi. Although fairly common across the UK it’s the first time we’ve seen it on task, so thanks to Francis for pointing out those fingers. See a photo of them on the Wild Things page.

So, that’s it at the Barlow for a while, thanks to Tom for doing so much work on this project, the Barlow Legends for taking up the challenge, and the BCVers for… well, being you.

Also many thanks to Paul Allen, and the other Barlow Trustees for inviting us to work on the site. If you want to know more about The Barlow visit their website at thebarlow.co.uk.

Ousel’s Nest: Digging for Victory

27th June 2021, Pond Management, Ousel’s Nest Quarry

Ousel’s Nest Quarry, near Jumbles Country Park, is one of those great examples of Bolton’s forgotten industrial sites eventually returning to nature after decades of damage. Bromley Cross Quarry, as it was then, was owned and managed by John, George, and Richard Phillipson, sources suggest that the site operated between 1880 and 1914, but as with a lot of Ousel’s history dates are hard to verify. The quarry produced sandstone distinctive enough to be named after the quarry, Ousel’s Nest Grit, which was used for a variety of purposes from building to ballast. The Phillipsons also owned Cox Green Quarry, Round Barn, and Hard Rock quarries, and at least one quarry employed over 180 workers, most of the quarries had their own tramlines and railways.

Ousels Nest
2015: Ousel’s Nest Quarry

At the beginning of World War One John and his Son, John Walmsley Phillipson, joined the Royal Engineers and served in France, managing quarries near Calais for the war effort. Being strategic targets they were sometimes bombarded by the Germans. It is thought that George and Richard joined them later, as well as some of their workers. John himself rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded a CBE for his wartime service.

Shortly after the war the quarry moves towards brick making under the name George Phillipson & Sons. Maybe the war had taken it’s toll on the workforce and skilled quarrymen were hard to find, brick making was a simpler enterprise. None of the brothers survived beyond 1927, and John Walmsley died in 1930, but the brickworks continued to operate until 1965.

The site was later used as landfill, although unlike Cox Green it doesn’t appear on the historic landfills list. Public pressure brought an end to tipping and both sites were allowed to return to nature, in 2013 Bolton Council designated the site as a Local Nature Reserve. Today Ousel’s Nest has some of Bolton’s best wild flower meadows, nature’s memorial to Bolton’s fallen quarrymen.

Task Report: Our first tasks at Ousel’s Nest was in 2014, in March 2015 we de-shaded the ponds, for today’s task we returned to try to improve them. The problem we have is that the ponds dry up in summer when they are most needed. Earlier in the year Tom dug a test pit to see if digging out the silt would help water retention, it worked and this was to be the basis of today’s task. Balsam removal was also part the day’s work but there were too few people to make a real difference.

Years of silt and leaf litter was excavated along the middle of the pond, and as we dug we found brick rubble and domestic waste, relics of Ousel’s Nest’s previous use. The excavation soon filled with water, proving that the ponds could be saved. Ideally we need a mechanical digger to do the job as digging wet silt is heavy work and very time consuming. This is something that will be looked at another time. Once the pond was dug out the pooled water in the test pit was released, filling the new pond.

Thanks to Tom for organising and also to everyone else for all the hard work.

Blackleach Hibernaculum

Blackleach Country Park 29th November and 27th December 2020

Gallery and text updated 09/05/21

This task falls under the category of pond work even though there was no pond to work on. Instead we were both clearing an area to create a pond and building a hibernaculum. A hibernaculum is a structure in which amphibians can safely hibernate. The word comes from the Latin phrase meaning a winter camp, originally used by Roman soldiers but now the word has been re-purposed for conservation.

This particular hibernaculum is made from a linear habitat pile made from brash with logs at either end. Ultimately the structure will be covered in yew branches (removed from a nearby hedge where it was causing problems), and finally covered in the soil that will be dug out to create the ponds.

Great Crested Newt
Great Crested Newt

29/11/20 – Today’s work involved our chainsaw operator cutting down some big old willow trees before the rest of the volunteers arrived. By mid-morning our chainsaw guy had finished work and left, leaving the site open for the safe six to come in and begin their work. This was mostly cutting up the brash for the habitat pile and stacking the logs for the hibernaculum’s entrance structure. The gaps between the logs will let the amphibians in but keep everything else out.

27/12/20 – Another team returned today to finish off moving the pile of brash and covering the the structure in yew branches. The structure had been widened a little to accommodate the remaining brash, well done Clayton.

10/04/21 – Finally, after several months, we were able to get a digger on to the site to dig out the figure 8 ponds and cover the hibernaculum with a layer of soil. This will both protect the amphibians from disturbance during hibernation and also protect the hibernaculum from vandals. So, job done. Photo of the the completed work supplied by Richard Marshall, the hibernaculum can be seen in the the final photo just next to the trees.

05/05/21 – After a week of heavy rain the two ponds had started to fill up with water, although Richard Marshall, the site’s warden noticed the levels started to drop by the next day. The hibernaculum itself is still being attached by vandals with several attempts being made to burn it.

Back to Blackleach

Pond work at Blackleach Country Park, Walkden, Salford 05/07/20 to 12/07/20

Pond work at Blackleach Country Park, Walkden, Salford 05/07/20 to 12/07/20

Blackleach was originally an industrial site. Built in 1778 the reservoir was used to power mining machinery but later the site was used for brick making and finally as a chemical factory making Salford’s distinctive magenta dye. Industrial activity ended in 1976 and the site was abandoned to nature.

In 1987 the reservoirs were earmarked for housing but a campaign lead by local action groups saved the site and in 1992 the Salford Rangers Service began to transform Blackleach from a desolate wasteland in to its premier wildlife reserve. The Greater Manchester Ecology Unit designates Blackleach as a Site of Biological Importance because of its habitats and resident species, and 2004 English Nature declared it a Local Nature Reserve.

BCV has had a long association with Blackleach working with both the site’s first warden and developer, Annie Surtees, and later with warden Richard Marshall. This time our socially distanced and volunteer numbers restricted task involved pulling out Typha latifolia, aka reed mace, aka bull rush.

Brown Hawker
Brown Hawker
Reed Mace
Reed Mace
Great Crested Newt
Great Crested Newt

As Typha spreads it closes ponds down, reducing the area of open water available for amphibians and insects such as great crested newts and dragonflies. Blackleach is hotspot for the UK’s largest newt, the great crested newt. GCN are highly protected and should only be handled by authorised licence holders.

Photos below supplied by Caroline, common hawker by Francis. Posts now show a Like button, also feel free to leave comments.

Being There

Walmsley Unitarian Chapel 14/06/20 – 28/06/20

Our last normal task before lockdown was at Firwood Fold on 23rd March. Since then our volunteers have been busily doing nothing Zooming the whole day through, not to mention WhatsApp, Skype, and that quaint practice, telephoning. None of these are any substitute for being out in the open with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, no substitute for being there. So, our first task after lockdown was Walmsley Unitarian Chapel.

We have been working at Walmsley Unitarian Chapel since 2010 and over that time we have turned the site, also known as Spring Meadow, from a swampy patch of willow carr into a wildlife wonderland, home to numerous species of dragonflies, amphibs, and orchids. However, like all things it needs looking after. So, over three weekends, between 14th and 28th June, three teams of socially distanced six tidied up the ponds, unblocked culverts and slashed the Himalayan balsam to within an inch of its first node.

Common Spotted Orchid
Common Spotted Orchid

Pulling out excessive vegetation such as typha creates more open water for amphibians and dragonflies and stops the ponds succeeding to swamp then to dry land. Himalayan balsam is another species that displaces native flora, over the years we have knocked it back considerably but there is still a long way to go. The 28th was supposed to have been our big push against the balsam but rain (lots of rain) stopped play. What we did do you can see in the photo gallery further down the page.

Himalayan Balsam
Himalayan Balsam

Over the last few months many of our members have experience tragedies, illnesses and injuries, but despite the distances imposed by lockdown they have never had to endure their hardships alone, so a big thank you to all our members who helped out and gave their time to those in need. Thank you for being there.

To go with our new website there is a new gallery feature, clicking/tapping an image opens a lightbox where you can move through photos by swiping or using the arrows at the sides. There is also an button to show full screen and an arrow to start a slideshow. Enjoy.