Norman’s Christmas Cheer 2021

Looking for the Fawcett Mill Resi write-up? Click the link.

IT’S CHRIIIIISTMAAAAAS, and Norman Newt is digging out his Christmas list. Who’s been naughty and who has been not naughty? We shall see. It’s been a mixed 12 months with losses and lockdowns, but now we are getting back to near normal and moving on to 2022. Will 2022 see the return of the Post Christmas Meal, Hedge Laying Competition and Wildfest? We will have to wait and see, but the Christmas BCV fortune cookie says ‘All things indicate a possible maybe,’ and you can’t argue with that.

Greenery has been a big thing in the media this year with various green activists making themselves heard, and COP26 not saying much that hasn’t been said before. BCV has been doing its thing for over forty-five years and we will match our achievements against any government’s, because we know that the actions of individuals can make more positive impacts on the environment than any vague policy. So, our Christmas message is if every person makes changes in their relationship with their planet, then their planet will be better off for it. You CAN make a difference.

So, without further ado it’s Norman’s Christmas Cheer. The first cheer goes to Tom and Caroline for taking on loads of BCV work and doing such a dang fine job of it (BIG CHEER), The second cheer goes to Rick who has now had more replacement parts than his car and still shows no signs of slowing down (VERY BIG CHEER). The third cheer goes to all of our Duke of Edinburgh and younger members for their outstanding commitment to working with BCV, you make the rest of us feel old (LEGENDARY CHEERS). And finally to all of our volunteers past and present, you have made BCV what it is, thank you for everything you’ve done and sacrifices you’ve made (HUMBLE CHEERS).

And now a couple of ditties written be Norman to tunes he didn’t.

Let It Barrow

Oh, the weather outside is chilly,
And the task is all so hilly,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let’s wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow.

When you’ve had enough of chopping,
And you’d rather be Christmas shopping,
When the ground is too deep with snow,
Let’s wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow

When we finally end the day,
How we like going down to the pub,
But nobody knows the way,
Maybe we should all just go home.

And the year is close to ending,
Christmas cards people are a sending,
But BCV is planting out hedgerows,
Let’s wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow.

The BCV Christmas Song

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

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

Hedge laying season’s on its way;
Rick has saws and stakes 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.

Fawcett Mill Fields: There and Back Again

Fawcett Mill Fields, Cumbria 26-28th November 2021

Many Meetings
One of the things that had been a feature of the BCV calendar for as long as anyone can remember were the residential weekends, or as we call them Resi’s. Our last resi before the time of Covid was in January 2020 at the Anderton Centre, since then those weekend retreats had been badly missed. So, when Sam and Rich offered us the chance to swap landscapes of brick, concrete and tarmac for those of high hills, steep valleys and gushing rivers we couldn’t say no.

Rich and Sam
Rich and Sam

Fawcett Mill Fields is Rich Greenwood and Sam Kitchen’s new venture, holiday accommodation in buildings that were once part of a water mill. The mill buildings date back to the early 1700s’s, but a mill existed on or around this site as part of Gaisgill Hall as far back as the 1300s. Sadly, previous owners had buried the mill machinery under concrete in less enlightened times, but many other features still remained including the Grade II Listed packhorse bridge over the Rais Beck. It was in this setting that we became Rich and Sam’s first guests, and in return we would be building a dipping platform and laying a hedge.

Seventeen volunteers made the journey, all of us taking at least one lateral flow test in the previous 24 hours, the only unwanted thing to come with us was Storm Arwen. This Arwen was no Elven princess, and as the last of us arrived at Fawcett Mill high winds and snow were already battering the buildings and coating the roads in glittering white. Thankfully Sam and Rich had prepared hot meals for us all, it was like reaching Rivendell after being chased across the moors by howling wraiths; this last homely house was to be our home for the next two days.

In Glades Beneath The Misty Fell
After a night of socialising, and not much sleep our day began with breakfast, followed by second breakfast in some cases, and preparations for the day ahead. The plan was to begin work on the dipping platform on the other side of the packhorse bridge, so we gathered the tools and set out. Over night the temperature had gone from cold to really cold, and the icy chill could be felt even on double gloved hands and double socked toes, but we weren’t going to be put off by a little cold weather.

As we looked at the beautiful countryside it was clear that the site had a wealth of wild life: blue tit, great tit, coal tit, robin, nuthatch, blackbird, chaffinch, and dipper were some of the birds present, but earlier Sam had seen salmon leaping up the waterfalls, and there was also a magical red squirrel that disappeared into the trees not to be seen again all weekend. We were in nature lovers heaven, and we wanted to make it ours.

Red Squirrell
Red squirrel at Fawcett Mill Fields.

The site of the dipping platform was at the end of a small pond and the first job was to remove the vegetation and level out the soil. That done we hammered twenty wooden posts into the ground to support the platform. Sounds simple but the rocks beneath the soil made a straight forward job into hard work, as a result some of the posts were a little bit misaligned, but with a bit of ingenuity we managed to make it work. After fitting a weed suppressing sheet around the posts, joists were screwed in place and the posts cut down to size. Finally boards were fixed and fitted to make the platform’s surface, the work being finished on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, another team worked on laying the hedge at the side of the road. A ragged hedge was trimmed and treated to the BCV hedge laying style creating habitat for birds. Trees were cut back and pruned and everything made neat and tidy. As with the dipping platform the work was spread over two days but both jobs came to an abrupt end as the snow began to fall, but more about that later.

A Long Expected Party
The weekend wasn’t all work and no play. As it happened the trip coincided with Carol’s 75th birthday, so a celebration was arranged. Cakes were brought and decorated by Jane, songs were sung and mugs of beer were drunk, as too were most of the volunteers. As the round moon rolled behind the hill there were riddle games and guessing games, and leg pulling and hair pulling long into the night. One by one the celebrants drifted off to bed and slept the sleep of heroes.

Happy Birthday, Carol.
Happy Birthday, Carol.

Many Partings
Sadly all things end and the weekend’s fellowship was broken by the return of Storm Arwen. As we finished fixing the last planks of the dipping platform and the last pleaches of the hedge the snow began to fall heavy and thick and the risk of being snowed in was suddenly very real. The team quickly packed their bags and gathered up the tools. With the help of Rich and Karl, a quad bike, and bag fulls of salt we made our escape down slippery roads back to the world of concrete, brick and tarmac.

Many thanks to Sam, Rich and Karl for their hospitality and superb meals, we all look forward to coming back soon; thanks to Tom and Caroline, and Rick, for co-ordinating everything; thanks to Lynn, Justine, Katrina and the cooking crew for breakfasts, second breakfasts, and lunches; thanks to all of the volunteers who made it a great weekend; and finally thanks to all of the drivers for getting all of us safely there and back again.

The packhorse bridge.
The packhorse bridge.

Also, thanks to Francis for three of the photos.

Dunscar Woods: Tree Thinning

14th October 2021

Dunscar Wood is a new woodland near Egerton, Bolton. The wood occupies 5.7 hectares of what was formerly green fields which were bought by the Woodland Trust in 1998 as part of their millennial Woodlands on Your Doorstep project. Old maps do show a small patch of woods in the area but not of any great size or significance.

The Dunscar Wood Management plan says that in 1999 wood was planted with a mix of sessile oak, ash, birch, cherry, rowan, aspen, holly, alder, hawthorn, blackthorn and goat willow. Mature sycamore is also present and is thought to be a remnant of previous field boundaries.

Pedunculate Oak
Pedunculate Oak
Birch
Birch

New woodlands such as this are often planted quite densely, with only 2 to 3 metres between each tree. Although there is always some loss through animal grazing, disease such as ash die back, and climatic conditions, the trees take up more room as they grow and need to be thinned out.

Another purpose of thinning is to improve the age structure of the woodland. One of the problems of planting lots of trees at once is that all of the trees are more or less the same age hence the mix of long lived trees such as oak and short life-spanned species such as birch. The Trust envisages that over the next 80 years the short lived species will die off, his will provide standing deadwood and fallen logs which will benefit a range of bird and invertebrate species; gaps in the canopy will benefit also woodland floor flora. This area of Bolton has limited natural tree cover and a limited mix of species, as the wood regenerates naturally this should improve and the wood will become self sustaining.

Candidate trees had been marked up by a Woodland Trust officer, many of them were diseased and posed a danger to the rest of the wood and the wood’s users. The day before the task many of these marked tree were taken down by chainsaw, leaving Sunday’s group the job of cutting them up and making the brash into habitat piles and log stacks. The day was also a good opportunity to train some of the younger members, and Duke of Edinburgh students, how to fell trees safely and how to use tools correctly.

Despite the amount of material dealt with there is still plenty left to do and we may need to come back at a later date. In the meantime well done everyone. Thanks to Rick, Tom and Caroline for organising, and special thanks to Mr. Riley of the Woodland Trust for letting us work here. Also thanks to Dunscar Industrial estate for allowing us to park.

Chew Moor: Field of Screams

October 31st 2021

Autumn Crocus
Autumn Crocus

Chew Moor, Lostock, a Site of Biological Importance, the importance being the autumn crocus that sprout up in September and October. The story is that the Knights Hospitallers brought them back from the Crusades, it was believed that they were effective against the Black Death but they were also more valuable than gold because of saffron. To prevent the valuable saffron being stolen the Knights laid a curse on the flowers, binding the spirit of one of their own to the meadow for all eternity. The ritual used to do this was gruesome and hideous and unbreakable, it is said, that on grim days his tall hooded shade can be seen walking the perimeter of the meadow in the exact areas where the crocus grows.

As BCV arrived on a cold October day the pale knight was already making his presence felt; punctured tyres, flat batteries, and sudden illnesses plagued the volunteers. Strange ghostly faces peered from the undergrowth as workers tried to cut back branches from the path, evil screams emanated from deep amongst the trees, and gloves would mysteriously go missing.

The volunteers tried to appease the vengeful spirit with cake and tea, and explained that the work was to help the meadow not damage it, cutting back the hedge and the trees would help improve habitat for birds and also help the flowers. The spook gave a hollow laugh and possessed a couple of our party to help speed the work along. He also made another one of the group so obsessed with the long handled pruning saw that we had to leave bits of him behind buried by the path.

All in all a typical BCV task.

If you want to see more creepiness go to Hallween Hall of Horrors.

Doffcocker: Island Hideaway

17th October 2021

Doffcocker Lodge was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 1992 and until 2000 it was Bolton’s only LNR. The lodge it self was created in 1874 as mill lodge, although the lodge’s original purpose has long since ended it is now home to dozens of bird species and a range of habitats.

On the northern shore of the main lodge is an island which for many years has been managed for common tern, kingfisher, moor hen, coot and other birds. The problem with the island is that its western tip is eroding due to wave action and also the island’s interior becomes clogged with vegetation. Which is where BCV comes in. Every year for as long as anyone can remember we ferry volunteers over to the island where they hack and slash the vegetation down which is then used to protect the island’s exposed shores.

Erosion control 2012
Erosion control 2012

In 2012 we wrapped the sides of the island in weaved willow stems and stuffed the gap with straw (see above), now the straw has gone we dump everything we cut down behind it instead, providing a buffer to autumn and winter weather. As the willow has a habit of regrowing we harvest it and use it for willow weaving projects with local schools.

So, the birds are happy, the schools are happy, Bolton Council is happy, the island is happy and BCV is happy. Now some nautical photos.

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.