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.

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.

Going Bananas at Rock Hall

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

Updated 27th July 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

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.

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.

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.

Apocalypse Rhody

13th June 2021, Ravenden Clough, Smithills Hall

We wanted a mission, so they gave us one. Clear the jungle trails of the insidious invader, rhododendron. The Victorians brought rhody across as a bit of exotic colour, their strange love of alien species would be their undoing. Soon it had set up a beachhead and was storming across the our green and pleasant land like a magenta menace. It had to be stopped.

Our platoon set out on its dawn patrol, but Dawn had nothing to do with it so we apologised and carried on to Ravenden Clough. We were horrified at what we found, rhodys to the right of us, rhodys to the left of us, the way ahead was buried under rhody. Captain Francis cried “For Harry.. and maybe William”, and our dirty three-quarter dozen went on the attack.

We forced rhody back a metre at a time, uncovering the paths of glory, but the heat, the smell, the sweat, the ground soaked in sap, it was a nightmare; the horror, the horror. We had to dig a trench to drain away the spoils of war, it all felt like our longest day, but finally it was all quiet on the rhody front. We cleared down to the crossing over the brook and stopped, we didn’t want to go a bridge too far.

The day was ours and it was time for the great escape to the pub lead by the our beer hunter. It all happened, we know because, we were there.