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.

Going Bananas at Rock Hall

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

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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.


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.

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.

BCV News Snippets

June 2021

2015: Fan Pit Cottage pond building.
2015: Fan Pit Cottage pond building.

Fan Pit Cottages
We had an email from Anne at Fan Pit Cottages, I’ve shortened it slightly but the full version has been sent to Rick.

Just wanted to update you about my little project to attract more wildlife to our area. You might remember laying a hedge and clearing some of the land adjacent to our house at Fan Pit cottages. We were fighting a battle with Japanese Knotweed, which we have almost won!

In 2015 you created a pond for us, which has been very successful, attracting newts and toads almost immediately. Unfortunately this year a pair of mallards have decided to trash it, ripping weed out and feeding on the occupants of the pond, so I have covered it. I would love to create more ponds! We have planted a variety of trees, wild cherry and Rowan, with a few others. Sadly some of our mature trees have been affected by ash die back, so I did quite a lot of research to find trees that were suited to our clay soil and resistant to diseases.

We have a lot of marsh orchids this year and I am slowly adding more wild plants that survive the conditions. We still have hares living near the big pond, at the bottom of the field and deer have been spotted there too. Please pass on our good wishes to Rick and all the volunteers who remember coming to us. I can’t thank you enough for all your help and wish you could come again. Kindest Regards, Anne.

The Old Normal?
Good news, from July BCV will be returning to it original format of having tasks every two weeks. In addition there will be no need to book ahead for a place on task, just turn up on the day. Tasks will be starting a 10:00am until further notice and the meeting point for each task will be noted on task calendar. Transportation is still an issue though, any one needing transport to the site should contact Tom well before the task date so that arrangements can be made. Although it’s a big step towards business as usual, we still need to take care and maintain appropriate safety measures in the interests of protecting our volunteers.

May 2021

Return of the Hipster
Good news, Rick has had his hip operation and is recovering. He dropped in on our Moses Gate reedbed task to say hello, after a chat he carried on to Rock Hall to see how things were going over there with our second team. More details of the task will appear in a post shortly. Hopefully Rick will be back out on task as his usual self soon.

Going Bananas
BCV has joined forces with Banana Enterprises to help restore the grounds of Moses Gate Country Park as part of their Rock Hall restoration project. We have a number of tasks planned throughout the year so keep an eye on the task calendar.

Get Well Soon
Best wishes to Lynn from everyone, we all hope you recover soon and can join us on task when you’re better.

April 2021

We have Returned
Well we’re back at work again with our recent tasks at Firwood, but there have been a few other activities that you might not know about.

Blackleach Hibernaculum
We’ve finally got a digger in to finish the ponds and the hibernaculum. See the Blackleach Hibernaculum post for more info.

John Franklin
The Wildlife trust has created a memorial woodland to John at Seven Acres. See the John Franklin post for words and pictures.

Hip Dude
Rick is scheduled for a second hip replacement (sorry no pictures) in a few weeks, but tasks will continue with guest task leaders taking up the whip. Best wishes to Rick from everyone.

Parting The Waters at Moses Gate

23rd May 2021 – Moses Gate Country Park, Reedbed Management

(Text and photos updated 31st May 2021)

Reedbeds are a disappearing habitat in the UK, there are only 900 sites around the country and only around 50 are greater than 20 hectares. Many reedbeds have been lost to agriculture either through drainage or pollution, and climate change is now posing a threat to coastal sites as sea levels rise. But all is not lost, there has been a resurgence of interest in reedbeds in recent years as sources of biofuel, water treatment, and as an alternative source of compost.

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting

BCV has been planting reedbeds since its early years, and for us it’s about wildlife. Reedbeds can support over 700 species from invertebrates to bittern, many of these species can be found nowhere else and are dependent on reedbeds for their survival. While urban environments don’t make ideal sites for large reedbeds small ones can still be very valuable to birds such as reed warbler and reed bunting.

23rd May – Today’s task was to continue the work started last year when we diverted a stream to re-wet an area to the north of the park, see the Hidden in the Reeds post for more info. Before we can plant any reeds we first need to create an area of open water, this we did by clearing the willow and creating a dam. The line of the dam was marked out by stakes and tree trunks, other trunks were cut into logs and driven down into the mud to create a palisade, gaps were filled in with mud. Once the dam was built we dug a channel to redirect the pooled water to another area. It was a bit of a learning experience and we were making it up as we went along but it turned out to be pretty effective. Additional dams will be needed to further manage water levels, then we can start planting. More info on creating phragmites reedbeds can be found in the download below (click the link to view or button to download), photos of today’s work can be found below that. Today’s task was funded by Bolton Council’s Climate Change Fund.

30th May – A week later we returned to the reedbed. The dam was still working, although the overall water levels has dropped a bit it was still retaining water as planned. The next step was to establish the reedbed itself. After moving some of the previous week’s brash out of the way we tried 2 techniques of reedbed creation. The first was to dig up some of the reed’s rhizomes from another area and plant them in the soft mud behind the dam. This is usually the most successful way of creating a new reedbed. The second technique was to use cuttings which we gathered from an established reedbed and push them into the mud. Although a bit early in the year for trying this it was worth a try, if the weather stays warm it has a good chance of working. More info on reedbed creation can be found in the download further down the page.

So now we wait to see what happens. Well done to everyone involved. The day’s photos have been added to the gallery below.

In another area of Moses Gate another team was working with Banana Enterprises on a different project, more about this will appear in a separate post shortly.