Doffcocker: Tern Of The Seasons

Tern Raft Building May 2022

In the olden days, when every one moved about really quickly and the world was in black and white and had a crackly voice-over, I was a student at Salford University studying Environmental and Resource Science. Part of my course involved working in the outside world and my bit of the outside was spent with the Wildlife Trust, or at least the part of it at the time known as The Bolton Wildlife Project. Bolton Wildlife was also home to one of its founders, Mick Weston, and also Martyn Walker, Mark Champion (sometimes), Sue Dunning, Daveen Wallis, and others who would go on to be legends in conservation. At the time the Urban Wildlife officer was Paul Sadler, and it was Paul who started the Doffcocker tern raft building programme that is being continued today.

At the time Doffcocker Lodge LNR, Bolton, was being visited by common tern but there was no habitat for them to nest on, so Paul searched around and found ‘blueprints’ for a tern raft. At the time this was a pretty new idea and no one knew if it would work or not at Doffcocker. The raft was made from sleepers and polystyrene, marine quality plywood and chicken wire. Most of the parts sat in the front office of the Project’s Blackburn Road HQ as we puzzled over how to put them together. The pieces looked like a giant game of Jenga. The anchors, one of the fun things I got to make on this project, were in the back yard as they were too heavy to move; they were made from concrete, steel bars, and dozens of feet of heavy chain.

The 2001 BWP team.
The 2001 BWP team.
The 2022 BCV team.
The 2022 BCV team.

Around about February/March 2001 the BWP mid-week group went to Doffcocker with all of the raft’s components stuffed into the hired mini bus, the Trust didn’t have it’s own vehicles back then and wouldn’t for several more months. Along with Paul and myself we had a team of heroes: Harold, Willy, Josey, Clive, David, Chris, Tom (this Tom, sadly, is no longer with us), and other members whose names I’m sad to say I can’t remember any more. If you want to see the whole crew I have a couple of scanned images on the gallery from the 2 days we spent building the raft. Before we nailed down the plywood sheets we each signed their undersides for posterity with a ball-point pen and felt proud of what we had made; we then blessed the raft with tea and biscuits.

Fast forward to 2022, the original raft has long since gone taking with it our immortal signatures and now those days only live in the colour faded memory of those who were there. But there are new memories to be made and new things to replace the old. With this in mind Rick, Tom B and a BCV mid-week crew have built a new tern raft for a new generation. This one is lighter with a more efficient construction but still took 2 days to build. Some things don’t change. Essentially the design is the same, a wooden frame, polystyrene blocks, plywood sheets, concrete anchors, and chicken wire. Paul T’s photos in the gallery show the process in detail. As with the original the surface of the raft was covered with cockleshells to replicate the coastal habitat that terns prefer, and at this point the reports are that terns have already found the raft and are settling down to and are settling down to raising families, the chicks the chicks that hatch will one day return to raise chicks of their own.

Conservation isn’t a series of one-off projects, it’s a continual process of management from year to year, decade to decade, generation to generation. Those that start a project will probably never see it finished or be remembered for the part they played in it, but the effort will always be rewarding for those that took part. Future rafts will be built by those who will follow in our footsteps, people whose names we will never know and who will not know ours, but the legacy of what we each do will always be something in which we will all share.

Moses Gate: Free Range

Tree Planting 3rd & 17th April 2022

Planting Trees
Planting Trees

Sunday 3rd April
Another Sunday and another two part post because time is too short for all the things I need to get done. So, the first Sunday of April saw BCV working near the area where we planted reedbeds last year. The reeds are coming along really well, however, the public, being the wayward beings that they are, like to wander around places without realising that they are causing damage. In order to encourage people to not stray from the path we planted a double line of young hawthorns along all points of access, and then built a linear habitat pile in front of the hawthorns to protect them. Guards guarding guards if you like.

Just around the corner there was a nice open area suitable for a new woodland, but it’s also an area used by scramble bikes. Finding safe places in the tyre scarred ground to plant new trees made the job a bit more of a challenge that it should have been, but anyway we got the job done. Hopefully the trees will reach maturity after the bikers do.

Easter Ferret
Easter Ferret

Sunday 17th April
Easter Sunday and task day together again. This task was more tree planting but this time in an area around Nob End, not far from the place where James Mason ran down the cobbles in Spring and Port Wine.

In previous weeks Tom had planted some fruit trees so the first part of the day was spent clearing away bramble to give the trees a good start. Then, on the other side of the Bolton-Bury canal, off the beaten track, we planted loads more trees. It was a hot day and there was a very real risk that the trees’ roots would dry out before we got them in the ground, this is probably the last tree plant we’ll do until later in the year when conditions will be more suitable.

Finally, Easter wouldn’t be Easter without the Great BCV Egg Hunt. Jane hid 24 eggs containing choccy goodies in the scrub and bracken for anyone to find. One of the eggs contained a special golden star which would win the finder a full sized Easter egg: Willy Wonka eat out your smooth creamy heart. The bunny-eared volunteers hared away to find them, burrowing egg-citedly to find the hidden treasures. It didn’t take long, although three were so well hidden they were never found. Maybe future egg-splorers will one day find them and wonder at these ancient relics of a time long forgotten. Or maybe a pigeon will sit on one and try to hatch it. James found the special egg and was declared egg-cellent. Well done all for a great task.

These tasks were funded and carried out on be-half of Banana Enterprises.

BCV News Snippets

April 2022

Community Hero 2022

Congratulations to Rick on winning the Bolton News Community Heroes award’s environment category. This is not the first award Rick has won, over the years he has been awarded Bolton Council’s Golden Elephant Award, Bolton News Green Hero Award, and The Cabinet Office’s Points of Light Award. Find out more at Community Heroes 2022.

End of an Era

A bit of sad news, Andy Grundy is retiring from Bolton Council’s Woodland Section after 27 years. Andy has been BCV staunch supporter over the years and has given us many memorable task sites over the years. Andy, thank you so much for all of the support you’ve given us, and thank you for your letter below. Enjoy your retirement, and we hope that you will visit us on task some day.

Hi Rick,

As you may already know, I shall be leaving my post at Bolton Council on the 1st April 2022. After 27 years of tree and woodland planting and latterly designating Local Nature Reserves and providing guidance and encouragement to those interested in wildlife. It is time for me to hang up my boots.

It has been a pleasure knowing and working with you and BCV and it will be this aspect which I will miss the most. I have learnt a lot from our meetings over the years and appreciate all the good work BCV have done over the years. It is good to know you are still passing on the knowledge and enthusiasm to the younger generations and potential BCV member of the future. I hope that together with the other voluntary groups around Bolton, you will continue to protect and improve the various wildlife sites to which you are all so committed.

At present, it seems unlikely that I will be replaced by a similar postholder but there are many changes happening in the near future, so who knows what that may bring. These changes will hopefully bring with them opportunities and I would urge you to be ready to take advantage of these when they arise. It will be useful to keep in touch through the Bolton Forum for Greenspaces (BFG) so you can share and support each other and take full advantage of potential opportunities.

May I now offer you best wishes for the future and hope you continue all your great work for wildlife and the environment. Make your work tasks enjoyable as it is important it does not become a chore and remember to take pleasure in the results of your improvements and wildlife in general.

Andy Grundy
Neighbourhood Services

January 2022

Our hybrid indoor meetings continue to run successfully, here are a few items that deserve a mention:

Thank you to Dorothy and Paul Rigby for their recent donation made in loving memory of their friend Ruth Heard. The money will be put to good use. Also thanks to Barb and Trevor Hackett, and Richard Smythe for their respective donations which are very much appreciated.

Andrew’s re-wilding project is moving forward with support from the Wildlife Trust.

Well done to Joe on his new job with the Woodland Trust.

Finally many thanks to Yogi and the Nam Ploy restaurant for the excellent meal and appreciated support.

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.

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.

Longsight Park: Mad Frogs and Volunteers

Pond Maintenance Sunday 20th March 2022

Spring time, for amphibians and BCV, means it’s time to look at ponds. This particular pond in Longsight Park, Harwood, was at first inspection thought to be in poor shape: it is surrounded by trees and very well shaded, leaf litter was silting up the pond, and yellow flag iris was spreading out from a patch at the north end. But when we started setting up on this the first warm and sunny task this year we found a decent sized clump of frog spawn, later we also found three large and sheepish looking common frogs who may have had something to do with it. We were happy for all concerned.

ut some of the trees but mostly at the other end of the pond, this will improve things but Ideally de-shading needs to be done at the southern end of the pond that is being shaded out. More sunlight reaching the pond will fuel primary production and let oxygenating aquatic plants to do their work, also frogs and their spawn tend to be happier and develop better in warmer water than they do in the cold and dark.

And the frog looked on.
And the frog looked on.

So, this is where we started work. We took down overhanging branches with either the long named and laboriously long-handled pruning saw, or zipped through them with the energetic long-handled chainsaw, or chainsaw on a stick as it is affectionately known. The results were the same, the branches fell into water and splashed anyone standing too close.

With some of the branches and smaller trees now out of the way we could start dragging stuff out of the water. Three intrepid volunteers braved the silliness of wearing waders and walked hip-deep into the pond. As well as pulling out the dead wood they also used rakes to dredge some of the leaf litter from the murky depths. Leaves falling into ponds do two things, they eventually silt up the pond turning it from a open water into a bog, and secondly they also use up the available oxygen as they decompose. Instead of a thriving pond you end up with a stagnant pool which is no use to anything except things that can live in oxygen poor conditions.

With more light and less sludge our pond was looking a lot better, but there’s still lots we can do to make it a froggy heaven. More plants will be added at a later date, maybe some water fleas as well to nibble their way through the algae. In turn these will be eaten themselves by other pond life that will eventually make this place their home. Circle of life.

All of the trees and branches that were cut down were used to make dead hedges, or linear habitat piles if you want to be PC, near by. In time these may be used as hibernacula for sleepy toads and newts, that is if they can bothered to find the pond in the first place.

Following on from one of the on task conversations that make us such a merry band, blue skies are caused by short wave light being scattered at right angles by atmospheric gases, chiefly nitrogen AND oxygen. Blue light being at the short end of the spectrum is scattered more readily by gas particles because of the gas particle size in comparison to the light’s wavelength (if I’ve read this right.) This is called Rayleigh Scattering after the clever bloke who worked it out; scattering by larger particulate matter is Mie Scattering, in honour of another clever bloke, and can be seen when the observer looks at light closer coming more directly from the Sun. Because of these scientific phenomenon we enjoyed our first blue sky in months and a nice sunset later on bringing to an end a really good task day.

Rock Hall: The Apple of Our Eye

Rock Hall, Moses Gate Country Park, 6th March 2022

Bit of a short one this one. We were last here in September 2021, seems like an age ago now, and we were rescuing an innocent young orchard from the evil clutches of wicked old bramble, see here if you don’t remember.

The job was continued, and largely finished, by the Wildlife Trust and the Rock Hall volunteers so today we were just finishing off by cutting back over hanging branches from the surrounding trees, digging up the bramble roots so that the dreaded menace will never return again, building a dead hedge barrier around the orchard, and planting a few new fruit trees. One of these trees was descended from the cheeky beast that allegedly dropped an apple on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, inspiring him to both write up his theory of gravity, and also to not to eat his lunch underneath trees ever again.

Thanks to all involved.

Disclaimer: no fruits were bruised, or scientific discoveries made, during the course of this task. Any similarities between this and other tasks are co-incidental, and gravity will continue to work whether you believe in it or not.

Walker Fold & Dunscar: A Tale of Two Woods

February 13th and 20th 2022

It was the wettest of times; it was the wildest of times. Walker Fold Wood is part of the Woodland Trust’s Smithills Estate, and also part of the newly planted and expanding Northern Forest; Dunscar Wood is a Millennium woodland planted 20 years ago and growing towards maturity. I’ve combined the two tasks together because they tell a story of woodland management from new plantings to first thinnings, and also because I’m lazy and don’t want to write two posts covering largely the same subject.

So, Walker Fold. Walker Fold is an existing woodland consisting mostly of conifers, which doesn’t interest us very much because coniferous plantations have very little wild life value. The land nearby, however, has recently been planted with thousands of broadleaf saplings which are much more interesting and will provide plenty of habitat for wild animals, help with flood prevention, and help with soaking up carbon…. somewhat.

Our section grass was on a hillside near the corner of Walker Fold Road leading up to Colliers Row. On the day of planting heavy rain had made the area extremely wet, so wet that every time we dug a tree pit it would instantly fill will with water, this isn’t good, but there were a few less saturated spots that we manage to plant in. We planted spindle, way-faring tree, crab apple, and hawthorn the first three are less well known and don’t usually make it on to the top ten list of things we usually plant so well done to Roberta at the WT for doing something different. How many will survive is another matter.

This brings us to an interesting point about tree planting. In recent years large companies have bigged up their green credentials by paying for trees to be planted in order to offset their carbon footprint. Claims such as ‘We have planted 100,000 trees,’ sound really good, but if you plant 100,000 trees not all will make it to maturity. At one time a 10% survival rate was considered normal. Soil conditions, frost, disease, grazing by deer, root nibbling by shrews, and even the types of trees planted on a given site can contribute towards tree survival. Changes in planting methodologies, such as using tree shelters, have improved trees’ survival rates. Some studies indicate 30-40% of trees don’t survive to their 5th year, but this is complicated by which mix of trees are planted with some trees being more prone to failure than others. But there is another part of the woodland creation process that also accounts tree loss.

At Dunscar Wood the trees that were planted 20 years ago are now sturdy young trees with a bright future, but there’s just too many of them. The strategy of saturating and area with trees 2 metres apart is sound and sensible ensuring that you get the highest uptake possible, but 2 metres is not much room for a growing tree so thinning has to take place to cull the herd. Trees are preferably selected to remove any that are diseased or stunted, but sometimes healthy trees have to be felled just to make room for the survivors. There are some very complex formulas for selecting trees to take out, most are aimed at commercial forestry and maximising the revenue from a timber crop. Generally the first thinnings will remove 10% with more being removed with each round of thinning. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that between planting and maturity an area could lose 50% of its trees. Thinning is what we were doing at Dunscar Wood on a wet and windy Sunday. Taking down healthy trees can be really disheartening but you have to look at the bigger picture which is the long term sustainability of a woodland.

Trees take up carbon but only hold it out of the carbon cycle until the fall over and decompose, many climate scientists have pointed out that the value of tree planting for carbon capture has been overstated and the best way to reduce atmospheric carbon is not to put it there in the first place. The short version is don’t always believe the green hype made by billionaires.

However, planting trees will always be otherwise a good thing and trees have other important functions which make tree planting important: they provide habitat for wild life and consequently improve biodiversity, they hold soil in place with networks of root systems which help lessen the severity of flood events, and the also give conservationists something to do. So, planting trees is a far better thing to do to the landscape than has ever been done before, and it will be a far better future we will have than the one we have left behind. (Apologies to Charlie D for mangling his prose.. and his name.)

Many thanks to the Woodland Trust for letting us work on their two sites.