Going Wild at Dunscar Woods

20th September 2020

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. However, while we were working we noticed that most of the oak was pedunculate oak not sessile, as pedunculate is a low land species we were a bit bemused by its presence.

Pedunculate Oak

Birch

New woodlands such as this are often planted quite densely with new stock, with 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. This is where BCV came in in October 2019 on our Halloween task.

The Woodland Trust are thinning trees, not just to reduce the herd, but to improve the structure of the woodland as part of the management plan for the site. One of the problems of planting lots of trees at once is the lack of age structure, 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 and provide standing deadwood and fallen logs which will benefit a range of bird and invertebrate species improving biodiversity in an area of Bolton with limited tree cover and species mix. Natural regeneration should make the new woodland self sustaining; gaps in the canopy will benefit woodland floor flora.

So, BCV are on the loose again in Dunscar Wood. This task was originally planned for February 2020 but was put back by storm something or other. Along comes Autumn and we had to abandon again for local lockdown, however, we are a group of volunteers doing necessary work on behalf of a charity we got to OK from the Woodland Trust and so could continue with the task at hand.

Prior to the task BCV submitted a full and comprehensive risk assessment and received permission from the Woodland Trust for the task to continue.

So, six socially distance volunteers, behaving responsibly and suitably sanitised, set about removing trees marked up by the Woodland Trust. The felling was done by our chainsaw team and each felled tree was cut up and stacked into habitat piles by one person each. The job went well so thanks to all concerned for doing great work.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Parker

Congratulations to BCV Chairman, co-ordinator, newt wrangler, and hedge jedi, Rick Parker on reaching the age of 70 on 9th September. Richard Parker, not to be confused with the the tiger of the same name in The Life of Pi, although just as impressive, was born at a young age and immediately started to grow to an outlandish height. After graduating with a useful qualification he found work at the NHS where it wasn’t much use to him at all. But, he also joined the fledgling Bolton Conservation Volunteers and in 1986 took over the operation and whipped a disparate team of misfits into a credible force for conservation.

Rick, took BCV to new heights of success winning multiple awards along the way such as, BMBC’s The Golden Elephant Award, Bolton News Green Hero Award (twice), The Cabinet Office’s Points of Light Award, to name a few, and more free meals than anyone has ever seen.

Rick is an acknowledge expert on amphibians and dragonflies and not only has given lectures to the great and learned he has also appeared in full colour on the radio, written stuff for books, and on occasion has hob nobbed with royalty.. or so he says. Rick’s conservation expertise and ability to talk to anyone non-stop has been key to his success at what he does.

Since ‘retiring’ from the depths of the the hospital he has carved out a career as a freelance hedge jedi, and was the first National Hedgelaying Society Accredited hedge layer in Greater Manchester. He also spends time teaching Bolton’s younglings the way of the newt at various schools around the borough… AND continues to co-ordinate BCV activities. That’s 70 years well spent.

Rick’s Rickisms are legendary and we pull his leg and dig his ribs, but BCV is BCV because of Rick and we wouldn’t have Rick any other way. Happy 70th Birthday from everyone, Rick, may the sun always shine on your pond.

Wildfest Through the Looking Glass

Moses Gate, Wildfest Garden tidy up, 30th August 2020

Below is an extract from a document found in a bottle hidden in a rabbit hole near Crompton Lodge, its meaning is still not known.


“I’m late, I’m late,” said Rick
“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Lynn, looking at her watch
.


In Wonderland the five did wait,
For the King to show, he was late.
“The time has come,” the old newt said,
And took a seat, “To speak of many tasks.”
Of strimmers, paths, and shifting brash,
And strawberry beds and masks.

The King of Spades saw his domain,
Was overgrown and wild,
“Off with their heads,” He boldly cried,
And hedge tops fell and piled.
The Ladies Royal, together worked,
To rake up the pieces, a job not shirked.

And dead hedge with fresh brash grew,
The rest became compost new.
The strawberry beds were carefully weeded,
Of wild plants that had slyly seeded.
And Cheshire Cat did with a grin,
Photograph everything.

All was done, they packed away,
The tools they used throughout the day.
The hide was locked with keys a-new,
They had done what they could do.
So, to the pub, the time not yet tea,
To find a bottle that said “Drink Me.”


“A very happy Un-Wildfest, to You”, said Eve.


Wildfest didn’t happen in 2020 thanks to lockdown, but if you want to learn more about what Wildfest could have been, and less about bad poetry, have a read of ‘Wildfest, I think I love you.’

Photos: Colin Mather

Moses (Gate) Hidden in the Reeds

Moses Gate Country Park, Reedbed Management, 23rd August

Phragmites australis, or common reed, reedbeds are a declining habitat, this is a shame as they support over 700 species of invertebrate, at least 6 red listed bird species, 4 reedbed dependent bird species, as well as amphibians, fish and the several mammals. They are hugely important for maintaining water quality and can also provide some degree of flood defence. The pressures created by land drainage, water abstraction and poor management are just a few of the reason why many reedbeds have been lost. If they are lost then we also lose the species that depend on them.

Reed Bunting
Reed Warbler

Many thanks to John Loder for the reed warbler photo.

Samuel Crompton’s old workshop became the promised land of reedbeds thanks to BCV. Over the last couple of decades we have planted reeds at different points around Crompton Lodges. Starting from a few square metres the reeds have expanded and spread to cover a large portion of the top lodge. But it isn’t enough, we want more. We have the space but there’s not enough water, so, what can we do to fix it?

With the permission of Bolton Council, the plan is to alter the flow of a small stream running into the candidate area by digging ditches across the site to re-wet the not-so-wet swamp. We will also need to do some planting, the good thing is that planting new reedbeds is fairly straight forward, read BCV’s own guide by clicking the button below.

Some of our soggy six believe this was the wettest task ever, but I can remember tasks at Blackleach, Cox Green, Wigan Flashes and several Anderton weekends which were at least as bad. Not to mention last year’s Bolton to Darwen walk.

So, what did our mud monkeys do? Around the perimeter of the site there’s a ditch that intercepts water entering the proposed reedbed which isn’t ideal as we want more water not less. The plan was to cut irrigation channels and allow more water to access the reedbed area from the ditch. Using a digger would have been more convenient but volunteers are easier to replace when they get damaged. Well done to all on an impressive piece of digging.

Photos: 23rd August – Tom Bruce/Francis Williams

Where Ousels Dare

Ousel’s Nest Quarry LNR, Chapletown Road, Bolton. 2nd, 9th, and 16th August 2020

First we were 6, then we were 10, then along comes local lockdown and we’re 6 again. Covid came once more with a pocketful of posies but this time we didn’t fall down and our planned work on the Ousel’s Nest meadow continued with 6 safe volunteers.

We have been working at Ousel’s Nest Quarry, part of Jumbles Country Park, since 2014. The site is looked after by Sam Kitchen for the Wildlife Trust and hosts a range of species including damselflies, dragonflies, frogs, toads, yellow rattle, orchids, knapweed, numerous birds but oddly no ring ousels. At one time the meadow was much richer and Sam’s aim is to restore it to its original state.

Yellow Rattle
Yellow Rattle
Hybrid spotted orchid
Orchid
Knapweed

Wildflowers meadows provide important nectar sources for bees, butterflies, hoverflies, and moths but they can become dominated by grasses, reducing the meadow’s diversity. To reduce the prevalence of grasses on this site BCV have used yellow rattle, a hemi-parasitic wildflower that literally drains coarse grass species of nutrient by entwining itself if the grass’s root system, weakening its growth. Over time the grass’ vitality is reduced and wildflowers have more of a fighting chance to recover.

2nd August 2020 involved mowing the meadow and removing the cuttings to reduce nutrient, improving conditions for wildflowers the rarest of which prefer low nutrient soils. The team also collected yellow rattle seeds to re-sow at a later date.

9th August 2020 – Today’s task was mostly raking up the grass cut down by Tom and Clayton the day before. More cutting was done by Dave and Clayton using Tom’s new toy but this time just the balsam. Although there was only 6 of us we managed to clear most of the meadow of mown grass which means less nutrient being returned to the soil.

16 August 2020 – Last time out on this epic task. Today our fearsome six bashed balsam, moved grass and cut up a fallen tree. But what to do with all the bits? The solution was to build a hibernaculum, a hotel for amphibians to hibernate in over the winter. 2000 years ago a Hibernaculum was a winter camp for Roman legionnaires today its a winter palace for frogs and toads. Well done team, the meadow should look great next year.

Photos: 2nd Aug – Caroline Bruce, 9th Aug – Colin Mather, 16th – Gill Whelan
Photo gallery now has download button in top right corner.

Educating Washacre

Washacre Primary School, Westhoughton 19th and 26th June 2020

Washacre Primary School, Westhoughton first developed an outdoor education plot in 1991, it could well have been one of the first built with the help of the Wildlife Trust’s Bolton Wildlife Project. The site was turned from a patch of rough grassland into a meadow and a woodland surrounding a pond.

Like a lot of similar sites there were questions about how to use and manage these resources and the school approached the Bolton Wildlife Project in 1995 for help. What’s happened in the last 25 years we don’t know except at some point a willow dome was built. So, when BCV arrived things were a bit overrun, the pond had filled in and not much could be seen of it’s former greatness.

The first cohort of our intrepid socially distanced six, Tom’s Treehuggers, got to work and cut back the vegetation, gave the willow dome a haircut, and dug out the planters. Tom ordered some heavy machinery from Trucks ‘R’ Us but wasn’t impressed with the size of the diggers when they arrived. Anyway, they got the job done.

UPDATE – 28/07/20
Rick’s Rangers continued the work on the 26th by digging out a bit more of the pond and clearing more the earth from the area around the raised beds, finishing off with a layer of chippings. Finally a belated presentation to Dave of his hedgelaying prize. You can find out what that was about by going to Hedge Wars 2020.

Many thanks to Jackie (Anna’s mum) at Washacre Primary for asking us to work on this site, and well done to everyone for doing a great job. Hopefully there’s more to come.

Photos: 19th June: Jo Nalton, 26th June: Colin Mather

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
Reed Mace
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.

Dactylorhiza species hybridise very easily, this is probably a spotted orchid hybrid.

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.

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 is an invasive species brought to the UK by Victorians as an ornamental flowering plant.

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.

Hedge Wars 2020

Our 2020 Dr John Leather Memorial Hedgelaying Competition was held on 23rd February 2020 and saw us return to Blackleach Country Park, the last time we were here was in 2013. The competition is held in memory or Dr. John Leather, a retired Bolton GP and enthusiastic hedgelayer. Before Dr. John passed away in 2003 he was BCV’s hedge Jedi master, he taught us the ways of the pleach and billhook and how to be at one with the hedge.

The competition is intended to help bring new generations to the noble art of hedge laying. To help achieve this teams are usually made up of a novice and experienced hedgelayer, a master and an apprentice. This year we had 5 teams of 2 fighting it out with the dark side, by the end of the day 2 teams triumphed: the runners up were Steve Durbar and Neil Birtles and the winning team was Dave Moore and Anna Cocker. The teams win possession of the 2nd place prize, a kukri, similar to the one used by Dr. John, and the Fabled Silver Bill Hook of Blackleach for first place. Well done teams and may the pleach be with you.

Wildfest, I Think I Love You

In 2019 Bolton Conservation Volunteers, or BCV to our friends, organised Wildfest, a celebration of nature, wildlife and the work BCV has done over the years. Assisted by the Darcy Lever Gravel Pits Action Group, aka GPAG, the day was a ridiculous success and even had coverage in the Bolton News. Sitting in The Sweet Green Tavern after the day was done we decided that we would do it again and next time it would be even bigger. Planning started almost immediately with ideas on how to improve things and who else we could approach to be involved, as it turned out other groups were already lining up to be part of Wildfest 2019. So, we set the date 25th August 2019 bank holiday weekend, the place Moses Gate Country Park, and set the wild thing moving.

After weeks of rain we were blessed with the hottest August bank holiday on record and more stalls than you can shake a withy at. We had: Jane and Katrina at our welcome tent keeping the visitors moving through; Louise Bentley flying along with swift conservation; the Bolton-Bury Canal Society locked on with the public about their work; Paul and David from the RSPB scoping out the bird hide; Jayne Stott running rings around the dog training; Mike and the GPAG team made a splash with the pond dipping sessions and moth ID; Rick and Colin knocking together hurdles assisted by Barb and Trevor from Bolton Green Umbrella; Jo, Jaxon, Clayton and Floyd the ferret making dens in the woods; Sheena, Gill and Abigail creating flower filled willow crowns; and Caroline and Lynn making popcorn, pancakes and veggie hotdogs. And finally Tom did a great job filling in when people needed a break.

The free event was officially opened by long time BCV supporter Kath Martin, helped by son Phillip. The day’s format followed last year’s with visitors being provided with a map of the site. At each station they visited they got a sticker to put on the map and when the map was full they could claim free food at the food station.Throughout the day we had lots of positive comments from the public, how much they enjoyed it, how much the kids loved it, and what a fantastic job everyone was was doing, comments for which we are very grateful. Raising awareness about Bolton’s natural environment and the groups that care for it is what we aimed for and what we achieved.

Sitting in the Sweet Green Tavern afterwards, exhausted and worn out by the day, we had an idea: lets do it again next year… but bigger. Sadly 2020 brought Covid-19 which put an end to those plans… maybe 2021 will be different.