Holidaying in the reed bed

To many the phrase ‘working holiday’ can cause a few blank looks and confused scratching of heads. Surely a holiday is one of the few times in the year when the word working definitely shouldn’t be uttered? Yet once again, we were joined by 14 intrepid volunteers for a week of reed bed conservation in Porth Mear, a secluded valley south of Porthcothan. They would be cutting the reed and burning it to encourage biodiversity and prevent the reed from drying out. They would also be creating butterfly glades at Lundy Bay near Polzeath. National Trust working holidays have been taking place for 45 years across the UK and bookings are up 50 percent so the volunteers who arrived at the Beach Head bunkhouse on the Saturday must have been on to a good thing. After a hearty feed and as decent a night’s sleep as you can get in a dormitory, they woke up raring to go.

Braving the reed bed

Like some Indiana Jones adventure, we were initially faced with a jungle like sea of reeds and no obvious way to get in. But armed with slashers and rakes the volunteers boldly cut a swathe into the reed bed and the week had begun in earnest. After a few days worth of heavy rain, there seemed to be no problems at all with the reed bed drying out but suitably booted, most people managed to stay dry. Some of the reed was cut and then used as a natural carpet to stop the work area becoming a total mud bath. Despite some worthy efforts, it seemed maybe the reed was just too wet to get the fires going but luckily Mike, the Head Ranger had better caveman skills (or maybe more patience) for fire lighting on day two, so the volunteers could start to burn off some of what they had cut. For most of the week, the volunteers seemed to have brought some dry weather with them, which made lunch breaks ten times more enjoyable, sitting on our tarps, watching kestrels hovering above the surrounding scrub!

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Day four was the official rest day, which from the sounds of it mainly involved sampling the local cuisine from nearby Padstow. You can’t come to Cornwall and not have a pasty, that’s the rule apparently.

I have to say, the volunteers put in a massive effort. It’s great to have a bunch of such enthusiastic and willing workers to help carry out the conservation work we do. Many hands definitely make light work and it saves the National Trust so much time and money. As one of the first working holiday leaders in 1967, a Mr Eric Crofts said, ‘In the main, morale was very good, and the attitude towards work was of a very high standard indeed’.

 With the hard work of the week over, the last day was saved for cleaning litter from the beach at Crantock, caterpillar hunts and generally lapping up the best of the weather. The rangers had a great time showing off this stunning patch of Cornwall to so many interesting people and we are really grateful for all the hard work and friendly attitudes. Cheers guys!

To find out more about National Trust working holidays go to:   http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/working-holidays/

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