Beating around the bush

The past few months have seen the Boscastle to Morwenstow Ranger team plus volunteers getting stuck in with removing invasive plants.

High in the rankings of our “Most Wanted” list is a plant with a fearsome reputation: Himalayan balsam. Its beautiful pink flowers let it charm its way into being a popular garden species, but things never stay were you put them and it has escaped to the country (not the usual episode you’ll see on BBC One). The many thousands of seeds a single plant produces yearly, plus its liking for setting up shop in areas with a nice river-side view gives it a high potential to spread far and wide. Once a seed has been set, it will then out-compete smaller native plants while its shallow roots contribute to river bank erosion.

At the start of the season, the rangers and our volunteers were on our hands and knees along the Valency Valley near Boscastle, trying to find all the small plants hiding amongst the foliage. Later on, the plants grow into monsters, bursting up and towering above the plants (and people) around them.

We gently pull them out, taking care to make sure the roots come too; otherwise they just keep re-growing. The plants are then either ‘hung out to dry’, leaving it off the ground (otherwise it’ll just re-root and our hard work will be for nothing) or piled up and left to compost.

The pulling season was also a great time to see local wildlife; being among the vegetation allowed us to get up close and personal with various plants, wildflowers, fungi and animals. We’ve seen butterflies, dragonflies, demoiselles, moths, bees, beetles, tiny toads, birds, and even a deer. All in all, the experience as a whole, being out in the countryside experiencing nature is one that was not to be missed.

We’re extremely grateful to our dedicated volunteers who braved all weathers to hunt out and remove great numbers of balsam, clocking in a total of over 400 volunteer hours. We managed to cover a length of over 2.5 miles down the valley, with an area totalling over 30 hectares. As to the number of plants we pulled, that number remains a mystery, but I’m sure everyone who was present will agree with me when I say it was A LOT!

Gareth Juleff

Full Time Volunteer Ranger on behalf of the Boscastle to Morwenstow team.

 

We aren’t called Pat but we do deliver post(s)!

 

If you’ve been to Boscastle over the past fortnight you may have heard what sounded like a gong ringing down from the hills above. No, it’s not the herald of the end of the world but instead the Boscastle to Morwenstow ranger team and our community volunteers bashing in new posts at Forrabury Stitches!

Those of you who have had the opportunity in the past to walk up around Forrabury may have noticed that the existing fence line is falling apart and that the path itself is pretty churned up. The cause of both of these problems is the same: cattle. Over winter, cattle are set loose to graze across the Stitches and, a combination of wet weather and the pesky cows trying to go where they shouldn’t (mainly on the path and beyond it!), has caused the fence line to deteriorate and the path to become a boggy mess.

The Ranger team has then leapt into action prepping to replace around 600 meters of fence. As a Ranger Day was quickly approaching, it was decided to focus on one of the sections in greater need of attention and so, the section was prepped by digging in 8 straining or turning posts, and driving in approximately 50 intermediate posts over a 250m stretch of path. This time however, the posts were placed above the path so as to prevent cattle from getting onto the path in the future.

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Our Ranger Day came on Sunday 24th April and the eight committed individuals diligently cleared scrub back from the path, re-dug sections of path where it had become excessively churned, re-graded steps, drove in posts, began attaching sections of barbed wire to the fence, and started creating squeeze gaps so that walkers can get on and off the path but no cattle can!

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The Rangers then returned earlier this week to finish off putting barbed wire on the section. While the original fence only had the one strand, the new fence line has two in order to deter any curious cattle from getting to the other side, amounting to around 500m of wire put up in this section alone! We also put up another two squeeze gaps, the one soon to have a bracket holding a removable rail so that while we can keep cattle out when we need to, we can also get a mower through on to the path when it needs grass cutting.

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As such our work isn’t done yet, and so we will return to Forrabury to finish off this first section before moving on to the rest of the fence line that needs replacing. Quite a bit of work but ultimately rewarded as you can get some stunning views while sitting down to have your lunch.

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If you’re reading this with a sense of “Oh I wish I had gone along to that Ranger Day!”, do not fret for you’re in luck! The next Ranger Day will be on:

Tuesday 3rd May

Cambeak near Crackington Haven to tackle some erosion problems as well as restoring our footpaths there. If you would like to join us, we will be meeting at the Strangles car park (Grid ref: SX134950) EX23 0LG. The days are from 10am to 4pm although do feel free to leave earlier is necessary. Please bring clothes that you don’t mind getting muddy as well as sturdy footwear, and of course food and drink for the day. Feel free to contact us beforehand on 01288 331372 or jennifer.herbert@nationaltrust.org.uk

Gareth Juleff

On behalf of the Boscastle to Morwenstow Ranger team

 

 

A stone’s throw away…

Over the past few weeks the Boscastle to Morwenstow team have been getting cold feet. No, we’re not getting married, but have instead been wading through the Valency in the middle of Boscastle! Although the weather is still a bit cold to go paddling, we’ve been working hard to fix a section of wall that had been damaged during the storms earlier this year. The wet winter caused a section of the original dry stone wall to collapse, leaving a hole that was both unsightly (particularly to those in the café opposite!) and dangerous (to anyone who may be walking above it).

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The first day saw the team clearing away the rubble and assessing the damage, before walking up and down the river repeatedly in our quest to attempt to recover stone and slate that was originally from the hole, along with others which would hopefully prove useful when it came to start building up again.

In the original section of wall, the method of construction was dry stone walling, which uses no mortar to bind the stones together. In the interest of structure and rigidity, the team used dry jointing, which uses mortar or cement to bind the rear of the stones together, along with a backfilling of aggregate, while leaving the faces exposed. This has the effect of maintaining the aesthetics of wall in keeping without the surroundings, while ensuring that our hard work isn’t in vain and that the wall doesn’t collapse again.

Following installing a strong foundation upon which to build, work went quickly, with stones slotting in left, right, and center. However, things are never straightforward and, before we knew it, disaster struck!

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After a few days of work we returned to find the section of earth that had remained above the hole had collapsed. It was our original intention to try and build up to that section and strengthen it from below and, while fortunate that none of us were working on the wall at the time of the collapse, it illustrates the importance of repairing the wall before any further collapses were to happen.

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After clearing the new rubble, we got back in to the task of repairing the damaged pieces that we had put in before starting to build up again. Each new day saw rapid jumps in the height of our new wall and, before long, our makeshift platform of earth and stone proved too small to allow us to easily get both stone and mortar in position. As such, a platform was brought down in to the river to allow us to more easily reach the last few feet. The end was in sight!

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In starting to finish the wall, the trickiest task was finding stones that fit into the gaps left by others, but weren’t that tall that they’d start poking through the turf once it was placed on top. Nothing worse than going along with a lawnmower and hitting a chunk of stone! In the end, despite being a jigsaw puzzle without an image on a box to work towards, the final stone was placed. All that was left was to backfill the remaining gaps with aggregate and place the turf on top like the icing on a cake.

And with that the wall was done. The hard work which started with the first stone laid on the 18th of February had come to fruition. A new wall had replaced the old, and will hopefully be enjoyed and appreciated in years to come by those who take a stroll down through Boscastle. And, on a more personal note, this was a satisfying conclusion to the first big project this Full Time Volunteer has been involved in since starting at the beginning of February this year.

Gareth Juleff

On behalf of the Boscastle to Morwenstow Ranger team.

 

Sunday Strangles Sweep

This Sunday, the Boscastle to Morwenstow Rangers have organised a beach clean at Strangles and it’s not too late to come along! Join us along with our intrepid volunteers as we work to rid Strangles of litter and debris, allowing visitors to enjoy the site untarnished.

Lunch will be graciously provided by  the Old Rectory, St. Juliet’s, providing all the energy needed to make the beach spotless, however do feel free to bring additional food if you wish. Additionally, please bring plenty of fluids to stay hydrated throughout the day.

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Tools and tuition are provided for this event. For those of you wishing to join us in this outing, you can meet us at Strangles car park (Grid Ref: SX134950) EX23 0LG at 10am Sunday 21st February. Please note that access to the beach is tricky and of course sturdy footwear and clothing that can get muddy is advised.

In the event of any changes or cancellations, we will endeavour to let everyone know, but please feel free to contact us beforehand.

Telephone: 01288 331372

Email: basil.stow@nationaltrust.org.uk

 

7 tree management tasks you may not know we do!

The winter ranger comes in from the cold, fresh faces and clad in chainsaw kit, for now is the season of hot cups of tea and tree management. There are a number of reasons to undertake work at this time of year, ranging from tree health to keeping the public safe, doing work in the quieter times of year. Here are seven tree related tasks we undertake in the colder months of the year that you may not know we do.

 

Checking tree safety

      What goes up must come down, and the same is the true of trees. However when they come down they can pose a serious threat to people and property. Hoping to avoid such calamity the National Trust undertakes tree surveys each year, with particular attention to those that are near paths, roads and houses. Tree safety surveys involve getting close and personal with each tree, looking for signs of rot, movement of the root plates or areas of disease or dieback. We then take appropriate action to remove the threat, from removal of a limb, pollarding or removing the tree. The safety surveyor’s most trusty tool- the stick! Using it to measure the depth of any rot or holes found in the tree. One area we surveyed was at the beautiful Beech Avenue coming out of Boscastle. Thankfully the trees here are all in good shape.

Removal of dangerous tree over path

    Removal of dangerous tree over path.Those trees however that do come down may need to be removed. Over early winter in particular, a combination of heavy rain and high winds brought down a number of trees over the footpaths around the Valency Valley, Boscastle. One in particular straddled the path presenting a problem to any walkers. The ranger team came out and within a few hours it, and three other trees had been cut and safely removed, allowing access along the path once again.

 

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Dizzard survey

    An internationally important site for lichens this rare Atlantic woodland site is known for its stunted trees and wide views. We manage the woodlands in this area to promote the growth of these special lichens by removing an occasional tree (particularly in overcrowded areas) and taking out creeping ivy, allowing for more light to filter down from the canopy. This in turn helps the lichen to grow on the surfaces and promotes a greater biodiversity for the woodlands as it encourages the growth of wildflowers such as primroses, anenomies and campions. Wood piles left over from the work also make a great home for insects and beetles which in turn feed larger animals.
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Cutting down trees in overcrowed areas to open areas of light. The space will quickly regrow in a few years

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Some of the Lichen species that are found in the Dizzard

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Insects such as these long-horned caddisflies (Leptoceridae sp.) appear in the newly created space, starting the food chain for mammals and birds.

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In the spring the areas of light created by the gaps in the canopy allow for woodland flowers to grow up.

Apple pruning

    During the winter we tend to a number apple trees across the property. The aim of pruning is to create a strong healthy tree with an even canopy. To do this we remove around 1/3 of the years new growth to a shoot that is strong and growing in a desirable direction. Any overcrowded, dead, rubbing or diseased wood is removed. Water shoots (straight upright growing shoots) are also removed as these are unproductive, particularly if they are growing into the crown. The centre of the crown is opened to prevent overcrowding and discourages disease. With good pruning the early years, apples should develop into resilient trees with a good harvest.

Coppicing

    The art of coppicing has been important in deciduous woodlands across Europe for centuries with trees grown for commercial use to build houses, boats and more. Coppicing takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump if cut down. It maintains trees at a juvenile stage, with the tree rejuvenating after each cut. Some coppiced trees are thought to be many centuries old. Trees are cut at the base to create a “stool”, the cut branches are then processed using a billhook through a process called “sneding” to produce straight poles and brash. The brash is then piled over the stool in order to protect new growth from grazers such as deer. The stool left will then send strong straight regrowth which makes the wood commercially valuable. Harvested sections are known as coups, creating a mosaic of different aged trees, diverse habitats and increasing biodiversity. Increased light allows wildflower growth and increases insect population including fritillary butterfly species. Brambles grow around stools which provide food and shelter of birds and small mammals. One such small mammal is the dormouse, whom inhabits the hazel woodlands we manage. As the area grows it becomes unfavourable for these species, left for too long they become “over-stood coppice”. So every year the ranger team removes a couple of these coppiced trees in order to keep the woodlands at different ages and the hazel tree forever young.
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Primroses coming up in the spring

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Hazel woodlands just coppiced with log piles left for insect life.

Veteran tree management

    Veteran trees and tree that are good examples of their species, that provide a good ‘high canopy’ habitat and that we manage to be many hundreds of years old. To manage them we remove growth from around the veteran tree to prevent overcrowding and shading out the understorey or ground. Some of the timber will be left in the woods providing shelter and cover for ground nesting birds and great habitat for insects and fungi. It will in time all rot down and return nutrients to the soil under the watch of our veteran trees.
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Removal of a sycamore in order to give the ash room behind it. The standing deadwood in the foreground is left, as it is a great habitat for insects, fungi and plants.

 

Log walkway

    Though not so much tree management, with all that wood work above we have a lot of timber left over. Some is left for habitats, some is removed and some we use on site. Back in Valency Valley, we held a ranger day in order to put down a log walk to combat some of the more muddy sections of the paths. Trees we had previously felled where then cut by volunteers into logs suitable for the path, fitting them closely together. Smaller branches where cut into wooden ‘pegs’, that were hammered at the ends of sections in order to hold the walkways into place.

As winter draws to a close we will be (mostly) putting down the chainsaw for another year and moving into more brushcutting work, and hopefully more sun will be seen. Keep following the blog to find out what spring will bring for the North Cornwall teams.

Tamsin Page, Volunteer Ranger -Boscastle to Morwenstow

 

Bridge Over Troubled Water

A few weeks ago a worried phone call alerted us of a possible broken bridge in Cleave Valley near St Gennys. Rangers headed out to investigate and were shocked to find no bridge at all!

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The mystery was solved several hundred yards downstream where the broken remains of the previous bridge were discovered scattered over the bank. Heavy rainfall and steep sided valleys caused a torrent to wash down the Cleave Valley, taking the bridge with it.

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On the case, the ranger team designed a new bridge to be erected in place of the old one. Materials bought and cut, we loaded the land rover and set off on our intrepid adventure down the hillside.

Some exciting off-road driving got the wood, tools and people down the steep-sided valley intact, ready for construction.

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Legs where put in first and then secured ready for the stringers and treads. 50 treads (okay, so maybe that’s exaggerating a bit) later and the odd bent nail, you could finally cross the river without getting soggy feet.

After a couple of enjoyable days’ working in the beautiful Cleave valley, we were really pleased to have a created a great bridge, which will hopefully be a bit more resilient to Cornwall’s winter storms. Look out for it when walking between St Genny’s and Crackington.

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