Thursday, 17 July 2014

Blood, sweat but no tears at Finchampstead Ridges

Well, summer arrived this month so it was on with the factor 50 and away we went as we had as usual an ample number of tasks listed to get our teeth into. As we got stuck in there was blood (from Laura's finger!), sweat (from all the hard working volunteers) but only tears of happiness from the productivity of the team this month

The big site construction project was the installation of a board walk which connected two existing ones alongside Brooke's Heath to create a continuous boardwalk over what are very muddy sections in the winter.

There was a separate team which were trench digging alongside Wellingtonia Avenue, this was needed because particularly in the winter there is standing water around some of the marvellous Wellingtonia trees and this puts them under stress.

For these activities the installation team were humming 'Under the Boardwalk' and the trench team 'Working on the Chain Gang', helping keep the spirits up in the summer heat !  (The Drifters and Sam Cooke if you are wondering.....)

In addition to this we squeezed in another session of Rhody bashing and as we go now we are collecting the brash and stacking in areas where we will burn in the winter. There was also still a very large Birch tree blocking a path on the Finchampstead Ridges side of the site left over from the storms earlier this year and this was removed to reinstate the original pathway.

We, of course carried out the regular litter picks at Ambarrow, Simons Wood and The Ridges.

Finally, two volunteers manned a NT stand at the Finchampstead Fete on Saturday. Although on a smaller scale than Crowthorne the previous week the upshot was we sold 27 raffle tickets, had 3/4 volunteer enquiries and forwarded 5 membership 'hot leads' to the Runnymede team to action.

All in all another productive month with a lot of positive feedback from members of the public on site and at the Fete.  

By David Kimber, volunteer

Friday, 28 February 2014

Fascinating Finds

Fascinating Finds

In all the news stories about flooding over the past few weeks you will probably have heard of Datchet, Wraysbury and Egham.  You may not be aware that in the middle of that triangle and bisected itself by the River Thames is the Trust’s Runnymede and Ankerwyke property. We know it as the Birthplace of Modern Democracy but it has been renamed as the Bathplace  etc by Jonathan Cousins one of our volunteers as it has been several feet underwater recently, now thankfully pretty much gone.
That stopped our hedgelaying, scrub clearance on the riverside and rest of the myriad of tasks to be done before the bird nesting season but there was one project we could do.
The Air Forces Memorial is dedicated to some 20,456 men and women from the British Empire who were lost in air operations during World War II. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Vernon Hill and opened in 1953 by the Queen.  It is in the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  (CWGC)
The roof of the memorial looks over the River Thames and Runnymede but the views of, and from it, are becoming obscured by Sycamore, Silver Birch and Ash growing in the National Trust owned Coopers Hill Woods below it.
The woodland is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its breeding birds so any work to be done has to comply with the management plan and with the approval of Natural England.  There is also lots of evidence of man’s occupation and use of the slopes over the years.
The Runnymede team helped out by a team from the CWGC based at Brookwood Cemetery ( see photo )and NT staff from Winkworth Arboretum have just spent five days cutting and stacking into habitat piles all the intrusive trees within the terms of the Natural England licence and it didn’t even rain much !
Staff and volunteers from National Trust and CWGC worked in partnership all week

Removing small trees from directly infront of the memorial greatly improved views of it from the A308 at the bottom of the hill

But that’s not the point.  Out in the countryside no two days are the same and the most unprepossessing task or environment brings its own surprise and fascination.  Slipping and sliding around in the mud and avoiding doing an Alice and disappearing down a rabbit hole I came across just two examples.
The Orange Peel Fungus (Aleuria aurantia) is a widespread ascomycete fungus in the order Pezizales. The brilliant orange, cup-shaped ascocarps often resemble orange peels strewn on the ground, giving this species its common name.  Normally fruiting in summer / autumn is this specimen just confused by our mild damp winter ?
Orange Peel Fungus found while carrying out the works in front of the memorial
There’s been lots of picnicking here in the past, indeed broken glass is a known hazard but the green bottle is interesting.  It is embossed R White, bottles of this shape with this stopper can be found in the internet embossed R White & Sons Limited, the name changed in 1894.  So it is likely to be 120 years old, does this count as archaeology ?
Ancient lemonade?!

There we have it just another volunteer day but it’s fascinating what you can find, natural or man made.

Irving Lord, Volunteer

Friday, 17 January 2014

Clearing up after the storms

We all experienced the stormy weather across the South over Christmas and into the New Year and this left us with some clearing up to do! One of the tasks was to remove a large Silver Birch that had fallen across the Centenary Trail. The Centenary Trail is a walk around Simon’s Wood that was completed in October 2012 and if you follow the NT website links you can have a walk around the site from the comfort of your armchair!  Interestingly part of the trail goes along the Devil's Highway which is on the course of the Roman road that went from London to Silchester which was a Roman town located to the South East of Reading.

Severing the trunk (please note this photo was posed for the purpose of this article...all chainsaw work was completed prior to the winch being attached for safety reasons!!)
So back to the Silver Birch tree, Laura took to it with the chainsaw to cut the trunk at the path edge then as you can see from the photos the winch was employed to drag the remaining trunk out of the tree it was hung up in. Once on the ground the path was cleared by logging up the base of the trunk but the remainder of the tree did not need any further work as it now lies in a wooded area. No doubt in the fullness of time it will become home to lots of little insects etc. that will enjoy this fine residence.

Using the winch

So back to the other tasks which were carried out in the month: we re-installed two Omega signs (thanks to the Runnymede team for replacing the timber on one of them) and we also brushcut the perimeter in the car park. Along with the regular litter picks this keeps the area spick and span. We have further ideas to continue to improve the entrance area to Simon’s Wood and we will keep you advised as and when they happen (watch this space). As well as all this we again tackled the brash removal with another bonfire and also had a go at the heathland at the top of the Ridges taking out the invasive Silver Birch and Scots Pine.

Finally a big thank you to all the volunteer team, 8 attended on the first day and we had a stonking 21 in total on the second day which really allowed us to crack on with Laura's list of jobs. Do trust that we all have a drier and brighter next few weeks and that Runnymede can emerge from the floodwater..........

David Kimber

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Finchampstead Ridges and Simon's Wood 2013 Round-up!

Well we started 2013 with bonfires around Heath Pool burning the brash left behind after clearing invasive Rhododendron (R. ponticum) which had blocked the view from Hollybush Ride.......and at the tail end of the year we were again warming up with another bonfire close to where we had cleared the brash and bracken from around our magnificent Wellingtonias. 
Bonfires are built on a burning platform to minimise damage to the ground   
 One of the main objectives for 2013 was to improve the entrance to Simons Wood car park so earlier in the year we replaced the rotted timber markers with freshly cut Scots Pine logs and the local quarry company kindly donated aggregate to repair the car park surface. The brush cutter has done it's work on the car park perimeter and along with our regular litter picks 'the first impression' of Simons Wood has definitely improved.
Dead-hedge in progress

Earlier in the year we were dead hedging and this work continued in December. This protects our lowland heathland which is a priority habitat for conservation. In the UK the south east now holds 20% of total worldwide heathland so you can see why we are so keen to conserve it.

Our main bridge at the end of Heath Pool required some attention to remove a potential trip hazard and then following the high winds tree removal was necessary as a Willow and a Birch had fallen blocking footpaths.

And, finally on Wednesday a couple walking their dog spoke to Laura and enquired as to our activities, Laura explained and they commented that Wellingtonia Avenue looked fantastic and they thought the dead hedge was a great idea and to conclude they were pleased that their membership was contributing to something so worthwhile. To all of us that volunteer it is so encouraging to hear such positive feedback......

So that concludes our efforts at The Ridges and Simons Wood for this year-when you read this we will all be recovering from the festivities so the volunteer team over here in Berkshire would like to wish all of you in the Surrey Landscapes a Happy and peaceful New Year.......
David Kimber (Volunteer)

Friday, 11 October 2013

Autumn at Runnymede, Ankerwycke and Finchampstead Ridges

As the leaves have started to change colour in the woods and the weather has turned blustery, staff, volunteers and wildlife have remained busy at Runnymede, Ankerwycke and Finchampstead Ridges.

One of the highlights of autumn is the array of fungi on display as the new season sets in. Fungi form partnerships with living plants and trees all year round, as well as playing an important role in the decay of dead wood and leaf litter. However, autumn is the time of year when fungi can be appreciated in all their glory as numerous fruiting bodies appear on the woodland floor, the stems of trees, and fallen deadwood throughout the countryside. At Runnymede we wanted to share the wonderful specimens that grow here and a successful guided walk took place on Sunday 29th September when local expert Sarah was joined by 25 adults and children keen to learn more. Many species were noted including the rather creepy Dead Man’s Finger (Xylaria polymorpha), and the Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea), notorious for its role in tree decay. Another walk will be held this Sunday, 13th October which is set to be equally as successful.

Tentatively identified Giant Polypore (Meripilus giganteus), Ankerwycke

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), Simon's Wood
Meanwhile I have had my camera with me, taking snaps (see above and right) while I’ve been out working. Fungi are great to photograph because they don’t run away when you get too close! While I’ve been taking photographs, the volunteers have been working hard getting started on the winter heathland clearance at Simon’s Wood. Lowland heathland is a priority habitat for conservation in the UK and it is important that the silver birch and pine saplings germinating on our heathland sites are controlled so that they don’t suppress the heather and compromise the status of the heathland. This work is done once the summer is over to minimise the disturbances to the wildlife that use the sites, but there is lots to be done so it’s important to get started once autumn has kicked in! Once they have been cut the saplings are removed from the heathland to make sure the soils remain nutrient poor – the conditions required by heather in order for it to flourish.

Cleared of saplings, this area of heathland will be retained for the unique community of heathland plants and animals that depend upon it for survival

So although summer may have said goodbye for another year there is still lots going on. Don’t be put off by the more blustery weather. Autumn is a fantastic time to explore the outdoors. If you don’t want to wander too far off the beaten track you can try our new downloadable trail, launched last week as part of the National Trust annual walking festival. The new trail carefully guides you from Egham station through the woodlands, meadows and reedbeds at Runnymede and safely back to the station again. I took a group on a guided walk following this trail last weekend and it was enjoyed by all, so why not try it for yourself? Follow this link to find more details of the trail:

Laura Summerbell, Seasonal Ranger

Friday, 16 August 2013

Crazy Critters - This summer's bugs and beasts at Runnymede

The last two months have seen some fantastic weather with the sun shining down most days. This has meant that lots of visitors have been out and about enjoying the countryside at our sites, and not just people – lots of wildlife has also been spotted. With visitor numbers up there have been more eyes than normal on the lookout for critters, helping the rangers keep track of what has been taking advantage of our site.

The Wildlife Board
The wildlife board has been updated with some of the species you’re likely to see over the summer months and people have been getting involved and adding their sightings to the board. Some interesting ones include the Loch Ness Monster which was sighted in the Thames (although I think it’s likely this could have been a misidentification, or someone’s having me on!) and a Homo sapiens (aka the lesser spotted human) seen around the Magna Carta Memorial. These are in addition to a wide variety of snails, dragonflies, spiders, butterflies, moths, birds and rabbits that have been spotted in the meadows and in the woods.

Ruby Tiger Moth
Some of the volunteers also took advantage of the good weather and set up a moth trap at Runnymede (moth trapping can’t be done in wet weather) and some beautiful species were caught. These included a Ruby Tiger Moth (Phragmatobia fuliginosa) (see right), a Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina), and three Silver-Y (Autographa gamma) to name a few. Once we had had a good look at all the moths to identify them they were allowed to fly off unharmed back into Runnymede’s wilderness.

In addition, this month saw a successful dragonfly walk, led by Runnymede’s ranger, Gail. Children and adults all had great fun trying to catch larvae in Langham Pond and identifying the dragonflies and damselflies spotted flying along the river and around the pond. It was also a great opportunity for the kids to get started on their ‘50 things’ adventure scrapbooks. ‘50 things’ is an initiative the National Trust is promoting to get young people out and about by challenging them to achieve 50 outdoor activities before they reach the age of 11 ¾ and recording their experiences in their adventure scrapbook. Activities range from hunting for bugs to making a grass trumpet!

Common Blue Damselfly
There’s still plenty of the summer left so enjoy the sunshine and come and see what wildlife you can spot. You can also pick up an adventure scrapbook free from the Estate Office at Runnymede so you can join in with ’50 things’ too! (These are available at other participating properties as well).


Laura Summerbell, 
Seasonal Ranger

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Hunt the Sequoia

Since I started volunteering with the Trust I’ve really learnt to understand the truth behind the old saying “ You can’t see the wood for the trees”.  It is in our deepest woodlands that many of our specimen trees hide - ancient Oak and Beech surrounded by their younger offspring and vigorous undergrowth for example.

You might think, then, that a roadside avenue of Giant Sequoia / Wellingtonia trees would be hard to lose.  These natives of California are in the family which includes some of the biggest known trees and it is believed were first introduced to the UK in Perth and Exeter in 1853.

150 years ago, in 1863,100 of them were planted along what is now the B3348 “Wellingtonia Avenue” in Crowthorne in memory of the Duke Of Wellington, whose estate, Stratfield Saye is a few miles away.

All of them are still standing, now magnificent trees but still babies in the context of their potential 3000 years of life. Sixteen are on the boundary of the National Trust’s Simons Wood and until this week were hidden at eye level by Sycamore, Brambles and Rhododendron.  It was a bit like walking down your average High Street and only seeing the familiar chain store shop fronts until you cross the road and look up to see the original, perhaps Victorian, building in all its glory.

The Finchampstead Ridges volunteer team who meet twice a month were given the job of clearing all the undergrowth over our 350 yard stretch to reveal the sixteen magnificent trees to all who pass by.
Working in pairs to remove the sycamore saplings
We’ve experienced the full range of good old English weather over the last few months (although I don’t think it actually snowed), but finally finished it this week in the hot and sweaty heat!
The Sequioas in all their glory following the clearance of all the undergrowth
The team - still smiling after all the hard work
Finchampstead Ridges has been in the care of the Trust since 1913 and it’s just one small step (who said that ?) that the team has made in the conservation of the property over the past three years.

Whether we volunteer in houses, gardens or countryside there is always more to be done. For the Finchampstead team it’s probably back to heathland and scrub clearance later in the year but for the meantime lets just enjoy the sunshine.

Irving Lord, Volunteer