Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Fun volunteer days learning new skills at Gosling Sike Farm and Eycott Hill with Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Over the past few years I I have had some great days out volunteering with Cumbria Wildlife Trust and I just wanted to show some of the great skills you can learn through volunteering as well as meeting new people.

The most recent one was at Gosling Sike Farm and last year I did a couple of work parties at Eycott Hill. 

On the 10 February I headed out to Gosling Sike Farm for the first time and as there was a few of us in the group who had never been here before, we started the day with Sophie, the Assistant Reserves Manager who gave us a tour of the site. As we went round we took some WD40 and gave some of the new gates a bit of lubrication. It was nice to see locals using the paths for a gentle stroll or a dog walk. Gosling Sike Farm is a small working farm with some rare longhorn cattle still bred by the resident farmer Susan Aglionby, who gifted the land to Cumbria Wildlife Trust. It is a lovely site with some ponds and a small woodland. There are also educational days run for children here, which is great.

After our tour we set to work. It was nice to see some familiar faces from other volunteer work parties and some new ones too! Some of the volunteers went to move a post pictured below, some went to put up new information signs and two went off to fix the new path to prevent further erosion. Meanwhile myself, Angus who is on an apprentice scheme (I think!) and a young lady called Monan originally from Anglessey set out to erect a small fence to prevent the cattle eating a section of reed bed.....

Gosling Sike Farm sign that was moved

Fixing the path at Gosling Sike
I think I have helped to erect maybe 1 or 2 fences in the past, so I'm not that familiar with the process and I can safely say I have never put in a straining post before! We started by laying out the posts where we wanted them to go and then with the post dumper we got them in the ground. Fortunately the ground is nice and soft at the moment so they go in pretty easily, without to much grunting!

Initial stages of the fence
Fence strainer post aligned and ready
We then put a strainer post a little way along the fence line. My task was to chisel out a section of wood on the upright post to put the angled post into. Meanwhile Monan and Angus dug a hole to put a 'large' rock in for the post to butt up against. Once we had this sorted the angled post could then be put in the hole and after a little more chiseling it slot into the upright post. Phew! We also had a roll of barbed wire and after much 'fun' with the wire strainers we got our first section of barbed wire attached. By this stage it was lunch time so we headed off back to the office for some food and a cuppa. Unfortunately for me I couldn't stay for the afternoon as I had to go to my 'real' job! But I am hoping that the rest of the volunteers managed to get the fence finished in the afternoon and it's a good excuse for me to go back and see the finished product.

Me with my fence post - very proud!

Eycott Hill is one of my favourite reserves and it is great news that Cumbria Wildlife Trust have now secured funding to purchase the site and begin their restoration project to return this land to an upland area that is correctly managed with regulated grazing and the restoration of trees and plants. It is a site that is both interesting for its geology and diverse flora and fauna. If you are interested there is more information on Cumbria Wildlife Trust's website, have a look at Eycott Hill. And even better get out there yourself for a visit - it truly is an amazing and tranquil place. 
View of Blencathra from Eycott Hill
Anyway the first work party I attended quite a while ago at Eycott Hill involved doing some dry stone wall repairs. I worked with Sophie on that day and I think we did a fairly good job on repairing a section of wall. However, what I didn't realise how much of a skill it was and it is definitely harder than it looks. I asked Sophie last week when at Gosling Sike if our section of wall was still standing and whilst she said it was she did add that there had been some professional stone wallers out there aswell!

Unfortunately I missed the tree planting at Eycott Hill due to work commitments. However, I did on a work party towards the end of last year when we went back to help the windblown trees and to protect the boxed trees which appeared to be getting nibbled by rodents!

The windblown newly planted trees - Eycott Hill
Volunteers in Action - Repairs to the windblown
Some older trees demonstrating the wind direction
So whilst some volunteers set to work hammering the tree posts back upright the rest of us went off to work out how we could prevent some of the other saplings from damage. It looked like they were being nibbled by rodents. The trees already had wire cages around them to protect them from the cattle but we needed something to protect the trees from the little critters! All we had was some wire cutters and a roll of chicken wire. Improvisation at its best - we cut and folded the wire to make the holes as small as possible and then put these around the saplings.
Tree protection - Eycott Hill
I am not totally sure what rodents are eating the saplings but there were plenty of voles running around. They darted for cover and you could see the holes and mammal runs. Sophie and I decided to call them shrew skirts and together with the rest of the volunteers we wondered if we could patent these... maybe not!!
A Cumbria Wildlife Trust Shrew Skirt
The hardest bit of this job was actually digging a section of mud out around the tree so that the 'skirt' could be set into the mud so that it stayed upright. It was pretty awkward trying to dig whilst leaning over the wire - you needed long arms for that job! After a good few hours of work we stopped for lunch and it was a gorgeous sunny day for a picnic. Great company, great views and a feeling of having earned your lunch!

Getting ready for work again after lunching in the sun
The next job for the afternoon was to weed the juniper trees that had been planted on the hillside. Basically we were clearing the weeds from around them to give them the best chance at growing. It was quite funny seeing all the volunteers on the hillside like ants!
Weeding the juniper - Eycott Hill
And whilst we were weeding I had a chance to have a closer look at some of the local flora at Eycott Hill. I found some lichen which looks like Devil's Matchstick, sphagnum moss and some beautiful bright red scarlet waxcaps.

Devils Matchstick - Eycott Hill
Scarlet Waxcap - Eycott Hill
So overall it was a very successful day with lots of jobs done. Eycott Hill is a beautiful place to visit and has some very interesting geology as well as having a diversity of flora and fauna. I stopped by recently after the snow to have a walk around. It is a great place to get away from it all with stunning views. But you really have to go there to appreciate it.

Stunning Views - Eycott Hill
Eycott Hill in the snow
And to finish...just another note about volunteering - it is a great way to spend time outdoors. You can achieve great things as a team of volunteers and its a great way to meet people and learn more about nature. If you have a spare few hours - give it a go - I would highly recommend it.

As a start point have a look at Cumbria Wildlife Trust What's On page
or RSPB volunteering 

and that is just a start - there are lots of organisations you can volunteer with.

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