Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Volunteering

There are lots of volunteering opportunities at Wenlock Edge and as a volunteer you could get involved with engagement, practical conservation, wildlife surveying and more. We will be at priory hall in Much Wenlock on Tuesday the 20th January from 5pm till 7:30pm to recruit volunteers and to answer questions about volunteering. So if you want to find out how you can help look after and promote Wenlock Edge then please come along and see how you can get involved.



Thinning and Wenlock Edge - a Summary

Thinning is a means of manipulating the development of woodlands or plantations, either for quality or quantity of trees. Conifers is usually quantity, broadleaves is usually quality. Traditionally the primary aim is to remove a proportion of the growing/competing trees to concentrate the growth of volume (not height) of the remainder.

Thinning may be selective, where the poorest quality trees are cut to free space for better trees, which are usually the biggest and healthiest anyway, and have the best form. The trees taken might be supressed, diseased, twisted, forked, damaged or leaning. Otherwise, thinning may be systematic, where trees are removed according to a plan devised in advance. This is easier and cheaper but has less control of quality. Thinning can also be used to favour different species, provide an income or increase light to the forest floor, increasing biodiversity. Timing of thinning is also important; leaving the crop too open can result in stress, sun scorch and increase the risk of wind damage, uprooting, snapping or breaking. Thinning too late will result in spindly stems and supressed growth, and could result in inappropriate species dominating.

Conventional forestry thinking was always to produce the most profitable crop but recent woodland management priorities may mean that benefits to nature, conservation and recreation have changed thinning policies. At Wenlock, all the managed woodland was acquired pre-planted or in mid rotation, so all the work has been playing the hand that we bought. All Wenlock thinnings are selective and look to create a balance of some veteran trees, log production, cordwood production, natural regeneration, deadwood, open areas and a healthy understorey. A mix of heights and ages is also desirable. Thinning allows for a gradual transition to this end objective, while retaining woodland cover and avoiding the large visual impact of clear felling and replanting.

Thinning policy has generally been to favour native broadleaves and there has been a general presumption against “exotics” and heavy shade bearers (sitka spruce, norway spruce, western red cedar), particularly on ancient woodland sites. Japanese larch, has not been so much of a problem, until the arrival in the UK of Phytophthora Ramorum (fatal disease). At Wenlock some plantation conifers were unsuited to the site or were poorly maintained allowing local seed bank tree species to take over, producing mixed woodland. With the increasing threats to woodland (disease, climate change) maintaining this diversity is one way of “future proofing” Wenlock woods. However, with the new demand for woodfuel, and the unknown impact of ash die back pending, the rationale behind thinning is constantly evolving.

Thinning at Wenlock is very much a balancing act where priorities often carry different weighting depending on the site, the potential and the practicality. The woods have been actively managed for hundreds of years by patrons who believed their prescriptions were the best – now in the twenty first century we know best – don’t we?



By Alistair Heath (Area Ranger at Wenlock Edge)

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Nibbled nuts

Walking through the woods you are very likely to see hazelnuts on the floor, in the leaf litter and at the base of Hazel coppice. Many small mammals rely on hazelnuts to survive and if you look closely you can tell what mammal has eaten it. For example squirrels have strong jaws and can crack the hard outer shell of a hazelnut in half, whereas mice have to nibble a little hole in the shell to get to the kernel inside, as you can see in the picture below. 


When dormice nibble through the shell they use their teeth to scallop a hole and so the edge is very smooth whereas if the edge has lots of scratches on it then it was probably eaten by a wood mouse. Why don't you have a look next time you are at Wenlock and test your mammal detective skills?

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Some helping hands from SSNTV

Me and Al had eleven extra pairs of helpful hands cutting down the small trees and clearing brash on the upper slope in Longville (near Wilderhope) coppice today. This extra help was provided by the SSNTV (Shropshire and Staffordshire National Trust Volunteers) and was very much appreciated. We got a vast area cleared of scrub and small trees and a large amount of brash burnt. We are doing this so that we can access and remove the larger trees easier during thinning works. 


The SSNTV do lots of work at various National Trust properties including Dudmaston and Attingham Park and always impress us with the effort they put in and the good job they do. So thank you to everyone who came along today! 


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Fungi season

After such a long dry summer the rain has finally come and in response we are getting flushes of lots of fungi. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours and make beautiful photographs. Here are just a few that we have found on Wenlock Edge. Try and find some yourselves and take a photo.

A young puff ball

Labrinth fungus

Honey fungus

Birch polypore

Shaggy inkcap

What we have been up to

Visitors from the Valley
At Wenlock we work closely with staff at Carding Mill Valley however it is very rare that they get a chance to come over to Wenlock and many people there don’t know what we get up to. Therefore this month me and Al organised an introductory work day for a small group of CMV staff.


Al led a guided tour around the Edge and talked about the management work we do and the habitats and wildlife we have here. Afterwards there was a practical session which involved cutting felled trees into 3 metre lengths and stacking them in piles ready for the forwarder to take them up the slope to the trackside. We were lucky with the weather, everyone got stuck in and we got a good chunk of work done too. Thank you everyone for helping! 

Full time volunteer Rob and Administrator Nicola stacking logs


Post Refurbishment
Some of the posts at Wenlock have been in place for over 16 years and are starting to show their age.  Where the post meets the soil, rot has got into the wood and it is starting to fall apart. Therefore one by one we have been digging them out and replacing them with nice new posts which should last another 16 years. Most recently we have started work on some posts behind Presthope car park. Replacing a post is a much easier job than digging a whole new hole as much of Wenlock has a thin top soil layer and so very quickly you hit solid rock! 

 The Johns installing the new post

A finished post

Update from the Rangers

The edge looks gorgeous at the moment with a host of autumnal colours and misty mornings; brilliant for budding photographers. From the bird hide you can see the seed vanishing by the second as all the birds try to fatten themselves up ready for the harsh winter ahead.

Views
Wenlock Edge has numerous viewpoints which look out across the beautiful rural Shropshire landscape. To allow visitors to enjoy these views the Rangers and volunteers have been busy cutting back tall Hazel trees which have been obstructing the view. No mean feat by anyone’s standards as we have had to crawl up and down the slope through head height brambles. But it was all worth it!

The Johns cutting the Hazel back

A finished viewpoint

Whilst clearing these viewpoints we found an old dormouse nest in the tall brambles; the pictures show the dead leaves they use to cover the outside and how they tightly weave bark together to make their nest. These nests can often be mistaken for a wood mouse nest however dormice often use green leaves inside their nests whereas wood mice always use dead leaves.




Housekeeping
The volunteers have been sprucing up the future volunteer mess room. We emptied out everything, scrubbed the floors, walls and sink and began painting the walls. There is still quite a lot of work to do in there but it is amazing how much better it looks after some TLC and a lick of paint. When it’s ready it’ll be a place where our volunteers can gather to chat, make a brew, warm up and put their muddy boots after a hard day’s work. 

Before

Keep scrubbing lads!

When sweeping cobwebs off the wooden bench we discovered lots of beautiful moths. These are herald moths which must have been overwintering in there. To protect them from the further disturbance we would cause by cleaning and painting we gently encouraged the moths onto our hands and relocated them into the log pile in another outbuilding so they could hibernate. We must have rescued around 10 of these attractive moths.



Thursday, 23 October 2014

The hazel dormouse

The hazel dormouse is a rare nocturnal mammal which we are lucky enough to have at Wenlock Edge. As their name suggests they rely heavily on Hazel nuts which they eat to fatten up for the winter. This year the Hazel nut crop has been very good which could be the reason why we have found such healthy numbers of dormice on the edge recently. Below is a photo taken this week during a dormouse survey. 


You can find out if dormice are present by looking at nibbled hazelnuts; nuts which have been opened by squirrels will be cracked open whereas wood mice and dormice will nibble a round hole through the shell to get to the kernel inside. Wood mice will leave teeth marks around the surface of the hole but dormice will leave a very smooth finish which is unlike any other animal.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Update on the edge

Hello, my name is Kate and I am the new seasonal Shropshire Hills Assistant ranger which means I do bits of work at both Wenlock Edge and the Long Mynd. I very recently graduated from Harper Adams University with a degree in Countryside Management and have loved being outdoors and looking after our special places since I was 12 years old. Some of you may know me already because part of my university course involved a placement year which I did at the Long Mynd which I thoroughly enjoyed! So anyway back to a very quick update of what we have been doing recently.


Harley bank work
We made use of the road closure on Harley bank recently to manage the woodland and vegetation at the road side. Full time volunteers at Carding Mill Valley, Rob and Charis, came over at short notice to help us and contractors, Jay and Seamus to get the job done. We normally cut it back on an 8 year cycle but with the road being closed for resurfacing we couldn’t miss the opportunity. Some of the trees had sun bows on them and were leaning out across the road so we took those out as well as cutting back coppice regrowth of Hazel, Elm and Ash. It wasn’t easy, over the three and a half days we put around 13 tonnes of vegetation through the chipper and had to fight our way through brambles and dog rose, but it looks great now it’s done and we can forget about it for another 8 years!


Firewood
Three metre cordwood lengths are starting to go out to customers who ordered over the summer to stock up for winter. However we don’t have the capacity to do any split logs. Fire wood sales are important as they contribute to the woodland management costs and it is all sold locally so the delivery has a low carbon footprint. 


Volunteering
Me and Al could really do with a hand with the conservation and engagement work at Wenlock Edge so we are busy working away on some volunteer role profiles. So watch this space for more information and let us know if you would like to become part of the team and get involved with looking after Wenlock Edge. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

My Final Post

After ten years of working at Wenlock Edge and four years of updating this blog the time has come for me to move on to another National Trust property as I have been offered a great role at Lyme Park.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here in the Shropshire hills, working on a wide range of conservation projects and events with wonderful colleagues. Wenlock Edge and the surrounding countryside has been an absolute pleasure to work in and being involved in conserving this special place has been an amazing experience. I have learned a lot and worked with some fantastic people both staff and volunteers and made some great friends, as a family we have also been welcomed into the local community so it is with some sadness that we are moving away.

My new role is at Lyme Park on the edge of the Peak District and it is a very exciting opportunity at a really interesting property with habitats that include, open moorland, medieval deer park, woodland and formal gardens.

Hopefully the blog will continue and maybe with a new author improve and evolve. I am going to sign off simply by adding some photos from the last four years.
 



 
 


 
 
 


Thanks for reading
Chris

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Well done sheep!

Yesterday whilst checking the sheep in the car park on the edge of Much Wenlock I had a proper look at the state of the grassland. This was to see if the work we did to fence it off and graze it is working to improve its condition.

I knew that it ought to have made an improvement and I know that there are fewer nettles and hogweed but I was still stunned as to how well the wildflowers have responded.
There are lots of Pyramidal Orchids in areas where I have not seen them before, there is also Yellow Wort, Yellow Rattle, Fairy Flax and Ladies Bedstraw. There were also plenty of butterflies and bees enjoying the flowers and I am sure many moths at night feeding on the nectar.
Unfortunately there is no public access at the moment due to the sheep still being in the field, they will be removed for a short time though and the gate will be left open to allow public access. In future years we hope to be able to open the gate for most of the flowering season but whilst the sheep are still bringing the more dominant plants under control a longer grazing period is required.
So, well done sheep and keep up the good work!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Wildlife camera

I put the camera trap up in a little visited part of the woods and left it there for about a month to see what wildlife was using the track that I spotted recently whilst doing some fence repairs.
I wasn't surprised to find that there were plenty of Fallow Deer as seen below,

  video
Somewhat surprising was the sheer good fortune of catching footage of this Buzzard which just happened to land in the right place with its meal which looks like a Bank Vole.
video
 

 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Nordic Walking

There will be an introduction to Nordic walking session taking place on Wenlock Edge on Saturday 28th June at 10am. This is something that we have done plenty of times before and it is always popular and many participants have carried on Nordic walking afterwards.

There will be two instructors on hand to teach the basics of this activity that is suitable for people of all levels of fitness. It is a good way of keeping fit, burning more calories than simply walking and it is also a great way of walking well into old age. It can be also be used to re-introduce people to walking after an injury, we have had people before who had recently had both hips replaced.

The cost of the event is just £7 and this includes pole hire and basic tuition as well as a walk along the beautiful Wenlock Edge.

Booking is essential as places are limited either call 07948 072075 or e-mail chris.dunkerley@nationaltrust.org.uk

Sunday, 11 May 2014

May update

There has been lots going on here lately, rangers have busy and so have the birds.

We have moved our Hebridean sheep from a couple of our areas of limestone grassland to allow the flowers a chance to grow. You may have noticed if you have visited that there are still a few sheep in the area adjacent to the car park, this is because it hasn't been grazed for a few years and nettles and hogweed have become well established as well as certain grasses that outcompete the delicate flowers. A small sheep presence will remain for the next few weeks in the hope that they will keep the growth of these unwanted species to a minimum.

Timber has been sold, this has been done in the form of cut and split logs, deliveries of 3 metre lengths to local farms on our timber trailer and on lorries carrying 25 tonnes at a time. The timber is from our annual programme of sustainable woodland thinning work and is our only form of income at Wenlock Edge, it is vital for us to be able to carry on the conservation work that we do here.

Birds are nesting all over the woods with many of them making use of the nest boxes that we have put up over the last 5 years. The boxes are all checked by licenced bird ringers and so far we have found nests of Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Pied Flycatcher. All chicks will have unique rings attached to a leg before it departs the nest so that future movements can be tracked.
The nests are all at different stages with some chicks being ready to ring i.e a few days from fledging whilst other are still having eggs layed in them.
Above is a Pied Flycatcher nest with plenty of room for a few more eggs to be layed yet. They are the only migratory species to nest in our boxes and we didn't even know that they used Wenlock Edge to breed until we started this project.

Sometimes the boxes are used by other creatures, in the past we have found wasps, bees, hornets and woodmice in them, nothing though can beat this
There are now 2 Dormice building their summer nests in our birdboxes, they are quite rare but there is a healthy population on Wenlock Edge. Dormice are arboreal meaning they spend their lives off the ground (apart from when they hibernate). They often build their nests in clumps of bramble or in hedgerows but do use specific Dormouse boxes (they have a hole on the back next to the stem of a tree). Its great to find them making use of empty bird boxes and the records we collect about them will add to our knowledge of the species on the Edge.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Easter Holidays

The Easter holidays well and truly upon us and so is some lovely weather, hopefully it will stay like this for the long bank holiday weekend.
There have been plenty of families making the most of the weather, walking, cycling and playing in the woods. The play trail (on the Lime Kiln walk, starting at the Presthope car park) is proving very popular with young children and the bird hide with plenty of birds visiting the feeders is keeping both adults and children entertained.

There are plenty of migratory species arriving and I have never heard so many Blackcaps, there are also Swallows, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers.

We have been working on all sorts of jobs lately including, checking fences, rounding up and moving sheep, clearing fallen trees, delivering logs, filling feeders and litter picking. There are now 12 Hebridean sheep grazing the grassland in the car park on the edge of Much Wenlock, they will reduce the spread of nettles and hogweed and provide better conditions for the more delicate wildflowers.Whilst checking fences we were treated to some stunning views!



We are on Facebook so if you are planning a visit or have already been it would be great to hear from you, it would also be great to share your photos and sightings with others.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Spring on the edge

There are signs of Spring all over the woods now that the sun has decided to make a few appearances over the last week.
Birds are singing, defending territories and eyeing up those of the opposite sex, families are enjoying spending time in the great outdoors at the weekends and fresh green shoots are punching their way through last years leaf litter.

Its lovely to see and hear children enjoying being active in the woods on the new play trail around Presthope, it can be hard to encourage kids to join their parents on a walk especially with all the modern distractions such as TV and ipads etc. Hopefully these simple additions to the Lime Kiln walk will make it seem less like a walk for younger family members.

Birds are getting through plenty of seed at the bird hide as they prepare for the mating season, hopefully it will be a more productive season than the last two. There are 160 nest boxes all cleaned out and ready for use we and the birds could just do with this mild weather continuing.

There are many plants emerging at the moment including Lords and Ladies, Dogs Mercury and my favourite, Wild Garlic. It carpets the woodland floor with its lovely green leaves and fills the air with its wonderful aroma.

Photo: Wild Garlic is pushing its way through last years fallen leaves, it will soon carpet the woods with its lovely green foliage and distinctive aroma. This photo was taken beneath towering Oak trees in a little visited part of the Edge.

The leaves are used in cooking rather than the bulbs and we pick some for the National Trust tea room at Carding Mill Valley, they make garlic soup with it and this year will also be selling wild garlic pesto. Both of these should be on sale in the next few weeks.

The footpaths and bridleways have dried up really well in the sunshine and there are still plenty of views out to the wider countryside as the trees are still bare so its a great time to visit.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Big News!

Hello Everyone. I'm sad to say that this will be my final update on this blog, as Al is returning to the Edge and I'll be moving onto pastures new. It's been an amazing experience and something I'll never forget. But onto the update...

Big news today: the car park improvements are now complete! The new footpath to the bridleway was opened earlier today, providing easier access for walkers, horse-riders and cyclists onto the bridleway. Seven of our Hebridean sheep have also gone onto the newly fenced off area so they can close-graze the meadow, promoting the growth of wild flowers. The expanded parking area has also been completed, allowing 10-12 cars to park end-on along the semi-circle.

A local horse-rider and dog-walker trying out the new pathway with Chris and volunteer John.

Also now open is the Lime Kiln Walk Natural Play Trail, which has been my pet project for the last three months. Following the excellent help from Chris and volunteers Pete, John and John, the play trail features: an obstacle course, games area, den-building area, wild art area, a see-saw and several balance beams, which you can see in the photos below. The play trail is made up of materials sourced from Wenlock Edge and is tons of fun!


 Obstacle course made of larch logs

 Wild Art Area (the thing on the left is supposed to be a forest crocodile)

 Games Area

See-saw

Apart from those two projects we've also been busy with the day-to-day management of the Edge. Several days of the last fortnight has been spent preparing and delivering firewood loads to our customers. These can either be as lengths transported on the forwarder, or as cut and split logs. The logs are produced using a very ingenious machine where the length is pushed in one side until is hits a stop, which can be adjusted to the desired size. A chainsaw blade is then brought down on an arm, and once cut the log drops into a chute. A hydraulic ram then pushes the log onto a set of axe blades, forcing it to split. The split logs then drop onto a conveyor belt that carries them up to the trailer. Here's a picture of me using it:




Chris, volunteer Pete and I also spent yesterday afternoon picking up litter along the B3471 that runs along the Edge, and as you can see from the photo below we found quite a lot of it! The grand total was five bags of rubbish,  two boxes and two bags of recyclables (plastic bottles, cans and glass), a t-shirt, a spare tyre, a stainless steel fork and a pair of high heels! It would be better if we didn't need to do it, but it is very satisfying once it is all cleaned up.



I'd like to end by saying thank you everyone I have worked with and chatted with during my time on Wenlock Edge, staff, volunteers and members of the public. It's been amazing and I am definitely going to be coming back in the future.

Thank You!

Focus On: 'Major's Leap' Walk

Distance: 5.5km

Duration: 2 hours

Start Point: Much Wenlock NT Car Park

Difficulty: Medium

Description: This walks heads first along Blakeway Hollow, passing several overgrown quarries, which was the old packhorse route from Much Wenlock to Shrewsbury. The track then runs along the steep ridge line between the escarpment and Lea Quarry. Two viewpoints look out towards Caer Caradoc and the Long Mynd, the first of which is "Major's Leap", where Major Thomas Smallman is said to have jumped off on horseback to escape pursuing soldiers during the Civil War. The track then turns back through Blakeway Coppice before returning to Blakeway Hollow.

A map is available on the information board in the Much Wenlock Car Park.

Focus On: 'Jenny Wind' Walk

Distance: 3.5km

Duration: 1.5 hours

Start Point: Much Wenlock NT Car Park

Difficulty: Easy-Medium

Description: This walk heads out from the car park along Blakeway Hollow, passing several overgrown quarries. Turning towards Harley Bank, you can take in a spectacular view of the Edge at Granham's Mount, looking along the edge where on a good day you can see the Long Mynd in the distance. Near the bottom of Harley Bank you will notice the straight, shallow bed of the "Jenny Wind", an old winched tramway used to haul limestone from the quarries at the top to the lime kilns at the bottom. The walk continues back up the hill, past Stoke's Barn and back onto Blakeway Hollow.

A map is available on the information board in the Much Wenlock Car Park.

Focus On: Lime Kiln Walk

Distance: 1km

Duration: 25mins

Start Point: Presthope NT Car Park

Difficulty: Easy

Description: A perfect short walk for all the family, taking in some of the history of the area while having a lot of fun. Look out for sections of the natural play trail as you walk; made of material sourced from Wenlock Edge itself and great for kids of all ages. Check out the restored lime kilns, used to burn limestone for fertilisers, and the old powder house, used for storing the gunpowder and later housing donkeys that worked in the quarry. Learn about the geology of the area while staring up at the rock face in Knowle Quarry. And see how many birds you can see visiting the feeders at our bird hide.

A map is available on the information board in the Presthope Car Park.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Ranger Update Feb 2014

Spring is slowly creeping it's way in on the Edge, despite the VERY wet weather. More and more birds can be heard singing everyday, snowdrops are pushing their way out of the ground and bright new greenery is emerging.


We've been very busy the past couple of weeks, slogging through the mud, managing the Edge. We were fortunate last weekend to have the help of the Shropshire and Staffordshire National Trust Volunteers (and Max the dog). This group were a great help clearing coppice from alongside the railway line, opening up the bank for the growth of wild flowers and other species, as well as letting in more sunshine for visitors to enjoy.

 Working hard to clear the banks.
 Some muddy but happy volunteers at the end of the day.

Also these last couple of weeks I, with the brilliant help of Chris and volunteers Pete, John and John, have been busy installing elements of the natural play trail around the Lime Kiln Walk. So far the mini obstacle course has nearly been finished and several balance beams and a see-saw have been put into place. I hope to have the play trail finished by half term, so please bring along your kids to give it a try!



And finally, just something to take note of: all next week Mark Farmer will be working in the Wenlock car park, creating the new access to the bridleway and more car parking spaces. This means there will be heavy machinery moving around the car park all week and a temporary reduction in parking space. Why not take this opportunity to try a walk from one of our other car parks instead? There are several great routes leading out from the Presthorpe and Wilderhope Manor car parks.

See you all again soon!