Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Wednesday 29th February 2012

Today the Landscape Conservation Volunteers set off to spend the day working at Westwood in Ebchester, a National Trust wood managed by the Gibside Estate. Westwood  is about 5 miles south west of Gibside on the bank of the River Derwent.

The River Derwent at Ebchester

Here at Westwood the bank had become overgrown with gorse and our task was to remove the gorse to expose the natural terracing of the bank.

The Team Assemble

Just before commencing our task we were visited by two nosey red kites gliding overhead. A female goosander swam off downstream.


We made steady progress despite the brambles mixed in with the gorse and soon had a large enough pile of prunnings to light a fire (carefully  supervised, of course). As we cleared the gorse we collected a lot of bottles and cans thrown away by careless visitors. These were taken away to be recycled.


Whilst eating lunch, sat by the riverside, we watched a dipper collecting nesting material and bobbing and walking along the edge of the weir.

Lunch by the river.

The finished job.

With the job completed and whilst some of the work party put out the bonfire, Stev and I set off for a walk through the woods. We sought out some Dutch Rush that Phil Younger had told us about. This is a flowerless plant of shady steam sides. It was once imported from Holland to use as pot scourers.

Dutch Rush (Equisetum hyemale)

Dog’s mercury was beginning to flower and we found one clump of lesser celandine near a stream which was just about to flower. There were several clumps of snowdrops near the river, blue tits and great tits were singing in the trees, the weather was mild and the sun shone. Another perfect Wednesday!

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Trip to The Seaside

Wednesday 22nd February 2012
Today the Landscape Conservation Volunteers were heading north to Low Newton, where our task was to help National Trust Coastal Wardens Kevin and Jane clear some gorse bushes from the side of a grass bank.


Driving north from Newcastle through the drizzle, I was apprehensive but I needn’t have worried, after all it was a Wednesday and the weather soon improved.

The "Tin Church" at Newton By The Sea

On arrival we were given a risk assessment talk, and then quickly set about our task.

The bank covered with gorse.

Mary at Work
Why were we clearing the gorse bushes? Well, gorse is a valuable plant for wildlife, providing dense thorny cover ideal for protecting bird nests but it can become dominant and gorse bushes are highly flammable. In fact the bankside where we were working had in previous years been a primrose bank but the gorse has taken over. So some control is necessary.

Hopefully the bank will be returned to a primrose covered bank in the future.

The Bonfire

By lunchtime we had cleared a large area to reveal some stone outcrops and had a well-established bonfire.


A group of us sat at the top of the bank eating our lunch to make the most of the sunshine and John Grundy spotted a hare running across the adjacent field. Skylarks could be seen and heard singing above us; spring must be on its way.
The Aftermath
The Team

We had a wonderful day. To the north we could see the village of Beadnell and some of the Farne Islands, in particular Inner Farne and Longstone, and to the south Dunstanburgh Castle. Isn't the Northumberland coast marvellous?

The view to the north
The view to the south
                                                                                                                                 Phil Coyne

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Spring's on the way

It's been a beautiful day, we even sat outside and ate our lunch in the sunshine.  We've noticed wild garlic starting to grow, frogs on the move and the crocuses and snowdrops are looking colourful and providing early nectar for the bees.

Purple crocuses on the main drive were planted by school children in 2010. 
These crocuses are known as 'Tommies' for short.  It's much easier to say than their full latin name, Tommasinianus!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Mystery blobs appear at Gibside.

 Fungi, jelly mould, horticultural swell gel, frog spawn,rock snot or alien invader?

After finding some blobs of jelly near the Octagon pond today, which on examination turned out to be frog spawn. I decided to try and find out what was happening to our female frogs to cause them to loose their eggs.

I came across some pretty wonderful explanations on the web about slime blobs around the countryside. Here are a few theories.

Jelly raining from the sky, the result of dastardly Chemical agencies carrying out experiments to see what effect it had on local populations.

The wonderfully named ‘Rock snot,’ an invasive jelly which affects rivers, streams and water bodies in Canada and New Zealand.

Star Slime, which appears after meteor showers. I feel I should use the word allegedly at some point soon.

Slime or jelly moulds which appear in grasslands and wooded areas. This is a possible one also where it is found deep down in leaf litter and grass sward or on mosses. This site has some marvelous comments from people around the world.

Swell Gel, which is used in hanging baskets and planted pots to absorb water and help the plants tolerate dry conditions. This is a possible contender for such stuff appearing in pots or on patios. It is often added to bags of compost which you can buy from garden centres.

Regurgitated spawn,

Well, as you can see clearly from the pictures our slimy, jelly blobs are nothing more than frog spawn, after herons or other predators have eaten the female frog, then decided the jelly wasn’t nutritious enough or needed a bit more raspberry flavouring.

After rummaging around in the first blob I found I came across a small black mass of egg nuclei.
Some of the jelly was slightly red, suggesting blood staining and there was a bit of skin attached which was obviously from a frog. (see below) That solves our mystery, partly any way. Why would a predator such as a heron bother to regurgitate the spawn? Too filling possibly.
I have to say the ability to select exactly what you spew from your innards is a real skill.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Half Term Rhodi Mega Bash

Column to Liberty in sunlight

Wednesday 15th February 2012

Well what a contrast to last week, it was 6 degrees C at 9am & 11 degrees C by 3pm. Our day began with the sighting of several red kites in flight over the estate yard.

Today a small group of us set off to start rhodi bashing, only this time it was different! We would be inviting members of the public to join us for a short spell, if they wished. Before anyone arrived we were treated to the sight of a grey heron flying off from the Lily Pond and a sparrowhawk in flight over the Hollow Walk.
Information Board

We were soon inundated with plenty of “volunteers” of all ages. After a brief description of the nature of the task & why we were cutting back the rhododendrons, our “volunteers” were then given a pair of gloves and a set of loppers. They were given safety advice on how to walk whilst carrying the loppers, how to use them and general advice about care whilst walking on rough terrain.
Some eager volunteers

All our helpers quickly entered into the spirit of the task and before long we had several large piles of rhododendron prunnings.

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and we were most grateful to all the participating families for all their help. While walking back to the Pontop shed at the end of a busy day Phil Younger spotted a pair of buzzards gliding over Parkfields – 3 species of raptors seen in one day!

One of the piles of prunnings

Phil Coyne

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Fire Raising Part 2

Wednesday 8th February 2012

It was a pretty chilly -4o Celsius when Mike & I arrived at Gibside this morning. We therefore had no hesitation in volunteering to go back to the West Woods turning circle and burning the branches which had been left last week.

We set off at a brisk pace equipped with a pair of loppers, a bow saw and a pitchfork. On arrival we collected some dried grasses, dried pieces of conifer and small twigs ready to begin our bonfire. We had more success this week and quickly had a good fire going (it’s all in the preparation as Phil Younger would say).
Sun shining on the frozen ground

A good going fire.

By lunchtime we had burnt everything that needed burning. So, after lunch, we looked for some tasks to occupy us whilst the fire was dying down.
Winter sun shines through the Scots Pines

We had been sitting on a large log whilst eating our lunch and noticed that the surrounding area was rather untidy with lots of conifer braches which had been dumped. So we set about clearing the area, smaller branches being added to the remains of the bonfire and larger branches together with other large branches and logs were used to create a log pile in the woods nearby. This will provide a useful habitat for various small mammals or reptiles.

Mike adds another branch to the log pile.
The log pile
Bracket Fungus
A productive day complete, we waited for Phil to arrive with some water to douse the remaining embers, and then headed off for home. The temperature had risen to "balmy" 0o Celsius!
The dying embers

Phil Coyne

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A Bonfire in West Wood

Wednesday 1st February 2012

Today it was a rather chilly 3o Celsius when we arrived at Gibside. There were to be three groups of conservation volunteers today. One group comprising Dave, Lorna, Matthew and Phil Younger set off to cut up two trees which had been felled on Green Close, some of the branches were to be kept to be used as pea canes later in the season.

The second group set off to Snipes Dene where their task was to burn rhododendron prunnings.

The third group consisted of Mike & myself, and our task was to burn the beech and rhododendron prunnings which had been deposited at the turning circle in the West Wood. We soon warmed to our task (or I should say were warmed by our task)!
Mike tending the bonfire

Once we had the fire lit (with a little help from Phil Younger), we had to cut the prunnings into more manageable pieces using loppers and saws. It is important to keep the bonfire to a reasonable size so as not to risk setting fire to any surrounding vegetation.

The Bonfire
Blue Skies over West Wood

After lunch, our task completed, we watched the fire begin to die down and realised how cold it still was.  As we admired our nicely cleared area, we were dismayed to see the arrival of Dave with the first of three truckloads of branches from the trees on Green Close. We arranged the branches into neat piles; they were going to have to wait for another day to be burnt!

Mike looks on with dismay as another
truckload of branches is delivered!
                                                                                                                           Phil Coyne