Sunday, 27 October 2013

The team regroups: Conservation Team Blog 23 October 2013

It was forecast for rain, and it did. Those of us optimistic – or daft - enough to think it worthwhile going in sat around in the shed, drank coffee and chatted. It was forecast to clear by mid-morning, and it did, but by now the ground was far too wet to rake grass on the steep bank above the Octagon Pond or do any of the other jobs planned. Increasing light encouraged an attempt at photographing falling leaves and the changing colours of autumn. The only other wildlife on display was a mini-crocodile of schoolchildren arriving at the Chapel.

After the rain
Over the summer months, we bloggers worked on the West Wood wildlife survey; others tended allotments in Gibside’s walled garden, mowed grass along The Avenue, around the Chapel and other places, or did useful jobs around the estate. Come Wednesday of the first week in October though, the Conservation Volunteer Team regrouped for a season of toil aimed at improving the wilder bits of Gibside for wildlife.

Building logpiles in the rain

Orange Peel Fungus (Aleuria aurantia)
It rained that day as well. In building the raised walkway from the new car park, trees had been felled or cut back. Logs and brash, piled up to rot down, make an attractive home for fungi, invertebrates, amphibians and small mammals; they, in turn, attract other wildlife. It was hard but satisfyingly constructive work – and, on this occasion, wet.
Autumn arrives on The Avenue
The following week we were back to the never ending task of pulling out saplings of the invasive, non-native Western Hemlock in Snipes Dene. Again, we were rained off. There’s a pattern developing here. And there’s still the grass to rake.
Western Hemlock
Coffee Break before the rain came
Emerging Fly Agaric
Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The volunteering life ... meet Les

growing veg in the walled garden
Les Reay definitely has a claim to being our fittest volunteer after just cycling 2,500 miles around France! Here he explains how his first foray into the world of vegetable growing is progressing, and how volunteering in Gibside's Walled Garden is just one of his many adventures.

When the day finally arrived last November where I could stop working and plan something completely different with my life, I knew it was an opportunity to start on something new. I'd always wanted to get to grips with gardening, and particularly with the small piece of jungle attached to my house. Until fairly recently, I'd worked in Germany for several years teaching English and my garden had been left largely to its own devices. In February this year, I joined the Thursday team in the walled garden to see how the experts do it and under Keith and Tam's guidance, as well as the encouragement of the other volunteers, I've entered a new world.

Les's tasty beetroot chutney
While weeding, planting, watering etc. form a large part of the work, I've also had the pleasure of growing my own vegetables on a small plot I share with some other volunteers. In May this year, I planted onions, beetroot and lettuce and it was a revelation to watch them grow then take them home to eat them! What's more, I recently cooked the onions and beetroot with apples and made 6 jars of tasty chutney, of which I'm very proud. The cooking process wasn't too complicated although my kitchen looked like the scene of a massacre when I'd finished, due to the beetroot.

Les & his bike at Col de Marie Blanque, 2013
The last few months have been about more than just gardening. In June, I set off on another project, to cycle around France. I loaded my bike with a tent, sleeping bag, camping stove and a ton of other stuff then took the train to Plymouth and the ferry to Roscoff in Brittany. Over eight weeks, I cycled along the Atlantic coast to Biarritz then over the Pyrenees to Perpignan. I'll never forget the sensation of cycling up famous mountain passes such as Col de Tourmalet, about 7000 feet up, and seeing the surrounding snow-covered peaks while skylarks sang overhead. My route took me into Spain then north through the Massif Central and along the Loire valley before following the Nantes to Brest canal to get back to the ferry.

After 2,500 miles of cycling and many adventures, I finally got back to the north-east and the first thing I did was to visit Gibside to see what was going on. It was incredible to see the progress that had been made in restoring the walled garden, and a reminder that however spectacular foreign lands can look, we have our own piece of paradise on our doorstep.

Les Reay

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Interlopers & more 18th century planting plates ...

interlopers in the orangery field

One of the best things about working at Gibside is that you never know what might happen on any given day. Saturday proved a case in point, as we arrived at work to find 4 horses happily munching away at the clover in the field in front of the orangery. Fortunately Vicky, one of our rangers, recognised the horses and was able to contact the owners and let them know about their escapees. The horses had managed to get through a gap in the fence, cross over the river, and find their way to that fabled land where the grass (or the clover at least) is greener.
Vicky holding the first "recaptured" horse
The horses were surprisingly easily cajoled away from the clover once their owners arrived with softly scolding voices and a big bucket of corn. The four were put into halters and led through the gate and back into their horse box with the minimum of fuss, and Gibside's Saturday morning returned to normal again.
more 18th century planting plates exposed
Regular visitors may have noticed that we've been doing more digging in the walled garden behind the Community Farm plots. A group of Newcastle University archaeology students have been in to practise their fieldwork skills and help to expose 8 more of our original 18th century planting plates (see this post for more detailed information). Whilst our geophys survey suggested there should be 8 plates, we've only managed to find 4. One of the plates we've found actually has stone slabs missing, which leads us to conjecture that the missing plates had all their slabs removed, possibly for use elsewhere on the estate. After the plates have been recorded and the holes refilled, we plan to replant this edge with apple cordons.
herbaceous border re-vamp plans
With the arrival of October comes the slowing down of the growing season, and our thoughts are already turning to next year. We'd like to give our large herbaceous border a bit of a make-over, as some of the plants are becoming congested and others have really outstayed their welcome. It's an exciting process, mapping the existing plants and deciding what should stay and what will go, before the real fun starts and we can choose what new perennials will replace them. We need to restrict our choice of plants to those that were introduced into the UK before the mid 1800s; this allows us to offer a glimpse into what the border would have looked like in its heyday.
Kniphofia rooperi
This week I leave you with the fizzing bright yellow and orange spikes of the red hot poker, Kniphofia rooperi, just coming into flower in the orangery. It's a garden plant that looks exotic but is quite capable of withstanding our cold winters and putting on a dazzling show when most other perennials are past their best. Its flowers and sword-like leaves look particularly impressive against the brickwork and they should be in full bloom over the next week or two.

This October take the chance to see our 18th century planting plates before they're buried once more, and catch our red hot pokers defying the autumnal chill with their warming glow.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The volunteering life ... meet Maureen

At "70 something and a few", with 10 years at Gibside, Maureen Lawler is one of our longest serving volunteers. She has her own plot with fellow volunteer Sylvia, growing fruit and vegetables, and tends the lovely cut flower bed too!
Maureen deadheading in the cut flower bed

After my husband died, my son suggested that I might want to do some voluntary work, and he thought that Gibside might be a good place to try that. Approximately 10 years ago I started work with a "foot in both camps" selling raffle tickets on Sundays, and at the large music concerts that Gibside used to hold, and working in the Walled Garden on Wednesdays. Selling raffle tickets at the concerts was great fun as there were so many different people to meet, but unfortunately this came to an end, as the concerts stopped, and so did my Sunday bus service!

I continue to work in the Walled Garden on a Wednesday and still really enjoy this. There have been vast changes from the small plots that we started with and hopefully the garden will soon be fully restored.

busy in the veg plot ...
I find the whole experience very enjoyable - especially chatting to the visitors. Everyone is always so interested in what is going on and what flowers and crops we are growing. The work is varied too and no two weeks are the same, although there is always weeding to be done. Where do they all come from? At the moment, I am busy working on the cut flower bed and my own plot; there is harvesting, cutting back and planning for next year to be done.

The gang I work with are great fun, very friendly, helpful and supportive and I would never want to swap them!

I'm not sure how much longer I will be able to contribute bearing in mind that I am now 70 something and a few but my plan is to go on as long as I can.

Maureen Lawler

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Mini Mammals

Mini mammals are a group of mammals that are under recorded across Britain, these include the mice; house mouse, harvest mouse, yellow-necked mouse and wood mouse. The shrews; common shrew, pygmy shrew; water shrew, lesser white-toothed shrew, greater white-toothed shrew and Millet’s shrew. The voles; bank vole, field vole and Orkney & Guernsey vole.

To help increase our knowledge of the distribution of mini mammals The Mammal Society started a national survey to get everyone involved in their local area. As mini mammals had not been surveyed at Gibside before I decided to get the ball rolling and start the annual survey.

Myself, Veronica Carnell (a local mammal expert) and Catherine Robson (one of our volunteers who has recently completed her Master disertation on water shrew populations) chose two sites within the grounds, the quarry site and ladyhaugh meadow. 10 longworth traps where set up in each site in a line 1m apart. Bait and hay were put in each trap and left locked open for 24 hrs so that the mammals got used to them. We used sunflower seeds, pieces of apple and casters for bait. Casters are the next stage in the life cycle of a maggot. They are the chrysalis of a maggot, a shell-like pupae that contains the soon-to-emerge fly.

The following evening we replenished the bait and hay then set the traps to lock when the treadle inside the trap was touched. 7am the following morning we came back to see what we had caught. If the door to the trap was shut we carefully put the trap inside a big plastic bag to open them, this was just to stop the mammal from jumping out and getting hurt. The traps were opened and the contents carefully emptied out into the bag so we could see what we had caught.  

Wood Mouse

Common Shrew
At the quarry site we caught 4 bank voles and 2 wood mice and at ladyhaugh meadow we caught 3 wood mice and a common shrew. This data has been sent to The Mammal Society and will contribute to their national survey to plot the distribution of mini mammals. The data will also contribute to our own site records and as we repeat the survey each year we too will get a better picture of our mini mammals at Gibside.

Bank Vole