Sunday, 24 November 2013

The volunteering life ... meet Geoff & Charmian

the green-fingered Charmian
 This week husband and wife team, Geoff and Charmian -- one the unsung hero of Gibside's wooden edging and the other a welcome green-fingered addition to the team -- tell us a bit about themselves, their work at Gibside, and their other interests too.

In March 2012, I started as a garden volunteer, initially just a half day as I was still working as an Associate in a landscape architectural practice in Newcastle. Hence the related interest in ‘all things green’! I quickly settled in, thanks to the other friendly volunteers and staff. One year on, my husband Geoff, a retired civil engineer with interests in ‘all things structural’ joined the gang.

Living nearby, we have had an interest in Gibside from the early days of the National Trust involvement, when the Estate available to the general public was much smaller. Now there are so many different experiences to be had - the Skyline walk in particular gave we gardeners delightful walks in wintertime when weeding wasn’t on the agenda! Great views from the tops, apart from the newly installed wind turbines at Kiln Pit Hill that are a jarring note viewed from there and elsewhere on the estate where carefully cleared vegetation and seats offer rest to our visitors and a chance to view the Derwent Valley. I wonder if the effect of the turbines on the historical setting of our Listed Buildings got a mention in the Environmental Impact Assessment!
king of the wooden edge, Geoff

A typical day involves instructions from Keith or Tam, then ‘High Ho High Ho, it’s off to work we go’ in our rosy NT tops, chatting to visitors as we work! Me to the ‘softer’ gardening chores while Geoff prefers the tougher stuff so has been wielding a pick and mel in the heat of summer, edging planting beds and part of the road system, anchoring  the corners of the new apple tree stations, his eye for ‘all things straight’ put to the test.

We both enjoy a nice cuppa and something delicious from the Potting Shed café once we are done, such an improved ambience ... and just the occasional passing wedding guest teetering along in impossibly high heels!

As for other stuff, we both manage Ebchester Community Association and Geoff is heavily involved with several local organisations including a group which has been set up to restore or replace Ebchester Boathouse (an NT property) and encourage further recreational use of the River Derwent.

I have sung in choirs for over 40 years and am Chairman of Newcastle Choral Society; I love Pilates, take care of gardens and grandchildren, socialise, (garden visits always a passion) and oh, maybe the occasional bit of dusting! 

Charmian & Geoff Marshall

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ranger Phil's Nature Diary - Waxcaps, Acorns & a Deadly Parasite

I recently took an early morning stroll along the Avenue in search of a rare species of fungi usually found here at this time of the year. The species in question is Clavaria zollingeri or Violet Coral and as the name suggests it grows in a branching manner rather like a marine coral in a vivid shade of violet. I had searched for this a couple of times in vain but on this occasion was fortunate to find a single specimen partly hidden by a covering of fallen leaves. The unimproved grassland of the Aenue is the typical habitat of this species and also of other species including the waxcaps, a particularly colourful family, many of which occur in intense shades of red, orange, yellow and pink. I came across a number of different species including the Parrot Waxcap, a variable species , occurring in most of the colours already mentioned and even a bright green making it rather difficult to locate amongst the grass.

Violet Coral; Clavaria zollingeri

Parrot Waxcap;  Hygrocybe psittacina

Scarlet Waxcap; Hygrocybe coccinea

Blackening Waxcap; Hygrocybe conica

Most of the trees lining the Avenue are oaks and at this time of year the ground beneath them is strewn with thousands of acorns which provide a plentiful bounty for a variety of wildlife.  Birds such as the brightly coloured Jay take advantage of such a feast and they will also spend many hours caching the surplus in case of leaner times ahead in the winter months.  Squirrels are also regular visitors and like the Jays they also spend much time 'hiding' the surplus.  Although we still have Red Squirrels here and in the past I used to see them on the Avenue, sadly I only ever see greys these days.  Roe deer also eat acorns and on this particular morning a family of three were present which amused me for a while muncing on them with small pieces spitting and falling from the sides of their mouths.

Family of Roe Deer feeding on Avenue bank

There is another uncommon species of fungi I usually look for here at this time of the year.  Called Cordyceps militaris or Scarlet catterpillarclub, this is another grassland species which I have usually found in areas arond the Chapel.  It grows as a tiny finger-like spindle, up to about five centimetres tall in a bright shade of orange-red. It is however the life cycle of this fungi which is fascinating if not a little macabre.  It is a parasitic species which attacks and grows within it's hosts body, an underground living catterpillar, eventually killing it before growing and sending up above ground a new fruiting body.  Being so small these can be difficult to locate especially amongst fallen leaves but with a little patience I managed to find several of them.

Scarlet Catterpillarclub; Cordyceps militaris

Fruitbody emerging from pupa

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Redcoat Army

Wednesday 30th October 2013

Normal service is resumed(no rain)! A lovely autumnal morning, only 6oC, but at least the sun was shining.

After the presentation of a 5 year service award to Mike, 13 conservation team members headed out to The Lily Pond.  The vista up from the pond towards the Column to Liberty had already been strimmed (yippee! No noise) and our task was to rake up the grass cuttings then add them to wildlife habitat piles in the woods.

Butlins? No, it's the Conservation Team at work.

Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)

With such a large team of workers the task was completed by lunchtime, so it was back to base for lunch in the Walled Garden.

Task almost complete

On the Hunt for Field Voles

It was a lovely sunny Autumnal afternoon with the threat of rain as Catherine, Veronica and myself set out to see if we could find signs that field voles resided at Gibside. We had carried out some mini mammal trapping in September but field voles are obviously a bit more savvy and seem to be able to avoid the traps. So the way that we survey for them is to look for the signs that they leave behind.

Similarly to when we set the traps for our first survey, you choose a 100m long section of the mammals favorite habitat. In this case field voles love lots of long, uncut grass that you might find on road-side verges, woodland rides, field edges or along fence-lines or walls. Then at every 10m point of your 100m line you search for 10 minutes within a 1m squared area for signs of the voles. 

As you begin to part the thick grass the first sign that you may see are the little runs that are created as the voles make their way amongst the grass looking for food.

Then as you look closer you'll see little piles of grass where they have chewed the lush, green shoots of grass and left the leafy tops. If you look closely at the ends of these bits of grass you can see the jagged edges where they have been nibbled.

Sometimes you just find one or two bits of grass and other times you might find a whole pile of them.

The third sign that you are looking for are their latrines. These are prominent areas where they deposit their faeces. Not the nicest thing to be looking for but with all wildlife it is a definite sign that they are around even if you don't see them.

The forth sign that you are looking for are their nests, these are made of woven grass and generally can be found in dense vegetation at ground level. We didn't find any nests on this occasion but as Veronica explained they only use nests during the breeding season in the summer then abandon them, so by the time it comes to the survey the nests could be flattenned and misshapen and no longer look like a nest so they are very hard to spot.

For my first attempt at searching for signs of field vole I was very pleased with the result. We searched along two 100m long sites at Gibside and found signs of field vole at both. This data will be added to The Mammal Societies national database as well as contributing to Gibsides records. I hope we are as successful next year.

Eventhough we didn't spot one, this is what a field vole looks like.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The volunteering life ... meet Barbara

Barbara picking apples
for the tea room
Enthusiastic amateur gardener Barbara Hale has just got her own tiny plot in the Walled Garden this year and has been filling it with wallflowers and bulbs (it should look lovely next Spring!) Here she tells us a little bit about herself and what she gets up to on her Wednesdays at Gibside.

I have been retired since 2003, and have been a volunteer at Gibside for 2 years. I have been a library assistant, a primary school teacher, and a receptionist. Since retiring, I love having more time to enjoy the theatre, music and reading. I have recently started watercolour painting and joined a choir. I'm an enthusiastic amateur gardener and love being outdoors, which is one of the reasons I wanted to work at Gibside in the walled garden.

I chose Gibside partly because I used to live in the area and feel at home here. I find the company of other volunteers very pleasant and there is always something new to see and do. Gibside is constantly evolving. I also learn a lot from the Gardener in Charge and his team, and it's good to catch up with the garden and estate news too!
Harvesting edible flowers ...

I work every Wednesday and a typical day may involve sweeping out and watering the greenhouse and coldframes if needed, cutting produce for the tea room and keeping the cut flower plot presentable. Other jobs are listed for the day in the Garden Hub.

The walled garden has undergone many changes recently, with more still to come. It's good to be a part of this, however small my contribution.

Barbara Hale