Sunday, 23 October 2011
The day didn't start too well since the fair weather that had been forecast turned out to be misty and rainy and visibility was definitely limited. However I set out with high hopes, a pair of wellington boots, some waterproof trousers and a packed lunch. Gadr Farm is well hidden in the countryside quite close to Trellech but Sarah's instructions and Sarah's signage ensured it wasn't too difficult to find. Gadr Farm is not large, about 160 acres and is based around sheep, timber and the caring governance of Alan Morgan an inspirational farmer who has put a environmentally sympathetic approach at the heart of his farming philosophy. So after a quick introduction from Alan we gathered up a variety of loppers and garden tools for the day's task. But first a diversion. Now where would you look for newts? Not usually under a rotting old door lying on the ground but that's where Allan had discovered they liked to hide after the breeding season so he and Sarah gently levered up the door to reveal several great crested newts, a common newt and a couple of toads.
The task in hand was managing the overgrowth of reedmace (commonly although not accurately called 'bulrush') in a number of ponds on the farm. Besides being important wildlife habitats these ponds provide an opportunity for the many visitors Alan allows on his farm to go pond dipping and they were also the carrot that Sarah had dangled at us for later in the day. Now there is mud and there is MUD, and I think it is fair to say that we found MUD in abundance in the first pond we tackled. A nice thick red mud that was crying out to be made into pots. Fortunately the pond was quite low in water because of the relatively low rainfall this year, which meant a lot of the reedmace was easily accessible. So we dug out the roots of the reedmace, which bear a strong resemblance to the tentacles of some weird octopus-like creature and which seemed to travel for metres across the pond bottom; we splashed around in the pond edges and we generally got smeared with red mud some of which, I swear, ended up my nose.
After a couple of hours of this activity the pond margins were much clearer and the pond banks were heaped with reedmace ready for composting. Thankfully Sarah called a break for lunch which we took by another pond which still contained water. This pond also allowed us the opportunity to do some of the aforementioned pond dipping. It is testament to the car that Alan takes with his agriculture that the pond was rich in invertebrates like mayfly larvae as well as damsel and dragon fly larvae, beetles and waterboatmen (bugs) and a host of microscopic fauna and flora which we were able to glimpse though a couple of small field microscopes.
After lunch the weather had warmed up and so had the tasks. Whilst some of us lopped back some overgrown willow branches the rest of us tackled more reedmace in a dried-up pond. This work was hardly easier that the morning's task since the bottom of this pond was hard and stony, but with spirit, determination and a few bruises it too was cleared.
As a new volunteer to WVAONB I have to say these activity days are great fun, you meet a host of interesting people, do some good physical activity and visit parts of the countryside you might not visit otherwise and feel that you have put a little back into the community that is so important to maintain.