Last weekend, for the third year in a row, I joined a group of like-minded conservation volunteers for a weekend of practical woodland management on the beautiful Isle of Wight.
Briddlesford woodlands are part of a nature reserve owned by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). I help with hazel dormouse monitoring here during the spring and autumn, leading a group of 3-4 people as part of a much larger group to check the 560 or so dormouse boxes for the presence of these elusive and adorable mammals (my old dormouse trainer tried to ban me from saying ‘adorable’ but it hasn’t worked).
Every January, a group of 30-40 keen volunteers meet up for a weekend of mud, brambles, rain, tea around camp fires, and fajita’s. As well as it being a good social gathering, the weekend is a great chance to learn some new skills and spend some quality time in nature.
There are a number of different groups each with their own task for the weekend. Whether it be coppicing hazel, removing sycamore saplings, clearing woodland rides or felling trees, volunteers can work on various tasks that contribute towards the management of these woodlands.
This year I was part of a group that was clearing a stretch of 200m on either side of the railway line running through the woods. Ivy and bramble were cut to ground level and rakes were used to expose soil under a good layer of leaf litter. The aim of this task was to clear the area for reptile fencing to be installed, as part of PTES’s project looking into designing a successful dormouse bridge.
Dormouse populations are on either side of the railway line and this project aims to see if dormice prefer using an artificial bridge or will travel over ground across the rail tracks. A test run last autumn using camera traps revealed dormice and other mammals, including red squirrel, using the bridge within a matter of days, so it is hoped that a commercial, affordable dormouse bridge design will arise from the project that can be used for mitigation measures within ecological consultancy.
As well as the satisfaction of a job well done, such practical conservation work is a good chance to observe and see interesting bits and pieces, like the wandering trail of a grub eating its way through a bramble leaf or the nationally scarce narrow-leaved lungwort in flower.
And, as ever, there is always time for a catch up.