We are delighted to welcome this years spring cohort of nature conservation trainees, who arrived at Lower Sharpham Farm at the beginning of this month! Over the upcoming weeks they will be gaining valuable knowledge and skills in nature conservation. They have already been getting stuck in to practical conservation work, attending their first field trip this week to Ogwell (South Devon), where a conservation area has been established. The trainees helped to plant a small orchard and learnt how to lay hedgerows, which provide important habitats for the local wildlife. Here they share their experiences of the day…
“We arrived at Lower Sharpham Farm on the 2nd April as a group of five students from various countries around Europe, ready to embark on a 12 week nature conservation traineeship with nature conservation organisation Ambios Ltd. For the next few months we will be learning more about the practical skills and knowledge in nature conservation, immersing ourselves in a large range of nature conservation activities and gaining experience communicating to a variety of audiences, including adults with learning difficulties.
On the morning of April 5th we drove to Ogwell, a small village southwest of Newton Abbot. A fairly new residence was built in Ogwell a few years ago. Next to the houses, an area was made available for both nature conservation objectives and recreation for the residents. It was a challenge to find the right destination, but after a few times going wrong we found Stuart, one of the Ambios Countryside Rangers, and he was waiting for us to begin our first project.
The area is an important habitat for the greater horseshoe bat, a rare and endangered species, and therefore this plot next to the residence has a dual purpose; to ensure space is left for the bats, whilst providing green space for the residents. Currently, Ambios is working in the small nature area to make it more accessible and attractive to visitors and to restore the original landscape structures and nature values.
When we arrived, our programme was to help plant a small orchard with various fruit trees and create hedgerows. After a short introductory tour of the area we went to work. 8 fruit trees (apples, pears and plums) were planted in roughly three different plateaus along the slope, in a cleared area that was previously overgrown with Bramble (Rubus fruticosus) and Summer lilac (Buddleja davidii). This orchard will be freely accessible to the public; they can pick the so-called low-hanging fruit. In addition, the flowering fruit trees will attract more pollinating insects and thereby enrich the area in biodiversity. The trees are planted in the following steps:
STEP 1: Dig a bulb-shaped hole in the ground. (The ground was full of stones which made it difficult to dig with just a spade, therefore we were taught how to use a digging bar.)
STEP 2: Put a mix of fish meal, blood and bones into the hole
STEP 3: Plant the tree and close the hole with some extra compost (that has come off the roots) and the other ground material.
STEP 4: Knock a thin wooden pole next to the tree into the ground. Make sure it is facing south so that it provides the most protection in the early growing stages.
STEP 5: Enclose the tree using a plastic cylinder (tree guard) and adjust this with tie wraps to the wooden pole to support the tree and protect it from being a roe deer’s lunch. Roe deer and rabbits like young twigs and bark, and can thereby affect the newly planted trees and shrubs.
STEP 6: Finally, give the tree a splash of water.
Following these steps, we planted more than 60 shrubs and trees for making a new hedgerow. In this part of the nature area overgrown pastures are being cleared and restored. The purpose is to provide an area for breeding birds and small rodents (such as dormice). Here the accessibility for humans is not the priority. The planted hedgerows consists of 75 percent thorns (Blackthorn and Hawthorn) and 15 percent other species (Hazel, Dog-rose, etc.)
The place used to be full of bramble so to prevent this plant from dominating the area again, a biodegradable blanket is used to cover the ground, nailed to the earth with biodegradable pegs. Subsequently, two rows of bamboo sticks were put in the ground. Close to each stick we inserted a spear head spade to make a thin gap where the small trees were planted in. We surrounded the tree and bamboo with a spiral tree guard, to protect against herbivory afterwards.
During the whole activity, Holly (Jack’s dog) kept us company, she kindly encouraged us to keep going and throw a ball once in a while.
Some of the group already had some experience with planting trees. However, for everyone it was a new skill planting hedgerows, a typical landscape feature in Great Britain. It was interesting to directly learn this unique management technique in a practical way and to gain a greater understanding of the implementation of management measures. Moreover, it must be said that is was a wonderful day to work outside. We are pleased that we have helped both Stuarts and with that the people and animals that will soon be able to use the new area for nature.”