Richard Moulson's talk to the Wivenhoe Society
On Friday 2nd May 2014 we were privileged to listen to a talk by our local Colchester Ranger, Richard Moulson. He enlightened and entertained us with an impressive talk on his work in his designated area of Wivenhoe Woods, Lower Lodge and Ferry Marsh. The introduction to his illustrated talk showed the audience aerial maps of the land around High Woods. He compared a map of the 1970s to one of the 2000s, which produced gasps of amazement/horror from the audience. Were they aware of how housing and retail development had seriously encroached on the surrounding rural area? Thus Richard achieved his aim: that we must value and respect the heritage of our countryside or risk losing it forever. He proceeded to show us through beautiful photographic glimpses of what we could expect to see at this time of year in the woods. This time the graphics came in the form of maps showing the different sections of the woodland. Wivenhoe Woods has a middle section that has been identified as ancient woodland with masses of bluebell, wood anemones, celandine, speedwell and yellow rattle enjoying its status. An ancient ditch and embankment can be seen near the Elm Grove entrance. This was used to stop deer and other animals entering that part of the wood. Control of the woodland is brought about by rotational area coppicing. Losing the overhead canopy of the large trees then allows the growth on the woodland floor and how cutting down the invasive sycamore trees allows other specimens to grow. If the chestnut trees are coppiced, the wood will be used as it was over a hundred years ago for fencing or repairing old buildings using wattle and daub. When the Wivenhoe Woods and the BTCV groups help out they only saw down the smaller trees and remove brush wood. This is either placed in a chipping machine or, if space to remove the debris is limited, the wood has to be burnt. The wood is home to a variety of birds, insects and other fauna. Both owl and bat boxes have been placed on the taller trees left as ‘standards’ to encourage them to nest. The one protected insect is the stag beetle and to promote its existence old wood has been left to decay or special wood piles have been built to allow the beetle to lay its eggs and the larvae feed on the rotting wood. Volunteers both at High Woods and Wivenhoe have dug out and built these sites and Richard showed the evidence by photos of young volunteer rangers at High Woods and slightly older ones in Wivenhoe! The Lower Lodge part of the area is mown, with the grass being left in situ to the side of the field giving valuable accommodation for grass snakes to lay eggs, whilst another area is only strimmed so that the home to a protected species of lizard remains intact. The willow trees near the children’s playground need to be coppiced approximately every six years and the pond at the end of the seepage line beyond the railway line is dredged a little so that no pond life is disturbed. Most of these tasks would be tackled by the volunteers. On the edges of Ferry Marsh invasive blackthorn are cut back to allow clearance of the ditches and in spring/summer thistle and other invasive plants need to be pulled out. About four years ago two ditches were made by a mechanical digger to help assist and manage our protected wild creatures, the water voles. No pictures of these reclusive rodents were available, apart from photos showing reed shoots which had been bitten at an angle and the sight of their very small ‘tic-tac’ style droppings which showed evidence of their existence! Other pictorial evidence shown by Richard included volunteers at work (or in the case of Brian and John at a tea break!) Monthly meetings of the Wivenhoe group include sawing, digging, building, chopping, burning, clearing, raking, strimming, sweeping, pulling (e.g. thistles) and of course socialising over a cup of tea/coffee on the breaks and setting the world to rights! The other group involved are the British Trust of Conservation Volunteers (BTCV). Proving that you are never too old, Stan, an 85-year-old from Chelmsford, helps in our woods. We heard that he has been awarded an MBE for his life’s work in conservation, what a tremendous achievement! Another member was aged 90 when Richard took a photograph. On other occasions different organisations or businesses may volunteer help. Such was the case when Barclays Bank offered financial and manpower support to build a wooden board-walk over our muddy pathway just through the railway tunnel. They also helped Richard build a bird hide, which can be seen across the river opposite the trail at Lower Lodge. Whilst this work is carried on to manage our woodland and marshland, others of a younger age enjoy its use. The Forest School, whereby youngsters climb trees, make swing ropes, collect and draw natural objects, make and use bow and arrows and light fires under adult supervision. This learning in the outdoors surrounded by nature stands many in good stead for future life, possibly involving work with our natural environment. During half-term and summer holiday time the woods are also used to educate children. The Rangers from High Woods arrive for the day to teach children about the flora and fauna (perhaps also their parents!). The one event that Wivenhoe sadly missed was meeting Holly, the beautiful Suffolk Punch. She only worked at High Woods Country Park, pulling out the huge logs. When questioned concerning rubbish or fly tipping in our area, he thought it, fortunately, only to be a slight problem. His main concern was the illegal ‘Green Tipping’ whereby people throw their garden rubbish onto our open land introducing cultivated or invasive plant species. At the conclusion of Richard’s very informative talk, the appreciative large audience went away with food for thought in the knowledge that our heritage of Wivenhoe Woods, Lower Lodge and Ferry Marsh is in the capable hands of our Ranger.
Joan Sawyer, September 2014
Richard Moulson (centre) and some volunteers coppicing blackthorn on Ferry Marsh.