My foot felt wet, very wet. I looked down. My welly had squelched deep into the mud. It had squelched so deep that the muddy, icy cold water was dripping over the top of the boot and was now dribbling down inside it. I looked around. I wasn’t the only one. I could hear the sound of general chit chat mingled with squelches and the occasional ‘oof’ and ‘argh’. I pulled at my stuck foot and, as I launched backwards with a satisfying squelch of freedom, I wondered what had brought me to this point in my life. Why was I standing in a boggy wood on a freezing cold day in the middle of February? Why was I covered in mud? I had sat in it, knelt in it, fallen in it, got splattered with it. I decided that it was, most definitely, my husband’s fault.
It was he who had volunteered me for putting in some hard work for the local Yorkshire branch of Butterfly Conservation http://butterfly-conservation.org/ . I had no excuse. I had a day off with nothing planned and the work was scheduled to take place at Deep Dale on the edge of Dalby Forest. It couldn’t get much closer to Bubble HQ!!
Now, Deep Dale is a favourite of mine. Not only does it have a great array of botanical interest but, on a beautifully sunny day, the butterflies can be an amazing sight. It was hoped that, by completing some simple tasks, butterflies, particularly the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, would increase their range. I thought that a bit of weeding would not only be good for wildlife but also good for me. So, that is how I found myself in the above predicament!
The work party of about ten met up bright and early and were given the outline for the day….
*clear a couple of ponds
*clear a pathway through to the rear ponds that had already been cleared by the Forestry Commission
*create a glade by clearing the ground of saplings and trees to let light in
*generally tidy up.
Getting the work done
‘Nicky, can you clear the side of this pond? All the saplings need getting rid of. Pruners and saws are over there.’
That sounded ok. I chose my pruners and set to work. Before long, it had become addictive. The edge of my pond became clearer. Meanwhile, others were doing an even better job at the other pond. They were actually in it (I certainly wasn’t!), removing weeds and general vegetation clutter.
Before: not my pond
After: not my pond
Ash saplings (my goodness, they do slurp when pulled out of mud!), brambles, fallen branches were all removed. A path started to appear where before it had been impenetrable. As we moved along, saplings became larger and the ground became wetter and wetter, muddier and muddier. I eventually commandeered a saw and what I had thought was going to be a ‘bit of weeding’ turned out to be a full blown felling of small trees. Sawing and dragging trees and branches would beat a gym workout any day of the week!
Creating the glade
Volunteers admiring their tree felling
We didn’t stop much but we did admire the jelly-like Brain Fungus and the deep red, fantastically named Elf Cups, both of which dotted themselves over the fallen branches in the undergrowth. We did, of course, stop to have the odd cuppa! Without that I think I would have plonked myself down in the mud and staged a sit in!
Did I enjoy it? Of course I did. I even returned for the other two days! I’m glad I did. We were rewarded with curry al fresco on the last day!
With the newly cleared ponds, the cleaned-up undergrowth and thinned-out canopy, I could not wait to see how our work looked in the months to come….
Fast forward a few months and the area looked really different. I could still walk along the cleared path and the light was definitely hitting the new glade area. The ponds were still clear and most of all, the butterflies, moths and dragonflies were on the wing.
During the thinning of the glade
The glade in green
A great variety of butterfly species was seen on the return visit. Amongst them was the Common Blue, Small Copper, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Brimstone, Green veined White and, of course, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Moths included Clouded Border, Silver Y, Chimney Sweeper and Red-necked Footman.
I saw lots of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary but not in our glade. However, just as we were leaving the glade past ‘my’ pond, there it was…a small Pearl-bordered Fritillary sitting on a thistle right on the edge of the pond. It was the exact same edge that I had cleared all those months back. I sat and watched the pond edge moving with dragonflies, damselflies, bugs and butterflies and felt a great deal of satisfaction. In fact, it was just nice to sit without being sucked into the mud! I can’t wait for the coming butterfly season and will be back to spend more time at Deep Dale. And, as a final note….if you’re thinking of volunteering, do it. You won’t regret it!