March Musings

The last month has continued to see much activity in Pondhead as we near the end of our autumn/winter programme before the start of spring. While the meteorologists would have you believe that spring has already commenced, the Spring Equinox is still a few weeks away on 20 March followed by our clocks moving forward an hour on 26 March.

One of the first harbingers of spring is the hazel and its lambs’ tail catkins can be seen all around Pondhead at present. In the absence of pollinating insects at this time of year, the hazel plant relies on the wind for pollination, with pollen from the showy male catkins being blown onto nearby plants to fertilise the tiny insignificant female flowers in order to produce the hazel nut later in the year. In the past few weeks we have finished the planting of 1100 new hazel plants in both Rosie Close and Crab Tree Close but it will be another few years before these start to bear catkins.

Other signs of the season change can be seen in the ponds where there are copious quantities of frog spawn. Bluebells shoots continue to emerge all across the northern half of the inclosure at present, particularly in those areas that we have recently coppiced and cleared so this augurs well for a stunning display in late April/early May. However, before then we should soon start to see the emergence of other woodland flowers such as wood anemone, sorrel, violet, bugle, etc.

All temporary fencing is now in place around Crab Tree Close to protect from deer damage and one more task day should see Rosie Close fenced also. It seemed to take an age to clear Crab Tree of all the brash left by the chainsaw team and just when we thought we were at the end of it, we were stopped abruptly in our tracks. Saturday 25 February was a beautiful sunny day with hardly any wind and over 20 volunteers from both PCT and Two Trees Conservation Team were intent on burning all remaining brash on two strategically placed bonfires. Unfortunately, after a pleasant lunch break, smoke was seen in a couple of places coming from the top of a nearby standing dead oak. Discretion being the better part of valor, we called the Fire Brigade (see pics) and no lasting harm ensued!!

We still continue to attract interest from outside groups whose employers give them one day off a year to do voluntary work. At the beginning of this month it was good to welcome back a team from Old Mutual Wealth in Southampton. They set about clearing bramble and scrub by the crossroads at the back of Limewood to provide a clear view of the bluebells that are emerging in the newly coppiced area in Crab Tree Close and what an excellent job they did despite the rain and mud (see pics).

Our charcoal retort returned safely on 28 February complete with a new outer wall, revised outer door closings, redesigned gas jets, modified inner kiln legs and stainless steel baffles to protect the base of the inner kiln. Hopefully, we should have no more issues over the next few years. It is presently situated at the crossroads behind the Limewood and on 7 March we are aiming to get it into its usual position before finishing the remaining fencing. It is unlikely to get back into full production until after Easter but we will have a couple of burns before to build up some stock.

This year we will be looking for volunteers to be trained up to take charge of the retort in order to spread the workload with, say, two volunteers starting it up at 8am and being relieved by two more volunteers at noon to complete the burn which usually takes a total of eight hours. If this is something you would be interested in doing then let us know at pondheadconservation@gmail.com and we will arrange a training day. This will last the full eight hours but we will be having a BBQ and a jar of cider – there may even be time to saw up some charcoal timber. As we get into the season, the greater need for volunteers will be on emptying and bagging days at our nearby store.

We will always advertise charcoal burn days in the Events Diary irrespective of whether we need any volunteers on the day or not but please feel free to pop in at any time during the burn if you want to find out what’s going on – the BBQ is generally fired up around lunchtime.

We have now arranged dates for our chair making courses on Thursday 25 May, Saturday 17 June, Saturday 5 August and Thursday 7 September. Prior to the first course Perry will be looking for a few more “guinea pigs” to undertake a trial run as he will need some help on each course which will have a maximum of six persons each. We will be setting up a dedicated web page for the courses shortly and will also be undertaking advertising through a variety of media. Spread the word among friends and colleagues – it all helps.

We are regularly approached by organisations offering to raise funds for us but there is usually a catch in the form of a large annual fee but we have now found one that could help us generate income while you and your friends and family shop online at no cost to yourselves or PCT. It’s called “Give as you Live” and we now have a dedicated web page entitled “Help us” which provides full details. All major online stores such as Amazon, eBay and many others participate in the scheme – check it out.

Finally, its been a pleasure to see plenty of new faces attending events over the past month – welcome to you all and many thanks for volunteering with us. A series of new events dates have been added to the Events Diary which takes us into April so please get booking as there’s plenty still to do.

Thanks everyone – see you in Pondhead.


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