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Multi-tasking to Great Effect

This was my first working party, and a very productive and enjoyable one it was. Well, mostly…there was a chilly wind with a sharp edge on it when I arrived at West Beckham Old Allotments and the sky was cloudy and half-heartedly threatening rain, which never materialised. Around a dozen souls were already gathered at the Old Allotments and I saw one or two familiar faces among them which was reassuring, but I soon found out everyone is helpful and friendly. Joining us for the morning were four members of the NNDC Community Connectors Team, who had come along to get a taste of what we get up to. Once we made a start the wind eased a little and the work warmed us up.

I joined Val and the tree planting crew along with Emma, Coralie, Louise and Claire from the Community Connectors. We put in a row of indigenous ‘whips’ along the edge of the car park along – mostly Blackthorn and Hawthorn, with a handful of specimen trees including English Dogwood and Guelder Rose at every sixth station. Meanwhile, I got the lowdown on the work of the Community Connectors who have a broad knowledge of the local resources, community groups and facilities and use this to assist folk who may be lonely or in need of a little support.

Elizabeth and Jonathan were taking care of the young trees around the site, checking for signs of life and cutting back the encroaching grass roots which impede their growth. In spite of the drought conditions over the winter and early spring, the soil here seems to hold a fair amount of moisture. Over ninety percent of the trees were showing leaf buds and only a small number should need replacing.

We downed tools for a welcome break mid morning. Amidst the rummaging for thermos flasks, I heard anguished talk about the dearth of the fabled doughnut, due to issues with the fryer at our usual purveyor, which meant we had to console ourselves with caramel shortbread along with our hot drinks.

Having been invited to be the “roving reporter” for the day gave me a perfect excuse to go on the prowl occasionally when my back ached and find out what others were up to. I caught up with Nick who was scything the edges of paths with Alan, David, Peter and Sean and learned a little about this fine skill. The team are keeping the grass cut short and raking off the cuttings in various areas of the four acre site both to weaken the grass roots, making the land more accessible for wild flowers to thrive and also to make it more suitable for Turtle Doves, which, I learned, have short legs. I would like to learn to use a scythe but it looks a craft that will take a while to master.

Meanwhile Trevor, Nigel, Stu and Andrew S were constructing a sight screen. When completed it will be a handy structure to observe the birds and other wildlife visiting the pond. Substantial holes were gouged out with an auger and uprights cemented in to support the expertly constructed wooden frame to which the feather edge boards will later be attached. It seems to be coming along well – and will be completed towards the end of the month.

Meanwhile, John was levelling the ground and laying concrete slabs in the shed. This had become necessary because industrious male moles had been engaging in a competition, with the mating season approaching, to outdo one another in nest construction underneath the floor, creating an almighty heap of disturbed earth. Unless they are seasoned weightlifters, the floor should now be secure for a while to come!

A brilliant morning’s work, with 17 people involved altogether. Thanks to all who came.

Ned Henderson

2nd March 2023


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