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Sisyphus amongst the Docks

17 volunteers – a record? – turned up on a dry morning at West Beckham Old Allotments on July 20th to try to catch up with the rapid growth of grass and docks. Whilst Trevor mowed and Andrew continued improving the bird hide and repairing the toilet door, the rest of us scattered either to scythe the sides of the paths or to continue dock bashing.

Docks have haunted us ever since we took over the site. They, along with daffodils, dominated from the word go and we have been waging war on them ever since – with a reasonable degree of success. So in we went, wading through the long grass on the northern side of the site, in order to reach the numerous clumps of dock, readily identifiable by their tall, heavily seeded flowers, reddish in colour.

We cut them well below the seed heads, and dragged piles of them to the growing bonfire, ready to be burnt at a later date so as to prevent them seeding further. However, doubtless we scattered a fair amount of seed as we did so. Dealing with dock is a sisyphean task in a way, as, although we are making headway, they will reappear.

But FT volunteers are nothing if not determined and we made a great deal of progress today.

Meanwhile, scythers and rakers steadily made their way round the site’s paths, cutting about a metre either side of each path, so that, by the end of the morning, the site was looking pretty neat and tidy.

Whilst dock bashing, Val came across some Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis Arvensis), a plant favoured by Turtle Dove – which we are still hoping to attract to the site. And we also found a sizeable wood ant nest, buried deep in the long grass.

Although there was some car-sharing today, we could, I think, still do more. The car park was pretty full!

And here’s a slightly different, more positive take on the morning’s work from another volunteer:

On an unexpectedly sunny morning, more than one person used the word 'bucolic', describing the scything and the 'harvest' of the dock seed heads. A satisfying portion of the field turned from red dock seed heads back to green vegetation as we clipped them off, and the tarp carriers hauled them to the bonfire pile.

So little of modern life is a communal effort, unlike field work in the past, and good company and conversation made the task enjoyable. Unlike hard pressed harvesters in the past, we had first rate cake, and stopped at 12, while we were still enjoying it.

Peter Maingay and Susan Nicholls

July 20 2023

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