Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Sit and reflect

We are blessed on Henllys Local Nature Reserve to have such a lovely green space in which we can go for a walk, listen to the birds or watch the butterflies flutter around. These green spaces can give you time to pause, take a moment, a deep breath and reflect on things or reflect on the peace and quiet.

What can we do to increase these positive aspects of our green space? Well over the last 2 years we've opened up larger areas of the LNR and put in a narrow winding stoned path which everyone can enjoy rather than just those brave few. This was largely thanks to a Welsh Government Funded Community Tidy Towns Grant written by TCBC on the back of the hard work our group has been putting into the LNR since we started in 2008.

Recently, Henllys Community Council funded a WWI memorial oak tree which is the same variety found across the battlefields of Western Europe in WWI, common Oak (Quercus robur).
Planting the WWI centenary oak tree back in Nov, 2014
We then built a frame around the tree and backfilled the frame with stone and it is a visible feature from Henllys Way either in a car or by foot. The Community Council were also keen to have a WWI bench and we though a ring bench around the tree would be a great idea, but the costs for a really decent one was prohibitively high. We decided instead, that if we were to build one from materials locally and did it by hand it would fit in with the ethos of the Local Nature Reserve too.

We had to come up with an idea which would be respectful to the memory of WWI, but also more sound from a habitat/biodiversity/sustainability perspective. Our starting point was a small stand of non-native Norway maple trees were thinned a month or so earlier and there were also a couple of Oak slabs which were cut from a fallen tree in woodland just 300 metres from the LNR. Our group  were given several 1 m x 1 m x 1 m wire gabion baskets from the aforementioned Tidy Towns grant to try and help with erosion control on the stream banks and decided that we could use three of these as frames for the legs of a bench. Normally these would be filled with stone, but we decided to use the fallen Norway Maple instead.

We booked the date for the event to build the bench, but we had plenty of work to do beforehand. The day before, the Group with TCBC Ranger Jon Howells took the baskets and the 2 x 7 feet long oak slabs up to the oak tree to work out the positioning of the bench. We decided that it would be best if we part buried the gabion baskets into the ground first by around 12 inches and this would mean they had a lower impact on the eye, would be more stable and we could get the levels right. The hard part was the fact we'd have to dig out and area 1.2 m x 1.2 m x 0.3 m first, add the baskets into the ground and then fill in what we had just taken out... oh after clearing the site of brambles first.

brambles out first
Jon, Brian and Phil (l to r) digging out gabion hole #1
Brian getting a logs eye view of the action
After finishing the first one, we realised that there was still 2 others to do so Brian and Jon decided to selflessly act as pacemen and procrastinated with discussions about the merits of various retired jet aircraft.
Utterly exhausted, but all three were finished
Eventually, we finished all three of them and in the meantime, in between tales of phantoms and sabres I sanded down the 2 oak slabs. Sadly the day before, we spilt some green paint on one of the slabs where a small pot fell from a shelf (probably by a phantom) in our container, narrowly missing Jon.
Sanding in progress
sanded down
We were all shattered, especially moving the slabs back into the container overnight, luckily we only had to move them to Jon's truck and not the whole way by hand.
On the Saturday morning, our group were joined by virtually the whole Community Council as well as Andrew Wren from Henllys Rangers. Without Jon's truck we were sweating a bit as each oak slab was pretty heavy. Luckily, Henllys Rangers also have a great group of adult volunteers including the Groundsman who happened to be cutting the pitch with a big mower which was carried on the back of a trailer. Many thanks to Cymru Glass and Glazing for loaning us their trailer and to Community Cllr. Howard Thomas for hitching it up to his truck and driving it to Henllys Way adjacent to the WWI tree and gabions.
Thank you for loaning us your trailer!!
Slabs and gabions
There were lots of things we could have done in advance, like cutting the wood to size and maybe even treating the ends to limit cracking, but sadly there has been theft of wood from the reserve from some residents, so we couldn't do this. As such, we had to find the straightest logs, measure and mark them to 1 metre and then I'd chainsaw them to size. The rest of the volunteers on the day, then transported the wood by hand up to the gabions where they were put carefully in place. As we approached the point where the wood slabs slide into the gabions we stopped and moved to the next gabions.
filling up
Pause before football training
When all the slabs were in place we, were able to add more logs on top of the slabs who extended 30 cm into the gabions at each end.
As we were getting towards the end a group were responsible for wiring the baskets shut, which was a laborious and fiddly job, but also crucial for finishing off the job. Finally we all got to sit down and enjoy the bench on this gloriously sunny days with just the kind of views we hope that many users of the LNR get to enjoy in the year to come.
All done
View to Henllys Way
Happy people
Lots of people, even in our group were struggling to see what it was going to turn out like, but they were all really happy after seeing the end product.
I went for a walk the next day and was delighted to see it being used by a young couple with their dog. A week later, I spoke to a gentleman who had been using the LNR for 50 years (long before it was designated an LNR and long before the new estates were built). He said he'd never seen the area look so good and he sat down on the bench the day before for half an hour and loved it. He is a retired lawnsman from a local golf club, so high praise indeed. It is always nice to get a pat on the back for the hard work that goes into these things (more news on that in the next blog article).
Finally, a couple of days after, on two occasions, I painted the ends of all the logs with a PVA glue mix to try and seal the ends to decrease splitting of the wood.

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