Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

11-01-2014 : Floods? What floods? Clear skies and clear ditches at Tolworth Court

With the recent torrential downpours, nothing could be more appropriate for volunteers to get stuck into than ditch restoration to help water drainage at Tolworth Court sports ground and enhance habitat.

Volunteers lined the ditch, forming a production line of efficient digging 'machines'!

And what luck, as the sun shone yet again for this second ditch restoration event - a brief and very welcome respite from the rain of late which made our task much more pleasurable.

Looking back on the work we did last time, a full and flowing ditch is very satisfying to see glinting in the sun!

Since our last visit, the remaining leaves of autumn had fallen so clearing those was the priority of the day. Forks proved most efficient, letting the heavy water drain back through but capturing the majority of the leaves to be strewn into the bankside vegetation and worked back into the soil by our wonderful minibeasts!
David enjoyed his first biodiversity volunteering event, with the sun on his back he grafted to dig out forkfuls of leaves from the clogged ditch.

On close inspection, we noticed signs that wildlife was indeed using the ditches and surrounding vegetation, perhaps even Bank Voles (Clethrionomys glareolus). They often dig extensive burrows under tree roots, with 'runs' through long grass, just what we appear to have here under a tree above one of the ditches.

Look carefully, this long grass is hiding signs of mammal activity.  Only a few centimetres wide, these could be the entrances to bank vole tunnels on the ditch bank.

And it wasn't long before we had attracted the attention of more than one Robin (Erithacus rubecula) in search of a worm or two uncovered by all our digging.
Our faithful friend the Robin was always close by to pick up a tasty treat!
We worked in teams to cut back overgrowth, dig out leaves and mud, and pick out litter from the ditches.
When we got tired, Layla's radio music got momentum going again and a spot of competition as to who could throw the leaves the furthest helped too!

The brambles in this spot seemed particularly vigorous, but no match for David and his shears!

Not afraid of getting stuck in, Amy and Layla fished out an enormous amount of rubbish from this overgrown corner.

Anyone missing a twin footpump? 
TCV leader for the day, Simon, talked to our volunteers about other traditional land management techniques, such as hedge laying, that are good for wildlife during our tea break.

Simon and Anna drew the short straw and tirelessly worked on the ditch section with tree roots - tough going!
And just to prove I'm more than just a commentator, here I am tackling more leaves and debris in the ditches!
Unfortunately we weren't able to spectate on football matches over lunch this time round as the heavy rain had made the pitches unplayable, but we still enjoyed a well-deserved break overlooking the rest of the sports ground in the sunshine. The long trek back warmed us up nicely again, ready for round 2!

The long trek back after lunch
One corner proved particularly challenging as the ditches rounded a bend at the end of the site: a thicket of trees and shrubs had completely overwhelmed the ditch...and nearly us!!

Sam ventured in to the overgrowth to clear the channel, and I'm pleased to say he did emerge again!
And once we had cleared leaves further along the ditch, we found numerous alder (Alnus glutinosa) saplings growing. Their parents were growing along the field margin and ditch which provided the moisture they love. These trees are very common in riverside woodland and are valuable there in reducing erosion and maintaining soil on the riverbank. Here in the ditch the young saplings are catching any debris that falls into the ditches and preventing the passage of the water so we cut them down and attempted to dig them out. Simon grappled with them for a good while but to no avail. Mightier tools are needed for this task!

And as has become customary, Simon was able to find an 'alder' fact-of-the-day:
Known for giving strong, clear, full bodied sound, Alder was the choice for famous guitar makers Fender!

And with that, we were pretty much exhausted!
A proud but weary team resting on their tools at the end of the day!
Looking back along just one of the worked stretches - what an achievement!

Thank you to everyone - Simon, Anna, Amy, Layla, Becca, Sam and David - for your amazing hard work this Saturday. You should be very proud of the improvement you have made here! And if you, or anyone else, fancies sharing in some more of this feel good factor, we'll be clearing invasive rhododendron shrubs from Kingston Hill on 25th January - another hugely satisfying event. Hope to see you there!


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  2. Good blogging and a nice read. Thank you. Keep up the good work.

    Son of Rabbit Stew (inspired by Rabbit Stew, a blog you followed)