Carrying on from the previous blog, I had a little bit (lots) of preparatory work to carry out on the weekend before Rivers Week 2015 to make the site safe for when the volunteers arrived on the Tuesday – (bear in mind some of these volunteers had never worked in a river before). First off, there was an area of hard standing (road planings) with a concrete pad built on top, which had once been a muck heap. Why by all that is Holy, the previous owners of the estate had thought the eroding river bank would be an ideal place to build a muck heap is beyond me, so one of the first tasks with the excavator was to break it up and scrape out the road planings. (During the course of this I also discovered a buried and long forgotten lawn roller which will be cleaned up and probably either be pressed into service or painted and used as a garden decoration). Around 25% of this concrete pad was sat on thin air as a result of erosion by the river over time, which meant keeping well away from river bank with the machine until I was certain which bits were capable of supporting 13 tons! It had to come out as I didn’t fancy someone innocently walking over it, only to disappear vertically in cartoon fashion with a wild yell and a cloud of dust!
Secondly, there was a rather large and rather dangerous windblown Willow tree which had cracked, fallen over and been hung up on a neighbouring Willow tree (which also happened to be dead) on the edge of the Willow stand at the bottom of the fields. I am a fairly experienced tree climber / tree surgeon and common sense dictates that the only two things required to spike up these particular trees were a donor card and a suicide note. Much as I wished for the tree to come down to the ground in a timely fashion, I had no particular interest in riding it on it’s way there. Working on my own for most of the time means I readily develop innovative ways of working to keep myself safe (rather than Health and safety, read self preservation). In this case, it meant using the pulling power of the excavator and some long winching straps to make the tree drop where I wanted it to whilst working from the ground with a chainsaw.
The windblown tree was much easier to deal with than I was expecting with some nifty cutting from both sides and the use of some high lift wedges to make it fall back on itself and fold up, and then extracted both halves of it with the excavator. It was later used to generate some of the T-Bar woody debris items which would be installed in the river channel later that week!
In the pouring rain, and alternating between on the chainsaw and on the excavator, I also felled and extracted around another 12 Willow trees from the Willow stand halfway along the reach, both to generate woody debris to install in the channel, and also to allow some sunlight into the area, hopefully to transform the bare earth in the stand of trees into a natural woodland, with low level ground vegetation, making for an increase in habitat for native species. This area will also have the banks re-profiled, but later in the year with a smaller excavator as the 13t is slightly unwieldy to use in confined spaces. Working in the rain is never an attractive prospect, and in full chainsaw equipment (including a climbing harness), I admitted defeat at 1400, going in search of the woodburner, fresh coffee, dry clothes and some soothing cream for some hideous chafe marks!
However, the majority of the materials needed for the volunteers were on site – brash was stacked up to start the bank repairs and channel narrowing, large woody debris items were laid out to be wired together and the pallet of chestnut stakes was left on the river ban over night. Despite the rain, the site was ready. I just hoped the rain would stop to allow work to be carried out on the Tuesday without the river rising to prevent anyone from working in the channel.
To be continued, yet again…