On sunlit slope

On a glorious February day, volunteers returned to Common Wood to make a better habitat for butterflies.

We were fortunate to have with us not only six from the dedicated Dartmoor Preservation Association team, but ten students and two lecturers (Fiona Fraser and Jen Rolfe) in occupational therapy from Plymouth University. Our maestro, Derek Collins, brought the ‘Happy Wagon’ (the DPA vehicle, registration APY), to the Hillbridge farm gate to provide us all with tools and red hats if needed, and then returned later to collect them.

For the students this was a day out to experience volunteering, and to think about the effect of a day in the outdoors on their own well-being, and that of others.

We set off along the leat in spring sunshine.

Along the leat

We crossed the leat and climbed up the slope a short way. Unfortunately, Jenny Plackett of Butterfly Conservation couldn’t be with us, but our leader Sylvia Hamilton explained what we needed to do. We were to clear gorse and bramble to create a warm, sunny slope for Pearl-bordered and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries to breed.

Sylvia explains the work.

We began by pulling out fairly small pieces of gorse, to get our eye in.

Claude Williams did some useful strimming to make paths through the vegetation. This made it easier for us then to move along the slope and tackle some of the bigger gorse and take it down to the windrow, or natural hedge, which we had created along the leat. We had been on this stretch before but not for some years—and keeping Common Wood in order is like painting the Forth Bridge.

The students got through a lot of work, as well as chatting happily. Soon large piles of gorse were appearing, to be dragged down to the windrow.

John Viant likes to have a chunky task, so Sylvia asked him to remove a particularly large gorse bush. He achieved it in no time.

We stopped for lunch by the tree we had designated as base camp.


It gave us a little time to admire the view.

We were soon back at work. Jodie and Mosa determined to remove a really large gorse bush. It took them some time but they kept at it with vigour. Ben helped them pull it out.

We bagged up the rest of the gorse and threw it onto the windrow.

Then it was time to head back to the farm.

End of the day.

The students told us how much they had enjoyed the day. They were pleased to get away from their desks and experience volunteering, and feel the nurturing effect of exercise outdoors. They made a big difference at Common Wood, clearing a mass of gorse. Everyone benefits—the volunteers, grazing ponies, walkers and, of course, the butterflies.


About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in butterflies, Common Wood, Dartmoor, Natural history and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On sunlit slope

  1. Walking Away says:

    What a great day.

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