Improving skills and local nature sites

The latest Practical Countryside Skills group has been running from September to November 2013 and has carried out work on a variety of nature sites throughout Oldham and Rochdale.

The Countryside Skills programme is a 12 week accredited volunteer placement aimed at building participants skills and confidence. It seeks to provide them with a chance to gain experience of working outdoors and carrying out conservation work on nature sites whilst working towards a level 1 qualification in Practical Countryside Skills. The programme is funded by the Skills Funding Agency and supported by Hopwood Hall College.

Over the duration of the course participants get to work on a variety of sites containing different habitats. Objectives of this team included:

  • For all learners to complete work towards their Level 1 Certificate in Practical Countryside Skills
  • For learners to attain level 1 PEARL award
  • To hold three open days to engage public in conservation work at Fullwood Nature Site
  • To complete work attached to Woodland Improvement Grants at Summit Nature Site and Irkside Nature Reserve

The team worked on seven sites over the duration of the course carrying out a variety of tasks. Here’s a summary of the work carried out at each site:

Boarshaw Clough

The objective of the team for this project was to reinstate and improve the pathways around the Clough Road entrance to the site. The aim was to improve accessibility to the site which was a former industrial area. The team carried out the following improvements:

  • Cleared overgrowth from the footpaths leading into the site.
  • Created a new footpath leading from the road into the housing estate at the edge of site.
  • Created a willow weaved path edging for one of the footpaths from the road.
  • Pruned back overhanging vegetation encroaching onto the footpath.
  • Cleared out the hedgerow along the road to promote new growth.

By the end of the project the team had improved or reinstated about 100 metres of footpath and cleared out 30 metres of hedgerow. 

 Weaving a new fence

Broadfield Park

The team’s first project was based at Broadfield, one of the parks that serves Rochdale town centre. Its pond and grassland spaces are a great haven for wildlife and visitors. The team carried out the following tasks in the early September sunshine:

  • Raked grass cuttings up from the wild meadow with the aim to establish a nutrient poor grassland habitat for wildflowers.
  • Cleared footpaths/steps round the meadow and pond area.
  • Completed tree work around the pond to improve viewing and to allow more light to the water source.

After two days of work on site the loose grass from the meadow had been removed and the clearance work round the pond area had been completed.

Charlie clearing the steps

Fullwood Nature Site

Towards the end of the course the team did a lot of work at Fullwood in Sholver. A project to establish a new community orchard on site had been organised and the team played a big part in getting the site ready for a group from Oldham College to do the tree planting. The team carried out the following tasks to get the site ready for the big day:

  • Cleared an area containing a mixture of long grassland habitat and semi mature woodland leaving a clear level area to plant fruit trees.
  • Disposed of coppiced and felled trees into habitat piles/hedges leaving a fantastic home for small mammals and invertebrates to flourish.
  • Renovated footpaths round site by clearing off growth and pruning encroaching vegetation in order to widen them.

The efforts of the team were well received by the Fullwood Rangers group and the clearance work was done in time to receive the college group for the tree planting event. The day went ahead as scheduled and 40 fruit trees were planted in the orchard and about 100 buckthorn saplings were planted on the ridge next to the football pitch. The volunteers worked alongside the college group to plant these trees.

The team clearing grassland advancement from the footpath

Irkside Nature Reserve

There were several jobs the team needed to do on this site in Middleton. The site is dominated mainly by woodland habitat and it also contains a pond. The team carried out the following tasks:

  • To remove part of the boardwalk round the pond that had fallen into a state of disrepair.
  • To construct a new boardwalk to replace the one that was taken out.
  • To construct three benches to be installed at the nature site.
  • To install and secure the benches constructed.

By the end of the course the team had installed all three benches and secured them in with concrete. One had been placed overlooking the pond and the other two next to the footpath leading through the woodland. With help from Groundwork’s contracts team around 10 metres of new boardwalk was put in around the pond area.

Before and after shots of the boardwalk

Mandale Park

Situated off Manchester Road just outside Rochdale town centre Mandale Park offers a mix of grassland, woodland and wetland to visitors. The summer 2013 countryside skills team had done a lot of work here which centred on the construction of the new BMX track. The autumn team needed to continue the work round the track and finish the “twiglu” project further into the site. They carried out the following projects:

  • Finished grass and wildflower seeding the areas immediately next to the BMX track.
  • Removed rubble from banking next to the track to create an ornamental wall alongside one of the straights.
  • Continued the thinning of certain woodland areas close to the track.
  • Built a “twiglu” on site as a means to dispose of various green wastes.

By the start of October all the work had been done, the “twiglu” was in situ and the grass and wildflower seeding process complete.

Chris working in a wildflower seed mix next to the track.

Partnership House

The team helped out to do some general maintenance in the grounds of partnership house which is the home of CVS Rochdale. Working alongside Bob Bevan one of the Rochdale Rangers the team did some clearance work on site. The eventual aim is to make a community growing space at the facility. The team carried out the following jobs:

  • Cleared an area of rosebay willowherb with a view to it becoming a planting bed in future.
  • Weeded the footpath at the top of the garden.
  • Removed some of the thorn bushes from potential growing plots.

 When the team had done the work an area in the garden had been cleared of vegetation and was ready to be prepared for planting. The gaps between the paving stones were weeded and made presentable.

Barry digging out rosebay willowherb

Summit Nature Site

This site next to a stream in Littleborough was undergoing lots of work attached to a woodland improvement grant. The Groundwork contracts team conducted some fantastic work making new footpaths round the site, the role of the countryside skills team was to finish off this work by installing two new stair cases into the site. The team did the following jobs:

  • Cleared encroaching branches overhanging the existing steps.
  • Removed and dismantled the previous stair cases.
  • Constructed and installed 13 new steps.

By the time the team had finished the project all the steps had been installed over two stairways. They were filled in and topped with stone to create a useable access way into the site.

Barry, Tony and Jonathan putting the step in position

Legacy of Countryside Skills Team 9

The team made such a fantastic contribution to the local environment over the 12 weeks of the course and showed what a big difference a team of motivated volunteers can make. David Howarth, one of the team 9 participants, said:

“I enjoyed being in a working environment once more and being able to make a difference to green spaces.

Groundwork will be running more Countryside Skills courses over 2014. The next programme is due to start on Monday 13th January.

Anybody interested in joining should contact Matt Lynwood: or call 0161 624 1444.

By Matthew Lynwood, Education & Communities Project Officer.


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