Nature sites, newts and new Countryside Skills

The latest cohort of the Practical Countryside Skills group has been running from January to April and has carried out work on a variety of sites throughout Oldham, Rochdale, Middleton and Whitefield. Here’s an update on what the group has achieved over the past 3 months…

The Countryside Skills programme is a 12 week accredited volunteer placement running four days per week aimed at engaging local people. 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 team worked on eight sites over the duration of the programme, carrying out a variety of tasks. The work and results are detailed site by site below.


Brownhill Countryside Centre

The team were able to do some work in the gardens attached to Brownhill Countryside Centre in Uppermill. This lovely spot is situated next to the Huddersfield narrow canal on one side with the River Tame and Diggle Brook on the others. It also has a good view of the railway viaduct that runs through the area.

The teams’ objectives were to dig out the butterfly garden and prepare the top soil for wild flower seeding. There were also a number of ash saplings that required coming out along one of the footpaths into the garden. During the course of the day all these tasks were completed and a seedbed was left to germinate over the spring.

Dustie sowing the wild flower seeds onto the plot after ground preparation.
Dustie sowing the wild flower seeds onto the plot after ground preparation.

Daisy Nook Country Park

The group spent a couple of days in Daisy Nook Country Park conducting work on the floodplain next to the River Medlock. The area immediately next to the river was dominated by willow scrub. This needed removing and placing further back away from the bank into dead hedges.

The group set to using saws and loppers to prune back and fell the willow. As this took place other members of the team moved the various off-cuts of timber to the other side of the floodplain and beyond the footpath. These were then inserted into dead hedges to form a neat natural barrier that various different animals would use as habitats.

Khalil (L) and Lee (R) moving cut logs across the plain.
Khalil (L) and Lee (R) moving cut logs across the plain.

By the end of the project the team had removed a great deal of the willow. This would make the floodplain clearer and more effective in minimising the amount of litter and silt trapped by the trees during times of flood. It also made the path safer by removing trees that could potentially fall over the path.


Fullwood Nature Site

The team were set to deliver three public engagement events at this site in Sholver. The events were very successful. Between the visitors and team members six cold frames were made for the planters in the growing compound. Three planters were planted with a mixture of vegetable and salad seed. A plot of approximately fifteen square meters was dug out and seeded with wildflower mix close to the community orchard.

Team members and visitors planting seeds in the planters.
Team members and visitors planting seeds in the planters.


This secluded site located next to the River Irk in Middleton is a wonderful semi mature woodland habitat with a thriving pond. Located within walking distance from Middleton Town Centre it is a great place to go for a walk and spot local nature.

The tasks the team carried out included the removal and installation of way markers round the site. In addition they carried out a cleanup of the pond and undertook some tree work round the banks to improve the appearance of the area.

The work round the pond was a success. Much of the vegetation was removed from the pond to guard against it drying out in the summer. Round the perimeter of the pond the fallen branches were removed and placed into a dead hedge on site to leave a discrete habitat for mammals, insects and amphibians whilst the dead wood rots down.

Khalil and the rest of the team, in the background, working around the pond.
Khalil and the rest of the team, in the background, working around the pond.


Jubilee Nature Site

The team went to do some maintenance on this former colliery site that has now been reclaimed by nature. It is a delightful mix of trees and forest loving plants that have grown over the industrial architecture. Tasks carried out by the team included a brief litter pick of the car park and the removal of a vandalised nature board.


Moorgate Quarry

This disused quarry located above Greenfield train station has stunning views over Uppermill and towards Dove Stone Reservoir on the other side of the valley. The site hosts a large population of heather and moorland animals are common place. Furthermore, the site has several different ponds in which 14 species of dragonfly can be found during the summer months.

The team had several jobs that needed doing over the duration of the project to improve the site. Some of these tasks also linked to an overall vision to establish a circular walking trail going through the site. Tasks that needed to be complete included the following:

  • To cut back encroaching vegetation on the footpath at the very top of the site.
  • To place any trees and shrubs cut down into dead hedges that would line drainage ditches.
  • To install two new sets of steps and two stiles.
  • To apply wire mesh to an existing footbridge to make it safer to walk on in wet weather.
  • To rebuild a vandalised dry stone wall at one of the viewpoints on the site.

By the end of the project the team had completed their objectives. The overall vision to have a walking trail round the site was several steps closer.

Team members rebuilding the dry stone wall at Moorgate Quarry.
Team members rebuilding the dry stone wall at Moorgate Quarry.


Philips Park

Towards the end of the project the group did some work at Philips Park in Whitefield. The task was to cut back overgrowth in the gardens particularly focusing on ash saplings and bramble.

After two days work the team made a substantial difference to the site. The clearance would allow for better growth of desirable species and it improved the appearance of the gardens.

The gardens at Phillips Park
The gardens at Philips Park


Roch Valley

The teams’ largest project over the programme was based at Roch Valley. Working in tandem with Rochdale Countryside Service and the Roch Valley Education Partnership the team worked towards the establishment of an outdoor learning area which could be used by a number of schools in the locality. The main tasks they carried out included:

  • Woodland work consisting of thinning, felling and dead hedging to create a safer and lighter outdoor learning space.
  • Path creation using reclaimed materials from the nature site.
  • Small mammal, invertebrate and amphibian hotel creation using reclaimed rubble and tubing found on site.
  • Building up of pond banking for newly created ponds on site.

The time the team spent on the site was very productive as the majority of the woodland work was complete. A large invertebrate habitat made of rubble and tubing from site was created. A large section of path was generated that would lead to the outdoor classroom when established. They were also able to build up the banking on much of the ponds using rubble and bricks covered in turf in such a way to make suitable amphibian homes.

A walkway made by the team using reclaimed materials.
A walkway made by the team using reclaimed materials.


Legacy of Countryside Skills Team 10

The group made a huge positive impact upon 8 different sites across 4 boroughs. The work they have carried out will have continued benefits to the site users of all the areas they have improved.

David Orriss said he “enjoyed working with a very good team”. Geoff Lever added that the course “was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

There will be two further Countryside Skills projects running at Groundwork in 2014, one beginning in May and the second in September. The next group will have a chance to take up new projects and build on the excellent progress made by the most recent cohort.

Anybody interested in volunteering for these upcoming teams should contact me (Matthew Lynwood) on 0161 624 1444 or email:



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