Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Coast Path Working

Before I get started, I forgot to say that the Caldey Island mail arrived! Doh! Well, it arrived, and I have added in the pictures to my Caldey Island blog post. If you're interested, you can see the pictures here :)

Now then, the other day I promised I would show you what we got up to when I did some voluntary work with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Ranger.

It was great fun, and as usual (based on my experience with volunteer work like this) there was a lovely group of lovely and interesting people to meet.

Our work on this occasion was some maintenance on the Coast Path. I have talked before about the Coast Path and how much I love it (here, here,and most recently here), so it felt great to be ‘giving something back’.

The work was required on a small section of path near to the village of St Ishmaels. In the storms experienced by the UK last winter, lots of the coastline around the whole country took quite a battering, and the natural erosion that is constantly occurring was greatly accelerated in some areas. Many sections of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path were affected by soil erosion and cliff falls, with some sections of the Path being left too close to the edge and on unstable land, and other sections even falling away completely!

The National Park Authority has worked hard to fix and renew where possible, and to re-route the Path where this was necessary. We were working at a spot where the path had been re-routed to avoid an area of path that had been lost to cliff falls: the path had been routed through a hedge bank, which had had a gap cut through it for the Path to run. Our job was to restore the cut ends of the hedge bank, using traditional techniques to protect the bank against erosion and to make the work tie in with the original look of the bank.

The new gap in the bank for the re-routed Coast Path

Hedge banks are a pretty old technique for bordering farmland, and also provide an important habitat for lots of wildlife. They are comprised of a bank of soil built up along the boundary, which is then faced with stonework on either side, while the top is left clear for planting. The stonework protect the sides of the bank and maintain its form as a bank, while the roots of the plants grow to bind the whole structure together. It’s clearly a technique that works well, as many hedge banks in the UK are hundreds of years old.

We weren’t building a bank from scratch, so we didn’t have to do much soil work, but we did have to finish off a few courses of stone work in various places (the work had been begun on a previous occasion), then backfill any gaps with soil, before laying turf taken from the sides of the path on any bare areas on top.

First we gathered up some stones, they had been removed from fields by local farmers while ploughing, and the farmers had then offered them to the National Park for the restorations. The Ranger had a nifty little tracked hand-truck for transporting the stones along the path to where they were needed.

Loaded up and ready to go!

We had a wonderful view while we walked along!

When we got to our work spot, you could see the great work that had already been done by the volunteers.

Unloading the stones

The stonework so far

We worked away, trying to find stones that fit in well so that the stone facing would be stable. It was quite time-consuming to get the stones to fit, but very rewarding. We were passed by lots of walkers as we worked, and they were all friendly and said wonderful things about the work done to maintain the Coast Path. Some even asked to take photos of us working! (I must say, I did feel a bit of a fraud, as I had been working there less than an hour when the photos were taken!)

More stone work complete
Stonework finished! And back-filled with soil

Once all the stonework was finished, we used mattocks to dig up sections of turf from the sides of the path with which to top off the hedge bank. Once the plants take root, they will bind the new work and keep it strong. Over time, plants will take roots in all of the gaps, and eventually you won’t even see the stones at all.

Finished! With the turf on top - I hope it takes root!

Just a few hours’ work between us, but great results I think :)

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