REVIEW:DAY 2 24th July 2012
DAY 2 : Dunnywater Training Day
Today we spent the day at the MHT garden located on the NI Water site at Dunnywater. This one hectare site is used as an activity centre for volunteer groups of different abilities and includes an allotment, a tree nursery, a chicken run, an apiary (for bees) and areas of meadow.
We split up into 3 groups to tackle 3 separate tasks with each group working for a spell on each task. Task 1 was to control a variant of Himalayan Balsam which is invading a corner of the site. This plant is a native of the Himalayas but, after being introduced as a garden plant in the 19th century, began colonising our countryside. It grows in dense stands, like bracken, supressing the growth of native plants and quickly invades new areas, especially river banks. The control measure we were using was to pull the plants up, which can be done fairly easily as they are very shallow rooted. However, there was so much of it that the job was far from being easy! Any too hard to pull were cut close to the ground to stop them re-flowering. The stems were all piled onto plastic sheet to prevent them from re-rooting and to let them dry out so they can be burned later. Doing this regularly for 3 years may eventually eradicate this plant from the site. The area has also been planted with willow, which is fast growing (1.2 metres so far this year), to provide competition for the Balsam as well as to provide willow trees for conservation work.
Task 2 was to build a new raised bed in the allotment garden. This will make gardening more accessible for some of the special needs groups who use the garden. The first team had to level the site and drive the posts in, making sure everything was square – not easy as this bed is on a sloping site, both side to side and front to back. Team 2 then got the first row of timbers on the sides – again making sure these were levelled before drilling and screwing the planks to the posts. Team 3 finished off the job by fixing all the sides except one end where the wheelbarrow can get in to load in the topsoil.
Task 3 was to investigate what was the best type of campfire for cooking. This was as part of the Leave No Trace training and looked at the principle of Minimising the Effects of Fire. First we gathered firewood and tinder materials for fire lighting. It wasn’t easy to find material that wasn’t damp thanks to the weather. Two types of open wood fires were built – a mound fire and a pit fire – stacking the fuel graded by size into a small tepee shape and then trying to light a tinder ball with a flint striker to start it. This was the hard bit thanks to the damp materials and not everyone succeeded. Comparing the mound fire and the pit fire we found the mound fire environmentally better because the pit fire caused a scar. We also used a storm kettle which heats water quickly using dry twigs but there was the same problem of lighting damp fuel. The last option was a gas stove which naturally enough lit easily and quickly heated water for our tea. Of them all we found gas was the most efficient and reliable and caused least damage to the environment (no vegetation or ground damage, no wood removed, less fire risk) making it the preferred option for camping.