An outdoor classroom for a workshop at the end of November? But why not? As volunteers in Brighton and Hove’s green spaces, we were all fairly seasoned types and we were told to dress up warm. On a bright crisp Saturday, there was something quite special about sitting in a circle on tree stumps in a newly coppiced clearing on the hillside at Stanmer. It did get cold, though.
Woodland spirits hovered in the background as Cityparks Rangers Neil and Will went through risk assessment and other paperwork we need in order to lead our volunteer groups. It was very useful that Cityparks have developed completed templates to help us so we have detailed notes on, for example, mitigating trip hazards and working with a range of tools. There was a practical demonstration of trip hazards as we knocked into tree stumps hidden by dead leaves. Stumbling around in the woods highlighted poky branches at eye-level and the dangers of uneven ground.
Coffee, tea and biscuits were thankfully served in the woods, mitigating the risk of frost-bite (OK, I made that bit up) and we swapped challenges and solutions from our different groups. We need to motivate and enthuse other volunteers: I think we all passed with flying colours on that bit, all of us showing true grit by not mentioning blue fingers and cold toes. No, the cold really wasn’t that bad.
After lunch came the fun practical task: doing a safety briefing on different tools. Quite a few I couldn’t lift easily, let alone brief others in their use. Thumper-inners, basher-uppers, rammers, double-headed diggers, double-ended hammers, mattocks, loppers, bill hooks, axes – clearly our work on Brighton Greenway has thus far been fairly genteel compared to what goes on in some of the city’s larger green spaces. The Rangers demonstrated speedy reactions when several wayward dogs, attracted by the chocolate biscuits, threatened to run amok among the blades and spikes.
We have been using pruning saws on the Greenway to attack the buddleja, and these were judged a significant risk by the Rangers: important to protect the non-sawing hand – something to add to our kit and note in our risk assessment. Luckily, for the safety briefing exercise, I managed to pick up the garden fork: warn against straining backs and, remembering my first aid course, piercing feet.
Finally, Ranger Will stepped forward to demonstrate felling a tree … well, a smallish, sapplingish tree – emphasising that we volunteers should not be ‘felling’ anything with a diameter of more than about 15cm. Using a bow saw and an axe, the technique is to cut a wedge half way in on the side where the tree is to fall, and then saw in from the other side slightly above the wedge cut. Finally, having cleared the area, appointed a scout for wayward dogs and people, and replaced the guard on the sawing blade, gently apply pressure from the non-wedge side and Tim-berr … another of the Stanmer coppice hazels fell gracefully to the ground. Greenway buddleja, beware.