Weasel Winter 2003-2004

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Spring Into Action

Spring Weasel Cover
Conservation is an adventure. Its an adventure in seeking out new places, meeting unselfish people, finding the treasure of our hidden talents and packing a holidays worth of discovery into the tiny backpack of one drab Sunday. Maybe its magic too, for what else costs nothing, whisks you from your weekly routine and brings you back safely in time for tea? Because were not Harry Potter, because we cant all be polar explorers, because we like to be useful, because were ready to take a chance - and a day on the sofa is a day well never live again - these are the reasons we give our time to conservation.

Youll read in here about a few past tasks. But ask me, Which is your favourite? and Ill say The next one. Will you be there? I hope so. Nows the time to spring into action!

Spread the Word. Future Oxford 2004

Future Outlook 2004 was a fair organised by Oxford University Students Union at the Exam Schools in the High Street on Saturday 21st February. There were 38 stalls promoting alternative careers and volunteering opportunities. The OCV was there, as were BBOWT and the Saints Mary and John Churchyard Restoration Project of Cowley Road. There were other groups offering international conservation activities: Global Action Nepal, International Voluntary Service, Frontier Conservation Expeditions, Mondo Challenge and a few more. We dont fly you to exotic places of course, but nor do we ask for big money!

We gave out many cards with our website address, 20 task programmes, a few posters and a lot of encouragement to get involved. With just a weeks notice, we did well to bring together a display, a team of OCV-ers and Pauls laptop computer. On it he recorded 23 email addresses for our mailing list. Then the battery power ran out and deleted the last three. Well reach them by telepathy. We packed up at 3.30pm after a busy and enjoyable day. Well done and thanks to all you helped out and it is possible to carry the display boards on a bus. Thats how I got them home.

Deep End-able People.

Wellie Fifteen years ago the OCV cleared out the pond on the village green at Marsh Baldon near Stadhampton. On Sunday February 1st we were back again despite the frost to do it again. There were so many people (OCV-ers plus locals) that we had to borrow extra tools and barrows from neighbouring houses. By the end of the day, the big farm trailer parked by the pond was stuffed full of silt, reeds and rhizomes/roots and loaded so high that we couldnt get more in.

Barbara, a parish councillor and our contact person, led us on a lunch-time walk with her husband John. We saw quaint white-painted cottages, a horse and cart, the church, the manor house, the route of the Roman road, the cricket pitch and pavilion and The Seven Stars, a country pub. When we stopped digging and loading at 3pm, we crossed the biggest village green in England for an end-of task drink in the pub. That was a happy day!

Other conservation groups have died or dwindled to one task per month. The OCV still draws in new people and works every Sunday. It has done since 1977. We may find holes in our waders, a flat battery in our minibus, sinister teabags in our kettle and a sunken coffee machine in the pond, but we always get the job done. We are dependable people.

Thanks to Kate and Jamie (the dynamic leading couple), John French (who became a new OCV driver), Dorothy, Barbara, John, second John and the local youngsters who did lots of work. If you missed this one, dont be des-pond-ent. Well be there again in 2019.

More information on Marsh Baldon, Oxfordshire

P, p, p, pick up a pancake.

Pancakes go up How many Oxford Conservation Volunteers can you fit into a Jericho two-up, two-down for a pancake party? Fifteen was the answer, although some people were spilling out of the doors and overflowing into the kitchen!

Many pancakes were made: and gobbled, with an interesting selection of toppings. The traditionalists chose lemon juice and sugar; choc-a-holics made a beeline for Helenas special, intense chocolate sauce, which combined with Maltezers made for a real chocolate buzz; while adventurous types slopped on the home-made sloe gin with a dollop of ice-cream. Some people became a little merrier than they had anticipated, by mistaking the sloe-gin for raspberry sauce.

Conversation flowed with much laughter to be heard. Topics of discussion ranged from rabid dogs to dry-stone walls, with climate change and swimming in the sea, somewhere in between. Extra entertainment was provided by peoples inability to find the stairs leading to the bathroom. Every so often a conservation-volunteer would be spotted, with a desperate look on their face, circumnavigating the downstairs rooms and opening cupboards in their search for the elusive stairs. Luckily everyone did find the stairs eventually and no accidents were had we think.

... and down Finally people remembered that they were working the next day, and sloped off home to bed. Now we are all thinking of another excuse to get together and eat too much food. Who said being a conservation-volunteer was all about conserving?

Deeper than expected

Not just the pond at Boundary Brook Nature Park on Sunday 4/1/04, but the conversation. Have you read that book called Sophies World where a young girl finds philosophical ideas when shes looking for a teabag? Its like that with the OCV. You never know whats coming next.

We started with a guided tour from Pat Mansfield and then got down to the serious business of hedgelaying. The hedge was more than mixed it was random and like nothing a farm has ever known. There was a field maple, privet, hawthorn, holly, hazel, beech, cherry and a few garden shrubs we could only guess at. In fact these had not been planted as a hedge but as a screen. It had grown so tall that it was taking light from the pond behind it. Leaving the three tallest trees as standards for high-nesting birds, we laid the rest using stakes from Aston Rowant and the Christmas task.

Is conserving a form of giving? Do we leap out of bed on Sundays thinking lets give our time to the OCV and nature? It is and its the purest form of giving. If you work on a hedge for one hour, we dont take out five minutes to cover our office costs, ten minutes to pay for our advertising and so on. Everything you give is everything we get. Are you sure what the group does with your help and in your name? Yes, because youre there and youre part of it. We know its fun, its healthy and its different to weekday routines, but its more than that. One person uses the word commitment, another feels a moral duty but mostly we think its good and right and leave the rest unspoken.

The right-handed hedgelayer works most easily from right to left. If you mime it with your air-billhook, youll understand why. Normally one side of a hedge is blocked off by a fence or a ditch, so you cant just work from the side that suits you. Our hedge had a post and rail fence behind it plus gaps that could best be filled by laying from left to right, so thats what we did. With two hands gripping a Yorkshire billhook and a partner to bend the tree over, the direction of laying was not a big problem. Certainly the pleachers (= stems cut and bent over) were beautifully done with very few that broke off completely. Considering the gaps and the different shapes of the hedge plants, the result was strong and tight.

The amateur and the volunteer are the last refuge of crafts that no longer pay for themselves. Its true of needlework, wooden boat-building, ploughing with horses and so on. Its also true of the OCV. If that sounds pompous, where else have you seen a billhook recently? Not in a garden centre nor a DIY store was it an antique shop? We cant claim to be expert professionals and we dont specialise in one type of work, but what we do were proud of and eager to learn more.

Helping with our work were Ruth, John and Pat of the Oxford Urban Wildlife Group. In fact they did the boring bits of cutting up brushwood and hauling it away to a stack near their cornfield. They plan to hire a chipping machine in spring and to use the wood chips as a mulch. Bonfires in the past led to complaints from nearby residents, so chipping looks good for the ground and tactful in public relations. Over lunch John of the OUWG spoke about regional styles of hedge-laying, which have developed according to the type of livestock they needed to contain. Bullocks for example need a stronger hedge than sheep. A Devon hedge is often built on top of a bank faced with stones, so it doesnt need the height of other styles. You can see for yourself on the website of the National Hedgelaying Society at www.hedgelaying.org.uk. You might think its common sense to knock the hedging stakes in vertically, but on that website youll see Welsh styles that have a different idea.

A mild dry day, a mix of new and old conservers, a guided tour, three cups of tea each and more work done than we expectedwho could ask for more? We also saw how good and full the pond looks after our clearance work in autumn. This first task of 2004 got our new programme off to a deeply happy start

More information on Boundary Brook, Oxford

Pony Tales, Volunclares and Underground Chainsaws.

Whats new at Aston Rowant? During our scrub-bashing task on Sunday February 15th, Dominic of English Nature gave a cheerful round-up.

First of all, Dartmoor Ponies. As well as Beulah, Jacob and Soay sheep, four stallions are now chomping on the grasses which would otherwise crowd out rare wild flowers. Eight mares are doing the same at Barton Hills reserve near Luton in Bedfordshire, so there is no danger of any breeding going on. The ponies look after themselves with only a water trough and an open field to keep them happy. Their manes, coats and tails are long and shaggy at this time of year, so they dont get too cold. A farrier occasionally visits to keep their feet in trim.

This is an experiment: ponies and sheep may feed on different invasive and fast-growing species of plant, so grassland management could become more efficient. One hazard is poaching not stealing, but the farmers word for livestock churning up the ground during wet weather. Another is visitors leaving gates open. If ponies eat from Yew trees, they die from poisoning. If they get onto the M40 well, thats too horrible to think about.

St. Clares (the international college in Summertown) supplied seven conservers plus John Halligan, a teacher who drives them to the site and picks them up again at 4pm in their own bus. Two weeks before, five volunclares helped out and won our respect for their hard work. The magnificent seven were very active too. Along with eleven OCV-ers, we got a lot done. Dominic joined us with a strimmer/brush-cutter and we cleared all the damp, green debris on a big, smoky fire. Marvelous!

The plan is to link up the grassland we salvaged with the clearing we began before Christmas at the bottom of the hillside. Dominic plans to move in 60 sheep to keep the land open. At lunch-time he led a guided walk towards the M40. We saw many Red Kites and mature windswept Juniper trees as well as a rabbit-fenced plantation of junior Junipers. These began life as cuttings taken from the established trees, were then brought on by a local nursery and next returned to the wild on the hillside. The young plants are brown on top due to frost and wind, but their lower branches are green and healthy-lookingirresistible to rabbits apparently. How many will reach maturity and replace their parents? Nobody knows because this is yet another experiment at Aston Rowant.

English Nature dont use stump-killing chemicals now because theyve gone organic. If you cant poison a tree-stump to stop it regrowing, you can rip it out of the ground. Therefore E.N are developing a root-cutting chainsaw. It costs 1500 or 750 to adapt a normal machine. For that you get extra-strong teeth, chain and drive-gear that wont be damaged by mud or rocks. Just like the ponies and the Juniper plantations, this is a new venture which might or might not succeed. Well wait and see.

Thanks to Steve and Jane (leader and driver), to John Halligan for hand-selecting the best volunclares, to Dominic and to Helena who paid 2.00 to become an OCV member. For that, you get this Weasel so tell your friends (and enemies) to cough up the readies!

More information on Aston Rowant NNR, South Oxfordshire

Extreme Map-Reading.

A sexy new sport? No, its finding out the meaning of our work-sites names. With our yellow task programme and The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names, here goes

Aston Rowant. Aston = eastern tun. Tun in Anglo-Saxon meant fence, then house surrounded by a fence, then village, then town. Marston and Headington have the same ending. Anglo-Saxon by the way means after the Celts and Romans but before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Rowant = Rowald de Eston, the landowner in 1236. Its a Norman / French name simplified by local people. A six-lane chariot-way cut through Rowalds garden.

Marsh Baldon was Mersse Baldindon in 1241. Marsh means marsh and Baldon is Bealdas hill in Anglo-Saxon. Baldock in Hertfordshire means Baghdad by the way it commemorates the Crusades.

Coldharbour Farm. Coldharbour meant a lodging house next to a road for travellers to shelter from the cold. On February 8th, we needed it but used the farmyard instead.
Kidlington nearby means the town of Cudas people. But who was Cuda?

Shotover = sceot + ofer (Anglo-Saxon). Sceot means shoots up or down steeply. Ofer is a hill or slope. If you go there on your bike, youll understand this.

Western Turville. Turville = thyrre feld (Anglo-Saxon) = dry field. The task there is pond clearance, oddly enough.

Pilch Fields = havent a clue. If you can track down a Pilch, please tell the Weasel.

The Famous Fourteen Build A Bridge.

I say, you stinker, how was your Sunday?
Ripping! We went by motorbus to Calvert Jubilee Reserve and worked like pioneers in the woods, piped Titty with glee.
Barbecued billygoats! I only stayed at home with the Mater and Pater what a ghastly rotten swizz, retorted Roger.
But youre welcome to join our gang, if only youll learn our secret meeting places.
Do tell! I swear Ill never betray them, even if tortured by foreign agentsand you can use my catapult, even though youre only a girl.
Well, whispered Titty, theres Mr Tescos grocery store and a shady alehouse in St. Giles called The Lamb and Flag.
Crikey! exclaimed Roger. Ill wager its filled with swarthy pirate types and cut-throats of the lowest character.
No, cried Titty, that would be our motorbus.

Sunday 11th January took us via Bicester, Charndon and Marsh Gibbon to Calvert village and the Jubilee Reserve. It used to be a pit from which the London Brick Company dug clay but now the pit is filled with water and resembles a natural lake but deeper than most. Other pits nearby are used as landfill sites with rubbish coming in by train from places all over the South East, including London. The morning promised sunshine but dealt us a fierce squall of wind and rain just as we unpacked the minibus. A tree went crashing down in the woods. The weather blew hot and cold, wet and dry for the rest of the day. Luckily, we were often too busy and too happy to notice.

Giles Strother, Buckinghamshire Reserves Officer for BBOWT, led us to our double worksite. The first was a ditch and outflow for the lake which was spanned by a narrow, bendy footbridge. He explained the need to add a wider, stronger crossing for bringing in a mini-tractor and for replacing the first bridge. The second site changed because we had more people than expected fourteen including Giles himself. He originally meant us to coppice trees overhanging a muddy creek downstream of the bridge to let more light onto the water. We did this and more. The extra site was a disused railway track from which the rails and sleepers have long since been taken away. Its a footpath now but scrub on each side is rapidly closing in on the open space, so that the permanent way may soon be lost entirely. Our job was to cut back the willow, hawthorn, elder and brambles by two metres on each side, to burn the debris or later to stack it in habitat piles beside the path.

The old railway has a bridge beneath it built with purple engineering brick, stone blocks and thick girders in typical made-to-last-forever style. Only ghost-trains run across it now, but below it was a useful spot to set up the kettles, tea box and bags. Nearby was a telegraph pole cut into two six-foot pieces and just what we needed as bearers to spread the load of our bridge over the wet clay banks of the ditch. Our fire burned brightly not far away, so we defied the bad weather and made ourselves a snug retreat for tea-breaks and lunch.

We split into two groups led by John (task leader) and Paul (driver). In the morning Giles and Johns group carried the timber to the ditch. Then we put on the OCV waders in order to dig out foundations in the clay banks. This was not easy with the water maybe eighteen inches deep and cold with it, and the banks greasy when you wanted to stick but sticky when you wanted to ease yourself out. With rocks, a spirit level and tape measure we managed to get a level, steady span for the four heavy timbers we laid from bank to bank and bearer to bearer. Lunch came along before we could try any carpentry.

Pauls coppicers got stuck in on a fifty-metre stretch of path with slashers, loppers and bowsaws. Barney took charge of the fire and got it burning despite the rain, green wood and lack of open ground. Later Pauline took over and left a neat glowing pile of embers by the time it came to leave. In the morning the fire was not big enough to boil two kettles, so we used the gas burner. The burner can take just one kettle and that kettle can fill only six or seven cups of tea. Therefore we had a staggered tea-break, with the whole group eating together at lunch-time. John gave out the bright yellow task programmes, our new green posters and the last three copies of our newsletter The Weasel. Giles ate with us and then took us on a guided walk to the bird hide beside the lake and opposite to where we were working. Paul and Pauline offered to keep the fire burning.

Giles explained that the reserve is now owned by St. James Properties, London and managed by BBOWT (Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust) on a three-year lease. Due to this short lease, the Trust does not invest much money in developing the site. Access to it is not public because walkers need a permit, although the permit is free and the foot-gate not locked. We saw one family out for a Sunday stroll plus a man who brought out three students on the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and they too did coppicing. Strangely enough, BBOWT own the disused railbed but none of the land around it. If their lease is not renewed and the paths are closed, the Trust will have a long, narrow ribbon of ground but no way to reach it. In theory the property company could take back the reserve, pump the lake dry and fill it with rubbish, but that would need council approval. Perhaps villagers and green groups would howl so loud that the change of use could never happen only time (and peoples rubbish reduction plus recycling) will tell.

Part of the reserve was used for landfill in the past but covered with clay on which not a lot can grow. The result is a mossy landscape looking something like a moth-eaten snooker table. Apparently deformed bottles poke through the surface in places. The footpaths here have been raised slightly above ground level with crushed stone and wooden edges to resist flooding. There is a car-park next to the road nearby but the steel gate is kept locked. In the past Giles left it open briefly and came back to find 150 old car tyres dumped there. We saw two washing machines, wet piles of rubbish and somebodys Christmas lights surely a recent gift to the countryside? The bird hide is a wooden shed with benches for bird watchers to sit on whilst viewing the lake and two rafts anchored offshore through a long open slit in the wall. There were cormorants, ducks and what seemed to be gulls. Andy (a new volunteer) aimed his mini-binoculars and announced that they were smew a white-crested waterfowl known to science as Mergus albellus. You can find out more at a website called Ducks Unlimited. Theres even a sound feature that lets you hear the quack of this bird. If anyone ever asks you what conservation has given to your life, do your smew call.

Giles spoke about full-time work in conservation. He has been in his permanent post for five years, based at the BBOWT office in Littlemore, Oxford. He spends about two thirds of his time in the office and now has an assistant who is employed on a time-limited contract. In the past his work was split 50/50 between office and outdoor work. As to other people looking for a job in conservation, he advises them to ask themselves two questions. Number one is whether a job that may not pay much money is really suitable. Number two is if you turn your hobby into your work, can you replace that hobby with something different in order to keep some balance and refreshment in your life? Giles still has a strong interest in nature-watching, but confesses that he doesnt have much private time for it as a reserve officer and parent. Should you answer yes to both questions, there are several ways into a job. Voluntary work with the OCV is a good start but may not be enough. Training (to get a chainsaw-users certificate for example) is helpful. Some scientific knowledge of how to record and monitor different species can lead to work as a consultant to private companies, and they pay very well for such environmental expertise. Full-time workers have many different backgrounds in fact perhaps education/teaching is one of the most valued for posts that involve working with the public or with groups such as ours. Giles himself worked first at Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour on the south coast, then in Somerset and now in Oxford. Brownsea Island is famous as the place where Baden-Powell took the first Boy Scouts on a camping expedition and it helped Giles to build a strong c.v.

Getting back to work at 2.20pm, the two work-parties swapped jobs and got busy in order to do the maximum we could before daylight faded around 4pm. Pauls carpenters cut planks, hammered and hauled the hauling was on a rope tied round large trees that fell into the creek and speared their branches into the mud. At the base of such fallen trees was Barney most often , and already slicing through the next one. Johns scrub-bashers cut back branches, built piles of brushwood and left the footpath clear and wide. We finished by cutting a few trees which have narrowed the path and steps which lead up to the old track level beside the brick abutment/support of the disused railway bridge. On the fire we grilled some marshmallows from the tea-box. Then we tipped out the water cans around the ashes to stop our fire spreading, because we too are like Boy Scouts and were prepared to pre-empt all disasters. Finally, we used the shiny, new OCV wheelbarrow to carry our gear back to the other group and the new bridge.

They didnt quite have time to nail on the decking planks that would be the dry and easy bit. Giles reckoned he or his assistant could do it the next day. Fortunately we had left the old bridge in place and sited the new one two metres upstream, so walkers can still cross the water safely. We left the planks ready for use by the path. Then we took our own and Giles tools back to his Land Rover and our minibus. We were later back to Oxford than planned; not due to traffic or getting lost, but because the OCV-ers never stopped when they were meant to. There was a go-getting spirit of just one more nail, wont take a second to pull this tree out and is it lunch-time already? New volunteers (including one from Germany and one from Japan) fitted in very happily and, as Paul pointed out, on the way back the bus was alive with conversation. We dropped off the volunteers before heading back to the toolstore just so they get home a little more quickly. At the toolstore, we had to scrape the wet clay from the spades before we could see any metal that needed oiling. Luckily Anthony, our tools officer, had charged up the battery that powers the light, because by then it was totally dark. We were tired, but cheerfully tired, and ready for the lights of home.

Thanks to Paul for driving, to Giles for working on Sunday, to old and new volunteers for filling the bus (and we nearly needed an extra car), to Barney for map-reading, to Anthony for buying the new barrow and getting it to the toolstore and to home-owners whose bricks made Calvert Jubilee Reserve possible its truly a charming but rugged wild place.

More information on Calvert Jubilee, Calvert, Buckinghamshire

Bed-time Story.

Once upon a time, a man bought a house with furniture left in it by the people who had sold it. He wanted to give away two beds, so he phoned the Oxford Council for Voluntary Action. This charity collects second-hand goods and gives them to needy people.

We have a long wait, said the lady on the phone.
How long?
We can pick them up in April.
Oh dear, answered the man, today is 2nd February.

Then he rang Oxford City Council on 251946 the bulky waste removal service.

We could be there tomorrow or in three weeks. We cant be sure, said another lady, so leave the things in your front garden.

Two beds lie wet and useless in the rain. No pixies or elves sleep on them. No beanstalk grows there. After ten days, they magically disappear.

The moral of this story is that its not always easy to do a good thing. Maybe thats why some naughty goblins throw their old cookers into a hedge. If you know recycling stories with a happy ending, tell the Weasel for our next issue.

Good Fellers.

Birds hiding
Back to Calvert Jubilee Reserve on Sunday 22nd February to divert a path. Why? Its a long story but it makes sense, so here goes

The lake there began life as a clay-pit for the London Brick Company. It is therefore very deep and has steep sides, so wading birds and shallow-water plants cant get a living. BBOWT manage the reserve and brought in a bulldozer to scoop out a shelf in the bank of the lake. Sadly the water level rose too high because there was no way to control it. Next, a digger came in to dredge mud and silt from an outflow on the opposite side. Now you can see clear water flowing freely out from the lake, into a creek and then a culvert. At last the OCV! We built a timber bridge across this outflow after Christmas. Giles Strother of BBOWT worked with us all day to design and construct this. He explained that it was for a mini-tractor to get into the reserve, and to replace an old footbridge that bounced when you walked across it.

Nick Marriott, also of BBOWT, worked with us on our new task. He told us that walkers and bird-watchers heading towards the two bird-hides scared off wading birds by passing too close to the waterside. The solution was to re-direct the path a few metres away from the lake. We did this by cutting the new route through hawthorn scrub and blocking the old route with the spiky brushwood. Some things we burnt on a fire and thereby boiled our kettle several times on a frosty, windy day.

After recent high numbers on task, today we had eight. As it turned out, this was fine for a long, narrow worksite with only two exits for dragging out the cut branches. We had lunch in a bird-hide and pinned up our poster on the wall. Then we took a walk round the lake to test our bridge and hear Nicks plans for the future of the reserve. He hopes to control scrub by bringing in BBOWTs Highland or Dexter cattle, so making the land into wood pasture. Before this is possible, the fencing needs replacing with post and wire. If he can get money to fund this, the OCV could be back again with drive-all, sledgehammers and spades. Highland cattle are the hairy ones with horns, so you can guess they need a strong barrier to keep them in. Dexters by the way are an Irish miniature breed. After lunch Nick trimmed the tree stumps to ground-level with a chainsaw and painted them with Round-Up, the glyphosate weed-killer you can use in gardens.

Thanks to Laurence and MC, to Nick, and to Sharon who paid her 2.00 and has become an OCV driver. This task tied up a loose end in the management of one of our favourite reserves. At the end, Nick added a surprising fact. When the clay-pits were being worked, trucks carried clay from our pit to the one nextdoor via a tunnel underneath the road. Today both pits are full of water (the other one is used by a sailing club). The tunnel however remainswoo woo woo. Spooky! Scooby Doo could find a ghost there.

More information on Calvert Jubilee, Calvert, Buckinghamshire

Any good at Latin?

Follow the River Cherwell downstream from Parsons Pleasure. Behind St. Catherines College is a quiet stretch of grassy bank edged by a copse. Theres a wooden bench with a carved inscription:


Is this a quotation from a Roman poet? No, in fact its a joke. If you re-space the letters, youll see what it really means:

O rest a bit for tis a rare place to rest.

Just one of Oxfords little quirks!

Spanish Heavyweight Toilet = Which Famous Singer?

Quiz! Many conservers are highly questionable characters, so the social on Tuesday 13th January was a pub quiz. Our webmaster Paul chose The Prince of Wales in Iffley as its his local, it has tasty beer and pulls in a cheerful crowd of contestants for the 9pm start. That pub by the way has no name painted on the wall or the sign theres only a picture of three feathers or maybe plumes is a better word. This gave us a test of general knowledge even before the quiz began: finding the right pub in the dark and tracking down Paul inside the bar.

Have you ever been in a quiz team? Well, the title of this article was one of the 40 questions. Also, which sport is a part of the phonetic alphabet? What colour is Sonic the Hedgehog? Whats the lowest score in darts that you cannot get with one dart? Which game board has 225 squares? Who was the only U.S President to win a Pulitzer Prize? What did football referees get for the first time in 1970? After oil, what is the worlds most traded, legal commodity?

Ten conservers split into two teams and took on five groups at other tables. We each paid a pound to enter, got a team answer sheet, a bunch of pencils and a picture of a wooden bed-post with many notches scratched into it. The point of the picture was to invent a funny caption and write it underneath. The quizmaster was Andre, a publican whose denim and language are both light blue. By 11pm wed got through the questions, added a caption and were waiting for the answers. Teams swapped papers and marked each others work. The winners got 36 out of 40, the OCV teams got 30.25 and 30 while the lowest score in the pub was 26. The captions were about Harold Shipman, the serial killer who hung himself in prison that day, the alleged Ulrika Jonssen bed range at IKEA, a Welsh bed for counting sheep and 99100 coming ready or not! The one that got the biggest laugh won a prize.

Did you guess the answers to the questions? The singer is El Ton John. Golf stands for G as in Golf Tango Foxtrot Sonic is blue. The dart score is 23. The game is Scrabble. The President is J.F.Kennedy. Referees got red and yellow cards. The commodity is coffee. And one more to puzzle over: if there are 86 K on a P, what are K and P? Make notes if you need to!

We didnt win any prizes but we had a lively evening in a cosy pub. Last orders! was called before the winners were chosen, so we didnt drink much during the two or three hours of being there. It was great to see a mixture of new and old, male and female, intelligent and totally baffled OCV-ers having a laugh together (and sometimes trying to steal answers across the table). Most of us got there by bike, and cycled home in the frosty dark with not a care in the world.

Tuesday Meetings Are Moving (and not boring at all!)

Some other meeting Lady Chatterley had fun in the hands of her gamekeeper, but we had a good time in The Gardeners Arms. Our Tuesday meeting at 8pm on February 17th was the first at this new venue. If you dont know it, its in Plantation Road about halfway between Jericho and the Woodstock Road. Inside its snug and old-worldy with dark wooden panelling, bookshelves and no music. The landlord Silk has long hair like an off-duty pirate, serves beautiful beers and kindly reserved a double table for us. That was useful because 12 OCV-ers turned up despite the icy rain.

Wet Your Weasel

Two anarchists came on task with the OCV recently. Smash all rules! they yelled during the tool safety talk. The only control is self-control! they jeered at the task leader. As the first tea-break approached, they demanded,

Have you got mint tea? Have you got herbal tea? Have you got fruit tea?
Why do you ask? answered the task leader.
Because all proper tea is theft!

Who are you calling an oxymoron?

Holywell Reaper Holywell Cemetery sounds like the wrong name, because if people were whole-ly well, they wouldn't be there. In fact the true holy well is not in the cemetery but in the garden of Holywell Manor next door.

In the 19th Century rugged varsity chaps used to bathe nude in the well for healthy stimulation. John Henry Newman took a regular plunge. Maybe he whacked John Keble and Edward Pusey with his wet towel. They were all part of the Oxford Movement, or Tractarians, a group of Anglicans who argued for an Anglo-Catholic style of worship. Newman caused a huge scandal in 1845 when he converted to Roman Catholicism. When he wrote his autobiography, he called it Apologia Pro Vita Sua an apology for his life. Hows that for mending fences? When you consider local place names such as Pusey Lane, Keble College and Ruskin College, youll sense the excitement of a time when Oxfords thinkers were setting alight the countrys intellectual life. Surely Weasel Street is next!

Back to conservation now. Our task at the cemetery on 18th January was fun because we had Janet Keene to give a guided walk, scouts from Old Marston to build a fire and a muntjac deer to prove that wildlife really can survive in central Oxford. The high number of conservers gave the day a cheerful spirit which got the scrub-bashing done quickly and thoroughly. By 3pm our worksite began to resemble a suburban garden, so we stopped for a tea-break (with some criminal tea-bags) around the fire.

Someone recently stole the information board from the middle of the cemetery. Janet Keene pinned up a notice asking to get it back again it's worth 350. When I visited Holywell a few weeks after the task, the board was there on the ground. Snow was on the ground, snowdrops had bloomed and all was well with the world. The board is back in place now, so this story has a happy ending.

One last thought: how many of you have passed by the cemetery a hundred or a thousand times but never looked in? Did an OCV task open your eyes to this secret place? Conservation gives us many things, one of which is a sense of discovery. Places we wouldnt have gone to (but did), things we guessed we couldn't do (but could), people we wouldnt have met (and wish we hadn't!) and you can add your own

NEXT ISSUE: Open the door and FIND YOURSELF in the OCV minibus.
Women are from Tesco, men are from St. Giles.
The self takes many forms, so dont get behind it in a post office

More information on Holywell Cemetery, Oxford

Pull over!

A traffic policeman stopped the OCV minibus and asked why it was going so slowly.

Well, this is the M40, so Im doing exactly 40 miles an hour, said our new driver.

Then the policeman looked in the back and noticed a dozen conservers gripping their seatbelts and biting their backpacks.

Whats wrong with them? he asked.
Well, weve just come off the A420.

The Extraordinary General Meeting

The big point was adding a statement on equal opportunities to our constitution. Oxford City Council ask this from voluntary groups which receive a grant from them. Then Martin stuck his hand up to be Tools Officer, Jane was crowned as Social Secretary and Laurence was worshipped on the Membership throne. We all voted yes and the EGM was over.

Next, we plunged from extra- to deeply ordinary: past tasks and socials, coming tasks and socials, officers reports (if any) plus any other business. As Weasel editor, I passed around samples of 100% post-consumer recycled paper. The paper is made from waste collected by London offices and comes in many bright colours. A group called Oxford Green Print of 115 Magdalen Road, East Oxford supply this paper and print on it with a low-pollution technique. Youre looking at it now.

The most contentious topic was our meeting place for every second Tuesday. Borders is central and open to newcomers, but we have to scrounge any small empty space and cant really concentrate. From February 17th well meet at the Gardeners Arms, Plantation Road, Jericho. The landlord promises to keep a big table free for us.

One last thought we are well-organised because we share the work among those willing to do it. Youre welcome to come to a meeting. Theyre not too serious and we dont throw work at you. Its just nice to see new faces!

Les' Green Pilgrimage

The motto of the OCV used to be we don't just talk about it - a bit of a dig at the organisations like Friends of the Earth and the Green Party who at that time were not so involved in direct action. In my dotage I find I spend less and less time doing it and more and more time talking about it. John asked me to write a short article about some of the other things I'm involved with, so here goes.

Firstly, and most important to me, is the Green Party. I don't want to turn this into a Party Political Broadcast, but it's clear to me that many of the problems facing the world and the country today global warming, social exclusion, general quality of life can only be addressed by radical Green policies. I was involved 20-30 years ago, when the Ecology Party was the voice of one or two crying in the wilderness. I subsequently wandered around the political spectrum, working for the Liberal Democrats and even being swayed by New Labour in the very early days. I now believe that only a party with a Green central theme can provide the answers. It's gratifying that we are now being taken seriously. In this country there are elected Greens at all levels of Government except Parliament, from city and county councils to MEPs Latvia even has a Green PM. Delivering leaflets saying RE-elect Joe Bloggs is much more enjoyable the the forlorn elect Joe Bloggs. Locally, the fact that the other parties have started to target us, in some cases with dirty tricks, at least shows that they are taking us seriously.

As well as the Green Party, I am involved in campaigning for improved facilities for cyclists through Cyclox. I wouldn't describe myself as a cyclist, as for me that's someone who goes on bike rides for pleasure. However, I do find cycling a supremely practical and enjoyable means of transport. For most journeys within Oxford it's faster than public transport and often faster than by car. With a trailer I can transport substantial loads, e.g. a lawnmower to the allotment or a broken bike to the shop for repair. It eases the connection problems of long journeys by public transport. It keeps you fit. I could go on and on. Unfortunately although Oxford has an apparently enlightened attitude to cyclists, with many cycle facilities such as dedicated lanes, in practice some of them are poorly designed and the cyclist is seen as a second class citizen when there is conflict between cyclists and motorised transport. An example of poor design can be seen at Longwall Street, where buses are forced to encroach over the cycle lane markings. Above all, the individual facilities rarely link up. For example, the Green Road roundabout is at the junction of excellent cycle paths or cycle lanes in 4 directions but with no effective links between them apart from a suicidal trip round the roundabout. Cyclox is campaining for improved facilities for cyclists, and may have been successful in arranging for major changes to the Cowley Road. (See more details on the back page).

If you enjoy working with the conservation volunteers for a day, why not try it for a week? I have been on week-long holidays organised by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and the National Trust. There is a variety of work on offer, from ragwort pulling to ... more ragwort pulling (a description of some of my more exciting holidays may appear in a future issue) and you are usually working in a beautiful part of the country. You can also hone some of the skills used on weekend tasks to a higher level I'm now an expert ragwort puller.

Finally, on the outdoor front there's my allotment. Depending on where you live, you can probably get one fairly cheaply from the city council. It requires a certain amount of time and effort, but the taste of the produce is far superior to anything from supermarkets and it's not difficult to save a lot of money my wife and I haven't bought a potato for years. It can also encourage wildlife; there are some very fat mice romping in the potatoes stored in my garage.

Re-reading the above it makes me look like a paid-up member of the brown bread and sandals brigade. I am actually only a light green, I own and sometimes use a car, and my main leisure activity is none of the above but dancing.

Bio-Diesel Weasel.

Theres a workers co-op in Oxford planning to make and supply bio-diesel by processing waste vegetable oil. The name is Golden Fuels and the website www.goldenfuels.com.

They say most diesel vehicles can run on bio-diesel without modifying the engine. Apparently bio- and petro-diesel can mix in the same tank without a problem. Benefits are lower carbon emissions and less engine wear. The government duty / tax on bio-diesel is 26p per litre but 46p per litre on dino-diesel. Selling price? Golden Fuels estimate a slightly higher price for their diesel due to the greater costs of small-scale production. They think that people who already pay a premium price for organic or fairtrade goods will become their customers.

The OCV might use bio-diesel in the minibus in future. Thanks to Anthony our ex-Tools Officer for discovering this. Lets wait and see what happens.


The story of Oxfordshire farming told by farmers. Workshop materials for schools or those interested in the Oxfordshrie Countryside over the past 40 years.
www.agricultured.org for more infromation.

Friend or Foe?

Friends You might have heard in February that Oxfordshire County Council had decided to become a 'GM-free' Council. They have decided to use
European Union legislation to stop the commercial growing of Genetically Modified crops in the County. They're also ensuring that school dinners
and other catering is made without GM ingrediants wherever possilble.

The decision by the Council came about because of a campaign initiated by Oxford Friends of the Earth, but it only suceeded because of widespread support from the public as well as Oxfordshire farmers and growers. You might be surprised to learn that Oxford Friends of the Earth, although affiliated with national Friends of the Earth, is made
up of volunteers. Some of you might even be members of national Friends of the Earth, about 200,000 people are, but never new of the local
group. Well now's your chance to get-stuck-in (where have you heard that before!).

Come to the monthly meeting of Friends of the Earth, second Wednesday of the month, 7.30 pm at the Friends Meeting House, Oxford. We have
occasional speaker meetings too. The March meeting heard from an Oxford resident who was objecting at a public enquiry to the building on
Warneford Meadow in Headington. After our meetings we go for a drink at the Eagle and Child next door. It's not all talk-talk though; in December we sang GM-Free carols outside County Hall to help the GM-Free Oxfordshire campaign along, we try not to take things too seriously!

For more details see www.oxfoe.co.uk
Andrew Wood.

How long is...

A piece of string came on task and did an amazing job. It laid a hedge, planted a copse and sharpened the tools all before lunch. The week after, three feet of garden twine joined our group. Im green, it said, so I love the countryside! Then it dug a pond, cleaned the minibus and put up half a mile of fence. A week later, a grey fuzzy thing came walking up St. Giles towards the OCV minibus. The leader had picked up very few conservers, so he leant out of the window and called out,

Are you a piece of string?
Are you garden twine?
Sorry, answered the thing as it walked past our bus, Im a frayed knot.

TreeScape By Marguerite Osborne

TreeScape Catkins Diet We travelled from the Dark Forest to the Haunted Grove, then entered the Wildwood. In each place we stopped to hear Tree Tales. There was
the Norse myth of Loki stealing Idunas apples, which gave the gods eternal youth. There was the Scottish ballad of Tamlane, kidnapped by elves as
he hunted in the great Caledonian Forest...

This was a journey of the imagination I created for children last autumn when I took part in TreeScape, a month-long arts extravaganza for
primary schools at Oxford Universitys Harcourt Arboretum in Nuneham Courtenay.
The arboretum, started by Archbishop Harcourt in the early 19C, is a Magical place, especially in October, when the acer glade is a blaze of fire.

The aim of TreeScape was to give young children first-hand knowledge of trees and to raise awareness of sustainability issues. Global Forest, a
promenade theatre event, ended with the Green Man and Lady leading the children to a fork in the path, one way leading to Sustainability and
the other to Destruction and asking them to make their choice.

At the end of their visit each child wrote on an action leaf a promise to protect the environment in some specific way.

I worked with ten different classes, their ages ranging from five to twelve.
Each class was accompanied by teachers, assistants and helpers, often needed to prevent the pupils running wild. Are there lions and tigers here?
some children wanted to know. When a group of eleven-year-olds excitedly picked up conkers to use in fights, What about planting them? I asked one boy.
If you do, tiny trees will come up. Will they? he replied, astonished.

My assignment was not to provide facts but to stimulate imagination and creativity. I asked everyone to look at, listen to and touch certain
trees - ideally, in silence - then say what they had found special about the experience.

The children always listened attentively to the stories I told. The younger classes had a special programme, including a Caribbean tale about
Anansi, the Spider Man (told near a tree sculpture of a spiders web), The Magic Pear Tree, a Taoist parable, and a spooky traditional tale of the Old
Witch and the Apple Tree. Humorous stories were popular with all ages. After they had heard my tales I guided the children in making up their own.

Specially imaginative work came from a group of special needs children.
One seven-year-old created a beautiful magic tree, adorned with tinsel and all kinds of bright things she had found. This tree granted only
good wishes, providing a barefoot boy with shoes but refusing to help a criminal rob a bank. A difficult Year Six built some impressive settings for their
dramas, including a castle with a drawbridge and a moat. Their teacher got them to write down their stories on their return to school; result is a beautiful illustrated book, a pleasant reminder of a demanding but rewarding week.
Copyright Marguerite Osborne, 2004.

Old Grunt Remembers The Past (again)

John GorrillIt was 1984. The National Hedge-laying Championship near Nottingham and the OCV were there. How so? Well Ill tell you.

Brian Williamson was a great character of the group: task programmer, tools officer, poet of the newsletter, swimmer at the punt party, Summertown resident and a joker so bad he was annoyingly comical. A conversation with Brian went like this,

This wheelbarrows got a flat tyre.
Never mind its only flat at the bottom.
Youre such a comedian!
What? I havent changed colour.

He heard of the championship, booked five places and we set off in two cars. One was a Citroen 2CV. When it drove through puddles, water smacked the windscreen as if we were on a trawler in a North Sea gale. Brians was an Austin Maxi with a slow puncture that was faster than the car itself. It had to stop a few times for air from a foot-pump, but we got there.

We stayed on Friday and Saturday nights in a village hall with dozens of other conservers from up and down the land. We were all entered into different hedge-laying classes: novice, intermediate and advanced, I think. Two professionals worked at one end of the long hedge to demonstrate the skills and later they served as judges. Well, we didnt win any prizes but we learnt a lot. The winners were fanatics: they used brushes to sweep up woodchips from the foot of their stretch of hedge, they used rakes to tidy away the boot-prints, they started the earliest, they finished the latestand their hedges were beautiful. At the Sunday prize-giving in a marquee, they got trophies from a man with a gold chain around his neck. From the chain hung a big N. Was he called Norman and had a short memory for names? No, he was the Mayor of Nottingham.

Saturday night was party night. The BTCV paid for a local band to entertain us in the hall. Beer came from barrels at the back. A lot of beer ended up on the floor because there were no taps you pulled out a bung and stuck your glass in the torrent. That beer ran out within minutes! We were miles from any pub, so we couldnt get any more. On stage the band were doing Elvis Presley songs with their singer posing about like his own King of RocknRoll. The audience were thirsty and not impressed. Most were laughing, some shouted insults and one or two threw crisp packets and other generous gifts. If wed had cans, we might have thrown them as well. The band got angry and stopped playing. One of them said, Oh go and lay a hedge! as they sulked off the stage. Then some Geordie conservers got up and sang about Blaydon Races, then there were more singalongs and finally to bed. We made our own entertainment in them days!

Brian worked at Touchwood Sports in St. Aldates when I first knew him. Then he got a job with BBOWT as a shepherd tending their flock of St. Kilda sheep. Next he set up as a self-employed tree surgeon. Now hes in Devon making hurdles and coppicing for a living. You can do a lot with OCV skills if you want to. Theres a message in that for you younguns today!

Country proverb to guide you: Still waters dont run deep they dont run at all.


Cycling in Oxford is quicker, cheaper, more convenient and healthier than driving and reduces CO2 emissions. The High Street has the worst record of NO2 air pollution in Europe.

What is Cyclox about?
1 Pro-cycling campaigns for public awareness and encouraging people to reduce car use and to cycle (or walk / get the bus) instead.

2 Campaigns on specific cycling difficulties
We lobby Oxfordshire County Council (which controls most of the citys roads). The problems are:
Botley Rd (especially the station underpass)
Cowley Rd (from Magdalen Rd to the Plain)
The Plain roundabout and Magdalen Bridge
High Street

Isnt Oxford already very cycle-friendly?
No. Have you noticed how cycle lanes simply end when you most need them! We need a properly integrated network of fast cycle routes (on main roads) and slower cycle routes (using backstreets).
No. Road safety is a much more commonly cited reason for not cycling than weather, exertion or distance.
No. Have you tried parking a bike in a central location? We need many more bike racks throughout the city centre.

Cyclox's focus in early 2004 is making a submission on the Cowley Rd 1m improvement scheme and its cycle-friendliness.

Cyclox holds a public meeting on the first Weds of every month: 7 p.m., East Oxford Community Centre (corner of Cowley Rd and Princes St). Come and find out more!

Cycloxtel 07792 375423
Thanks to James Styring of Cyclox for sending this profile of the group and to Les H for asking him.