How ponds made me like the rain…

So finally I am able to get to my computer and find time to write about my experience of working in Maesteg (confession…this is the first time I have ever blogged!).
It’s been an amazing journey from initial site visits, ideas, practicalities, research, budget and implementation, and I have to say I have enjoyed every minute of it. Watching a landscape take shape before your eyes, seeing materials arrive, talking to local people, driving plant and imagining how the space could look in one year, five years, twenty years…. is all part of the journey.
The response from local people has been amazing. I have made lots of friends whilst working on site, who are always up for a chat and find out how it’s going and how I am! Sometimes I feel a bit rude when the clock is ticking the machines have to go off hire and I have to get on with the job. I have only experienced one negative reaction from a chap who asked me what I was doing, after my reply his eyes look up and he just says, ‘Oh ponds is it? tut’. Still make me chuckle. I mean… whats not to like about ponds! Guess he had a dragon fly phobia or something.
The heavy machinery is now off site and I have lots of great stuff to do now with choosing the right plants and seeds for the site alongside erecting a few hundred meters of stock fencing. The fence is to keep people from certain areas, never mind the stock,  to allow the vegetation to move in and stop the casual snapping of trees by bored teens! The kids around the site have been super friendly and apart from pushing the porta-loo over (hey who would not want to do that, horrible things) I have had no trouble so far…so thanks for that kids. One group really wanted to use the plate whacker…sorry guys wrong shoes!

Blue pennant monoliths under construction on site

The first few days on site were I confess a bit stressful as I went through the steep learning curve of how to deal with moving and digging coal shale. It was all going well until it rained and then oh my god, previously rock hard ground started to turn into slurry of porridge…. my goodness what a trial that was, especially when the track became detached from the digger in a huge pit of mud. Thanks Travis Perkins for coming out and sorting that one out! The contractors then showed up with the wrong machine, a massive 25tonner, no shutters and no replacement in site. A few manic phone calls around the valley secured the services of a machine with shutters from Shillibier construction and a friendly young driver called Anthony whose knowledge and application to the job in hand was invaluable in the days and weeks to come. Highly recommended. The ponds produced a huge amount of spoil which we then moved around to create a long raised path and a series of bunds to equalise the ground level, thus allowing the ponds and gradients to be achieved. Then followed a week with a smaller 8 ton machine to sculpt the sides’ gradients and edges of the pond complex. This was a lot harder than I thought. Trying to get the curves and edging I had drawn out originally was a very complex operation as the machinery had to be manoeuvred into very tight corners to grade and scrape the desired angles without trashing what we had already achieved. Keith the new agency driver worked like a demon on this.

Meanwhile the great weather that had blessed us with drying out the sloppy ground and allowing us to work with a now very sculptable medium was due to change. A massive down pour predicted by the met office maeant I worked through the weekend to try and move the spoil piles around to complete the job on the ponds.
Leaving the site in torrential rain on the Sunday, I returned the next day to an amazing site of a landscape of newly filled ponds! The main arc which takes the run off from the whole of the top section of the site was full to brimming. I could then see the fruits of my labour, all those days running around with a laser level and spray can, some rough edges but considering the crazy conditions…not bad.
So what of the ponds now?
The mining spoil is a rich composition of materials from deep in the earth made up of pretty toxic materials (to plant life), mostly pyritic sulfide, manganese and aluminium. Highly acidic this thwarts the take up of nutrients and the nutrient cycle and any plant life establishing. The lime should help with the pH. The use of surface drained wetland in this case aims to allow sediment to draw down these toxins to hopefully allow a reed bed system to develop. Allowing reeds and sedges to take hold will be the starting point for the establishment of plant colonies and a new ecosystem.
The irony is that 300million years ago this material was actually a wetland to start with.From Black to White

So now we are moving into the planting season as nature shuts down for the winter. The hope is to plant up to 2-3000 trees and shrubs on the parts of the site which have been prepared for this. Some  120 tons of lime have been mixed into the coal as well as around 200tons of top soil which has been spread and mixed into the site. I have been looking at a lot of the planting which was done eight years ago on the surrounding slopes to see which trees and plants have taken well and which look a bit sickly or dead. Ash and Rowan have not fared well. Alder Birch Willow and surprisingly Oak have done much better as have Field Maple. So these will be my main choices to establish a pioneer species cover. I will experiment with a few other natives for berry’s fruits and colour.

The main planting ‘feature’ will consist of around 2-300 birch trees laid out in a grid, each supported by a sturdy split oak post, charred black in a nod to the pit props once used in the mines. Over the past century the oak woodlands of North Wales have been stripped for this purpose. I will be repeating this, using sustainable thinnings from oak plantations around my home.
From wetlands to wetlands. From forest to mine.

What comes around….watch this space

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