Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Ivy Removal near Marriott’s Way

May 4, 2011 · No Comments

I woke up at eight in the morning, well prepared for my day of volunteering with the BTCV.  My bag was packed with sunscreen and a water bottle, and I grabbed my bus pass to head off to City Centre.  I dropped by the Tesco on Westlegate for a sarnie before heading up the hill past the John Lewis, and walked towards the BTCV office.

The field near our ivy removal task.

Our task for the day was the removal of ivy in a strip of forested land, between a housing development and a large empty field, in the vicinity of Taverham and Drayton.  The large amount of ivy growth in the canopy of the forest was to be severed at the trunk of each tree.  There was some debate as to whether this task would be helpful to our other conservation efforts.  One volunteer argued that because birds and other animals feed on the berries that the ivy produce and use the ivy growth as a habitat, the removal of the ivy would be harmful to the wildlife in the area.  However, BTCV’s funding is contingent on completing tasks for the local council, and removal of ivy was just one of these objectives.  So volunteers who questioned the purpose of the ivy removal decided to keep a characteristically British “stiff upper lip” and not complain about the task once we had undertaken it.  The council’s stated purpose in requesting this task was to lower the risk of trees blowing over and potentially damaging houses, due to the additional stress that the ivy’s presence would place on the trees during windy conditions.

Approximately the area where ivy was cut on each tree trunk. I'm not actually cutting the ivy in this picture, but if I was I would be wearing a glove on my left hand.

We cut the vines surrounding the trunk of each tree with a forestry tool called a billhook.  The billhook is used with a swift, swinging motion to cut directly through the ivy vines.  Because of risk inherent in using tools such as a billhook, all of the volunteers wore gloves on the hand opposite to the billhook.  Wearing a glove with the hand holding the billhook was problematic, because it could easily slip out and cause injury.  Therefore, it was best to use a bare hand to hold the billhook while cutting the ivy.  We had to be sure to remove a clearly defined area, because it would be difficult for other volunteers to tell which trees had vines removed if they were only cut and not removed as well.  For each tree, any vines in an area fully encircling the tree trunk were removed.

After a few hours of vine removal, we took a tea break.  Compared to the first time I volunteered, the other group members were much more willing to ask me why I was in the England, as well as life in the United States.  I was pretty anxious when I first volunteered at BTCV, but I could tell that the volunteers were open minded and accepting of outsiders.  I also asked many of the volunteers why they had given their time to BTCV.  Many of the regular volunteers were unemployed, and told me that the social atmosphere of BTCV and the presence of many other unemployed workers gave them a sense of camaraderie in working to overcome common obstacles.  Many of the unemployed volunteers also stated that they felt that the conservation efforts were a positive use of their time, and that they wanted to contribute to the community, as opposed to simply collecting benefits and staying at home.  Also, many of the volunteers pointed out that the experience and references would be useful on their CV, and would help them to stand out from other job applicants when the economy improved.  There were also a few volunteers who were not regulars, and didn’t socialize with the group during tea break.  I don’t want to speculate, but its possible that some of the volunteers were completing mandated community service programs.

There were a few more trees that needed vine removal, so after tea we got back to work.  The forested strip became more overgrown with thorns and brush as we travelled further from where we started.  We had to trim the thorns using our loppers, which are similar to pruning shears but are also useful for trimming small tree branches.  We were able to access most of the trees in the overgrown area and complete our task.  After finishing the ivy removal in the area we started, we looked for other forested areas to check for ivy as well.  However, there were no more vines to be found past the area that we had completed.  As a group, we took a hike down to Marriott’s Way, an abandoned railroad right of way named for William Marriott, manager of the Midland and Great Northern Railway.  One of the volunteers pointed out to me the small wooden pathways that we were walking over, and explained that one of the tasks that the local council contracts out to us was the construction and maintenance of that path and others like it.  After gathering our belongings, we headed back to the BTCV lodge in City Centre.

Lots of ivy everywhere.

The most interesting aspect of the task that day was that we probably would not even considered ivy removal if BTCV’s funding was directly tied to the goal.  There was some debate about the usefulness of the task, and whether it would harm the wildlife in that area, but in the end we all decided to cooperate in order to secure this funding.  I personally was more than willing to remove the ivy for this funding, but I can see why the volunteers with experience in forestry and ecology would see this activity as counterproductive to the goal of increased conservation.  It was rewarding to listen to many of the reasons that BTCVers gave for spending their time volunteering.  I also gained an understanding of BTCV as a useful social group for people who want to contribute to the improvement of Norwich as unemployed individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances.

Date: 28/4/11

Time: 930 – 1500

Hours: 5.5 / Total Hours: 12

Supervisor: Debbie Murray

Categories: 2010 Tyler
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