Welcome to KWAG's First 2017 Newsletter
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Happy new Year to all our volunteers and followers!

Above: Late afternoon sun filters through the Lime trees outside kings Weston House

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This month:

  • One Wet Working Party! 
  • Working Party dates and projects for 2017
  • Tree replacement aplenty. 
  • A love no longer evergreen 
  • A niche new hobby for 2017?

Working Party Reminder - Finishing the laurel

Reminder:  The first Working party for 2017 will take place next week, on Sat 14th. Meet as last month at Shirehampton Road public car park at 10am. We return to that task of clearing the remainder of the manageable laurel bushes from Penpole Wood. We will be working HERE.

We hope this will be the last of this year's working parties tackling the laurel in the first compartment of Penpole Wood. Our ongoing efforts will continue a project started last year to clear the invasive evergreens that are choking the native woodland, but there will be tasks to suit most abilities. Please come along with suitable clothing for the weather on the day, bring hand-tools if you have some suitable,  and we hope to see you there. Please keep an eye on our Facebook Page in case of any change of location, or call 07811 666671 on the day to find us.

One wet working party! 

Ever since we began physical work with our volunteer Working Parties we've been somewhat blessed by decent weather. Whilst Decembers efforts achieved a great deal we were badly affected by the worst weather we've ever experienced! Huge thanks go to everyone who came out on such an appalling day to lend a hand, and especially the additional volunteers from the Forest of Avon Trust and young staff members from community-focused power company OVO Energy.

Above: Laurels retreat from the Circle. The avenue to the house is on the far right and the young Horse Chestnut planed by one of our members can be seen in the foreground.  
Below: Hardy KWAG volunteers gather in the rain!
With almost twenty pairs of hands working on the Laurels we managed to space-out widely across the area, and even made a significant impact on the laurels immediately bordering the historic Circle. A large number of laurels were felled and the waste stacked as well as it could be in the wet conditions, but eventually the weather got the best of us and activity was curtailed by 2:30. 

The Jeffrey's Pine, one of the most unusual ornamental trees at Kings Weston, and probably the only one in the city, was one of the trees that has benefited from December's work(number 18 on our Tree Trail guide). Now cleared of choking laurel it can
now be seen to much better effect from viewpoints on both of the main paths through the wood.

Above: The trunk of the Jeffery's Pine looking from the main path, south to the Penpole Avenue of limes.

Another reveal was presented in the form of a young Horse Chestnut planted in the Circle by one of our members about seven years ago, and hidden by brambles and a backdrop of laurels since tat time. The tree should now be able to take full benefit of the reduced competition in the area. 

A few volunteers have carried on the tidying-up around the area after the wet weekend and over the Christmas break. The site is now clear ahead of the final drive to finish this quarter of the woods this month.  

Below: A broad panorama looking east through Penpole Wood before and after work. The main path is on the left and the Penpole avenue of limes on the right. 

Working Party dates and projects for 2017

The dates for this year's Working party Saturdays are now set! The first will take place  next Saturday, the 14th, and the following months are as follows: 

January           14th 
February         11th
March              11th
April                15th 
May                 13th
June                10th
July                 15th
August            12th
September     16th
October          14th
November       11th
December       16th 
Above: volunteers from OVO Energy lent a hand in December 2016
We are always looking for new volunteers, no matter what age or ability; there are always jobs to suit everyone. If you haven't yet got involved with the physical restoration work and would be interested in finding out more please contact us by email, or on 07811666671. 

2017 will see a number of diverse projects take place including our continued laurel clearance, natural spacing in the woodland, brush cutting, tree and bulb planting, and step building. Our focus will continue to be in areas around Penpole Wood, but we will also be looking along the South Walk overlooking Shirehampton Park. We will continue to work to the Conservation Management Plan that forms our terms of reference with Bristol City Council for our work.  

If you know of a location where the following poster can be displayed, whether it be on a community noticeboard, community centre, library, or window, please download a PDF copy to print here. 


Tree replacement aplenty 

Thanks go to our volunteers Jim and Celia Ellis who have transplanted almost two hundred saplings from their allotment to areas previously cleared of laurel. The surplus saplings were secured late last year from the city council and bedded in until this winter when they could be planted. The saplings have largely been planted in the area around The Echo where last year's late planting of beech saplings failed. The native species that have gone in include oak, lime, and more beech, but should take in the spring more readily than last year's beech which were planted just too late to succeed. 
Above: January fog permeates the Circle and Penpole Wood avenue
KWAG also has three large young trees that will go into the ground in the area just cleared in Penpole Wood. An Oak, Black Walnut, and American Dogwood will fill in gaps left in the canopy by the overbearing laurel. The two North American species are documented to have been growing on the estate in the late C17th when specimens were sent back to England for the then-owner of the estate, Sir Robert Southwell.      

A love no longer evergreen

As with our work last year, this winter’s work in clearing the laurels has caused a little concern with regular park users. However it is key to understand how the problem has arisen in the first place.

Whilst much of the Kings Weston estate feels very wild it was not always the case. The whole of Penpole Wood and the Home Park were once carefully managed pleasure grounds and were carefully managed and embellished for well over four centuries. Penpole Wood, although partially ancient woodland, was set-out and maintained as part of the gardens to Kings Weston house.

Throughout the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries the Southwell family who owned the estate sought to enhance the promenades and avenues. They sought not only to demonstrate their mastery over nature, and impress visitors with the latest imported trees and shrubs. To enliven the walks in the winter months they sought to introduce verdant colour through the planting of evergreen shrubs as an understorey. As with the selection of exotic tree species they planted both native and imported varieties, and the legacy of what they placed in the ground is very much with us today. Although the laurel now dominates this is the perfect time of year to identify more of the evergreen species that lend colour to the winter landscape and help us understand the design and layout of earlier ornamental planting schemes.  

Below: A path at Newton St Loe where laurel and box are maintained to their originally intended C18th appearance. note also the use of yew trees picturesquely interspersed.
The Cherry Laurel we’re currently removing originally comes from Eastern Europe and Asia. It was used extensively at Kings Weston, and, when planted in the Eighteenth Century, would have been carefully cut and was intended to be maintained at a uniform height and scale. Many historic parklands retain this species, but only very few have the resources and patience to ensure they are trimmed as originally intended. A good example of the effect they would once have had can be gleaned from Newton St Loe, near Bath. Here Bath Spa University continues to manage the Capability Brown designed landscape in the traditional manner. When dealing with the monstrously large cherry laurels at Kings Weston it is difficult to imagine that they grew from such well-mannered shrubberies!

Also surviving within Penpole Wood are a number of Portuguese laurel. They too are an introduced species and would have been inter-planted to give variety of colour and texture with the cherry laurel. These are less invasive, and tend to be more compact, forming small trees with smaller, darker leaves.

Throughout the Georgian and Victorian period native species remained popular for understorey planting. Familiar hedging plants like box and privet can still be found, now growing wild, and interspersed through Penpole Wood, and behind the Echo. They’ve survived less well where out-competed by cherry laurel. Many of the English Yew within Penpole Wood are part of deliberate but long-forgotten planting schemes and have grown into maturing trees rather than the manicured bushes they were intended to form.

The native Butcher’s Broom was also a sought-after evergreen for ornamental planting. An unusual and distinctive plant with sharp spiny leaves and stiff branches it grows to about 2-3 feet in height in dense and well-defined patches. There are several remaining plants along the South Walk between the Echo and The Circle, but it survives less well in other parts of the estate where there has been greater competition for light.

Note also should be made of one other plant which still forms a notable and attractive component of the designed woodland areas: Mock Orange (Philadelphus coronarius). Although not evergreen it deserves mention here as a survival of Georgian and later planting schemes. A native of Southern Europe it is now naturalised in Penpole Wood and formerly flowered in sunny areas with richly scented white blooms. Our recent laurel clearance efforts also focussed attention on pruning a number of these plants along the main path through the woods. These should naturally regenerate into attractive and dense bushes. With the sunlight now able to penetrate into the woods these shrubs should again flower in coming years.    

Below: A typical outcrop of Butcher's broom (Ruscus aculeatus)
Evergreens will remain an important component of the Kings Weston landscape, though the problems with introduced species, and the decades-long neglect in maintaining them as originally planned, have distorted our perceptions of the woodland. Cherry laurel will continue to grow across the park, but the planters of the once-fashionable shrubs cannot have contemplated the damage they would cause to the landscape in the modern era. Now the dominant plant in many areas of the estate our love-affair with laurel has soured. It is our hope that, in reducing the coverage now, we will enable other species to take their place on the forest floor.

A niche new hobby for 2017?

We've been asked on more than one occasion what small square concrete tiles scattered around the estate were for. Until recently we were unable to offer a definite answer. The guesses ranged from drain markers or boundary stones, to something related to the Second World War camps; but the fact is much more curious. 

Immediately after the war the Ordnance Survey undertook the large-scale re-surveying of the whole of England. Rather than use more modern methods such as aerial photography, they chose to undertake the survey work by hand. Teams of surveyors were set up around the country and each task with verifying, or correcting, each and every house, fence-line, wall, railway road footpath, and a huge multitude of geographic features on every map on the national grid. 

The surveying equipment relied on direct sight-lines between one fixed point and the next. Urban areas offered many building corners, and hard edges in which to fix the small metal surveying point, but in the forest, like in Penpole Wood, the survey teams had to make other arrangements.The local team of surveyors chose to mark these "Revision Points" by setting uniquely referenced concrete blocks set into the ground. At the centre of each was the metal pin representing the centre-point from which all their measurements were taken, and a reference number was marked in the surrounding concrete when still wet. 

Above: Revision Points marked throughout Penpole Wood on the post-war ordnance Survey maps. 

Looking closely at post-war maps of Bristol on the city's Know Your Place website (The map layer described as "1947-1965 OS National Grid - limited coverage") you can start picking out the huge number of Revision Points scattered across the estate and marked "r.p.". So, before the hipsters jump on "Revision Point spotting" as a quirky new hobby why not track them down for yourselves, or just keep your eyes open for one of these odd little historic artefacts underfoot next time you're walking around the estate. 

Below: The fog drifts eerily across the front lawn of Kings Weston house on a December evening. 

Copyright © 2017 Kings Weston Action Group, All rights reserved.

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