Night the First*

It’s ten-o-clock on a cool Sunday evening on The Cluster. It’s darkening dusk and I’m sat in front of a fire made from debris washed up in floods on which we cooked our supper (cooked as in reheated tbh, but that doesn’t sound so romantic and since that’s the ‘vibe’ I’m after, it will have to do). 

Wife and I arrived earlier in the day to set up camp for the night (or a few) and to meet one of the gents who are going to try and get some control over the huge amount of rabbits on site. The Woodland Trust who are funding out planting programme (more on that v v soon…it’s actually really exciting but I promise I’ll concentrate on current matters) have suggested and funded some serious rabbit culling to help with the establishment of the tens of thousands of new trees we will be planting this next winter. 

As we left our camp and got back into phone coverage we found out due to illness, (yep the good old ‘rona’) that the meet up wasn’t happening and so decided to spend the rest of the day wandering around and recording what we came across. 

We had already disturbed a young roe deer on our way in. We seldom see deer here, but have recorded them on our trail cams. We believe we only have a small population (as I write this at 22:14 I can hear one repeatedly ‘barking’ close by) unlike some areas where they are causing problems with both natural regeneration and intensive browsing which affects many woodland birds amongst other things. There are supposedly more deer now than at any time in history (you learn something every day…perhaps?). A mullein moth was found chomping on some figwort, which is where one would expect to find such striking beasties, and recorded in pixels for posterity. Figwort is an interesting plant. It has a wonderful Latin name ‘Scrophularia’ and a strangely shaped stem in cross section which makes it easy to identify. A lone common spotted orchid (I think) in a damp patch near Skinner’s barn suffered similar.

Mullein moth on figwort

Due to us managing to keep the vast majority of sheep off the site… (a heron just ‘gronked’ in the distance) the grass is so much higher and in a lot of places similar to that inside our small ungrazed ‘exclosures’. We are also starting to see quite a bit of alder regeneration along the riverbank. This is good.

Morning time…

Tiredness got the better of me and Cluster bed called. This wasn’t the case for the gang of local oystercatchers who spilled onto the flat grassland adjacent to our riverside camp and squabbled the dusk away. As I slid under, I’m sure I heard one of them exclaim “leave it…he’s not worth it”.

It rained in the night. The wind rose and fell and rose. 

Dawn dawned apparently. Consciousness only returned hours later. It looks sunny out there but it’s very windy. Only the birds tell me it’s summer. 


*It was the first night we had spent on The Cluster, but the title is also a play on Blake’s ‘Night the Second’. I intend to shoehorn some lines from this into the blog for the second night spent on The Cluster. Apologies in advance for this.

Martin WW

Going to the Wall?

Apologies (not) for the punny title but it feels sadly apt.

A week or so ago I saw an ’orangey’ butterfly flitting around but I lost it before I could positively identify it. I eventually found it (or one similar) in the same area yesterday.

I was pleased to get a positive identification and a photo (of sorts). It was a Wall Brown.

I was however saddened to see that the Wall (as it is also known) is now officially classed as ’endangered’ in this country (see

The other surprise yesterday was the ‘discovery’ of a fledgeling sand martin colony (apologies for the pun once again [not]). I had seen sand martins buzzing about but hadn’t had the time to see if they were Cluster residents. It seems they are.

As you can see, they are using a bit of the bank which isn’t very tall and is vulnerable to flooding. Fingers crossed that they will manage to breed successfully. I will be keeping a discrete eye on them.

And to finish, we hope to be announcing some summer volunteer days shortly. If you would be interested in helping out or just want see what we are up to, please ‘subscribe’ to our website and/or use our contact page to get in touch.


Trees please…update.

Those of you who are subscribed to the blog get an email with any new blog post. However, that is a copy of the original post (mistakes included). Unfortunately the link to the ancient tree inventory was incorrect. The link has been corrected on our blog, but will still be incorrect in your original notification email. Click on the blog title in the email to take you to the corrected version.

Other blog writers are available…if a tad quiet!


Trees Please…(old ones especially)

First up is an update on our wild boar. No further evidence, but I imagine there may be further sightings (or similar) on the first day of April next year!

So what has been happening in the mean time? Well not a lot on the ground sadly. The contract for our big planting has been put out for tender with a lot of site visits so far made by prospective contractors. We still have no idea either when any of our NFM (natural flood management) work will commence, which is frustrating, but as they say (no idea tho who ‘they’ are?) “good things come to those that wait”. We will see.

BUT on a positive note, we had a very interesting session earlier today with a lady from the Woodland Trust ancient tree inventory scheme. ( ) This aims to map all the ancient trees in the country (of which there are a few registered locally and a lot more not yet registered). She showed us how to identify old trees, how to record them and what to look for when searching. There are quite a few on The Cluster from mighty ancient crab apples to old elders (which are seldom recorded).

Looking at an old Rowan

A wet start turned into a dry late morning with lots of interesting points raised regarding how to correctly measure and photograph trees before sending the details to the Ancient Tree Inventory (see link above). I expect a few records from The Cluster to start appearing on the inventory soon. If you would like to see any of these old trees, drop us a line.

Many thanks to Christa Nelson (Tees-Swale Naturally Connected) and to Vanessa (didn’t get her surname) for facilitating this.



We have been keeping a close eye on a certain part of The Cluster as we’ve noticed some unusual soil disturbance. We had no idea what was causing this, although we had our suspicions.

Yesterday our suspicions were confirmed when we had our first sighting of a wild boar on The Cluster. Yipeee….. Although we didn’t get a photo there’s no doubt as to what we saw. We will be getting our trail cam set up later today.

Watch this space!

Super Sunny Saturday?

This next Saturday sees another of our volunteer days. The forecast is perfect. Lots of spring sunshine.

We will be erecting wire ’exclosures’ to prevent bunnies from nibbling emergent growth to see what flowers etc are actually growing on the Cluster. We have had some up for a couple of years and the difference is quite amazing.

So ’Children of the Cluster’ don’t be shy. Sign up here p l e a s e ( Contact ). Its easy enough ’work’ but dont forget your suncream!

Martin WW

How was your day?

(Ours was pretty good…)

Thankfully Thursday’s weather was decidedly spring-like. A tad breezy admittedly but very pleasant. I reckoned the four of us would be finished by lunchtime which would hopefully leave plenty of time for a wander afterwards.

I had ‘processed’ the willow (chopped up into lengths and put a rather dashing point on one end), so today just involved banging in the willow, then a tree stake and then putting a shelter on. I had also cut some to about 3 feet in length which were hammered in leaving about 6 inches above ground. we also managed to get some into the river bed which is only stony for a few inches then becomes lovely clay. Great for holding willow stakes in.

We were done by 12:30 and celebrated our ‘mammoth’ morning with red soup (tom and roasted red pepper) and some decidedly alcoholic gluten free cake. Whilst eating we were thrilled to have a pair of red kite with spring in their wings flapping around behind our ‘camp’. Professor Yaffle (you have to be of a certain age*) was calling frequently and a pair of oystercatcher seem to have made themselves at home too. “Nice”.

Our two volunteers (Paul and Jo…oh and I suppose Derek who continues to think himself a real dog) left after lunch so wife, Liz and myself wandered along to Heggs. My first primroses of the year were flowering along with some dubious snowdrops. They were along a riverside pasture so may have arrived via flooding.

On return we packed all the tools/broke camp and set off to harvest even more willow for further ‘in-river’ planting. All today’s willow and the extra came from one tree (last pic) which was pollarded along with quite a few others near Low Row a few years ago, to provide material for just this sort of malarkey.

It looks like I might be getting wet feet this weekend!

Martin WW

*Bagpuss age.


Wot u doin on Thursday? Helping us plant willow hopefully. If not, why not you ’naughty naughty things’? (in the words of English composer and leader of The Enid Robert John Godfrey…an eccentric and very talented man. See a cover of ’Wild Thing’ on YouTube to hear where the quote comes from…its quite something🤔🤔🤔. But for sheer beauty listen to ’The Immolation of Fand’. He’s also been featured on Radio 3)

Sorry drifted off there. I’m listening to it now.

Right, were doing a short willow planting sesh this Thursday. A couple of hours of planting (snax provided natch) to try and further stabilise our big land slip.

Just turn up at the area circled ⬇️ and we will see you there.

Martin WW

Playing In Puddles

Monday didn’t dawn bright and clear. It was decidedly moist. Never mind, it wasn’t throwing it down or particularly windy so as planned we met up with our volunteers at 10am to plant some willow in the very wet bits of the land slip which we planted a couple of days earlier.

By lunchtime we had all our willow planted so we set up ’camp’ as it was still drizzling and had red soup (sweet potato, lentil and tomato with a dash of ever so exotic coconut) and brown cake (dark chocolate and sour cherry). All vegan natch.

After lunch we decided to move all the existing ’exclosures’ which are there to protect small areas from the darling bunnies, so we can properly survey the flora this year. As grass had grown through the mesh, having a few pair of hands to lift at the same time made it an easy job.

Another cup of tea and we ’broke camp’ and headed off home. A very useful and enjoyable day. Even Derek the dog (I think he’s a dog🤔🤔🤔) enjoyed himself.

Martin WW