Sunday, 4 August 2013

Hay-Rakers Inc.

The Conservation Volunteers- Green Gym UK 

Summer 2013 brought together a group of volunteers from the UK to participate in an EU funded SVELF conservation project in Estonia. Volunteers were all over 50 years of age. Being an exchange programme, the group previously met the Estonian volunteers at Seale Hayne in Newton Abbot in Devon.

Team Estonia.

Hi, I’m Richard, I've been involved in practical conservation with TCV for well over 30 years.  Although not part of Green Gym Devon I've joined the team to see conservation  in action in Eesti. Loöking forward to meeting my Eesti counterparts, ELF.

My name is Ray. I’ve worked and travelled a great deal and I am currently based in Devon. I feel very  fortunate to have been chosen for this project and look forward to every aspect of Estonian living.

My name is Mark, I’m 50 and I live in Cornwall. I have been involved in conservation since 2008. I look forward to coming to Estonia, having never done this before. I enjoy working with people.

I’m Jan, I’m 65 and have been involved with Green Gym in Cornwall for 3 years. I was very pleased to be picked for the Estonia trip. Looking forward to seeing the countryside and seeing how the Estonian volunteers  work.

Hi, I’m Eve. I have no experience of conservation work other than joining Green Gym in Cornwall a year ago. I am really looking forward to learning about the Estonian people and their culture and their conservation projects and hope to be able to take back some useful ideas to the UK.

Following a long Journey involving trains, planes and automobiles and mishaps en route, we arrived in the middle of nowhere at 2.30 am and fell into bed. On awakening we found ourselves in an amazing old station house in Karuse, close to the port of Virtsu. Our hostess/ station mistress Meelike  was wonderfully welcoming. Apart from looking after us for the week she also tended to an array of goats and chickens. 

Below you can see Meelike gettting ready to wave and whistle us off on our daily commute to work.

Our work site: Laetatu Wooded Meadow 23-28 July.

Having arrived at our first work site we were given an introductory talk and tour of  the site by Peeter Vissak, a local specialist. He stressed the importance of preserving and maintaining this unique site which supports one of the highest densities of plant life in Europe. Also high in density were the thousands of baby frogs which we had to avoid at every step. Peeter showed us the rare orchid sites, an elk trail and a tree only visible through a spotting scope  where the White-Tailed Eagles perch. We were also fortunate enough to hear the call of the Golden Oriole, heard but not seen.

Having donned protective clothing and covering ourselves with mossi-repellent we ventured into the meadow to commence hay-raking. Some of the group chose to use traditional wooden Estonian hay rakes constructed without nails or screws, just held together by split wood and wedges. Our work involved raking the hay into stacks to allow the plant life underneath to grow through. Some of us used the teamwork approach to gather the hay, working in a large ring  and raking towards the central stack.

We organised a different base camp daily as we progressed through the meadow. Base camp provided a safe haven from the heat and we were glad to crash out on the camping mat provided. Plaguing us constantly were the incessant biting insects and we were covered in Mossi bites despite our best efforts to avoid them, while avoiding ticks as well. One bizarre practice adopted was to rub raw lemon over the entire body to no avail.

Supervising, and guiding us in our work and working along side us were our two lovely Estonians, Siim and Kirke who volunteered their time. Siim disappeared at lunch time every day and reappeared with a large metal tureen of soup, made at a local café. Siim also proved to be an very creative cook.

During the week we were lucky enough to see a pair of White-Tailed Eagles soaring above. A fab experience watching the circle round and ride the thermals over the meadows.We were also privallaged to see the ground/tree dwelling bird- the Woodlark. Among other things seen were grass snakes and lizards. On the day that it rained we were able to take the opportunity to help clear the preferred environment  of the rare and endangered Natterjack Toad, working with a local specialist Elona. These are shallow, large sandy areas which would form ponds in the wet season where the toads will find the perfect conditions necessary to breed. The work involved removing invasive weeds and small trees by hand pulling.

Free time activities included swimming and paddling in the Baltic Sea, a sauna courtesy of Meelike, and a visit to Lihula village to see a Manor House and ruined castle. Having fun on the huge swing at the station house and exploring a beautiful ruined church were additional hightlights.

We also attended a folk evening at a local barn, saw the Northern Bat in flight and looked around Hamila  museum full of national costumes, looms and wooden farming equipment.

On the day off we travelled to Saaramaa via Muhu were we met up with Andres who showed us around        Koguva  village with its ancient barns. It was a step back in time with all the wooden farming tools of days gone by.

Andres then kindly took us to his home for tea and cake before carrying on for a walk though the woods down to the coast. In the woods Andres showed us these amazing trees which produced bottles of cider ( the Sherwood Forest tree for example) and coke which distracted us from the mossies. While on Saaramaa, Siim drove us to see the amazing meteor crater at Kaali. 

What a site.

The island of Saaramaa itself is a unique migratory passage for a huge number of bird species including the Barnacle Goose.

It rained  the day we visited Matsalu National Park but we still managed to visit the toad hatchery and outdoor nursery pens with Elona. The introductory and informative film show gave us a good oversight of Matsalu, its birds, animals and general ecology.

Peeter, our previous guide from Laelatu was also kind enough to take us on an evening walk through Puhtulaiu, home of the racoon dog, pine marten and elk.

So there you have it, our first Green Gym blog and a quick glimpse at our first week in Estonia.

More to follow.