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Members of 815 Naval Air Squadron help Somerset Wildlife Trust

Published: 25 Nov 2014

Somerset levels recently saw the Royal Navy return for the first time since the flooding relief effort this winter.

On this occasion though members of 815 Squadron’s 234 Lynx Flight, based at RNAS Yeovilton, voluntarily spent a week in October 2014 working at Catcott Nature Reserves,  building a raised boardwalk through an area of wet woodland, helping ensure access for the public at any time of year

The Nature Reserves are owned and managed by Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT), a charity that was set up 50 years ago to protect our unique rural environment and provide the conditions needed for our native species to flourish. Mark Blake, SWT’s Brue Valley Reserves Manager explains:

 “Catcott complex Nature Reserves are a series of semi natural habitats managed by the Trust, with some still under restoration. The reserves sit within a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and are a mecca for wildlife such as Otters, rare insects, amphibians and birds of prey. The Trust’s aim at Catcott is to maintain a favorable environment for the wildlife at the same time as providing access for the public to come and enjoy the reserves.”

The engineers from 234 Flight spent the week building the raised boardwalk and PO ‘Fez’ Parker when asked to describe the work undertaken said

 “The trust had driven large wooden piles into the ground before we arrived and it was our job to create a framework perfectly level, and then top the frame with Larch boarding. All the wood for the project comes from trees that are being cleared from another of the trust’s reserves, just a couple of miles away as the crow flies. This helped keep down the cost of the project and is obviously much better for the environment than shipping it in from further afield.”

Many of the team were taken out of their comfort zone by the nature of the work and needed to develop new skills. PO‘Julie’ Andrews said:

 “It was a challenging week, not least because we were working in woodland while the remnants of hurricane Gonzalo blew through. At times the wind was so strong it was raining leaves! I’ve never really worked like this before; it was on an industrial scale with limited hand tools, miles away from anywhere. You might not immediately understand the benefit to the Navy of us doing things like this until you read in the Navy News that HMS Argyll’s ship’s company have just been deployed on the ground in Bermuda, helping to sort out the damage caused by the very same hurricane.”

After only one day’s work, it was clear that many more Larch boards were required. The Royal Navy to the rescue dispatched three sailors to the Trust’s workshop to cut, plane and bevel enough boards to last the week. Meanwhile, work on site progressed quickly with small crews working on different areas of the boardwalk to maximise productivity. LAET Gav Babb said;

“This has been great - doing something new and challenging in a place like this. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved here. I was hoping to see more wildlife but I guess the noise from the chainsaw scared them all away!”

AET Luke Farmery added

 “I only joined the flight last week so it was the perfect opportunity for me to get to know everyone outside of normal work. I already feel like I know the guys well.”

As the week drew to an end, 234 Flight left Catcott, tired and dirty but proud and confident that their handiwork will last for many years. Eve Tigwell, Chairman of Somerset Wildlife Trust concluded;

 "As a charity we rely heavily on volunteers to carry out a lot of essential work both on our Reserves and in our offices. We are delighted that 815 Squadron has helped us for a second time: the work that 234 Flight has carried out in constructing the boardwalk at Catcott will mean that more people can access this wonderful Reserve and watch its fascinating wildlife. This has been an excellent partnership and we look forward to maintaining it in the future." 


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