Skip to content

Coppice day with Clophill Heritage Trust

February 27, 2015
Coppicing chat in Bottoms' Corner with Wassledine

Coppicing chat in Bottoms’ Corner with Wassledine

A day  spent talking about coppicing, ancient woodland and the stuff we do? Hardly a tough assignment really! Given that this is stuff I should be able to do in my sleep, I did spend a whole load of time preparing for it. This was a trial run for the  Clophill Heritage Trust , a splendid local charity that has done some amazing work restoring a disused church and building some  ‘ecolodges’. They are keen to link up with other local organisations (great for us) to get into education in a very broad sense.

So the day started with me running through some definitions, a fair bit of history (I could hardly do this without revisiting The history of the Countryside and other of Oliver Rackham’s work, given his sad death last week). We then decamped to our small woods in Gravenhurst where I turned from the theoretical to the actual, to talk about how we manage our small ancient woodland and plantation of hazel. Everyone was very happy to get their hands on a billhook and try their hand at cutting and processing a bit of hazel.

All credit to Ali and Richard from the Trust f0r bringing all of this together – all the stuff they are doing, not just last Saturday.

We are running a couple of days of willow weaving in Clophill during the Easter holidays. There are probably spaces if you fancy a try at making a  screen from willow, get in touch with them.

Advertisements

Balls and how to make willow ones

January 31, 2015
We're leading a day in the as yet undiscovered craft of making a ball from nothing but willow, on Sunday 22 March, here in Gravenhurst, Bedfordshire. We will be using willow grown on the farm to create something that's eye catching, beautiful and unusual, but otherwise has no practical value at all. These are purely for ornament. And jolly good they are too. Customers who bought them have placed them in gardens as focal points, used them to grow xclimbers through, hung them from trees or used them as indoor ornaments (they look great on a hearth during the summer). You do need  a generously proportioned  house though. The balls we make on 22 March will be around 12-18 inches diameter (that's about 30-45cm). The day will be sociable and fun as well as practical and informative. Everyone will leave with something worthwhile and pretty ballish. We will be based in our barn which can have its doors open or closed to regulate the temperature a bit, but if it's looking cold you'll need some warm clothes. You'll need to bring a sharp knife, secateurs (we have some spares if you don't your own) and some lunch. We supply all materials, tea, coffee, cake and fruit.  Cost £65. To book or find out more please contact us on 01462 711815 or email

Willow balls from Wassledine – now’s your chance to make one yourself

We’re leading a day in the as yet undiscovered craft of making a ball from nothing but willow, on Sunday 22 March, here in Gravenhurst, Bedfordshire.

We will be using willow grown on the farm to create something that’s eye catching, beautiful and unusual, but otherwise has no practical value at all. These are purely for ornament. And jolly good they are too. Customers who bought them have placed them in gardens as focal points, used them to support climbing plants, hung them from trees or used them as indoor ornaments (they look great on a hearth during the summer); you do need  a generously proportioned  house though. The balls we will make on 22 March will be around 12-18 inches diameter (that’s about 30-45cm).

A ball in its early stages - join us on 22 March 2015 to make your own willow ball, with WassledineThe day will be sociable and fun as well as practical and informative. Everyone will leave with something worthwhile and pretty ballish. We will be based in our barn which can have its doors open or closed to regulate the temperature a bit, but if it’s looking cold you’ll need some warm clothes.

You’ll need to bring a sharp knife, secateurs (we have some spares if you don’t your own) and some lunch. We supply all materials, tea, coffee, cake and fruit.

Cost £65.

To book or find out more please contact us on 01462 711815 07794 013876 or email

Pond update

January 3, 2015
A farm pond before and after excavation

Our farm pond before and after excavation

I know you are all gripped by this stuff and wait with bated breath for the next installment. Well ok, perhaps not, but I thought it worth providing an update on something I wrote a few weeks ago.

In early December 2014, we contracted a neighbour, Gordon, to bring a small digger in and clear a completely overgrown pond for us. It was tempting to do this myself but I was persuaded by a wise (and a bit killjoyish) wife that although this would be fun, someone with no knowledge of or aptitude for machinery and all those levers and things, would take a good deal longer to do the job than Gordon, who is a bit of an artist with the old lever and bucket. Jane was kind enough not to add that the result, had I taken on the job, might have been somewhat less impressive too.

Gordon did the expected excellent job and we assumed months would pass before we’d see if the thing would fill up. We were wrong. Within a week, it was pretty much full and I reconsidered previous musing on the reasons for it having been damaged by an ditch in the past. I fear it will overflow into the arable field next door and wonder if that may be why it was emptied in the past. The field next door is farmed by previously mentioned digger artist, Gordon, so if the worst happens, we can argue that he was at least involved in the committal of the crime.

We wait with some excitement for spring to see what monsters move in. Jane is warming up the pond dipping nets and I’m imagining the pleased and yes, grateful, local bats, visiting, of a June evening, to eat their fill on gnats and mosquitoes.

Watch this space.

Wassledine heifers spotted at Pegsdon

December 28, 2014
Getting reacquainted with some Red Polls at Pegsdon

Getting reacquainted with some Red Polls at Pegsdon

When we sold three Red Poll heifers to the Wildlife Trut last summer, they went to Flitwick Moor to help keep their vegetation under control. We were told then that they would be spending the winter at Pegsdon Hills Nature reserve, but we haven’t had a chance to visit them since.

We heard (through some WT insiders I think) that catching them for the move to Pegsdon in the autumn, took quite a while. We can sympathise. Young heifers can be a pain – flighty, awkward and obstinate, and certainly tricky to get into a trailer.

This morning, having a bit of a lazy Sunday, we took a stroll up Pegsdon and there they were, looking fit, healthy and as though butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Actually it was freezing so the butter thing may have been deceptive.

Jane spent some time catching up about old times until our huffing teenage daughters persuaded us to move on.

A fine retort?

December 21, 2014
Graham and Jane looking at one of Graham's coppice plot

Graham and Jane looking at one of Graham’s coppice plot

On Thursday Jane and I took a trip to Suffolk to visit a chap called Graham who I had found posting on a forum populated by all sorts of interesting woody types, but mainly arborists comparing notes on chainsaws, forwarders and other exciting machinery. These of course are of great interest to me, but it was Graham’s intriguing posts about his Exeter charcoal retort that particularly caught my attention.

A retort is a device that in many ways brings the process of charcoal making charging into the twentieth century. It has, on the face of it, a load of advantages over the more traditional ring kiln. There is one obvious disadvantage however, and that is the price which is significantly greater than the alternative.

Graham with his Exeter retort

Graham with his Exeter retort

We produce a lot of waste wood from our coppicing work and burning it to make charcoal would seem an obvious next move for us. However, to justify the capital expense required, we would need to cut a lot more coppice. This is something I’m keen to do, but have a degree of nervousness about. We’ll see.

Graham doesn’t appear to share our timidity. We were greatly impressed by his ambition for and achievements in the huge wood he has taken on. It’s a fabulous wood and I envy him the options he has available, but at the same time am in awe of what he is attempting. Hopefully we’ll see him again at some point; we were both quite inspired by spending a couple of hours in his company.

We need now to work out where we want to take our woodland business – it’s a good dilemma to have.

 

Great fun at Great Fen

December 15, 2014

Making willow balls at Great FenIt was great to be back at Great Fen, near Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, last weekend. We’ve done a series of training days for the wildlife Trust there and they’ve all been very enjoyable. This time, we were teaching a group of lovely people to make willow balls. The first time we had run this particular day and we were a bit nervous about how it would go.

In the end, it was very good. As I suspected, there was a middle period during which most participants experienced a feeling that the whole thing was impossible. I still feel this every time I make a ball after years of doing it, so it’s to their credit that everyone got through this and got to the end of the session having achieved something worthwhile and I think, having had an enjoyable day.

So thanks to all of you who took part and to Alistair for inviting us over there. Perhaps see you again soon.

Gordon in a hole

December 15, 2014
Clearing our very overgrown and silted pond

Clearing our very overgrown and silted pond

We are now into the second of a ten year agreement, in the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) and as well as what seems like miles of hedge laying, we are committed to clearing an old pond on the farm, which has become very silted and overgrown. According to a neighbour who has farmed here since the war, it lost lots of water in the seventies when the farmers at the time (Jane’s great uncles) cut a new channel to connect it to a nearby ditch. Why they might have done this is slightly mysterious; I wonder if there had been kids playing in it or perhaps on it in frozen weather and one came close to grief badly enough to warrant getting a digger out and doing some work on it. Who knows?

HLS will pay a small contribution towards improvements to farm ponds (amongst a whole raft of other things) and we need to get this one done before next spring. This is European money which, across the continent is helping to manage and improve wonderful habitats to benefit a huge variety of species. Our small contribution, we hope, will increase the available places for frogs, toads and newts to live and breed, as well as dragonflies and a load of other invertebrates. The proof will come next summer.

In the mean time, we employed another neighbour, Gordon, to get in there with a small excavator. Gordon’s a bit of a craftsman and has done a great job. There seems to be a spring feeding it and it gives the impression that it’s filling up slowly. I must try to find time on a beautiful, warm, June evening (remember them?), to sit and enjoy it in its summer prime.

HLS is changing, so there may not be funds to support such important work next year. I do wonder how, if UKIP were to gain any kind of power, such schemes would be supported.

%d bloggers like this: