The Burwash hedge laying competition was held last week and we had ten competitors, it was decided that we should all lay Midland as the majority had a preference for that style. A good time for those that have only done South of England to have a go at something different.
Brambles and briar cause quite a bit of a problem as they were rather large and entwined around the hawthorn, another problem was the age of the hedge and the rather large size of the trees, yes trees, the hawthorn was as tall as any I have seen and battle-scarred from years of work on the farm. This makes it very difficult to lay the hedge as it is brittle and rather prone to snapping, more like a tree surgery job to reduce the top before attempting to lay the hedge. Nevertheless all competitors tackled their cant and finished on time at 2pm after five hours hard graft. So it was left to the judge, Tim Radford to decide who had won, who had won?
The reason for the hedge laying competition was Burwash manors apple day. The Radford family are completely committed to organic farming and rural life and have done so for many years. Part of apple day includes some of the rural skills such as the hedge laying but there is the local ploughing competition which the hedgelayers never see as they finish way before us (and eat all the lunch!!!)
As part of the apple day there is also an apple identification service, this year I brought along some of the apples from the Woodyard to see if they could identify them for me. A pale green apple (two trees in the woodyard) was the Histon favourite, it is a late season eating apple developed by the Chivers family in Cambridgeshire, it was not an apple that achieve good prices, probably because of the colour, it’s quite nice to eat actually. Another tree was Ribston pippin, a famous apple variety from Yorkshire, this apple came from a large standard tree in the Woodyard. Then there was a Blenhiem Orange which is looking quite old. Named in the 18th century, it is a dual purpose English apple. The last apple I had was a sport from a Cox I think, as the gentleman who identified the apple said it was a Queen and the only one I can find is a Queen Cox. A good site to look at to help find out about old apple varieties is here
The Wympole green woodworkers were also at hand as was Foxcote fencing demonstrating their continuous woven willow fences. There was a little bit of willow basketry, David’s stools and various other activities.
Meanwhile the rest of the WGWW’s were busy turning treen, making hazel flowers and willow dragonflies. They were also attempting another coracle frame made of willow. This time they used willow with a much smaller diameter and Mick decided to show it off, mumbling something about a tortoise.
Many years ago there used to be a very rare thistle growing wild on the estate but with the advent of modern agriculture the last remaining Tuberous thistle were collected and taken to the Cambridge botanical gardens for safe keeping. Since then there have been several attempts to get a viable population of this rare thistle growing on the Wimpole Estate. The first one was next to the folly but scrub encroachment soon ended that attempt. Some years later Peter who works for the botanic gardens asked me if we could plant some more thistle as they had produced too much. This time we tried up by the Gloucester’s along some chalky margins adjacent to the woodland. There are still some plants still growing but I suspect they will die out eventually and it became obvious that the rabbits liked them too. Well on Monday Peter brought some more spare plants over and this time after a bit of surfing the web we found that in the wild the rare thistle seems to prefer north facing chalky slopes. The best we could do was a westerly facing chalky slope just west of the folly. Third time lucky, I hope so.
Because we had run out of hedging stakes this week we set off to Valley farm to coppice an elm hedge, a somewhat large elm hedge, in fact a very very large hedge! Not sure if I would hedge lay this one, it was a good seven yards wide and thirty foot tall. It had last been cut down over thirty years ago and in fact quite possibly was felled when Dutch elm disease first appeared on the estate in the late seventies.
Out after the pesky rabbits but not before the .22 rimfire rifle was zeroed AND making sure my two daughters could shoot straight and handle the rifle safely. Ended up a competition to see who was best, of course it was Dad! but only by a whisker. At first the two girls were shooting rather large groups (barn door comes to mind) but once they were told to breath properly by breathing in fully and letting half a breath out then gently squeezing the trigger they managed to get two-inch grouping, not bad at all. Another trick is to twist your hands inwards, that steadies the rifle especially for quick shots. Another 21 rabbits for the pot and a lot less to nibble the winter wheat.
Stake production was kicking into gear and it wasn’t long before we had the five hundred we needed to finish the hedge laying. Trick here is to have razor-sharp axes as this makes pointing the stakes relatively easy.
The reason for coppicing the elm hedge was to retain the three massive elms that survived the Dutch elm disease in the 70’s. For some years the disease has been present and sneaking down the elm hedgerow so in a bid to save these giants we decided to coppice the thirty year old regrowth. The next bit is taken from Wiki to give you more info on elms.
“Elms are deciduous and semi-deciduous trees comprising the genus Ulmus in the plant family Ulmaceae. The genus first appeared in the Miocene geological period about 20 million years ago, originating in what is now central Asia. These trees flourished and spread over most of the Northern Hemisphere, inhabiting the temperate and tropical-montane regions of North America and Eurasia, ranging southward across the Equator into Indonesia.
Elms are components of many kinds of natural forests; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, many species and cultivars were also planted as ornamental street, garden, and park trees in Europe, North America, and parts of the Southern Hemisphere, notably Australasia. Some individual elms reached great size and age. However, in recent decades, most mature elms of European or North American origin have died from Dutch elm disease, caused by a microfungus dispersed by bark beetles. In response, disease-resistant cultivars have been developed, capable of restoring the elm to forestry and landscaping.
Elm leaves are alternate, with simple, single- or, most commonly, doubly serrate margins, usually asymmetric at the base and acuminate at the apex. The genus is hermaphroditic, having apetalous perfect flowers which are mostly wind-pollinated, although bees do visit them. The fruit is a round wind-dispersed samara flushed with chlorophyll, facilitating photosynthesis before the leaves emerge. All species are tolerant of a wide range of soils and pH levels but, with few exceptions, demand good drainage.
The other genera of the Ulmaceae are Planera (water elm) and Zelkova (zelkova). The genus Celtis (hackberry or nettle tree), formerly included in the Ulmaceae, is now included in the family Cannabaceae.”
Elm wood was value for its interlocking grain, and consequent resistance to splitting, with significant uses in wagon wheel hubs, chair seats and coffins. The bodies of Japanese Taiko drums are often cut from the wood of old elm trees, as the wood’s resistance to splitting is highly desired for nailing the skins to them, and a set of three or more is often cut from the same tree. The elm’s wood bends well and distorts easily making it quite pliant. The often long, straight, trunks were favoured as a source of timber for keels in ship construction. Elm is also prized by bowyers; of the ancient bows found in Europe, a large portion of them are elm. During the Middle Ages elm was also used to make longbows if yew was unavailable.
The first written references to elm occur in the Linear B lists of military equipment at Knossos in the Mycenaean Period. Several of the chariots are of elm (« πτε-ρε-ϝα », pte-re-wa), and the lists twice mention wheels of elmwood. Hesiod says that ploughs in Ancient Greece were also made partly of elm.
The density of elm wood varies between species, but averages around 560 kg per cubic metre.
Elm wood is also resistant to decay when permanently wet, and hollowed trunks were widely used as water pipes during the medieval period in Europe. Elm was also used as piers in the construction of the original London Bridge. However this resistance to decay in water does not extend to ground contact.
The Romans, and more recently the Italians, used to plant elms in vineyards as supports for vines. Lopped at three metres, the elms’ quick growth, twiggy lateral branches, light shade and root-suckering made them ideal trees for this purpose. The lopped branches were used for fodder and firewood. Ovid in his Amores characterizes the elm as “loving the vine”: ulmus amat vitem, vitis non deserit ulmum (:the elm loves the vine, the vine does not desert the elm), and the ancients spoke of the “marriage” between elm and vine.
Elms also have a long history of cultivation for fodder, with the leafy branches cut to feed livestock. The practice continues today in the Himalaya, where it contributes to serious deforestation.
As fossil fuel resources diminish, increasing attention is being paid to trees as sources of energy. In Italy, the Istituto per la Protezione delle Piante is (2012) in the process of releasing to commerce very fast-growing elm cultivars, able to increase in height by more than 2 m (6 ft) per annum.
Elm bark, cut into strips and boiled, sustained much of the rural population of Norway during the great famine of 1812. The seeds are particularly nutritious, comprising 45% crude protein, and less than 7% fibre by dry mass.
Elm has been listed as one of the 38 substances that are used to prepare Bach flower remedies, a kind of alternative medicine promoted for its effect on health. However according to Cancer Research UK, “there is no scientific evidence to prove that flower remedies can control, cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer”.
Chinese elm Ulmus parvifolia is a popular choice for bonsai owing to its tolerance of severe pruning.”
While felling the elm we came across quite a few ash stools in the wet ditch. Usually on the estate this means you can find some more unusual liverworts and moss’. We were lucky there was Homalia trichomanoides which grows on rocks and at the base of trees and shrubs in shaded sites such as woods and hedgerows. It particularly favours sites by ditches, streams and rivers, growing in the flood zone, but well above the normal water level. It may also be found on rocks and walls, it is quite similar to Neckria complanata. There was a liverwort Metzgeria furcata is a genus of thalloid liverworts in the family Metzgeriaceae. The genus was named in honor of Johann Metzger (1771–1844), German copper engraver and art restorer from Staufen, Breisgau (Baden-Wurttemberg), a friend of Raddi and pupil of the great Florentine engraver Raphael Sanzio Morghen (1753–1833). M. furcata is common on bark in most of Britain, although it is rather patchily distributed in drier parts of the south-east. It grows on a wide range of trees and shrubs, especially ash (Fraxinus excelsior), sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and willow (Salix). It sometimes grows on rocks, walls or tombstones, especially in the west.
Neckria complanata is a moss that mostly grows on the ash tree stools by ditches in Cambridgeshire, in other parts of the UK it likes shade, rather base-rich rocks, walls, but less frequent on masonry. It is at least equally frequent on bark at the base of trees and on coppice stools in old hedgerows and woodlands in eastern England, and colonizes shrubs in the west. It is rare in dry, calcareous turf.
Finally got the MF390 tractor and timber trailer working, collected last years elm timber from the hedge we coppiced last year at Valley farm then cleared out some of the woods. Our new stack pile is where the old poly tunnels where (just east of the bridge near Cobbs wood farm) These had been used for the commercial sheep many years back but with the change in policy to rare breed sheep the poly tunnels were removed. However the hard standing was left behind, ideal for stacking timber as it should not get so muddy. I think this area will fill up very fast!
Thought all that stone carting and repairing tracks etc had finished for the year but the entrance to Roundhouse field had become almost impassable. Almost a foot and a half of deep mud so we had the trailer loaded with five ton of clean three-inch limestone, (Albert reckoned we would not use more that five ton) 20 tons later we repaired the entrance to a standard that the heavy agricultural tractors could use and timber carting. Got very muddy as usual 😦
Next week we may remove some of the freshly felled elm I hope.
And the hedge laying winner! Graham Tease, well done. Next competition first Saturday in February on the Wimpole Estate