Red sky at night, shepherds delight. Why is this old saying usually correct? Because when the sun sets to the west and you see a red sky there won’t be (or shouldn’t be) any new frontal weather systems coming in from the west; it’ll be a frosty night I suspect!
And so it was for on Sunday, at 7am it was darn cold but fresh. The ferreting team were ready to go and clear out the rest of the rabbits near the gardens and our first stop was a small warren near Home farm, last time we had six rabbits out of it but this year, just the two. At least we were not going to go home empty-handed not that we have done this year so far. How were we going to fare during the rest of the day?
When using the polecats and ferrets we put locating collars on them so that, should they lie up or kill a rabbit we are able to detect were they are and dig down to retrieve both rabbit and polecat or ferret. Just so you know as quite a few people do ask, the red and other coloured purse nets are made like this so we can find them. The rabbits are colour blind so can’t see colour.
For much of the day we used both purse nets and long nets, both catching an equal amount of rabbits but it wasn’t long until I had to start digging with the help (well sometimes and sometimes not) of the two Jagdterriers. They are particularly good at letting me know exactly which direction to dig and I am always astonished how they can sniff a rabbit through a foot or two of soil. Haven’t found any modern technology that can do this yet and I suspect I won’t for a very very long time.
Slowly we edged our way along the brook, sometimes only catching a one of two rabbits per warren, sometimes a few more, the numbers kept ticking upwards although the frost hung around till well after mid day and the sun made a half-hearted appearance before it slipped away behind thicker cloud.
Eventually we ended up at the up at the dam end of the bottom lake. Interestingly there was a smallish warren hidden under the brick work of a long time ruined bridge that once spanned the little brook, this was one of the old medieval roads that ran north and the cream brick meant that this bridge was built after 1800 as it used the bricks from the old brick works in the New Wimpole brick pits. A further few warrens were found in the venture woodland were we caught some more rabbits bringing the total to twenty-four, the most we have had this year.
Back to work on Monday bashing in tree guard stakes, an arduous job to say the least but with four of us we managed to get quite a few done. Trouble was, as we went from tree to tree it became obvious that the rabbits had been active over the holiday period, the worst area was on the hill (well it’s a hill in Cambridgeshire!!!) darn rabbits had gnawed one of the oaks to bits, might have to come ferreting here next Sunday.
Just before Christmas and after breaking numerous metal sleeves it was decided to try something different, perhaps a kanga drill and one solid piece of metal drill out on an engineering lathe might be a better option rather than the sledge-hammer and welded sleeves for knocking in the metal stakes. Andy Klose set about organising and fabricating a photo type. Just as well as after twenty or so guards we broke the metal sleeve again! the weld held but the heat from the welding caused the adjacent metal to fracture, alas this was a brand new sleeve, something had to be done about the problem, not only that the fibre glass shaft to the sledge-hammer had caused my right hand to swell up. The fibre glass handles are very unforgiving and transmit the shock from hitting the metal sleeve into your hands, why oh why do manufactures think fibre glass is better than wood, I wish the handles had remained ash wood which does take the shock out of hitting metal. As it turned out my tendons in my right hand and wrist had dried up and started to creek, blast tendentious, that hurts.
Luckily we still had plenty of work, the one and a half lime avenue required more tree stakes but it also soon became apparent that some villains had been at work! some ‘orrible year old lambs had been up to no good escaping from the field by the lake into the old deer park. Yep, they had decided to vandalise the newly planted lime trees, darn. We would have to sort that problem out too. To fill in the last hour or two of the day we spent the rest of
the afternoon inspecting the last years planting so that the guards with dead trees in could be marked and we could then purchase some replacements from Kingsdown nursery. As it turned out we lost twenty-five trees (mostly oak and beech but some limes and maples to) It would appear that the trees planted in the wettest holes last year did not fair to well. All together (including other areas) we need to replace forty trees before the end of January.
As we went around the park we stumbled across some more bark stripping, those sheep had even had a go at the really old trees, probably looking for salts in the bark. Better put some salt licks out.
Time the thwart their villainous sheep antics, we weren’t going to start cutting the weld mesh this week but as the sheep had now escaped and found our trees we had to protect them. So out with the weld mesh and some hedging stakes to fix the mesh guards to and hey presto, sheep proof for now.
Wednesday was one of those days with multiple meetings and minor small jobs to do but the main meeting was with Kieth Alexander and John Smith (did somebody mention a beer? having a dry month) who are invertebrate ecologists and are leading lights in the Ancient Tree Forum. Luckily for Wimpole Keith had four sites to pick that where deemed to have a large enough quantity of old oaks with signs of red rot, Wimpole was one of them. English Nature have acquired some funding to survey and study the insect life of red rot in oaks but needed to do the initial site surveys of the four sites to make sure they had enough trees in the landscape.
They needed 17 suitable oaks in the arable landscape and 10 in the park. The park was easy but the arable landscape proved quite difficult but in the end we had a fairly good choice of trees. Another reason for picking Wimpole was that it has been fairly well recorded for its dead wood insect ecology and as it has turned out it is of European importance and even more so considering its in an agricultural area rather denuded of trees. Looking forward to the survey next year and the results already.
Well the next day Andy Klose did come up trumps, after spinning up a sleeve from a solid round lump of engineering steel and putting a hole in the top to accommodate the Kanga drill bit we soon commandeered the 4×4 mule thing (mind the space in the back is extremely small) and put our generator on it with everything else including the drill. It worked a treat, takes just as long but it’s easier to remove the jig as the stakes don’t get mashed on the top. Not only that it has saved our hands and arms from repetitive strain from using a horrible fibre glass handled sledge-hammer. Hate those fibre glass handles even in the blacksmith shop we have had hammers with fibre glass handles and they give you terrible hands at the end of the day, give me wooden ash handles any day.
However the photo type did have one flaw, it was ok on this years stakes but the stakes we saved from last year seemed to be ever so slightly bigger and the sleeve kept jamming on the stakes. ( A tight fit stops any burring and it means we can have a shorter tube because of the tightness) It was taking much longer because of the jamming so John the engineer ranger took the offending item home at lunch time and used his engineers lathe to mill out half a millimetre from inside the sleeve. That did the trick and both Paul and John motored along in the afternoon.
Meanwhile I was attending to the most loathed job, office work, loads of it. However there was a welcome break when Chris Vine the local bat inspector came to visit the bat hibernation site underneath the library . This space used to house the boiler for the conservatory which has long since gone. Over the last twenty years the number of bats using this space has increased but it always seems weather dependant. In cold frozen weather more bats utilise this hibernation site so we were not expecting that many bats on this visit
Well what a surprise, just as we entered and in a crack above the window was a natters bat and below the window in one of the old heating pipes was a daubentons bat. We looked in the usual places and although not so many bats were seen there were a few. As we progressed we went down a tunnel with the bricks we put up about fifteen years ago (aka Vine St :-)) Always a few bats here and it wasn’t long until we had a total of ten bats, three natters and seven daubentons. Apparently in Cambridgeshire you get more of the latter than the former whereas in Bedfordshire its the opposite usually. They tell me that this is probably due to the fact that there are more water bodies in our area as opposed to Bedfordshire, how true that is I don’t know.
Just before Christmas the gardeners raided my oak timber pile and spent a whole day making a square beam out of one of the oak trunks. What on earth were they up to? Then whilst collecting the proto type kanga drill and sleeve I noticed all this oak that had been cut into rough squares, what on earth were they doing at Andy Klose Engineering? As it turns out AKE had been asked to drill holes into each piece of square oak, curiouser and curiouser, those gardeners are up to no good mark my words.