Pandora’s box

ferreting behind the hall

Ferreting behind the Hall

Some years back I took a few people out ferreting behind the Hall. It was one of those years when rabbits had bred like, well, errr, rabbits – there were hundreds of them on the estate, nay thousands.

Severe rabbit damage

Severe rabbit damage

They caused a lot of damage especially to my trees. We caught 46 from behind the Hall in one day and another 57 from the west side on another day. Why do I mention this? Well, we were out behind the Hall last Sunday with high hopes but it wasn’t long before we realised it was going to be a long, long, bitter day. The wind was blowing from the north and ripped through our clothes, the only shelter was behind a tree and by the end of a long and hard day we only had 12 rabbits (mainly because they are now breeding and the ferrets started to lie up making it very difficult). Below is the 4th Earl of Hardwicke’s notes for the week of February 21st 1841 (and this was not the only year he had problems with rabbits).

Over one hundred rabbits

Over one hundred rabbits 1n 2012

“Feby. 21 . 1841.

Fine wr. Getting on with Ploughing the Bean Land.  At work forming the new flower garden, hedging & finishing the Ponds in Park.  finish’d the Plantation at the Bottom of the Avenue.  Turfing before Lyons Cottage.  Paid Smith for new premises in full 300£.  To Reed advance for fencing in Waddon 50£.0.0.  Walters in full for Lyons Cottage 19.1.9.  Pd Mr Pemberton for Waddon enclosure including all charges for Surveyor, Commissioners &c for self &  Ch: Coll: 236.13.0.  Waterbeach Drainage Tax 89.1.1.  We have had the most severe winter I ever remember,  the Rabbits have done very great damage to my woods & young Plantations-.”



The cold north wind brought in some wintry weather although it was that sort of snow that was cold and wet which I hate the most. (Much better to have the snow in powder form with a deep chill to make it last.)


Felling in the belts

With the snow still on the ground on Monday and a frost to boot I elected to leave the forestry work next to the A1198 to take advantage of the frozen ground as the woodland tracks would be more accessible (it has suffered terribly from thousands of walkers and bike riders in the wet conditions this year).


Coppicing the elms

The section of wood we are working on was felled over thirty years ago when the elm died at Wimpole; the elm suckered and grew, some died but most were doing quite well until, alas, they mostly succumbed to dutch elm disease and now need felling.

John making stakes

John making stakes

This may seem drastic but actually it will help the elm to recover and grow anew. What’s more we have some very fine elm trunks that could be used to make beams and small planks (just need to get a mill). We were also making hundreds of hedging stakes ready for next year, elm being better than ash in my most humble opinion.

The information below was taken from the Forestry Commission:

“Details of the disease

  • First epidemic caused by fungus Ophiostoma ulmi from the 1920s onwards
  • Second and ongoing epidemic caused by the highly aggressive and related fungus O. novo-ulmi, first recognised in the 1970s
  • Elm bark beetles in the genus Scolytus disseminate the fungus
  • Infects all of Britain’s major elm species
  • Fungus invades water conducting system of trees”

Hard work but welcome blue skies

This disease is still with us today so the only hope for the British elm is to continue coppicing on a twenty to thirty year cycle as dictated by the dying trees. We do replant with other species but the regrowth of the elm out competes the newly planted trees. In past times (1950s-1980s) the elm stools would have been poisoned but certainly not now at Wimpole.

So, to Pandora’s dilemma- do you open the box and let it all out or do you keep the box shut? With urban expansion in Cambridgeshire set to rise, people will flood to the Wimpole Estate as Cambridgeshire has little else in the way of open access land and certainly few hills (come to think of it perhaps the risk assessment should include a mountain rescue team!!!!!!). How does one protect the countryside and its wildlife whilst allowing access without detrimental damage occurring? Careful planning with the right infrastructure and finances go a long way. One conundrum are the walks through the woodland and parkland.

William Eames plan for Wimpole in 1790

William Eames’ plan for Wimpole in 1790

Having worked these last few weeks in the belts and seen the damage done to the woodland rides this year (it has been getting steadily worse year on year), and knowing that plans are afoot to allow cycling on these rides, I am left wondering how to solve the problem. A new cycle track through the woodland belts would be stoned which would be very helpful as it would stop the ever-widening of the woodland rides as people try to avoid the mud. However, there is a problem and this is the sticking point! The woodland rides do not form a circular walk which means that some of the route has to go across the Park. Building a stone track across the Park would be almost impossible as it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) plus it would be out of keeping and spoil the ‘feel’ of the place. However, there could be an easy answer! On thinking about the problem, and knowing about Eames’ plan from 1790, I remembered that there was an additional woodland belt and piece of parkland that were never implemented; maybe this could solve the problem of getting the cycle track through the Park. Some farmland would need to be taken out of arable production and turned into grassland for livestock and a woodland belt added, with cycle track, to avoid the SAM parkland ( excellent news for the wildlife).

Eames plan 1790 over laying 1960 aerial photograph of estate

Eames plan 1790 overlaying  a 1969 aerial photograph of estate

The woodland and extra piece of park in question is to the north west of the Hall and can be clearly seen with the Eames plan overlaid onto the 1969 aerial photograph. Incidentally the two fields the belt cuts through were once part of the Great Park in Thomas Chicheley’s time (It was part of the Mill Field which can be seen in the 1638/1969 overlay). This part of the Great Park seems to have been turned into arable fields sometime around 1700.

The 1638 Hare map over lain onto the 1969 aerial photograph

The 1638 Hare map overlaying the 1969 aerial photograph

The reason why Mill Field became a park was down to the Chicheleys. They had, over time, engrossed many parts of the parish and, by 1638, most of Mill Field was under the control of Thomas Chicheley except for a few lands/selions that were held free (the last Thomas Chicheley must have acquired them  prior to 1680 as, by 1680/90, he had built the main part of the Hall and made a 208 acre park. In 1638 the Mill Field was grazed by Daniel Finch (the Finch family are very interesting) so it was easy for him to turn this, plus some land to the south, into the Great Park. The rest of the cycle/walking track would have to go parallel to the A1198 just inside the Park before joining the metalled road through the park at Arrington Gates.

1774 estate map over laying Eames plan of 1790

1774 estate map overlaying Eames’ plan of 1790

As I have mentioned Eames I’ll add this interesting note: when I was overlaying different maps at the right scale it became noticeable that Eames’ map was rather inaccurate; he should have had the skill as the 1638 map is astonishingly accurate given that, at that time, they were using pretty basic mapping instruments. So I assumed that he was a poor cartographer. Actually he was just a landscape designer working from older maps. As it turns out, the map of 1774 was severely wrong and Eames had copied it. He may have been responsible for the rubbing out of the 1774 map as quite a bit of the this map is blank. I wonder if that may have upset the 3rd Earl and why Eames’ plan wasn’t fully implemented (complete conjecture on my part). Just a thought and Eames certainly had a good idea to put a long lake in just south of the Hall and it would have worked!

About Sadeik

You may ask why "Sadeik" well it means friend in arabic. Worked in Jordan a lot doing tree surgery you see. I have worked in forestry since I left school with a two years in Telecom. Went back to forestry and tree surgery as it may not have paid as much but was far more interesting and dangerous. Spent a lot of years mountaineering, caving and canoeing too. At 29 I went to Bangor University to study Forestry and soil science then did an MSc in Water engineering all very interesting. By a quirk of fate in 1995 ended up helping sort out the woodland and park at Wimpole, funny thing was then I only intended to stay six months or so, but 18 years later I'm still here learning all the time. That's the best bit, if I wasn't able to learn something new every year I would not have stayed and as you get older you realise that the grass is not so green in the next field after all. In fact my patch is getting greener while much of the rest is getting browner.
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