Prioritising work all depends on who’s about, what machinery is available and who makes most noise!
Well, in the case of the CNTV (Cambridge National Trust Volunteers) who came in on Sunday the best job, and one that has to be done for the HLS work (that’s the grant money from the government for capital works that the Wimpole Estate agreed to do in conjunction with other grant rural payments- all quite complicated really!), was the installation of the metal park rail fence across the Park to the West. With this installed we will then be able to take out another stock fence which spoils the view from
the Hall. We are re-using the metal park rail fence we removed from the West Avenue about a month ago. At £35/m we kept it as the fence line is over 500m long. Total length of the reclaimed fence? 400m, so a saving of £14,000. To get contractors to install the fence it would have cost at least £15/m or, for the total length, £7,500 excluding gates etc. With both Paul and myself and seven CNTV members we managed to install 100m of fence so that has saved the estate £1,500 in a day. Well done!… but we still have 400m to go plus gates etc.
With the machinery in place and materials ready the forestry team continued with the park rail fence. The reason we can erect this fence so quickly is because of our trusty MF390 tractor and the Bryce Sumo post knocker. Got to be gentle when using this on the metal posts tho’- one lapse of concentration and the post gets driven way too deep into the soil…
Although the new second-hand fence looks better than the stock netting it is still a fence in what was once a deer park – ideally there shouldn’t be a fence at all; but there are always compromises to be made and this fence will allow us to remove a stock fence on the skyline ( we will also have to move some of the unsightly water troughs). This work will all have to be done by October 2015- I can see that it’s going to be quite a demanding summer what with all the other work and the Folly project.
Meanwhile, Mick has been commissioned to install a continuous woven hazel fence near the gardeners house in the Walled Garden. Mick is a local coppice worker who is held in high regard; never known for cutting corners, his fences will last longest. All hazel is winter cut so that it has no sap water in it and the weaving rods and zales (the uprights) are split to aid drying which makes the fence last even longer. I even noticed that he trims the edges of the zales to make them smooth in order to make the finish of the weaving better. As hazel will rot in the ground every five yards or so he puts in some metal posts so that the fence can remain upright for the 20 years it should last.
Darn! We were getting along really well and I had thought that we had bypassed the old American hospital from the Second World War. The whole of the west side of the Park near Arrington was once an immense warren of prefab concrete huts. After the war it was given back to the government and turned into a teachers school if I remember rightly; then, when that became redundant, the government paid to have the Park reinstated. Unfortunately it was only partly reinstated as they left all the concrete bases which, in the early 1980s, the National Trust paid to have removed. I remember the most monstrous pile of concrete that was crushed and hauled off site. Well they didn’t get all of it!!!!!!!!!! That slowed the job down and made it very difficult going. Had to dig the concrete out and shorten some of the posts… in fact we kept finding concrete and, when we did, the posts invariably got bent. Blast and damn ! This job is going to take a lot longer…
At the end of each day I went back to see how Mick was getting on- slow at first because of the planning but… then the fence began to appear.
We had another mowing session after work up at the Folly for those who wished to improve their skills using a scythe. We mowed some more ground where the official campsite will be for the Scythe Festival at Wimpole. This was the last session before the Green Scythe Fair in the West Country at the weekend. Now mowing is one thing but somebody has to remove the grass or make hay. That’s were the forestry team come in as we now turned and raked the hay so that we could make some traditional hay ricks for our own Scythe Festival at the end of June. This is part of celebrating the restoration work at the Folly and we are going to try to keep the event relevant to the Victorian period to show how hay was really made before fossil fuels arrived on the scene… watch this space!
Back to the daily prioritising of work- some days work schedules change for many unforeseen circumstances and so it was midweek. A smallish limb had fallen off a pollarded field maple tree. On inspection a weakness had gone unseen in the crown. It’s sometimes exceedingly difficult to identify weaknesses especially when there are none to see externally. Now that a limb was known to have a defect our work priorities changed. We spent the morning re pollarding the offending tree but, while we were there, a couple of other trees were done too ( not that they were dangerous in any way but because I could use both Tom and myself to climb the trees and Paul to ground for us). To get a team of tree surgeons in at short notice to deal with this job would cost about £800 so we earned our wages for the day and then
spent the remaining part of the day repairing the Igland winch that had failed the LOLER inspection- a new six ton wire rope was needed which cost £150 (not an easy job this one). I also repaired the old grinding wheel so that it could be displayed at our Scythe Festival. These stone wheels would have been used to sharpen scythes, axes, billhooks etc.
It’s that time of year when the honey bees begin to swarm in numbers. I had already collected a couple the day before from the gardens after work. Best to let them settle and come back later in the evening when most of the bees are clustered up for the night.
The last two swarms went into the National hives (a make of hive) but this last swarm was going into one of the Warre hives. I prefer these as they are more natural and, from the past eight years experience, I’ve noted that the National hives don’t do so well in the winter. Why? I’ve given it some thought but first of all I’d better explain that these hives aren’t really for getting the honey. We have a lot of semi wild bees at Wimpole- in hollow trees, in the Hall and garden walls and elsewhere, even the Folly and Dairy house. Now why does Wimpole have so many wild hives when everywhere else has so few? Probably because the estate has gone organic and so the arable system has clover leys plus weed flowers; we also have many types of flowering trees including lime trees and have now got meadows and pastures beginning to have a good selection of wild flowers too. Last but not least -there is also a lot of ivy, a very important final nectar source in the autumn. So, why are my National hives not doing so well? They say rape honey sets hard and the bees will starve but that would be the same in the Warre hive. My best guess as to why some of my National hives (about 50% each year) die is that the bees huddle up in the winter in the centre and won’t move to the sides where there are honey stores (almost all my National hives that fade out still have stores on the outer frames but bees that have been trying to find honey in the centre). Meanwhile I only lose about 25% on average of the narrow Warre hives. I am guessing therefore that the huddle of bees moves upwards to the upper stores and don’t have to go to the outer edges- just a thought and one I might try to prove. So, why is a swarm in June worth a silver spoon? Because it is 🙂 and I have four silver spoons 🙂
Back to the iron fence- the concrete problem got worse and the old farm midden in the centre of the field proved troublesome too – what a pain! Sometimes the iron posts went deep into soft ground and then the next three or so would bounce off concrete. This is definitely going to be a difficult job what with removing hidden concrete and pulling out iron posts that have gone in far too deep. Oh dear, and that’s without all the other work people will be giving us …
Weaving a fence with hazel is a tricky job – you have to get the uprights (zales) right. Mick constantly adjusts the zales so that the woven rods look smart. The woven rods are laid as pairs so that the zale has an equal load either side, this also stops the fence from going all wonky.
The most common name for Briza media is Quaking-grass but there are many other common names: Cow-quake, Didder, Dithering-grass, Dodder-grass, Doddering Dillies, Doddle-grass, Earthquakes, Jiggle-joggles, Jockey-grass, Lady’s-hair, Maidenhair-grass, Pearl Grass, Quakers, Quakers-and-shakers, Shaking-grass, Tottergrass, Wag-wantons.
The ornamental Briza maxima has a large number of common names, including big quaking grass, great quaking grass, greater quaking-grass, large quaking grass, blowfly grass, rattlesnake grass, shelly grass, rattle grass in the UK, and shell grass. It grows to a height of 60 cm and the seeds and leaves are edible.