Mild to say the least, global warming? Maybe… in fact most probably. I do remember when December weather would be icy cold but now it’s wet and tropical so to speak, even the grass is still growing. Don’t blame the cows and sheep that graze the grassland extensively, they utilise herbage that would otherwise eventually turn to scrub and then woodland (not a bad thing in itself I might say). But in some part blame the industrial farming that has ripped up ancient grasslands to grow more wheat, barley, maize and the like so as to enable intensive livestock rearing. These crops need copious quantities of fertiliser made with fossil fuel to feed them so as to get the bigger yields needed to feed the intensive livestock to provide all the cheap meat we don’t actually need in our diets. Mind you, that’s only the tip of the iceberg… just look at all the things we buy which are made using fossil fuel… and the travelling we do. It’s going to get a lot warmer and wetter unfortunately. No single person is to blame, it’s our society, and only all of us together can change it.
Now this brings me on to wild meat… how often do I hear that people want to eradicate animals like the humble rabbit? Once a valuable source of protein from Romans times right up to the twentieth century but now just a scourge to be gassed and left to rot. What happened? Why is a valuable resource wasted? It is actually the most organic of meats, especially when harvested from organic farmland. Not one chemical has been used to produce it ( no wormers or insecticides) unlike the farm livestock that, even under an organic system, still require the use of chemical wormers and insecticides for humane reasons.
Well, some of us do still harvest the wild rabbits, both because they do in fact cause quite a bit of damage, especially to the trees we are growing, but also because the meat is delicious in all sorts of cooking. I like rabbit stir fry Indonesian style with coconut and peanut butter. It’s lean and almost fat-free but, by adding some organic rare breed pork, you can satisfy the taste for fat. That brings me on to the next problem with industrial farming- the over use of medicines especially antibiotics.
Recently it has been reported in the papers that the last antibiotic (called colistin) that could kill all species of bacteria has succumbed to evolution; the bacteria have mutated and produced a gene called the mcr-1 gene. Allegedly, in Denmark and China, they have been using it on chickens and pigs to promote their growth with the result that this last wall of defence has been broken down (not that this antibiotic is very nice – apparently this one can cause renal failure in humans but we are running out of alternatives). All this in the race to produce all the cheap meat that we as humans really don’t need. Here is a link to an article about antibiotic use.
So, back to the rabbits… we ran a course on ferreting on which John, Alan, Tom and I were joined by two very enthusiastic participants, both wishing to find out how they could rid themselves of the arch-enemy to gardeners without resorting to gassing. A rather dull and cold day just behind the Hall resulted in one of the best days this winter. Sixteen rabbits in total and both men took two rabbits home to make a traditional rabbit stew. Even the dogs and ferrets had some for their reward.
While ferreting we came across this little burrow. Full marks to anyone who knows which mammal resides in this hole. Both my jagdterriers showed great interest but decided the rabbits would be a far better quarry. As a clue the barn owl population ebbs and flows with the fortunes of this small animal.
Leading up to the festive season the forestry team were seconded into hard labour to produce large quantity of wood chip . “For what?” You may ask.
First of all we had to put up the christmas trees in the Hall. Not such an easy task as you may have thought, especially when some of the trees seemed taller than the rooms they were supposed to be erected in. Up they went and down they came for alterations… eventually they took pride of place.
Next the white trees that we had saved from last year were hauled down from Cobbs Wood Farm along with a multitude of wooden rings to place them in. The house team was masterminded by the gang master known as ‘Tabatha the Terrible’ (she ran a sweat shop in the servants wing 😉 ). She and her workforce carefully arranged them along with the paper snowflakes.
Next on the list was the hazel arch that Mick Thwaites had made for the Estate last year. Brought down in the two-seater and then erected in the Hall, it was then Jayne’s job to decorate it.
The jobs kept coming… next on the list were the large logs. Just as well we had felled the poplar trees in the South Avenue as these made ideal logs of all sizes for the decoration near the central stairway in the Hall (must be a ton of wood in this lot alone).
Finally we were tasked with obtaining some ash poles of a certain height and diameter… we were wondering what Tabatha had in mind! Everything became clear as we produced twenty upright posts and, stuck into poplar discs… they became a snowy forest ( very poplar this was 😉 ). Not much chance of seeing one of these white, snowy trees outside this christmas!
A little job we had to do after the Xmas decorations was to knock in a metal spike. What for? Well, next year is the 300th year of Capability Brown’s birth and the whole country will be celebrating! He was a landscape designer (amongst many other things) and he got his name apparently for saying “it has capabilities”. Well these spikes will have some artwork attached to them in the new year (should be quite novel) and this one is a trial to see if it will stand up to the attention of the cows…
As part of the CB300 celebrations we are planting a further 74 trees in Capability Brown’s landscape north of the Hall. Owen (who is standing in for Branwell Govier the GIS officer while he is away) came to Wimpole to plot the positions of the trees to be planted in the new year. It will be very much milder than the last few years when it has been almost a whiteout with snow everywhere.
Back to the South Avenue to lift the rest of the lime trees and chip the brash. We have had some pretty windy days down here of late but still very mild. All that is left to do is the hedge mowing in the new year and the trees on the island in the middle of the Octagon.
Went and had a look to see how much work was required… quite a bit as it turned out but, on the way over to the island, through the reeds, I noticed some fungi growing on the reeds at water level. Tried to find out what species this is but the name has eluded me.
Next job was the tree surveys and surgery. Sometimes it’s as easy to survey AND to do the jobs at the same time especially when you have a very good team capable of undertaking such arduous work. So it was with the Adventure Playground at Home Farm. Always a difficult job due to so many small trees which have been badly damaged by the grey squirrels (should bring back pine martens as they do like squirrel for tea. The last one killed in Cambridgeshire was in the early 19th century near Caxton). Felled all the young, damaged trees and dead elms then thinned the rest. Had quite a bit of help from the gardeners as they wanted the wood chip for the path through the pleasure gardens. Spent four days just doing this.
With all the felling and thinning we were able to make quite a few hedge laying stakes as we had a little, tiny bit of hedge laying to do! Well, a tree hedge actually!
These weren’t small bushes, in fact they were rather large semi mature trees! It took quite a bit of muscle power to get them down without breaking the somewhat large pleachers. There is only one concern – most of the semi mature trees were ash and one does wonder if they will survive the onslaught of the ash dieback disease.
Had to fill up the MF390 tractor with diesel from Cambridge Road Farm and noticed this old cattle grid. Rather derelict it was once the track to the farm but since the 1960s or 70s, when the dairy farm ceased and went over to cereal production, it was no longer required. The Gault clay land on this farm lent itself to dairy farming but, as time went by, so most of the local dairy farms disappeared. Just maybe it’s time to bring back locally produced milk – though it would cost more than you pay in the supermarkets it would save on food miles and I do think the time is near when small dairies will return.