Went to Thrapston market before Christmas to sell some of Jacob’s South African sheep which are called Dorpers aka Black face. Mind ewe ( 🙂 ha ha) the lambs are brown in their first year.
Arrived very early and it was some time before all the pens were full. A good turnout- mostly texel, mules and Suffolk sheep with a few other breeds like the Easycare sheep which are a cross between Nelson (never heard of them before) and the Wiltshire Horn. These last sheep shed their wool and have short hair during the summer so don’t need any fly strike chemicals on them (which means less handling), plus they have very strong feet which is a big bonus (stops them from going lame). Here is a link to breeds in the UK
Prices were markedly down, by 20% or more, which didn’t help Jacob as he had to sell to free up some capital to pay rents. Not an easy business being a shepherd especially when the prices fall and the pound gains strength causing our export market to diminish. Not only that but the buyers are very fussy indeed- some won’t bid on black sheep (which Jacob had put in); apparently they don’t like black fleeces and they say that the body conformation is just not quite right. They also don’t like the Easycare sheep just because of the look of them. Cross these with a Texel ram though and they then don’t know the difference. Breeding lambs for sale is an art! I will sell my Norfolks later in the new year as I suspect I wouldn’t have got more than £30-£40 each, if that. Horns are not welcome and the body build of a Norfolk is not what the buyers want – the reason why these are rare breeds- you can’t make money from them but prices always pick up in late spring… at least I hope so this year.
Back at Wimpole Jacob has just moved his sheep onto the organic clover leys for the allowed four months. They will munch through the grass and clover making it nice and short for the spring ready for growing next year’s hay crop while at the same time they are dunging the ground. Before the advent of intensive farming the shepherds were paid to bring their sheep onto the land to reduce the vegetation on the sheep walks then fold the sheep every night on to the arable fields to dung them as, in many cases, this was the only fertiliser available to most farmers.
Lately the Rheesearch team have been looking at the WWII archaeology at Wimpole. People often disregard this phase of history because it didn’t happen that long ago but it is another layer of the modern history of Wimpole. The work they are doing will give us a greater understanding of how the war affected the estate. We all know about the American army hospital at Arrington but most do not have any idea about what really occurred on the estate, even now we are still finding out more and more information.
Spent a few weekends making something in the forge secretly… wonder what it was going to be and why?
With so many jobs to do which one to do first? As it turned out the decision was made for me as Tom and Paul’s short-term contracts were closed and they had started to look for jobs. Unfortunately for me and very fortunately for them Joe, who owns a tree surgery company at Saffron Walden, was looking for some well-trained men. Both Paul and Tom fitted the bill and now have permanent jobs starting in the new year with Mercier Tree Surgery. They join Dan who was the Premises Ranger here just over a year ago. So Joe now has all three rangers from Wimpole. I dare say that the lads may well be back from time to time to undertake the tree surgery here at Wimpole through Mercier Tree Surgery as I won’t be able to do that on my own.
Having trained both Paul and Tom in tree health surveying, and as Tom was a trained aboriculturalist, it was wise to undertake the tree work before they left. The most urgent work to do was through the woodland belts and we started to the east in the Gloucesters section of the Belts. I identified the trees to do and then we made them safe- a very fast and efficient way of working. With only two weeks before Tom and Paul left time was of the essence…
Much of the work involved the ash trees as, firstly, the deadwood is very prone to falling out of the trees in large lumps unlike the oak trees which very seldom shed the deadwood. Secondly, the ash trees suffer from a bracket fungus called Inonotus hispidus- this is really nasty as it rots both lignin and cellulose turning the wood into soft, rotten, spongy material with no strength. The result of this form of rotting is that the main limbs and trunks can fail catastrophically. There can still be many good reasons to keep these trees however, but not over footpaths.
One very obvious reason to keep these trees is that the woodpeckers find it very easy to carve a nest out of ash trees that have been infected by this fungus. At this point the tree can become structurally very weak but, in these woodlands, we have the very rare lesser spotted woodpecker, maybe up to four or five pairs, so only the trees nearest the paths through the woods are topped or felled. If we do some work on trees with cavities we try to cut just above the nesting sites and thus leave them standing as some old woodpecker homes can turn into bat roosts.
We managed to do quite a bit of work but then faltered as some of the trees have possibly had bat roosts in them. As the northern and western sections of the Belts are a SSSI and, much more importantly SAC (or Special Area of Conservation), we have to check every likely roost site before any work commences. The little bit below lets you know how important they really are and is taken from Wiki:
A Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is defined in the European Union‘s Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), also known as the Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora. They are to protect the 220 habitats and approximately 1000 species listed in annex I and II of the directive which are considered to be of European interest following criteria given in the directive. They must be chosen from the Sites of Community Importance by the State Members and designated SAC by an act assuring the conservation measures of the natural habitat.
SACs complement Special Protection Areas and together form a network of protected sites across the European Union called Natura 2000. This, in turn, is part of the Emerald network of Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCIs) under the Berne Convention.
All those trees with likely bat roosts have to be inspected before any work continues and we use some special equipment to look inside the cavities. (The same sort you might use to inspect cars and other equipment where you can’t actually get to see with the naked eye). This all takes time but, while inspecting the cavities for bats, you can come across other rare wildlife too. In one sycamore that seemed very likely to be a summer bat roost I found some fly larvae in the wetter part lower down. This was one of the rat tailed maggots and quite a rare one called Mallota cimbiciformis.
There are a number of even rarer flies and beetles found on the estate in the deadwood and veteran tree habitats. This is one of the main reasons for saving problem trees instead of just felling them and why we have undertaken the tree planting programme throughout the estate.
On another note the rabbiting gang were out clearing some more rabbit warrens over towards Arrington one Saturday. Rabbits have been causing problems gnawing trees so we needed to cull their numbers. It was a wet and windy Saturday however and the expected large haul of rabbits never materialised.
In fact it was a rather testing day… once a massive warren full of rabbits in the 1970s it proved to be a shadow of its former self in terms of numbers caught. The warren is huge and complex but even with ten ferrets hunting underground we still could not shift the rabbits inside. Luckily these days we have some electronic equipment that will locate the ferrets underground and then we can dig down to find them and perhaps find the rabbits too. The two Jagdterriers also proved very effective in letting us know where the rabbits were. With their superior noses they could detect which part of the warren the holed up rabbit or rabbits were.
At the end of a wet and blustery day the total caught was…ten! A far cry from the last few years when up to forty have been caught. Many will have remained underground hiding in the far reaches of this warren so I can guarantee that we will have to come back next year to thin the population once again. Rabbit pie tonight even so !
Back to the tree surgery… luckily for us it remained dry (ish) and we did make progress. Sometimes we were able to miss out large sections of woodland as there were no problems, but then we stumbled on small pockets where we found a number of trees needing work.
Some limbs and branches needed to be pulled off because of the lean and to protect the climber, others (once a nasty bit had been taken out) had some proactive bat roost work done to them. I left one limb as a high stump so that I could cut a wide slot in it. If the stump regrows some epicormic growth further up the slot will callus over and eventually close but, for many years it will provide a roost site for bats and probably for the rare Barbastelle bat that roosts in these woods (and why the site is a SAC).
Next we went down Victoria Drive and again it was mostly ash we worked on as we left the oaks alone, mostly because, as I said before, oak deadwood hardly ever falls off. If we do have to cut it out then we wait until all the bark has fallen off as, once again, this seems to be another major roosting site for the Barbastelles. In the summer the 10-20 or so female breeding bats move their offspring every few days. It is vitally important to have as many roosting sites as possible.
Some trees were easier to do than others but a particularly nasty tree had been blown down in the last lot of blowy weather. I had to climb another tree to cut out the crown of the lodged ash tree to allow it to fall to the ground to make it safe. All in a day’s work but, alas, time was up for Tom and Paul.
For their leaving presents I forged them a Viking style knife each, they will be sorely missed. I will put on a gallery with pictures of them both shortly.
The Wympole Green Woodworkers decided to have their Christmas BBQ at Cobbs Wood Farm and a few of them brought along some new ideas… best of all were David Owen’s willow stars (apparently they are very easy to make).
David also brought in his Viking stool made from spalted beech while Jayne and Shane brought their cleft oak bench. This was made from the oak trees we cleaved in the summer and every little bit of this bench has been fashioned by hand from the felled oak timber; not one ounce of fossil fuel has been used in its production.
What’s even nicer is that, because it was radially cleaved, it is in effect quarter sawn and thus shows off the medullary rays which provide the beautiful patterning seen in all pre sawn wood and especially so in Elizabethan furniture.
So, the last challenge… to make something out of this wood. Can you guess what species it is? Here’s a clue- you could hang a man from it!