Well it seems some time since I have blogged about the countryside team. With the departure of Tom and Paul work has been a bit hectic especially so when considering the wet weather at the beginning of the year. However we did have some lovely days and made good use of them.
The most important job for the New Year was the parkland tree planting. This year the trees were going into the field next to the two lakes to celebrate Capability Brown’s 300 year birthday. (Nope, he’s dead but it was 300 years ago that he was born 🙂 ) He designed the North Park as we see it today at Wimpole. To find out more about this year’s planting plan go to this link and find the area 1D.
Lancelot Brown was baptised on 30th August 1716 and died on 6th February 1783. He is more commonly known as Capability Brown and was an English landscape architect. He is remembered as “the last of the great English 18th century artists to be accorded his due”, and “England’s greatest gardener” (depending on your views though). He designed over 170 parks many of which still endure. His influence was so great that the contributions to the English garden made by his predecessors Charles Bridgeman and William Kent are often overlooked.
Back to the tree planting… as usual we employed Oxford Archaeology who came to supervise the test pit/tree hole excavations. As part of the whole tree planting plan this was a must because much
of the parkland is within a Scheduled Ancient Monument. When the plan was drawn up over five years ago the placement of the new trees took account of existing knowledge as to where significant archaeological remains might be so we didn’t expect to find much! To our great surprise, in an area next to the North Park fosse (a fosse has a sunken fence with slopes either side whereas a haha has one slope and a sunken brick wall), we found an old brick and gravel path. As it turns out a path can be seen in the same area on the 1800 map of the estate. So, if you look at the 1800 map and follow the ‘Y’ shaped brown path below the lakes to the fosse running west to east, you can see a path too. This is where we found the path in a tree pit.
During and just after the festive period it got quite wet and the paths became extremely muddy including those we have to use to gain access to the planting area. One has to start to think that, as winters seem to be getting wetter and more and more people are using the Park throughout the year, causing the land to become muddy and waterlogged, we may have to reinstate some of the old path networks or add some new ones. Muddy paths and tracks are a real problem on the heavy clay lands and there just isn’t an alternative because, whether it’s livestock, people or vehicles causing it, the compaction of the heavy clay soils prevents the rain from percolating down through the soil profile and without rest the damage just gets worse and worse year on year. When I first came to Wimpole thirty years ago only a handful of people visited the Park in the winter time but over the years the constant building of more houses and new villages/towns has increased the Cambridgeshire population.
I was unable to use the census data from 1801 to 2011 to show the increase in population in Cambridgeshire but made a chart for Cambridge. (Oddly there seems to have been a drop in the population in Cambridge around the 1960s/1970s…wonder why that was ?)
Anyway, as you can see, the population has increased and a recent investigation to 2016 reveals that there has been nearly a 13% increase in the population over the last decade; the prediction is for about 650,000 people in Cambridgeshire by 2030. Cambridge will expand past villages like Barton and will be on the doorstep of Wimpole- doesn’t bear thinking about. We’re going to have to do some serious thinking if Wimpole Estate is going to absorb all those people coming to visit; it won’t be a case of attracting more people but more of controlling how they use the estate if we want to preserve the landscape, wildlife and archaeology.
With half an eye on the future its worth making photographic records of the estate for people in the future to look back on. I’ve seen the top lake completely choked by reed, now it has open water. Mind you it was full of wildlife then, some quite rare like the Desmoulin’s whorl snail. We left a large area of reed at the back to protect this miniscule snail and other specialist wildlife of reed beds like water rails, water voles and harvest mice. In another post we’ll take a look at the history of the lakes and the wildlife then and now as there once were three… or was it four?
Aha! While inspecting some mature trees in the park we came across a group of trees planted some thirty years ago on the hillside above Arrington and something (or somebody) has been up to no good…but who’s the culprit?
Looked far and wide with nothing to see but soon the culprit (well, culprits more like) came into view…it was those pesky sheep! I had thought the ash trees were large enough to fend for themselves but, alas, the bark on ash seems to be particularly delicious to sheep. Not all was lost though as we pollarded the ash to let the other tree species grow- with ash dieback all over the estate it’s better to let the other species of tree grow to maturity than gamble on the ash surviving. Rather than losing the ash to sheep, and giving them at least a chance to grow, we also put weld mesh guards around them. A cheap and easy way to protect vulnerable semi mature trees.
Back to the tree planting plan… the tree pits had been inspected for the archaeology and this turned out to be rather interesting as we found some medieval and post medieval archaeology from one of the hamlets known as Green End. (Don’t ask why it was called Green End, I have no idea. It just is!)
This year I bought trees that were much smaller as last year the wet conditions drowned many of the trees we planted (more on that later). So I bought 1+1s and 1+2s plus I thought we might try out some cell grown trees. 1+1 means trees that have grown from a seedling for one year then transplanted for one year, in the case of the beech trees I tried the 1+2 so that means they have been transplanted and left to grow for two years. If you have a 1u1 that means the seedlings are undercut to cut the taproot in situ and left to grow for another year. Anyway, they were a lot easier to plant making the job a lot quicker, in fact small trees generally tend to outgrow semi standards in the long-term probably because they are bare rooted and able to send out little roots more effectively.
Having planted the vast majority of the trees it was time to protect them… firstly we cut up the rolls of weld mesh- it’s much cheaper to buy it in rolls rather than individual guards (£5 against £15) plus a roll of wire is much easier to transport then a load of readymade guards. These will keep the rabbits, sheep and cows OFF MY TREES!
One of the biggest problems with the area we were planting this year was the access. Because the gateways get so wet it was not possible to bring any of the tools, trees or guards in by vehicle so it all had to be manhandled in. We nabbed the gardeners and put them to hard labour. Fine fellows they were in helping us out but I’m sure there’ll be a catch somewhere…
Now for the hard job of knocking in the stakes for the parkland metal tree guards. On goes the jig with the tree centred, then in go the posts and hammer like hell! A very arduous job indeed. It has taken a few years to come to the conclusion that the length of the stakes have to be a minimum of 600mm but no more than 750mm as you end up burring the tops quite badly if much longer. Once burred it’s a hell of a job getting the jig off.
One cunning item that is indispensable when knocking in the stakes is the metal cap that goes over the top of the stake. It needs to fit really snugly to prevent the tops of the stakes deforming and burring over. However the last bit does have to be knocked in with a sledgehammer directly hitting the stake so we take a bit more care at this point. Once the stakes are in place it’s just a matter of bolting the two sides of the guards together, six all told, then the guard is bolted to the stakes, the weld mesh is slipped in and… job jobbed (only another 74 to go!).
Meanwhile, the Wimpole Twitcher was out and about and, in some cases, taking life a little bit too easy. What was he up to? Actually Graham was filming the resident barn owls down by Cobbs Wood Farm. They must be hungry as they were out long before sunset which made filming them much easier.
After one blowy night I found one of only three mistletoe plants growing on the trees at Wimpole cast asunder and lying prostrate and forlorn on the floor. It did however have an abundance of berries and we decided to help nature propagate some more mistletoe. At first we cut a slit in the branches of some of the lime trees but a wee butchers at the web showed that we had wasted our time unfortunately. Apparently these sticky seeds get wiped onto the branches by birds and then turn green and therefore photosynthesise thus gathering enough energy to send some roots out to worm their way into the bark of the host. My guess is that the bark has to be quite thin so we put the berries on the younger branches up to an inch thick. Wonder if they will grow?
As January went by so the weather improved and it was nice to see the estate in the rays of the setting sun.
At the end of the month we had the Wympole Green Woodworking group with us; it was a tad cold but dry nevertheless. Wood of the month was going to be a continuation of the Judas tree theme as quite a few of us had not produced anything from our pieces we were given before Christmas – shame on us but well done Jim as he was the only one to produce an item made from the Judas tree. Val, however, gave a demonstration in making willow baskets and, as usual, I’ve already forgotten everything I was shown, darn.
Jayne was making a little bowl from her bit and John Warwick was making… errrrr, another bowl from??? Anyway, I was impressed by his tool rack, a must have for any self-respecting shave horse. We will judge the Judas tree items next month.
Plenty of jobs to keep us busy and one of these was to knock in some metal stakes to attach a metal framework for the art installation linked with Capability Brown’s 300 year anniversary. Nine had to go in all told which was quite easy in most of the locations as the land was not so wet but… the last two had to go into the same area where we were planting- we were going to have to wait until we had a hard frost. I did wonder if it was going to get cold enough this year, it had been so mild for much of January I thought winter might actually pass us by but, as luck would have it, we had two nights of -4C which made the ground hard enough to support the weight of the tractor and thumper.
With the stakes in it was time to erect the metal framework and add the mirrors aka Claude glass. These were pocket glasses that artists used to help them concentrate on the picture they wanted to paint. I dare say because of the poor quality glass the image was usually distorted, might have actually improved the painting!!!!
Another job started but still to be finished is the top lake’s earth dam- it has suffered from poaching by the livestock, mainly the cattle, so we have had to put in some plastic piling and have cadged some Gault clay from the building works down on the Farm. When it’s drier we’ll bring the clay up and add it into the lake edge (plus I dare say we’ll have to add some limestone to help prevent the bank and earth dam collapsing into the lake).
Well, the gardeners helped us so we helped them dispose of some rather rusty old trailers which had to be cut up and thrown into the metal recycling skip, one good turn deserves another in return- teamwork 🙂