Time to have a weekend away and, as luck would have it, my little trip to see good friend Phil Potter coincided with the first bright spell in Wales since late October. Boy! I had forgotten how much it could rain in the west as luckily for us folk in the east it doesn’t rain half as much (and in fact this year was much drier here than in the last three years). It was Phil from Woodfuel East who helped Wimpole Estate get the grant for the purchase of the Botex timber trailer; at £20,000 it was out of reach for the forestry team but, with a grant from the Forestry Commission (that’s where Phil guided us through the complex procedure), we got a handsome £8,000 that was much appreciated. Time to take some venison to him!
The venison still had its jacket on as I had only got five of the blighters the evening before going over to Wales. In Wales venison is a rare treat as there never used to be deer in Wales (too darned wet I suspect!) but they have now started to colonise parts of Wales (although muntjac are rarely seen). Down in Cambridgeshire many of the woods are full of these Muntac deer, so much so they now outnumber the population in their native lands where they are becoming rarer. I gave Phil the task of skinning the deer- not as easy as one would expect. In fact they are so time-consuming to skin that game dealers don’t want them even though the meat is excellent (takes too long and there isn’t enough meat to compensate for the time involved). Rabbits are ok as they only take seconds to skin!
After skinning and butchering them it was off to see one of Phil’s friends in another Welsh valley with a load of venison as a repayment for a past favour. Well I was in for a surprise… first of all I was introduced to the flint knives he had made and then had a tour around the meat curing department (namely an airy shed), there were some most excellent cured sausages and hams. I now have some ideas for processing venison.
Later we had a local walkabout so here is a little gallery:
One of the most enchanting aspects of wandering around the Welsh countryside is hearing the babbling brooks, rivers and streams- not a sound we usually hear in the flat lands of East Anglia- and seeing all the green fields and woods while breathing in the fresh air was delightful.
While on the walkabout it was obvious that there were quite a few houses that had fallen into neglect- one particularly nice one was situated above Abergynolwyn near the slate mine. It had originally been the slate mine manager’s house and office but being quite remote it seems nobody had wanted to live there when the quarry/mine was closed down. Phil informed me that fifteen years ago the roof had still been intact but the Welsh weather and time had done for it. Now it is a wreck.
Everything was still evident though, even the bread oven could be seen and the views from the windows were to die for. I did noticed that the main beams were still solid and probably were made from the local oak.
Now what makes Mid Wales so beautiful for me is the mix of green valleys broken up by upland oak woodland which is festooned with lush mosses and lichens although, to a forester’s eyes, these woods have a major element missing- there are no younger trees evident. Those sheep have nibbled any brave seedling poking its head above the parapet, ancient they may have but we do need to make sure the next generation of oaks can grow or the natural landscape will become barren.
While having a gander across the landscape scenery I spied a ploughed field, not something you would normally see in these mountainous areas especially with soils that are extremely prone to being washed away after being ploughed (and, when one considers how much it does rain, it’s rather rash to plough anyway). It got worse! I could see that some patches of oak woodland had been felled and left in big heaps… what was going on? Apparently it was to do with the EU and agricultural area payments. So much for flood protection eh?
It seems as if the bureaucrats in Brussels have gone mad! They have apparently instructed farmers that they will have their area payments on farmland penalised if that land has trees on it (unless of course they are situated on mapped boundaries). Those trees that aren’t on the boundaries have to go if you want to maximise your payment. In Wales every bit of money in the farming community is a life saver so any potential loss in the payments means that some farmers will actually fell the upland oak woodland which is a BAP Habitat (actually it’s happening all over Europe with disastrous effects on the wildlife and landscape). I then got to thinking about the parkland trees- do THEY have to be felled if you want to maximise your payments? It’s all to do with the shade they give apparently, land under the shade of trees is considered non productive, WHAT?!
But, there is a glimmer of hope… on our walks around Abergynolwyn I couldn’t help noticing the laid hedges, they were everywhere. Now this is the positive aspect of the agricultural payment scheme. Hedge laying comes under capital works so it gets funding and in the new system a farmer laying a hedge will receive over £1o per metre. Perfect, that restores a stock proof fence along with the shelter it gives to the livestock, is valuable to the wildlife and provides tangible rural employment- a win-win situation. To my mind it is one of the best methods to keep rural Britain alive.
As we went around a hill we came across some coniferous forest clear felling- pretty brutal really but it’s a difficult area to grow production trees in as when you try to thin them out the wind comes and blows the rest over. Quite impressed with the timber stacks. All in all it was a brilliant weekend, thank you very much Mr Potter.