Work carried on much the same as the month before, mostly planting trees and hedges here and there. The weather improved somewhat too with a change to drier conditions with frosty mornings, although mud seemed to persist all over the estate.
With only a few more Capability Brown trees to plant for this year’s programme (which has had to wait for a new batch of metal tree guards to arrive) it was time to replant some of the parkland trees that had died during the summer from the last few years of planting. We’ve lost quite a few trees in Ladies Field due to the extremely wet conditions (drowned they were) but others from earlier plantings had also succumbed to the wet weather and soggy ground.
Wildlife pops up in the most obscure places (when you least expect it too). While digging up the dead trees we kept finding frogs and toads- the latter was the most common and all seemed to like living under the mulch mats especially if there was an old, damp vole nest beneath the mat. In Ladies Field we also kept coming across newts (and it’s always lovely to see the great crested newts); when all was done we would make a little home for them under the mat and leave them in peace.
Replanting carried on apace but slowed as we came to the One & a Half Avenue – unfortunately we lost nearly all the young lime trees we planted there last year. Situated on top of the plateau with heavy boulder clays this ground lies very wet which has caused waterlogging, not conducive conditions for these trees to grow in. We can’t even drain the land so a change of young transplants was in order. This time we are trying lime trees that are cell grown and quite small, hopefully that’ll do it and we’ll report on the success (or not) next year.
It always amazes me how many photographs you can take of the same place as you see so many different aspects while out working. I think most people just take pictures of the same view so it’s always refreshing to see Wimpole from different angles.
With the planting coming to an end it was time to turn our attention towards the forestry work. Last year we just ran out of time felling the woodland alongside the A1198. We try to group fell about an acre a year so as to be able to replant areas that have become very thin. This coupe however is being felled on safety grounds as some of the trees were becoming a problem and so close to a main road it was necessary to fell a thin strip.
Nothing ever goes to plan! While loading the Botex timber trailer our trusty (well not so trusty in this case) MF390 tractor threw a wobbly. The main steering ram failed and I lost all steering but, as usual, the nuts were seized and we had to wait for the parts.
Not to worry… a few days later our trusty steed was back in action- lugging the sycamore timber back to the yard.
Leaving aside a few trees at the bottom of the hill which need tree surgery before we can fell them it was time to replant the cleared area further up the hill. As this strip is close to the road I decided to plant mainly hazel with some cherry on the chalkier slope and oak will go in at the bottom. The main reason for this decision is to have a crop of usable hazel rods in the future and some cherry turning wood as it’s the next best timber to ash (which on the Wimpole estate is succumbing to the ash dieback disease). Cherry trees also seem to be less prone to squirrel and rabbit attack too plus you get nice blossom for the insects and fruit for the birds (which incidentally may help out hawfinches as they like the seed apparently). However, the muntjac will chomp on them so we’ll be putting up a chestnut pale fence once done.
One job that was done last year (with Ed from the Blickling Estate) was to survey the deer on the Wimpole Estate. This year we have not culled so many muntjac because there didn’t seem to be so many. My suspicion is that dog walkers let their dogs run through the woods thus disturbing them so much they move on. Why do I think that? Because those we do find are inhabiting thick hedges and isolated small spinneys. Well, to find out if we did indeed have fewer deer in the woods Ed brought his infrared scope along as it is much more effective than the light intensifier I have. The IR picks out any (and I mean any) heat source including mice! We saw a few muntjac (mostly down at the Arrington end of the Park where it’s less disturbed) but saw huge amounts of hares in the arable fields while rabbits seemed sporadic and sparse with a few hotspots. We’ll be back for them with the long net!
On another note- we did see a huge amount of mice/voles and small birds (more than usual). I guess keeping the deer numbers down has helped to allow the scrub and low bushes to develop and provide shelter. Which incidentally reminds me about the owls… we have loads of tawny owls but also a very good population of barn owls. You won’t believe this but barn owls hardly give off any heat and are barely visible through the IR except for the eyes. Perhaps we should develop suits made like barn owl feathers.
Of late we have been holding the Wympole Green Woodworking group up at Cobbs Wood Farm. Our February meeting was well attended with over twenty people whittling, (hmmmmmm.. both wood & on!) Nobody did any turning, they were just making spoons, bowls and various other objects.
However Andy and I thought a bit of tapping would be in order and a likely customer was the sycamore tree just behind the sheds.
Found an old turned spindle, cut it in half, bored a hole through the middle, bored another hole into the sycamore tree and then used Andy’s canteen. An hour later and it was half full, by the end of the day we had a full canteen plus some more in a tin can. I did leave the tin can overnight but very little had come out when I looked in the morning. I was going to close the hole but left it to do after work… got quite a surprise as the tin can was nearly brimming over at lunchtime and by nightfall there was over two litres of sap!
Simmered the sap down and this is what I ended up with…not a lot but it was very tasty and, over a few days, it developed into a very viscous and sticky syrup. It’s all gone now!
So who won the Judas tree competition? The bowl, the straight spoon or the wiggly spoon? Well the judges decided the wiggly spoon should win the day. Judas tree has a beautiful heartwood and white sapwood and takes a lovely shine but is in fact quite hard to work as it tends to rip down the grain, a bit like blackthorn wood. Next time it will be box wood and we’ll see who wins that challenge…
One very important event during February was to plant a tree commemorating Capability Brown’s birth 300 years ago. There have been many such commemorative tree planting events throughout the National Trust and all have been planted by the Director of the NT- Helen Ghosh. I have to admit that our tree was rather large- I had expected something a tad smaller from Barcham Trees, this was their smallest available!!!!! Still it was very impressive.
What was also nice is that Helen also helped erect the tree guard and, with the help of Ashley, we had the job wrapped up in less than fifteen minutes. Many thanks to all those involved and particular thanks to Justin Anderson as he has, along with Olga Damant and Jane Wilsher, provided the donations to pay for this year’s planting programme in the Wimpole parkland.