May and the mulberry tree

To forge or not

How lovely it is to work in the old Victorian forge especially with people who are willing students. For my part, in between helping, I forged a small peening hammer. It’s a joy to make your own tools and one can say only a blacksmith truly is the master as he will make the tools for all and sundry.

Irons in the fire

Hammer and anvil

Ramshead hook cooking in wax

So it was the ramshead hook again but such a lovely project as it involves many blacksmithing techniques. Much to learn especially how to use a hammer effectively. “A hammer?” I hear you say, “what could be easier to use?”!!!!!!  Well, if you use it all day you won’t, not if you don’t know how to make it easy to use, plus you’ll leave big dent marks in your project. And then, at the end of the day, there’s nothing better than a bitter to wet your throat.

Spring going on summer

A month of fencing

The dragon’s teeth

On to May’s work… fencing was the main work of the month. Buttercups Field near The Woodyard was in need of some grazing animals so, after much ado splitting oak for fence and gate posts, we hammered them in with the trusty old Bryce Sumo post thumper – a work horse in the spring months. We even added in our dragon teeth gates in the ditches to stop livestock from escaping.

Removing the old fence

Recycling the iron

Other fences that needed urgent repair (well in fact complete renewal) were the ones surrounding the garden. The old posts were stripped of wire and skipped while the defunct stock wire was recycled. Spring is always set aside for the estate fencing.

Below is a gallery of the spring  vegetation and other wildlife seen on the estate.

Norfolk Horn sheep

The end of May is sheep shearing time and just before I departed for Romania my nine Norfolk Horn ewes had a crew cut and I honed my skills in readiness for the sheep shearing course when I returned. The course was full with most wishing to learn because they had a small flock of sheep but some just wanted an experience day to find out how hard the work actually was.


The Folly in evening light

Some architectural photographs on the estate, can you guess where they are? Some are much more difficult to place than others…

Community work

One small job we had to do was for the village community of Orwell. Andy Klose Engineering had been asked to fabricate a steel support for the old mulberry tree and we (Wimpole Estate) had been asked if it was possible to install the said item. No problem, always pleased to oblige and help the local community.

The Ford needs an engine recon

Could do with a decent trailer like this one

Darn! The Ford needed a full restoration of the engine, meanwhile John the engineer brought his trailer along to pick up some wood. What I wouldn’t give for a decent trailer for the countryside team.

Out for a walk

New Sportdog trackers

One new piece of equipment I bought myself was the Sportdog tracker trainer system. A lot of money but, having used it, I would thoroughly recommend it as my stress levels have somewhat disappeared.



Meanwhile the farm crops looked ok, the rye exceptionally so. However the spring wheat looks like it will suffer from dry weather, we shall see at harvest time…

Spring wheat





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The 13th West Country scythe festival 2017


As usual there were hundreds of stalls plying many wares, the coppersmith was a new one for me and I was rather taken by the bath! Andy Harris is the coppersmith.

Fan birds 

This year there seemed to be quite a lot of traditional tools also on display ranging from knives made by Oliver Davison (actually brought a couple of his spoon knives) to secondhand scythes, hammers, axes’ billhooks just to name a few. Then there were the hand made rakes, forks and stands’ many from the far flung corners of the globe.

Willow maiden

Willow herb ooops hare

The amount of willow work was also outstanding especially the willow maiden some ten or more feet high with a hare appearing from under her skirt. The music was brilliant as usual and the bar never ran out of beer or cider 🙂 much merriment was had.

The heats started in the morning with the usual strimmer scythe race, this year the trimmer won but was later disqualified on the grounds that the offending operator actually left most of the grass standing and just gave it a whisker job, in other words he dam well cheated!


After that it was the team races and then onto the finals, he is a gallery of those taking part including all those people who do the raking, organisation, time keeping and judging, all very important jobs not least forgetting those who organised the kitchen for the mowers and all.


A well earned rest

So who won? George Montague won by a country mile, well impressive and about time to. Kevin Austin came second and the well deserved third place went to Andi Rickard who also had won the ladies race. Terry Standon won the English scythe race.

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Part two, the Estonian Nedrema wooded meadow

An Estonian wooded meadow

Below is some information from wiki about the wooded meadows in Estonia and also information about the Nedrema Wooded meadow. Also named wood-meadowspark meadows or forest meadows these ecosystems are in the temporal forest regions. They are sparse natural stands with a regularly mown herbaceous layers. While frequent throughout Europe during the Medieval period and before, wooded meadows have largely disappeared. Wooded meadows originated from the practices of hunter-gatherer communities. They were important in terms of social organization around a natural resource and determined much of the community’s interactions with the natural world. In the early 20th century, wooded meadows were used for fruit cultivation in Sweden, however their prevalence has decreased substantially due to changes in land management and a movement toward more intensive types of agroecosystems. The more typical, calcicolous wooded meadows are common around the Baltic Sea.Wooded meadows have high species richness. In some of the current Estonian wooded meadows, world record species densities have been recorded (up to 76 species of vascular plants per square meter)

The meadow

Nedrema wooded meadow is one of the largest of its kind in Estonia and Europe. Owing to its large area and well-preserved canopy structure, the Nedrema meadow is among the most distinguished wooded meadows in Estonia. Because of its location between two bogs, Nedrema is quite moist and also has a more versatile terrain than other wooded grasslands in Estonia. 17 species of protected plants, of which 15 are orchids, and 4 rare species of mushrooms have been discovered in Nedrema. The area was listed as protected area in 1991 for the conservation of wooded meadows and designated a nature reserve in 2004. The total area of the reserve is 24km². Some more information can be found if you follow this link

Wildlife of Nedrema nature reserve

There is some more information about the wooded meadows if you click this link ENG_wooded_meadows_pastures

All in all even though it was later in the summer there were still quite a few flowering plants to see and being later we even encountered quite a few fungi species some very edible. The other bonus were the berries: bilberries , cranberries , cloudberries lingonberries, blueberries, wild strawberry and some others I have no idea what they were.

Mowing the wooded meadow

Mowing in the wooded hay meadow was a delight and it was a pleasure to work alongside two Portugese men from Altares, Azores, Ivan Santos and Joao Bulhoes, and have quite a laugh with them but also everyone else on the trip. It was also just as pleasurable to help those from Estonia who needed some tuition in mowing with a scythe and we also learnt a lot about the Estonian way of life which has a strong ethos of caring for nature.

Some rather good lectures but in Estonian!

Part of the long weekend was set aside for lectures on how to use the scythe and how to manage the wooded meadow. What we did find out was that most of these meadows were managed by mowing with machines, the green hay taken away and the work was funded by the EU. The only concern that we had was the removal of the green hay before the flowers, grasses and sedges had lost their seeds, however with so much mowing to do and with so few people this was the only method available for now and it had stopped the woodland from encroaching.

Nigel giving a talk about meadow management to Romania and England

Woodland ecology lecture.

The Estonian way to sharpen a scythe



One reason why both Nigel and I were invited to go to Estonia was to teach the art of peening. Mostly it appeared that the Estonian scythes were sharpened using a hardened  file that had been ground into a sort of knife. You actually used it like a drawknife and ripped off metal from the scythe edge, works a treat as the scythe blade is made of softer metal. However it wouldn’t take long to wear the blade out! So our main job was to show people how to peen as it would appear that this technique has been lost.

The accommodation

Accommodation was provided in the form of two tents- one not so good and one that wasn’t that bad at all. Trouble was who was going to get the best tent, me or Nigel? That would be telling, you’ll have to see the video below to find out.

What’s for supper then?


Breakfast, lunch and supper were also provided but we all managed to supplement the stores with wild fungi and berries from the wood. Even had a superb bilberry pie one night.

Night time entertainment

The camp fire

As the nights drew in we were treated to some Estonian folk songs and a roaring camp fire to warm the soul. So ended a lovely excursion to the now rare northern latitude wooded meadows and the next trip is already planned for and booked.

This year the Estonian nature summer school will be held on the 20-23rd of July at the Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve, I have included some information about the reserve below.

Horse mowing

A quicker way to mow

Alam-Pedja Nature Reserve is the largest nature reserve in Estonia. It is a vast wilderness area which covers 342 km2 (85,000 acres) and consists of a complex of 5 large bogs separated by unregulated rivers, their floodplains, and extensive forests. The nature reserve aims to protect diverse ecosystems and rare species, mainly through preserving the natural development of forests and bogs and securing the continuing management of semi-natural floodplain grasslands.

Alam-Pedja is situated in Central Estonia northeast of Lake Võrtsjärv, in a lowland area called the Võrtsjärv Basin. It spans over three counties – Tartu, Jõgeva and Viljandi. The area has an especially low density of human population, comparable to that of wolf, bear and lynx. The nature reserve was established in 1994. It is recognized as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention and since 2004 it is a designated Natura 2000 site. The name Alam-Pedja, translating as Lower-Pedja, comes from the nature reserve’s location on the lower reaches of the Pedja River.

Let’s shake it!

Actor come scythesman, well almost

The competition results

Thank you Nigel Adams for picking the long twig and thanks to Piret Väinsalu who organised the event in the Nedrema wooded meadow and all those who attended, a most excellent time was had. Oh, nearly forgot the competition, wonder who won? Check out the video to find out.


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Part one of a trip to the Estonian forest meadows


Last year I was invited, along with Nigel Adams, to Estonia to help out and impart some of our knowledge in meadow management (including the use and sharpening of the scythe). Always fancied going to these Baltic countries so the invitation was gladly taken up, especially as these meadows were forest meadows.

Churches galore

Having never visited Tallin the capital city of Estonia I was amazed to see how much of the medieval city still survived. The architecture was truly superb and there only a handful of European cities so well preserved.

Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, 80 km (50 mi) south of Helsinki, east of Stockholm and west of Saint Petersburg in Harju County. From the 13th century until 1918 (and briefly during the Nazi occupation of Estonia from 1941 to 1944), the city was known as Reval. Tallinn occupies an area of 159.2 km2 (61.5 sq mi) and has a population of 445,054. Approximately a third of Estonia’s total population lives in Tallinn.

The main square

Tallinn was founded in 1248, but the earliest human settlements date back 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest capital cities of Northern Europe. The initial claim over the land was laid by the Danes in 1219 after a successful raid of Lyndanisse led by Valdemar II of Denmark, followed by a period of alternating Scandinavian and German rule. Due to its strategic location, the city became a major trade hub, especially from the 14th to the 16th century, when it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League.

Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cobbled streets

The first traces of human settlement found in Tallinn’s city center by archeologists are about 5,000 years old. The comb ceramic pottery found on the site dates to about 3000 BCE and corded ware pottery c. 2500 BCE. Around 1050, the first fortress was built on Tallinn Toompea. As an important port for trade between Russia and Scandinavia, it became a target for the expansion of the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Denmark during the period of Northern Crusades in the beginning of the 13th century when Christianity was forcibly imposed on the local population. Danish rule of Tallinn and Northern Estonia started in 1219.

The medieval restaurant

In 1285, the city, then known as Reval, became the northern most member of the Hanseatic League – a mercantile and military alliance of German-dominated cities in Northern Europe. The Danes sold Reval along with their other land possessions in northern Estonia to the Teutonic Knightsin 1346. Medieval Reval enjoyed a strategic position at the crossroads of trade between Western and Northern Europe and Russia. The city, with a population of 8,000, was very well fortified with city walls and 66 defence towers.  A weather vane, the figure of an old warrior called Old Thomas, was put on top of the spire of the Tallinn Town Hall in 1530 that became the symbol for the city.

The city walls

With the start of the Protestant Reformation the German influence became even stronger as the city was converted to Lutheranism. In 1561, Reval politically became a dominion of Sweden. During the Great Northern War, plague stricken Tallinn along with Swedish Estonia and Livonia capitulated to Imperial Russia in 1710, but the local self-government institutions (Magistracy of Reval and Chivalry of Estonia) retained their cultural and economical autonomy within Imperial Russia as the Governorate of Estonia. The Magistracy of Reval was abolished in 1889. The 19th century brought industrialization of the city and the port kept its importance. During the last decades of the century Russification measures became stronger. Off the coast of Reval, in June 1908, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, along with their children, met their mutual uncle and aunt, Britain’s King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, an act which was seen as a royal confirmation of the Anglo-Russian Entente of the previous year, and which was the first time a reigning British monarch had visited Russia.

One of the churches

On 24 February 1918, the Independence Manifesto was proclaimed in Reval, soon to be Tallinn, followed by Imperial German occupation and a war of independence with Russia. On 2 February 1920, the Tartu Peace Treaty was signed with Soviet Russia, wherein Russia acknowledged the independence of the Estonian Republic. Tallinn became the capital of an independent Estonia. After World War II started, Estonia acceded to the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1940, and later occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944. After the Nazi retreat in 1944, it was annexed by the USSR. After annexation into the Soviet Union, Tallinn became the capital of the Estonian SSR. In August 1991, an independent democratic Estonian state was established and a period of quick development to a modern European capital ensued. Tallinn became the capital of a de facto independent country once again on 20 August 1991.

Medieval tower

Tallinn has historically consisted of three parts:

  • The Toompea (Domberg) or “Cathedral Hill”, which was the seat of the central authority: first the Danish captains, then the komturs of the Teutonic Order, and Swedish and Russian governors. It was until 1877 a separate town (Dom zu Reval), the residence of the aristocracy; it is today the seat of the Estonian parliament, government and some embassies and residencies.
  • The Old Town, which is the old Hanseatic town, the “city of the citizens”, was not administratively united with Cathedral Hill until the late 19th century. It was the centre of the medieval trade on which it grew prosperous.
  • The Estonian town forms a crescent to the south of the Old Town, where the Estonians came to settle. It was not until the mid-19th century that ethnic Estonians replaced the local Baltic Germans as the majority among the residents of Tallinn.

Outer wall

The city of Tallinn has never been razed and pillaged; that was the fate of Tartu, the university town 200 km (124 mi) south, which was pillaged in 1397 by the Teutonic Order. Around 1524 Catholic churches in many towns in Estonia, including Tallinn, were pillaged as part of the Reformational fervor: this occurred throughout Europe. Although extensively bombed by Soviet air forces during the later stages of World War II, much of the medieval Old Town still retains its charm. The Tallinn Old Town (including Toompea) became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997.

The only problem I had was finding somewhere to stay… unfortunately it has become (understandably) a very popular attraction for tourists, especially the main square. One thing that stood out was the variety of doors, so here are a few of them:

The old lime tree

Our trip was to the forest meadows and it was pleasing to find how much the Estonians value their wildlife. In the city the Kelch lime trees are revered,  Tallinn is home to 52 listed trees, the majority of which grow in the city centre. The foremost of these is Tallinn’s oldest tree, a venerable linden near St. Nicholas’ Church. Called the Kelch Linden it is named after a pastor who planted the tree around 1680.

There is also a lovely natural history museum although it is mostly in Estonian, however what struck me was how many different types of forest existed in this relatively small country. Now armed with some information about the forests I was looking forward to visiting some of them.

I have to say Tallin is a wonderful city and the beer is also excellent, however it was time to make our way to the forest meadows further south.

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A head of steam at Wimpole

Steam roller coming down the hill past Home Farm

Just occasionally you get a nice surprise, this time it was a steam roller trundling its way to  the village of Barkway in Hertfordshire. This one was an Aveling & Porter.

Aveling & Porter

Before about 1850 the word steamroller meant a fixed machine for rolling and curving steel plates for boilers and ships, from then on it also meant a vehicle.  An early steamroller was demonstrated by Louis Lemoine in France in 1860 and in Britain in 1863 by William Clark and partner W.F. Batho. The company Aveling & Porter was the first to successfully sell the product commercially. In 1866 they produced a prototype roller with 3 foot wide rollers fitted to the rear of a standard 12 nominal horsepower traction engine. This experimental machine was described by local papers as ‘the world’s first steamroller’ and it caused a public spectacle.

On the roll

In 1867 the company began production of the first practical steam roller – the new machine’s rollers were mounted at the front instead of the back and it weighed in excess of 30 tons. It was tested on the Military Road in Chatham, Star Hill in Rochester and in Hyde Park, London and the machine proved a huge success. Within a year, they were being exported around the world, including to France, India and the United States. A New York City chief engineer said of one of these, that “in one day’s rolling at a cost of 10 dollars, as much work was accomplished as in two days’ rolling with a 7 ton roller drawn by eight horses at a cost of 20 dollars a day.” Aveling & Porter refined their product continuously over the following decades, introducing fully steerable front rollers and compound steam engines at the 1881 Royal Agricultural Show.

Filling up at the hydrant

Oh, is that all the water?!

Steam engines use a lot of water and need to have a refill every so often so the route has to be planned in order to go past water hydrants. Luckily for the Wimpole estate we have a few so they do pass from time to time. Quite a sight to see these old giants.


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May in bloom


So many flowers coming out in bloom, here is a gallery of May in flower

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Cambridgeshire’s local environmental heroes

Fen Causeway in Cambridge

Well it seems that Cambridge City Council are to be commended on their environmental work within the city, namely on Fen Causeway as you come in west from the A603.

The newly profiled stream

Bank protection

Over last winter the contractors have been busy changing the shape and profile of the little overflow stream off the River Cam. They have put in a gravel bed with rocks to constrict the flow which will provide riffles that keep the gravel clear of silt. This will allow fish to lay eggs in the gravel and will also keep them well oxygenated. They have also squeezed the stream with faggots which will also slightly increase the water flow while allowing water plants to grow and hopefully stabilise the banks as cattle are allowed to graze this common, a rare sight in most cities these days.

Muddy pools

A haven for wildlife

Usually people hate muddy pools but a few have been left which is good as many invertebrate species only like swampy, wet ground. I was very impressed with the work as I walked into the city and, to top it all, there was even a little egret enjoying the new surroundings. Just shows you what can be achieved if there is a will. Well done the CCC.

Mike & Matt Radford, Burwash Manor Farm

On another environmental note the Radford family have been farming the Burwash Manor Farm for many generations and a few decades ago Mike Radford decided to buck the trend and go organic to help the wildlife.

Dragonfly pools

After adjusting to changing the farm from conventional farming to organic methods he decided to turn a wet piece of land into a dragonfly sanctuary. With help from a Cambridge University boffin a number of ponds were created and today they support around twelve species and the cattle graze the grassland and some of the pond edges.

Stocked organic farm

Interestingly cattle and sheep are used to graze the leys – these are fields set aside for clover and other legumes so that nitrogen can be fixed into the soil. The clover and other legumes take nitrogen from the air and convert it into organic nitrogen in the roots of the plant. This is, in turn, fixed into the soil for the bacteria to use and then turn into other nitrogen compounds that other plants like wheat and barley can use later.

Meddick- organic fertiliser

Livestock are an important part of an arable organic farm as firstly, they mow the clover, other legumes and grasses by eating it, then secondly, the dung that comes out the other end adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil, then  thirdly, a lot of dung invertebrates breed in the dung and the larvae break down some of the more complex organic chemicals. With all these insects recycling, many get eaten by birds and bats. For instance many farmland birds when breeding need to feed their chicks vast amounts of highly nutritious insects in order for them to grow strong and survive. Skylarks are a very good example and seem to like nesting in fields where there’s livestock a low levels.

Chalk grassland

On less productive land like the very chalky soils on the steeper slopes have been set aside for permanent chalk grassland, this provides another important refuge for insects, mammals and birds but it also provides extra hay or grazing for the organic livestock.

Charlock control

Unfortunately being organic means the arable weeds do cause a problem in some years, most notable charlock which looks like rape, poppies and wild oats. The wild oats are rouged, that is a gang of people are employed to walk the arable fields to pull out and remove any of these plants. Charlock and poppies have been a real problem for the organic farmer but not now, Matt Radford has brought a special cutting machine that can go through the wheat crop mowing down most of the charlock. The job has to be done just at the right time though or you could cut the wheat stems once they start to thicken.

Hedge laying and spinneys

Also Burwash manor farm had no woodland until Mike Radford planted some spinneys, he also planted miles of new hedges too. The woodland is coppiced regular and the hedges are laid on a rotation. Its worth pointing out that this organic farm turns a good profit yet provides ample areas for the wildlife and places for the local population to walk, a shining example of excellent land management.

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April showers

A view from the Folly to Home Farm

Well actually it didn’t rain very much at all in April, it was very much needed but never materialised apart from a few short spells of drizzle; we desperately need the rain for the young trees we planted this winter.

Winching away

Most of April was set aside to finish off clearing up after Storm Doris- there were some rather large trees that had fallen onto the arable land which were making it  difficult for the tenant farmers to carry out their spraying and fertilising. Just as well we had the Igland six ton winch (boy that really saves a lot of manual work) and some of the horse chestnut tree trunks were dragged into the woods and left for the wildlife as the timber is of no commercial value, others like oak were taken back to the Woodyard.

The clear up

Tree surgery

It was also a time to finish off the rest of the tree surgery work especially the gigantic London plane trees by the lakes which apparently Capability Brown had planted. The species were formed by hybridization in the 17th century after P. orientalis and P. occidentalis had been planted in proximity to one another. It is often claimed that the hybridisation took place in Spain, but it could also have happened in Vauxhall Gardens in London where John Tradescant the Younger discovered the tree in the mid-17th century. The leaf and flower characteristics are intermediate between the two parent species, the leaf being more deeply lobed than P. occidentalis but less so than P. orientalis, and the seed balls typically two per stem (one in P. occidentalis, 3-6 in P. orientalis). The hybrid is fertile, and seedlings are occasionally found near mature trees. These trees grow to 40m high mostly but can in some circumstances grow taller, they are also very tolerant of air pollution hence why they are popular in London.

Views from the trees

At about 40m in height the trees we were up gave us some tremendous views of the parkland around the lakes, a few of the views are below.

Flowers from April

April was the month when the wild flowers started to bloom in earnest: lesser celandine, red and white dead nettles, cuckoo flowers, fritillary, cherry blossom and much more abounded around the estate.

Time to make some charcoal

With good weather there was time to have a general clear up of timber and wood, some of the wood we used for the charcoal kiln as we needed the charcoal for the estate forge. The oak timber was split asunder to make fencing posts for May’s upcoming work and some was sawn into planks to help make a number of planned bridges.

Young oak tree

Well it’s ok to fell and use oak trees but we do need to plant some more on the estate. In fact last autumn we planted about a thousand acorns from veteran oak trees in the Park. They didn’t actually do very much all winter but, as the weather warmed up, little red shoots appeared along with some delicate red leaves- absolutely amazing watching the acorns spring to life.

Easter bunny (not)

Guess the egg? Found all alone on the lake edge, I wonder if we had disturbed a thief!


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April tulips in the Wimpole gardens

Tulips galore

March saw the daffodils come and go, now April was the time for the tulips to blossom in the Wimpole gardens although there were many others to delight the eye.