Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A little bit of Keats.

For some reason unbeknownst to my technophobic self, my blog page hasn't let me add an entry for the last week - so the following is a bit out of date!  However, here it is...

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness!  It has certainly been so over the last few weeks, with an unbelievable display of autumn bounty.  I have taken full advantage of the goods that Mottisfont and our surrounding estate has to offer and now my kitchen contains candied walnuts, sweet chestnuts for roasting, blackberry jam and whisky, spiced apple cider jam (with some left over for cider making) as well as having had several helpings of Hedgehog fungi, field mushrooms and boletes. 
Even whilst all this fodder falls to the ground, we can still look forward to some later crops of things like rosehips (squeeze a juicy rosehip sometime in November when they have softened, and the bright orange paste that comes out has a brilliant orangey taste – very rich in vitamin C) and Sloes.

In between scrabbling around collecting fruits and nuts, there has also been a lot going on of late – hence the delayed blog post.  Our autumn/winter works are now starting to be put into force and I don’t think any job highlights the beginning of autumn better than starting a new coppice coupe. 
Here at Mottisfont we have a working coppice of hazel, called Queen Meadows Copse.  It is right on the estate trail, so do go for a walk and take a look.  We cut a different section of coppice each year in order to supply the wood produce to be sold at the abbey.  This includes charcoal and kindling and chimenea wood, as well as using the brash to make faggots for the river or else pea sticks and hedge laying stakes and binders.  By coppicing different sections on a cycle of around 7- 10 years, we can have an endless supply of wood produce, whilst keeping the coppice woodland in a healthy condition with varying age structure and diversity.
A few weeks ago, some Directors and Managers from our head office of Heelis came out on a corporate day to help us do some coppicing.  We gave them a tour of the site, a low down on how we make charcoal from the hazel and then threw them into the woodland armed with saws and loppers.  Despite an afternoon of heavy rain they did a great job and cleared a good swathe between them, contributing to the huge coupe we have to clear this year – so big thanks to Mark, Graham, Carmen, Robin and Howard, I hope you enjoyed it – although I reckon you enjoyed riding around in the Polaris a lot more!
The Heelis crew

As well as help from our own, we have had other hands out getting involved.  Sparsholt College has sent us several days’ worth of students to help us with various tasks in return for them gaining some knowledge and experience of different management required for different ecosystems.
One day saw a group of students diving into the ditches of Long Lash at Mottisfont, to help clear out the encroaching reed that was beginning to stop the water flow.  I have mentioned in earlier blog posts about why we clear these ditches (Winter Hymnal post I think) and so I won’t divulge in detail again, but essentially, the ditches must have some flow of water to them in order to be suitable for invertebrates such as the Southern Damselfly which we have there.  The students got stuck in (literally, as the ditch was very silty on the bottom!) and by the end of the day we had about half the length of a ditch cleared and a group of absolutely filthy students and one lecturer who would never wear a white top to Mottisfont again…
Beginning the ditch work....

...And the end result.

Another day has seen students help me begin clearing out scrub from around our Juniper trees on Stockbridge Down.  Again, you can read about why we do this in Winter Hymnal, but basically it is to prevent the Juniper from being shaded out by the faster growing scrub species and try to aid its survival.

Talking of Stockbridge, we spent last Tuesday getting the sheep from Mottisfont to Stockbridge, to their rightful place on the Western slope….and what a day it was.  It was one of those days where everything that could go wrong – did.  We had transport issues with nearly taking the wrong trailer and having to ‘borrow’ back our tractor off the gardeners (sorry Howard), before finding the right trailer to use.  We had great ‘fun’ running around the field like headless chickens trying to flock up the sheep into a pen whilst they took full advantage of the fact that 4 of us could not block every angle and therefore they could break through our ranks.  (By the way, cheers to the 3 gardeners I pinched for 10 minutes to help me flock up the sheep!)  A few sheep almost had themselves a new home in our woodlands when they managed to slip through the hurdles of the pen and escape out the gate…luckily they were able to be ushered back in the field before they headed for the hills.  32 sheep is also a lot of animals to individually turn over (have you ever tried to turn a sheep?  It is tough to do on little ones, let alone on long legged, horned animals that are as long as I am tall) and by the time I had had each one on its bottom whilst I trimmed hooves and condition scored I was black and blue with bruises, aching in every limb and seriously considering threatening them with mint sauce.  In a darkly hilarious moment one of the sheep managed to get its horn tip caught under my thumb ring and then proceeded to run across the pen – dragging me with it, trying to keep on my feet – you couldn’t make this stuff up, really. 
Two trailer journeys later saw us getting them onto the Down – only to find the gate we were to unload them through had a combination padlock on that nobody knew – I mean seriously, a year of working here and I’ve never noticed that padlock, nor used that gate…cue a quick ring round of people who might know the code, all the while the sheep laden trailer is sitting on a steep hill overlooking the rather sheer western slope and there is no way to drive the trailer back up the hill with sheep still in it.  Luckily, we got the code, opened the gate and unloaded the animals – phew!  For the next few days they ran in the opposite direction every time they saw me, but they are now starting to come to the bribery of a bucket again.  A huge thanks to Ryan, Dylan and Neil who helped me round up, turn over and transport the flock and shared each moment of pain!

I hope the sheep are finding a good shelter in the scrub, because as I write this post, we are all under a storm warning that is heading our way.  The winds are already starting to pick up and the rain is hammering down – we shall see what my next blog post has to report, after what is looking to be a gale of hurricane force proportions – better get the chainsaw ready….

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