Friday, 4 October 2013

New arrivals...

‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away – next year I might be herding sheep’.

This is a line Elvis Presley once came out with and, in light or my new acquisitions, I think it’s quite suitable.
I am pleased to write that, as of today, we now have our very own flock of sheep here at Mottisfont to graze on Stockbridge Down!
This is the result of a lot of time and effort spent in looking into our grazing options in order to comply with our HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) for Stockbridge.  The Down is Common land, owned by the National Trust and, as stated in our agreement; it can only be grazed by Commoners livestock or National Trust livestock.
Whilst we have Commoner’s cattle on the Down currently, we had no sheep, and no commoners who owned sheep.  Therefore, after looking at all the angles we decided the only way to go ahead was to get our own sheep – and here they are.

The Ladies!
Grassland sites require active grazing in order to help create a varied vegetation sward and prevent dominant grasses from taking over.  This means there is a wide variety of different flowers, herbs and grasses all of differing height and structure, which provide fantastic habitat and food sources for invertebrates and so on up the food chain.  Habitats like grasslands and heathlands are remnants of a time when the first humans cleared expanses of woodland in order to build settlements and begin farming.  There were also some naturally cleared areas where large herds of herbivores used to roam and graze. Once humans started creating these large cleared sites, new flora and fauna species were able to take advantage and our southern lowland heaths and chalk grassland sites were born. 
Conservation work continues to this day to keep such sites open and prevent them from succeeding into woodland and this is an ongoing battle that every conservation organisation is continually fighting the good fight against.  I have very occasionally been asked why we bother, and why not let everything revert back to the wild wood habitat that existed thousands of years before grassland and heath land habitats developed.  Well I feel simply that if we have helped create a new ecosystem due to our ancient settlements and farms, and that ecosystem habitat has now existed for so many thousands of years that it has entirely dependant flora and fauna species which thrive there, then it is our responsibility to maintain that habitat for those species.  They are native to our country, have the most biodiversity and contain our rarest species of plants, reptiles and invertebrates.  Who are we to now turn our back on them and lose flora and fauna species that have existed for thousands of years?

And so, to this end, we have bought 32 Wiltshire Horn beauties to aid in the conservation of Stockbridge.  They are a traditional rare breed in this part of the country and have the added bonus of long legs (so good for running away from danger), horns (good self defence) and they are self shearing (not by going to the barber’s but by pulling their fleece out on vegetation, so they wont ever get tangled up and stuck.  This also means you won’t have the back breaking job of shearing 32 animals come summer).

They were due to arrive at Mottisfont on Monday, but due to some unforeseen issues at the departure end, they didn’t make it until Thursday.  I spent the morning pacing anxiously, like an expectant mother, waiting for them to arrive.  At the allocated hour I waited at the field site, wandering up and down the road and craning my neck to catch the first glimpse of a sheep laden trailer.  15 minutes passed…then 30…then 45…I finally gave the transporter a call and nearly had my ear blown off when he answered with a great bellow “IM IN THE PUB!”
“What!?” Visions of whiskey drinking sheep propped up at the bar popped into my head in a rush of comedic fear.  Fighting the panic I enquired as to why the hell he was at a pub, only to find he had pulled in at the pub down the road to ring me because he had missed the turn off for Mottisfont. Phew.  2 minutes later he rang again to say he was in the car park so I leapt back in the truck and flew down the road to the visitor car park and there, sitting out side Visitor Reception was a double decked trailer full of slightly disgruntled looking eyes and noses, peeping out the sides.  I drove back to the field site behind the Village Hall, with the sheep and transporter following and at last they were able to be unloaded and let loose on their new home.  As the trailer ramp went down there was a moment of startled silence where nothing moved – and then in one woolly rush, they all flooded out rushing over the grass to pee, poo and eat all at once.  The final sheep out expressed it best by leaping clear over the ramp, all four feet in the air with an exuberant ‘baaaaaa!’ of freedom!

They will be onsite here at Mottisfont for a couple of weeks whilst I get them bucket trained and get used to having them, and then they shall be moved up to Stockbridge Down to their real kingdom.  I am in the process of recruiting volunteer looker’s to help with checking them everyday and have currently picked up quite a few.  This basically involves just looking in on the flock to check they are all present, not lame or ill (or dead) and things like ear tags are in and water troughs are full.  This can be something that people do as part of their regular walk up there, and some of the volunteers are dog walkers who go on the Down every day anyway.  If you are interested in helping at all, even just once a month, then please contact me at for more details.

And finally, these next 2 pictures I took as real heralds of the season.  Can you guess what this first one is?


This is the first conker of Autumn.  I found it in one of our woodlands that is flooded with snowdrops in Spring and is now getting a carpet of conkers littering its soil.  I love the shiny swirling fingerprint patterns you see on conkers, like a beautiful grain that loops and swirls round and round until pffst! It disappears.  Next time you find a conker – and there are hundreds already this year – take a look at this natural work of art.
This next photo is of a tree that stands just across the road from our staff car park.  It has got the most incredible colour on its leaves at the moment giving the vivid impression that the whole tree is aflame.  The fallen leaves lie below like a carpet of fire and when you drive out the car park and see that tree glowing and burning in the evening sunlight it takes your breath away.
But with every passing day the leaves are falling, so try and see it soon!

Tongues of Fire

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