Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Is that woodland on fire!? Nope, its just the leaf colours catching the light of the sun – November is the winning month for Autumn colour and right now they are absolutely superb.  Beech, Chestnut, Acer’s, Birch – all look like they are aflame with glowing embers and sparks of fire and I urge people to take a walk through our woodlands round Mottisfont or up Stockbridge Down and see the carpet of reds, oranges, yellows and gold that is currently cloaking the landscape.

Talking of stunning views, I took this sunset picture from the top of Stockbridge Down looking across to Danebury hillfort and the fiery sky took my breath away.
Ancient View - no wonder Iron Age people built their fort here, with a sight like this to look out on!

We have caught up on ourselves after the destruction of the storm and are now busy with the usual Autumn tasks; volunteers have commenced scrub clearance on Stockbridge Down and have made a fantastic start in the clearance of scrub around the Juniper trees – looking at what was done last year and so far this year, I think we should get all the Juniper tree’s freed from the scrub this winter which is excellent news – next stop, regeneration!

Tree survey season is upon us again – so if you see me plunging into hedgerows armed with a clipboard you know I am doing the annual tree inspections – luckily for us the storm came before hand, so we don’t need to go round and re-check all the newly snapped limbs.

Deadly Saviour...Geoff and chainsaw lurk in the scrub around the Juniper (front branch).

Taking a breather under a newly cleared Juniper tree

Our firewood processing work has increased with the arrival of the cold weather – people have rushed to their woodburners to heat the house and realised they need logs!  We sell fire wood, kindling and charcoal here at Mottisfont Abbey in bags and in bulk truckloads so if you ever want some home grown quality firewood then contact David.chase@nationaltrust.org.uk - he even offers delivery, hows that for service!

Our Wiltshire Horn flock are doing well, chomping their way through the winter grassland and taking great pleasure in hiding in the depths of the scrub where we can’t find them…until Tony and Peter carved a new path that winds through the upper reaches of the slope and reveals all the hidden grassy glades where the sheep are enjoying hiding out.
We now have a brilliant band of volunteer sheep lookers, one for each day of the week and some, who help us check the animals on a daily basis so we know that they are OK - these are mostly local people who are helping serve the needs of their common land by assisting with the grazing animals here.

I have made my last creations of the year using nature’s ample bounty – rosehip syrup and cider.  The cider (well its currently fermenting apple juice, but give it a few months) is at present bubbling away merrily under my table at home looking like disgusting turgid fizzy baby poo – but believe it or not, in a few months time it will be beautiful golden cider with a strong sting in its tail - its not for the faint hearted…

Lovely bubbly cider - no need to call the RSPCA, the dog is dozing, not drunk on cider fumes....

Monday, 4 November 2013

After the Storm.

"Come hither Sir, come hither my Lord, let down your locks, so long and flowing".

This is a Malayan incantation supposedly used to summon the wind – and after the battering Southern England has just taken, you can see why they used to address it so respectfully.
Well Mottisfont still stands as does the champion Plane Tree and the Millennia old Oakley Oak.  However, as the sun rose bright and clear the morning after the storm, we soon discovered that the winds had taken their toll.  Within the grounds of the Abbey stood a wonderful looking tree called an Indian Bean tree.  This tree had beans of about a foot long that drooped off its branches and gave a very exotic appearance.  Alas, however, it is no more; victim to the winds, our only bean tree has fallen. 
The fallen Indian Bean tree
The abbey fishing hut has had a narrow escape from fallen Beech limbs (this is the same hut that got crushed in the 1987 storm, you’d think its luck would change sometime) and the visitor car-park has many snapped out willow trees and broken Oak limbs lying around and is half underwater from the excess rainfall.
Across our countryside estate we had trees to clear up that had fallen throughout Mottisfont village and were blocking roads and I whizzed up to Stockbridge to check the fence line that ran round the Down and the Marsh.  Despite 4 fallen trees and limbs on the Western slope of the Down, all the fence lines remained intact and the sheep and cattle safely within.

Our biggest challenge lay in a series of large Beech and Oak trees that had gone down over the river and one of its side channels.  After wading across the flooded park-lands, we found that an entire Beech tree had snapped out in two large segments, which had gone down over the side channel and was consequently pushing the water flow into the park field.  There were also two larger specimens that had fallen right across the main channel and were acting as a very effective dam.  It has taken all week to clear through the debris and winch out the larger stems.
Me up the ladder attaching the winch chain - you can see the size of the limbs that have snapped out.
We did find some the name Hayley Williams carved into one of the fallen stems and I love to think how many years ago someone carved that in that tree, possibly some child climbing in the boughs on a make believe adventure  - so Hayley, if you ever read this, you should know your tree has fallen.

An absolutely stunning example of Beech 'spalting' in the stem of a fallen beech.   The patterns are beautiful, and make me imagine a map of the world.

Despite the debris everywhere, Monday also saw our fungi forays go ahead.  Our local fungi expert Roger Newton and his wife Jackie came and took groups out across our New Forest site at Bramshaw and then in Spearywell woods at Mottisfont, to see what they could find.  And it really is incredible how much you actually start to spot when you are looking for them.  Tiny Mycelium grew up from the leaf litter whilst Birch Polypore’s stuck out like dinner plates off rotten trunks.  Hedgehog fungus, Dog Stinkhorn, Amethyst Deceiver (a particularly pretty purple one), Coral fungus, King Alfred Cakes, Milk Cap, Sickener, White saddle, Pigs Ear and many more were found as we wandered only a very short way.  Roger and Jackie also showed me a Death Cap fungi just off from our visitor carpark – this is one mean little fungi because of the way it works.  Even eating a mere 50grams would be fatal, but the symptoms don’t show up for such a long period – 6-48hours after ingestion – that by the time you realize something is wrong, the damage is done.  It causes kidney and liver failure and, in one last nasty twist, you go through the process of feeling very ill and then actually feel much better- just before it causes complete organ shutdown and kills you.  This is a photo of a young Death cap – note the Olive green of the cap which is fairly unique.  Take note and hold a healthy respect for it as even Roman Emperors were murdered using this inconspicuous looking fungus.
The Death Cap - obviously doesn't kill slugs as it does us, judging by the bite marks...
Fungi are one of the most successful of all living organisms and it actually holds the title for largest living organism on Earth - previously thought to be the Great Barrier Reef.  The last decade has discovered some types of fungi (specific to America I believe) which spreads by tiny root matter underground and covers an absolutely vast expanse of area qualifying it as the largest living organism on our planet.  Something to ponder next time you eat some mushrooms on toast.