Friday, 31 January 2014

Whilst Shepherds watched their flocks....

Its stiiiiill raining….We have opened every sluice gate and every side ditch here at Mottisfont and still the river Test and the Abbey stream are full to capacity and breaching the banks into the fields and the meadows.  The Duck Grounds has now taken up its name in that you have to be a duck or other water bird to survive it and even on the highest hilltop of Stockbridge Down you are squelching through boggy mud littered with pools of water.

We are due the highest tide of the year this weekend which, with the combined floodwaters will make our Hamble site potentially underwater and we can only wait to see the state of the place come Monday.

Now in one of my earlier posts in October I told you about the arrival of our sheep flock, which we bought to graze Stockbridge Down.  I talked then about our reasons for having them and the important role they play in chalk grassland management so I won’t repeat it all now.  However, I have since recruited and trained a host of volunteer community ‘shepherds’ to assist with the checking of the sheep on a daily basis.  These wonderful people each have an allocated day of the week, on which they go out, count the sheep and visually assess them (i.e. are they upright and healthy and not staggering around with bite marks or something) check they have ear tags and that fence lines are sound, gates are shut and water troughs are full.  I will check the animals as well when I can, but it is invaluable having a team of people whom I can rely on to do this every day – it means I can have weekends and holidays!  And they have been worth their weight in gold as we have had a variety of incidents over the winter – a Houdini style escapee (I still can’t figure how she got into next door), a near broken sheep leg trapped in a tree stem and a huge yew tree crashing through the fence line this weekend to name a few but the volunteers have taken it all in their stride.

This Yew tree came down last weekend over the sheep fence - and after we cut it up into pieces, the removal of the weight of its canopy meant it suddenly rose gracefully back skywards, being pulled back upright by its heavy rootball!
And so it is well deserved that the story of the volunteer shepherds has been taken up by the local media – this last week we have had an article on the National Trust intranet (an internal news engine), an interview on BBC Radio Solent on Thursday 30th January with the Julian Clegg breakfast show and an article in the Romsey Advertiser.

The radio show can be found on the following link: and the shepherd story is from 2hrs and 11 minutes on the timeline bar.

If you are interested in joining in with the sheep checking then please contact me at   It is basically taking a walk in a stunning piece of countryside with some very friendly (and greedy) sheep!

Now a few blog posts ago I also mentioned my home made cider which I had recently started to make.  The last picture you saw was of 4 demi johns full of turgid looking brown juice which was the beginning of a beautiful dream….this week it was ready for bottling, having fermented itself into a clear golden sparkling liquid that hinted of warm summer evenings.  I first had to find a way to sterilise all my empty bottles and, with the use of the oil spill kit box and the Henry Hoover tube, I was able to cunningly devise a water filled container into which I could throw some sterilising tablets and soak all my bottles.
Hows that for ingenuity - hoover tube tap attachment!

 After sterilising them all I then took them home and proceeded with the task of uncorking the demi johns and taking the first furtive sniff to see if they had turned sour – but they smelt and tasted pretty good!

Bottling commenced and I ended up with 39 bottles of the stuff, which I then returned to the workshop at work to sit in a cool place for the next few weeks whilst the fermentation finishes off….they should be worth drinking just as Spring arrives and will be at their peak in the summer – cheers!
Liquid Gold....

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