Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Birds, Barrows and the Birth of a Woodland

Nuthatches! The Nuthatches are back!  Yes, once again in the large ornamental trees that line the driveway walk at Mottisfont, nuthatches can be seen, hopping up and down the trunks and collecting muddy bits and pieces to line their chosen nest hole with.  I have been keeping an eye on Jasper’s tree for a while now and so I was delighted when, last week I saw the first Nuthatches of spring have returned to it to build their nest inside a tiny hole, way up high.  These could be the original parents of Jasper, my Nuthatch chick of last year, or indeed, one of them could be Jasper himself -  having returned to his tree to start his own brood…I shall keep watch with interest.

All the birds are starting to make their nests at the moment, Corvids are flying around with beaks full of twigs, Woodpeckers are furiously drumming trees to advertise themselves to potential mates, the Ravens have been spotted around Oakley Copse and Pied Wagtails are showing an interest in our tractors – they are notorious for nesting in awkward places like in the arm of the timber crane!  The rookery in the tall Sycamore and Plane trees in the gardens is one vast, noisy mass of nests, Rooks and Jackdaws all constantly cawing and calling all day long.  Woe betide anyone who walks beneath without a hood or umbrella – chances are you will get a big old splat of bird poo to adorn your hair or clothing!

The Rookery in the making
March seems to have consisted of warmer days interspersed with chilly winds that have meant we have kept our fleeces and hats on for the time being.  This cool weather has however assisted with our tree planting, in that we have been able to complete the tree planting on the estate by Queen Meadow copse whilst the trees are all still in their cold winter dormancy state.  Our Monday and Thursday volunteers have had several days here and Ryan and myself have spent more time on the site planting, planting, planting until finally, yesterday we dug the last hole, put in the final tree and wheel barrowed the last load of mulch and boom! A new woodland was born.  May it grow, thrive and prosper, and grace our land for many decades to come, so that I can go and sit under the leafy boughs as a wizened crone and remember planting them all those years ago….
The final wheel barrow of mulch...
And us lot taking a well earned rest...(Photo credit: A.Robinson)

Talking of wizened crones and old things, we have been doing some work on Stockbridge Down to replace the hurdles that surround our Bronze Age Barrows on the site.  The barrows are Scheduled Ancient Monuments and are fenced off using wooden hurdles as it stops grazing livestock, people and dogs from trampling over them and causing them damage.  It also creates a feature of them visually and indeed the sight of the barrow on the highest point of the Down, standing out against the skyline makes a very recognisable image that stays in the mind.
One of our Barrows (Photo credit: NT archive)

 The original hurdles were put in place many years ago and as a result of weather, itchy cattle bottoms and the passage of time, many had become broken and worn so I had a brand new load made by a green wood worker in West Sussex.  He used his own Sweet Chestnut timber and enormous skill and handcrafted me 56 new hurdles which are absolutely stunning to behold.  The Court Leet of Stockbridge kindly funded the project and last week myself and the volunteers were finally able to rip out the remains of the old, broken hurdles (which were looking old enough to be classed as archaeology themselves) and installed the brand new ones and boy, do they look fantastic.  Perhaps it is just me, as someone who enjoys and appreciates green wood working and use of natural materials, but I think they look stunning and I am very, very pleased with them – may they stand for many more years.  Also whilst we were carrying out the work I found a shard of pot rim that had been dug up from a mole hill on the barrow – potentially Bronze Age?  
Take a trailer load of hurdles...

A willing team of volunteers...

And you can rebuild history!

The volunteer team, whom a dog walker fondly referred to as 'barrow fairies'...snigger.

Finally last week myself, Laura and Michelle took a trip to the National Trust property of Stourhead in Wiltshire.  I’d never been before, and I hadn’t seen the clips of films like Pride and Prejudice that were filmed there (the classic Mr Darcy in the lake scene) so I was not expecting what I saw – what a PLACE.  An absolutely stunning place, a huge rounded valley of beautiful gardens and woodlands, which surrounds the central point of a large and beautiful lake which has its own little islands in the middle.  Temples, stone grottos and other structures are found in amongst the trees as you walk around the site and even better, there is a very nice pub within the grounds.   

We walked around the valley with the sun shining and the lake glittering like diamonds.  As we paused at the top of one path, at the site of a Grecian looking temple and looked out over the estate Laura commented about the things that have been filmed there; “Imagine if we bumped into Keira Knightley, right now, just walking round”.  Two ladies walking by heard this and piped up quickly – “I’d much rather bump into Colin Firth!”  Sitting in the sun and looking at that view I thought the place was beautiful enough, even without being adorned with good-looking Hollywood superstars – although that’s not to say I wouldn’t appreciate a glimpse of Johnny Depp if he happened to be passing by….
Poppy the dog enjoying basking in the sun - whilst Ryan works at tree felling in the background!

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