Tuesday, 2 February 2016

george's pond?

 Some jobs just sail along.

Others don't. This one hasn't.

We're creating a large pond for wildlife utilising the rainwater collected from the roofs of our two homes. 20m wide, this will be a haven for wild plants and animals and, we hope, be a jewel in the Cordwood crown.
the matting goes in with spoil on top

some of our disgruntled frogs
I've bored anyone I can back into a corner with gems I've gleaned from reading 'The Pond Book' published by the Freshwater Habitats trust.

We dredged out the water and its hoard of disgruntled frogs only to find the following day that the pond had refilled - the water table is so high after this wet 'winter' that even on the top of the hill the water isn't far from the surface. So, back in goes some of the excavated material to bring us above the water table.

Now, we've tweaked the levels and are in the final stages of lining the pond-to-be with a membrane impregnated with sodium bentonite that expands when in contact with water creating what we hope will be an impermeable barrier. A thick layer of the 'spoil' previously removed by Mark is added on top of the matting in which pond plants will eventually  thrive.

So, diggers and dumpers delivered. Bento-matting off loaded. We're ready.

a tea break for the team
Then calamity of calamities, my poor old dad who'd been helping drag the heavy matting (just what your typical 87 year old does for fun!) trips and breaks and dislocates his right shoulder, breaks his left patella and gashes his head as he and mum go for a warm. God bless our National Health Service. The ambulance arrived in minutes, the staff in Queens Medical Centre (QMC) Accident and Emergency were saintlike to a man and woman, as have been the wonderful people who run the QMC Major Trauma unit. Down with those naysayers who malign or undermine the national treasure that is Britain's health service! Thank you hardly seems sufficient.

So back to work, and dang! There's poor old Judith back to the same A&E but this time with Roger requiring 9 stitches for a nasty cut with a Stanley knife. And in the hurry taking the dumper keys with them.

We'll carry on. Let's get the mini-digger into the pond to track in and level the spoil. What's that? Hmmm, a hyrdaulic fluid leak.  No mini-digger.

So that's just about left the 3 tonne digger. 

But you  know people, we just keep on keepin' on.

And sometimes, from adversity comes inspiration. I read that our forebears made sacrifices to bestow blessings on new ships or prestigious ventures. Thinking of my poor old dad in his hospital bed, I wondered if this pond should carry our progenitors name? 'George's Pond'. Gotta ring.

And where would we be without our friends?? Stars in our firmament AGAIN have been Linda and Trev who have worked until they creaked. And Bob. Bless him. And Jim and the boys. And Ally and Simon. And Christian. And the missus drags herself on, still suffering from the cold she brought back from Germany in the summer and thoroughly worn down.

The digger technician arrives in about two hours and then we can start again.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

moths: mysterious; misunderstood; maligned.

Moths: mysterious; misunderstood; maligned.
green silver lines
And neglected too.

There are 2500 species of moths in the UK. But few, if any of us can name any moth species. 

And although butterflies have pleasant associations of sunny summer afternoons and are renowned for their fragile beauty, moths are associated with night time and eating our trousers.

But in 2015 we learned to love our moths. With the help of a special moth light, we discovered a total of 134 fascinating species in our garden.

If not an addiction, identifying moths certainly became habit-forming.

actinic moth light in action
My job on warm evenings was to set up the light and place egg boxes inside the moth trap box. When the actinic light drew moths in, they would buzz about and slip down a funnel into the box below the bulb and then snuggle into the corner of an egg box.

The light was left glowing overnight and then, armed with lots of small specimen pots I would attempt to catch the sleepy moths and bring them back to the kitchen table to be received by intrigued noises from The Identifier-in-Chief.

The identification part is ticklish tough, I can tell you - and frequently way above my pay grade. But once accomplished the identified species is added to our list and the little critter then released into the shelter of a bushy grass to wait till evening.

elephant hawk moth
I must apologise to the friend who asked me what we did with caught moths when I answered that we press them between the pages of books like wild flowers. That was not funny. At all. I see that now.
No moths are harmed during our catching and identifying activities.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are others who share our interest - with moths being a convenient excuse to gather for pleasant evenings of beer and food. And, this being the age of social media, the identification and celebration of moths is twittertastic too.

Once listed, we submit our records to the County Recorder. And this data is added to the information submitted by all other collectors which leads to a better understanding of how moth populations are faring.

And just like canaries once used to detect gas in coal mines (they fainted or died), moths can give valuable information about the wider health of the environment.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

the 'bad boy' arrives ....

'Rob. It's Bill. We'll be coming up to your place with the digger first thing'.

You would struggle to find words more exciting to the wildlife gardener: words to transform a man who qualifies for a bus pass into a small boy on Christmas morning.
Local farmer Bill Hammond supervising work ...
We have gardened with biodiversity at the forefront of our thoughts since we began the Cordwood project. We love nature!!

We've got simple flowers to attract bees. Lots of bird boxes. Lots of bird food. Piles of rotting wood. Native plants. Tolerance!

But the biggest boost we can give wildlife starts today: our pond.

It'll be a big 'un: 18m in diameter and a depth of 1.7m. Gently sloping to the centre. Fed with rainwater from the roofs of our two bungalows. With a wonderful circumference of beautiful water plants and a 'beach' of stones.

.. showing the perimeter path and the gentle shelving to the centre
Our site was 'dry' when we arrived. At the top of a sandy, windy hill, there was no source of water for wildlife at all. And water is the key if you want to attract wildlife - for drinking, feeding, bathing and breeding. 

Today Mark arrived with the 22 tonne  'bad boy' - a huge JCB digger with a bucket that scoops two tonnes of spoil out at a single sweep. A beast of a machine!

He worked all day and left us with a pond that may well rival Rutland Water one day!

The HG joined by celebrity birder Ray Fox
Marks work was the first step. Further steps will be to purchase and lay a liner and to cover the liner with 300mm of the 'spoil' we removed today. This will need compacting into place before the rain fills the pond naturally. Inevitably, this stage will trigger the longest drought ever recorded - put your pension on it. A cert.

We're impatient folks and so the best practice of simply leaving the pond vegetation to regenerate naturally will be difficult to follow. I'm know that the head gardener (HG) has had her books out, making lists. But the space is so big, nature will inevitably take its course - which should be the way in a wildlife pond.

Mark surveys the days' work
But, looking to the future, Bill and Marks endeavours today will transform our garden - for us and the wildlife that we hope will use it for many years to come.

Thank you so much.


Friday, 18 December 2015

That was 2015!!

Drive makers
As I write, greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches and redpolls vie for position on the feeders, move in groups around the seeding plants in our prairie beds or gorge on the hips of rosa rugosa in the foraging  border.
It has been a great year for developing the Cordwood gardens. With a huge team effort (led by Captn Dave) we completed the drive & entrance. Under the Head Gardener’s (HG) direction we planted almost half of the prairie beds and await a dry spell to complete ground prep & mulching of the remainder before spring planting. The Woodland Garden is developing and all beds & mounding at the front of Waxwings are now planted. The early spring snowdrops in the Woodland Garden are worth the entrance money alone folks! We also completed the Fragrant Garden and maintained our lovely Cedar Walk & boundary. Judith & Roger did sterling work in The Stumpery. Phew!
Soup making with Joe
As well as an increasing bird population, we identified over 130 Cordwood moths during the year and as we hear ever-depressing news about biodiversity, we were pleased to record our first Holly Blue butterfly during the summer. Hopefully the ivy sea in the Cedar Walk will attract this pretty butterfly to breed. When Tree Sparrows bred in the apex nest box Roger had sited on our west facing gable, I thought I’d pop! 

We all seem pretty healthy - dad (87) gets a special mention for work here in the garden each week. Mum still keeps him on his toes!

Matt & Zoe’s wedding reception here at Cordwood was a highlight. Best news of the year was getting a message from his sister that pal Kris had had a successful lung transplant up in Newcastle. We wear caps y’know: the chaps in caps. On a sad note, the loss of old Min of Ag friend Len was an awful blow - as was the sudden loss of Liz's husband Keith.

Next up is slabbing and erection of the HG’s greenhouse and landscaping around. And the pond!! Our local farmer  Bill Hammond will contour the 300m2 beast (filled with rainwater collected from our roofs) in the New Year and then Jill will use her skills making beds to roll out the whopping liner. All help appreciated!! Just can’t wait to get the wildflower meadow boiling.

Meeting of Clan Carlyle at Cordwood July 2015
I’ve become the joint secretary of the Friends of Bestwood Country Park (Nicky-Jane suggests we wear woodland animal costumes for meetings). The County Council are keen to divest themselves of responsibility and so the ‘Friends’ group are tip-toeing towards this huge challenge - or opportunity.

We now do the Farmland Bird Survey on Hammond Farms land - filling seed hoppers, checking tree sparrow nesting boxes and doing monthly bird counts. Having made a couple of peregrine nesting boxes for pals Andy and Ann, we have 30 redstart nesting  boxes to make for siting in Sherwood Forest.

In the Assynt
Book of the year? ‘Meadowlands’ by John Lewis-Stempel. Gig of the year had to be The Libertines at Rock City: madness!! Lucinda Williams has, once again, provided the soundtrack of the year. My gigs with Baz on bass (Rob and the Outlaw!) in our front room have been pretty hot too though. After the only appearance of my electric guitar Jennie has said it would be quite nice if we returned to playing acoustically.

Holidays in the Assynt in Scotland’s NW corner (with Trev & Linda); Rutland; Borrowdale (with Chris & Peter) and time spent down in the Smoke with Sarah & Ben were highlights. Travelling across the Baltic from Copenhagen to Germany on a train that rides on a ferry (to see Chris & Astrid) was a Michael Portillo-esque moment.

I won’t go on. Me? 

We’ve loved having so many family and friends with us this year. Have a great Christmas and productive and healthy New Year. Look forward to seeing you 2016!

Hugs and everything.


Sunday, 6 December 2015

helping house sparrows

The chatter of house sparrows (passer domesticus) from deep within a privet hedge was part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

Their large, untidy nests hung bedraggled from gutter downpipes. Sparrows were everywhere and we took them for granted. They colonised house martin nests, ate the crocus flowers and flooded down onto the lawn for discarded slices of Wonderloaf or Sunblest.

George Monbiot talks about 'shifting baseline syndrome'. An ungainly term but meaning that we look back to our childhood as the norm but this norm is not how it always was or has to be. My norm was of an abundance of house sparrows - and there must have been an abundance. I grew up on Nottingham's Clifton Estate which at the time was considered to be the largest social housing development in Europe. And during my childhood the estate of thousands of new homes (less than a decade old) was truly stuffed with these little birds.  From nothing, the house sparrows completely colonised the estate. Sadly, for more recent generations, it is their 'norm' that their new homes will not have the company of house sparrows. So the new generations do not feel the loss that I sense at the absence of these chirpy chappies*. And so there is not pressure to address the shortages because these new generations consider the absence to be 'the norm'.

a cock sparrer
Fast forward many years and I had a home of my own. And house sparrows, although less abundant, were there, squabbling in the pyracantha bush and gobbling seed on the bird table. Then our neighbours had their facias and soffits replaced and simultaneously it seems we lost the sparrows. The birds lost their nesting sites and we never saw them in the garden again.

This may sound an over-reaction but I was truly sad. I bought and sited a house sparrow colony box. But the only user was a lone great tit. The sparrows had gone.

Press the fast forward button again and we have our new home. And I hear (but rarely see) the house sparrows chattering deep within neighbours' gardens.

Time for action!

What do house sparrows need?

They need cover. They love to hop about in their social groups, chatting away but within the cover of an impenetrable shrub.
We have a long privet hedge. Cut 'tight' to create a compact boundary. Perfect for house sparrows.

They need food and water during the breeding season and for the rest of the year.

In the breeding season house sparrows feed their young on spiders and other invertebrates. Our garden is proving home to a myriad of spiders and creepy crawlies. Our wood chipping mulches are frequently shrouded in the webs of ground spiders. I'm hoping there's plenty of food there for the birds. If there isn't it would be possible to supplement their diet with live mealworms during the breeding season.

The winter food of sparrows is grain but the efficiency of our farmers in preventing spilt grain is to the detriment of all seed eating birds. We can help though. I'm providing bird seed in feeders close to the privet hedge and sparrows (notoriously conservative!) have slowly begun to come to the feeders. They are now with us each day, using the protection of the hedge, eating at the feeders or on the ground beneath as their family members cast showers of grain from the feeders above... So far I've counted six individuals.

Of course, sparrows like all living things, need water. 
four home house sparrow terrace
I have a small pond dug out near to the privet hedge (waiting for its liner) to help quench the sparrows' thirst in the hot summer months.

And sparrows need nest sites.

Our new home presents no opportunities for sparrows to breed. We've built it too well!!

Nesting boxes are the option here. Sparrows are unusual in that they like to nest close to other members of their species. Really close. Next door.

I've made and sited two house sparrow terraces. The new one (pictured) is a terrace with four homes on offer. In cedar to match the cladding. I've stuffed the boxes with leaves and straw so it feels like home the moment the birds peek in.

My dream is a score of house sparrows.

It's over to them now....

* As a footnote to 'shifting baseline syndrome', the naturalist Joseph Whittaker remarked at the turn of the twentieth century that neighbouring Blidworth Dale rang to the 'crex crex' call of corn crakes. Sadly, corn crakes were lost as soon as mechanised harvesting came along and are long gone from Nottinghamshire. We have to travel to distant Scottish islands to hear them calling now. How I would love Joseph Whittaker's 'norm'.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

barn owl nesting box

Amongst the most beautiful of our native birds is the mysterious barn owl. If you're lucky you'll see them quartering the ground at twilight, ghost-like in their delicate flight low over the fields in their hunt for small mammals.
one of the successful chicks reared in a RuBOP  box
It is their pale, cream coloured appearance combined with an almost butterfly-like flight that contributes to their mystery. I contend that all nocturnal creatures seem mysterious to those of us who inhabit  the diurnal world.  
Barn owls' distinctive faces allow them to gather sounds, enabling them to detect the tiniest rustling and their (hidden) slightly asymmetric ears allow them to use almost laser accuracy in their hunting.

the head gardener and a baby barn owl
But, of course, they are under threat: changing land use denies them food; the loss of formerly derelict farm buildings has lost the birds their nesting sites - and the increase of traffic has meant that they are frequently killed whilst hunting along roadside verges.

But, amongst the heroes of nature conservation are those teams (or one man bands) who site barn owl nesting boxes in safe areas to encourage breeding. There are a number of these groups and we know from first-hand experience how effective they can be. We spent a wonderful afternoon some time ago with the wildlife legend that is Howard Broughton and the Rushcliffe Barn Owl Project (RuBOP) who do their good work in the south of Nottinghamshire. Starting from 'scratch' in 1996, by 2015 they had sited 150 nest boxes and ringed their 1000th chick!!

barn owl box
And this success washes over into other areas. We have recently had a number of local reports of barn owls and so have got the permission of a local barn owner to site a barn owl box overlooking fields where barn owls have been seen.

So, I turn to my bird box 'bible' which is my well-thumbed copy of Chris Du Feu's BTO guide to bird boxes. My book is so worn that the pages fall out when it is opened.

The book tells me that an old tea chest will do as a nest site if the the nest box site is indoors and away from the weather. How many of use have old tea chests to hand? They're certainly not stacked up at Cordwood.

But I have a collection of scrap wood that I use for my nest boxes. And several pieces of old sterling board (compressed and glued wood shavings) have been winking at me for some time. Now we add my rudimentary skills and here comes the sterling boards moment for glory!!

I've made the box, slurped creosote on, and now just wait for a moment to site it.

You might be able to imagine the fanfare that would erupt if this were to be successful.

If barn owls were to quarter the wildflower meadow and prairie beds here, the reaction would be measured on the Richter Scale. Don't take out extra buildings insurance yet though.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

farmland bird survey

Bad news keeps a'comin' for our farmland birds.

Down go the numbers of just about every conceivable small farmland bird.

So, we're delighted to be a small help to our local farmers who encourage farmland birds in a number of ways.
Howard Broughton's lovely photo of a tree sparrow

Our neighbours Hammond Produce site seed hoppers around the farm as part of the innovatory Notts Wildlife Trust (NWT) 'Farmland B&B' scheme. These hoppers provide food through the challenging winter months and especially through what is termed 'the hungry gap' after Christmas and before food sources begin to replenish themselves in the spring. This is the time when our small birds are at their most vulnerable facing the icy winter and lack of food. Supplementary feeding is vital if the birds are to reach spring in good physical condition for breeding. We check and fill the NWT supplied feeders with seed provided by Hammonds.

Hammonds also site nesting boxes for our fast declining tree sparrow population. Tree sparrows (Passer montanus) are quixotic little creatures. They have a habit of building up a successful breeding colony over several years only to desert the breeding site without any obvious explanation. Nest box schemes such as the ones supported by Hammonds can have a real impact on breeding success. Our job is to check on the condition of nest boxes and report on how many were successfully used in the breeding season.

stuck in the mud
Additionally, there are areas of the farm sown with plants that provide bird seed.
We get the great privilege of seeing and recording flocks of farmland birds circling and feeding in the fields.

Our first visit gave us close up views of linnets, chaffinches, yellowhammers, greenfinches, goldfinches and bramblings.

I also managed to achieve the 'wally of the day' award by getting our old Ford Focus so stuck in the mud that only a tow from gamekeeper Ian prevented us being there till spring. Oh, how we laughed.

Great work Hammonds - especially Bill Hammond who is passionate about all these initiatives. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

peregrine nesting boxes

November has been very wet here in Nottinghamshire.

Unable to work outside on the waterlogged soil, I was driven inside to make peregrine nesting boxes. You know how it is.

Rob Hoare's peregrine in flight
Peregrines are always a thrill to see, and we were lucky enough to see four 'skyhunters' in total above Cordwood in September of this year. The peregrine is the world's fastest living thing: amazing and beautiful birds. They came close to calamity in the sixties due to the use of dieldrin chemicals on farms. Thankfully, their use was banned and slowly peregrine numbers have risen and these days they can be seen in our cities, nesting on tall buildings.

Now, I've used old scrap wood to make bird nesting boxes since childhood - but these beauties are on a different scale and made much easier with Roger's help and his enviable collection of power saws! A window into a man's world. 

finished nesting box
The boxes are made from exterior grade ply, they measure 800mm wide, 5000mmm high at the front and 600mm deep.  The box will have a layer of gravel.

The 'client' asked for the boxes to be creosoted - with 'no runs'! With the price of creosote, he needn't have worried about runs as I virtually applied each drop of the noxious liquid with a cotton bud. You know what I mean.

I'm not at liberty to say where the boxes will be sited as peregrine's eggs and young are still stolen. But, don't worry people: if either is successful you'll read it here first! And at length.

Thankfully lithe and athletic pal Andy will be climbing high to mount them with son Dave having volunteered to help.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

time to put the orchard meadow to bed

Last week, the fieldfares clucking overhead on their flight south from northern Europe told us it was time to say goodbye to autumn.

In the orchard, the old trees had produced a reasonable crop. Windfalls littered the ground for late flying insects, for mammals and for the birds.

hens off to explore mown orchard
The grass which is left to grow throughout the year had been home to frogs and toads, field voles and wood mice and to butterflies, moths, bees and grasshoppers. We haven't had as much success as we had hoped with wild flowers in this meadow area. Annual yellow rattle and perennial greater knapweed have grown well but plug-planted self heal and oxeye daisies disappointed. The big disappointment has been the lack of hedgehogs. The grass was thick with slugs on warm summer evenings (hedgehog party time!?) but although we saw at least two hedgehogs in the spring, we have only had one sighting of hedgehog throughout the summer. The unblinking eye of my trail cam captured no hedgehogs in action in the orchard whatsoever. We hope that they've been plying their trade unseen in the undergrowth.

The orchard meadow flower seeds should have now been shed, so last week was time to cut the grass so that the fertility held within the stems and leaves could be removed. Our native wildflowers can be overwhelmed by verdant and coarse grasses so reduction in fertility is important. Dad and I mowed the grass and barrowed the grass cuttings away for composting.

Each year we leave an area of uncut grass to provide a 'safe haven' for overwintering invertebrates and to provide foraging for birds and mammals. This year we have left a central island of longer grass for this purpose.

The remaining grass has not been 'scalped'. Among the grass tussocks are many tunnels created by voles. We don't want to disturb these: we are keen to support the vole population and also the  beautiful kestrel whose diet comprises voles.

In traditional meadow management, once cut, animals are released onto the grass for the winter. Despite entreaties, the head gardener will not sanction sheep. So I make do with releasing the chickens.

So with the grass cut, the hens were released to have a scratch. Nothing seems to display haughty disapproval in the manner of a hen. On release from their run, they only needed pinz nes to more fully take the look of scathing Georgian dowager duchesses.

But then they thought better of it - and trotted off to explore.

Friday, 6 November 2015

.. in my opinion

Is it time for us to put a brake on our politicians?

I only ask, not because of fundamental disagreement with this administration. Although that is there.

I ask because all too frequently there seems to be an unbridgeable gulf between science/ research and political decisions.

Let me shoot a couple out.

One very current one is the badger cull. There seems to be overwhelming research that this politically-driven cull is at best ineffective and more likely to be completely counter-productive. Infected badgers have been shown to move from culling areas into adjacent ones taking their diseases with them and spreading it to healthy populations. Wrong decision.

From another area of public policy comes the latest decision to test seven year olds. I cannot find any support within educational research literature to support this idea. Many children at this age are not ready for tests, testing will disrupt and skew the school curriculum. And on doing so will impoverish what children are offered and indeed lower standards. Wrong decision.

I won't go on, but the sense of exasperation expressed by professionals at both of these decisions is so strong it could be cut with a knife.

But, in a democracy, surely we elect our politicians to make decisions on our behalf? Of course we do, but there seems to be a recognition from politicians themselves that some decisions are better taken from their hands.

Gordon Brown was there at the beginning of the process by giving the Bank of England its independence. People say that this independence should go further but at least the population now know that our interest rates are no longer set by political whim.

The last government took inspiration from this decision by creating the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Once again, arguments go back and forth about the effectiveness and brief of the OBR. But most now agree that an objective voice in this area is a good one.

Within the political football that is our NHS, there is agreement that clinical decisions on the drugs used within the NHS should not be decided by politicians but are more-effectively taken by professionals - the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).

And now for my passion - the environment. I consider that the time is right to create a body similar to those above for dealing with key issues around the environment where smoke and mirrors, NIMBYism, big money and political spin all combine to get in the way of effective policy.

the badger cull - a political or research-led decision?
Take the emotionally charged issues of fracking. There seems little chance of getting those passionately opposed to this new technology to find common ground with developing companies. What does the research tell us and shouldn't that hold sway above opinion, prejudice and profit?

Or GM. As above.

Or HS2.

Or climate change.

Or a new runway at Heathrow.

Or the desertification of our uplands.

Or the badger cull.

All in their own way absolutely vital to our nation - but when left to fallible politicians we are left with the knowledge that their own agendas, careers and competence combined with the power of vested interest will bear too heavily on eventual decisions.

I know that this information can be made available to ministers in briefings from their civil servants. But politicians can and do frequently ignore 'advice' no matter how balanced or cogent.

And this uneasy feeling about our politicians and their effectiveness is in part why we hear the cry 'they're all the same' and that people have turned off politics.

Politicians and democracy must remain central to our nations life. But let's find a way of letting the voice of respected and peer-reviewed research be heard. And in doing so wash clean this vital element of our nations' life.

The time of the Office for Environmental Responsibility has come.

Monday, 2 November 2015

crimea plantation

Right up between us and Bestwood Country Park is Crimea Plantation (or Wood): there's no vehicle access and there's not been any woodland management for years.

Boundary beech leaves catching the sun
The local mountain bike population uses the steep gradients for daredevil jumps and has created remarkable earthworks to facilitate their speedy journey to NHS casualty departments courtesy of the air ambulance.

Our guess is that the wood was planted after the Crimean War. Sanderson's Map of 1835 shows the area as being farmland. The term plantation suggests that a woodland was planted  - rather than naturally regenerated - after 1856 and possibly in commemoration of the local fallen..?

Nathan hangs mysteriously in the fog
Another theory we have is that the fast growing sweet chestnuts were planted to provide pit props for Bestwood Colliery making use of a hillside that was close to the colliery and not suitable as either pasture or for arable crops. However, there are very few mature trees at all. Puzzling.

The densely canopied wood also contains beech, oak - and sycamore.

There is little understory beyond bramble that rarely flowers or fruits. Ubiquitous and invasive rhododendron ponticum has established itself.

The limited native flora results in impoverished fauna. One record of woodcock is all we can muster although we think buzzard and sparrowhawk may nest around here. There are very few migrant songbirds to challenge the spring song of the robins and wrens. We have heard roe deer barking and identified common pipistrelle bats in small numbers.
The boundary oak

Our boundary with the wood is shown on the 1835 map and on that boundary line grows our oldest tree - an oak that is possibly 200 years old. It has serious damage at its base where the bark only covers part of the trunk. Many years ago a bough sank to the ground and has rooted and which is now providing support for the tree.

Unfortunately the unchecked sycamores have grown up beside the venerable oak and are crowding it. Its branches strain to reach sunlight through the dense sycamore foliage.

So, with the landowner's permission, Nate and Dunc came in today with chainsaws, winches, wedges, ropes and levers to remove this unwonted competition and begin some light touch management of this section of the wood.

With permission, our plan over the coming years will be to remove aggressive sycamore that is close to our boundary and to encourage native trees, shrubs and woodland flowers. Deadwood is invaluable to invertebrates and so felled wood and brash will be left to rot. We have also asked our arborists to leave as many trees as possible as vertical 'standing deadwood' as this is considered to be the most useful for wildlife.

The creation of space and the opening of the tree canopy is really important as areas where habitats merge  (the eco-tone) is where one will frequently find the greatest biodiversity.

As areas are cleared we will transplant some of our self-sown holly and yew seedlings to create a more varied understory. We will also seed the area with woodland wild flowers.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

prairie planting

The creation of the final third and fourth sections of our prairie beds is underway...

The first phase is still looking really colourful and the varied forms of the different plants is creating a lot of 'architectural' interest. Those insects still around are finding a late season source of food that will, with luck, carry them through their winter rest. Our pheasant population hunt among the foliage for invertebrates and seeds, confident under the cover of the foliage.

Around one third of the eventual finished extra space is now complete having been dug, de-rubbled and weeded. And, after rain and while the soil is still warm, a weed-suppressing and moisture retaining coat of chippings has been added. The manhole in the leading curve has been raised and was adorned by a penesetum in a birthday pot after this photo was taken.

There will be a serpentine path wide enough for the mower that will separate beds 3 and 4 and this is slowly appearing.

And Jill is already planting those perennials and grasses that respond to autumn transplanting. Monty was moving hemp agrimony in BBC Gardeners' World this week. A feature of our prairie beds will be hemp agrimony's exuberant American cousin Joe-Pye Weed. We'll be moving ours into their new positions this week and in doing this also clearing the overcrowded 'vegetable garden' so that development work there can also be undertaken during the winter.

In the meantime I'll be back on the case again tomorrow, digging my target 'two spits' as I creep towards the all too-distant finish line....

Sunday, 27 September 2015

prairie planting

We've made a lot of landscaping progress this year. Too busy to blog.
''Hrmph. Unforgiveable".

When Jill first saw the 'prairie planting' landscaping schemes of Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, her life changed.
prairie bed 1 - after first season
And as a consequence we've spent a number of years selecting and propagating plants and preparing ground. Now we're at the end of our first season of the first phase of our own prairie bed planting and beginning to prepare the ground for next spring's extension which will see this part of our garden completed.

The plants in the first phase have still got to develop but the mixture of summer flowering perennials and ornamental grasses is already eye-catching. It's certainly catching Jill's eye as you will find her looking at the beds from windows or from the lawn. Or she'll be in the middle, chest deep in her favourite plants running her fingers through the inflorescences of the ornamental grasses.

prairie beds - phase 2
Jill says that she was attracted by the relaxed informality of this planting style. When Dave visited over the summer he commented on the effectiveness of the contrast between the formality of the mown lawn and the exuberance of the perennial planting. He was spot on.

view across lawn towards prairie beds
Fo my part I love the fact that the flowers are all insect friendly and the deepness of the borders and the height of the plants provides excellent cover for wildlife. At the moment we frequently have half a dozen pheasants appearing from the jungle to feed on the lawn.

This week I watched a young kestrel sail down from a perching post and kiss the tops of the flowers with its talons. I'm guessing that it was catching a large insect.

And now the work has begun on the second half of the prairie beds. We're back to digging soil, removing rubble and barrowing soil in to provide the 'hummocky' effect that the head gardener requires.

A lot of hard work.

But all worth it when one can look across on opening the bedroom curtains and see the view.
I've been playing 'This must be what paradise is like' by Van Morrison in my head for days now. You may be able to guess why....

Monday, 21 September 2015

spreading wildflowers...

field scabious
Late summer/early autumn sees a stooped figure skulking along the local roadside verges and waste land. Watch this wrong 'un closely. He's fingering wildflower seed heads and furtively slipping the seeds into envelopes and small bags.

But not a wrong 'un at all really. Away from protected sites, the collection of wildflower seeds is completely ethical. I don't collect on a commercial scale - a seed head here or there-  and my motive is pure. I'm increasing the biodiversity of our developing wildflower meadows with seed that is from the local gene pool.

Sadly, areas for wildlife are so fragmented these days that there is little chance of wildflowers that are not here already making an appearance without a little helping hand. So, I'm giving them a hand up.

Successes so far have been yellow rattle, red campion, cowslip, primrose, honeysuckle and foxgloves. Each of these is now thriving and increasing the biodiversity of our gardens.

field scabious seedlings
This years' additions include seeds from a recent Lincolnshire visit - field scabious (knautia arvensis), a diminutive wild onion or leek and bladder campion (silene vulgare). None of these is currently growing in the meadows so I potted freshly collected seeds into a mixture of coarse sand and spent potting compost, watered and labelled them and covered each pot with a loose fitting recycled plastic bag.

Each of these precious and beautiful wild flowers is not only valuable in their own right - they frequently provide food for the caterpillars of specialist moths or butterflies so they are doubly important.

Todays' rain kept me from work outside so time to pot on some of the seedlings - scabious and bladder campion.

They've been transplanted into individual

plastic plug containers and I hope that they can get a hurry on so that they can be transplanted as vigorous little plants into the developing wildflower meadow areas in the next month.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

the border line ..

Blimey Oh Reilly!
A month since the last blogpost.
I know what you're thinking .. 'I bet the old buffer has been sitting back, soaking up the sun and relaxing'.

Amongst the other stuff, we've been finishing the drive.

The remaining jobs for us were to finish the gates and then to work along the drive beneath the privet hedge, creating an orderly border.

The gates had been hung previously but fell off. Not well hung. Dang it. But enough about me. So, Roger (the brains in the outfit) had new hinges specially made and we hung them! They're still hanging baby, although one has a mysterious arthritic clunk. But what the heck That's a result. Gates that work!

drive border - waiting for privet to be cut
Well, when I say 'Gates that work'.... Our buddy Dave has been working to resolve the other issues. You see, the opening mechanism has a mind of its' own creating the gate equivalent of Arkrwight's till in the Ronnie Barker BBC sitcom 'Open all hours'. Dependent upon their mood: the gates don't close when you want them to; lock you out when you want to come in; and close on cars as they pass through. Apart from that, they're working magnificently.
But Dave's on the case. He'll sort it.

And then there's the drive border.

This had been the recipient of shovels and digger buckets full of discarded roadstone as we worked down the drive getting levels right and putting in edging.

But it was a mess, rather like a weed infested surface of the moon.

So, with picks, spades, trowels, azadas, rakes and wheelbarrows we painstakingly worked down the drive braking up the roadstone and barrowing it away. Then putting in soil. Then watering. Then dividing plants and planting. Then fertilising. Then mulching.

Hard work? I'm going to rename our site 'Cordwood Penitentiary' and have calico suits with arrows printed for the four of us.

Utterly bahoogered. But rejoice people, yesterday, - we finished!!

Bob will cut the hedge at the end of the month and then you'll see how good it is.