This Saturday (25th July) from 10.30 till 5 we have our annual Countryside Craft Day at Swan Barn Farm in Haslemere. I hope you can come and join us, I think it is going to be a really interesting day.

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It is a fun event for all the family where lots of local Countryside Craft workers come together to demonstrate their skills and show their wears. There will be demonstrations of countryside skills and wonderful woodland craft items to see. There will be pole lathing, timber hewing and carving on display along with livestock, bats, amphibians and reptiles and even a bouncy castle for the kids.

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Refreshments including burgers made from our own conservation grazed rare breed Belted Galloway beef will be on sale and there will be tours of our timber framed buildings. It will also be a chance to meet the team who look after the wonderful countryside that surrounds the town.

Maybe see you there.

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Good progress is being made on the Orchard House at Swan Barn Farm.

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Weatherboarding and studwork for the end room is well underway, and the shingles are starting to go on the roof.

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A window and door frame have also appeared in our structure… we still have to make the window and door, but things are definitely moving in the right direction.

Our fantastic volunteer groups have spent so much time over the past year making the hand cleaved shingles for the roof. It is fantastic to see them starting to be nailed on.

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Each one is individual and slightly different shaped, it is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Every shingle has its place, it just isn’t necessarily the first place you try and put it.

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Most of the building is an open barn, looking up from underneath you can see the pattern of the shingles above you, I really like the look of them against the roundwood frame and the battens.

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It isn’t long now till our countryside crafts open day on 25th July, if you get chance and are in the area it will be a great chance to come to the farm and see the roundwood buildings here as well as lots of other countryside and woody crafts and skills on display.

 

 

Some of you may remember last year we reintroduced the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly onto Black Down. Since the start of the flight season for the butterfly a week or two ago we have been waiting with baited breath to see if the reintroduction worked. The butterfly has a short flight season, the species spends the rest of the year in other phases of its life cycle, as an egg, larva and pupa. Much of this time is spent with ants hidden away in the litter layer of the heath. Consequently the first chance to see whether the reintroduction had worked was this summer.

Yesterday whilst out checking the cattle on Black Down Jono, one of our Long Term Volunteers spotted something very exciting… A single Male Silver Studded Blue…

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The species has made it through the winter and out the other side, it is such great news. Reintroducing species doesn’t happen very often, and it is a fantastic thing to be part of.

Obviously there is still a very long way to go, one swallow doesn’t make a summer as the saying goes, and one male certainly doesn’t make a viable population! But hopefully over the next week or two more butterflies will start to emerge. In the meantime we will also be carrying out further releases of butterflies from donor sites to boost the population and hopefully get the new colony properly established.

So glad it looks like it is starting to work though, these are the moments that make all the hard word worthwhile.

Little Maple the Belted Galloway Calf.

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Born in a rainstorm last weekend. Her mum refused to feed her so she is having to be looked after by the Rangers. She was cold and wet and had to borrow a jumper.

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Her mum got confused and latched onto Apple, one of our other calves whilst she was giving birth. She then refused to accept Maple. Animals are funny things sometimes.

Apple is a very cute calf though, so you can maybe see why!

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The weather was horrible and she was looking very sorry for herself. We helped her out with bottle fed colostrum for the first couple of days. Now we are putting her mum in our cattle crush several times a day so that Maple can feed direct from her while mum feeds on hay.

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The hope is that over the next week or so they will both get the idea, sort themselves out and start to bond properly again. It seems to be going ok so far, Maple is well fed and happy, she seems to be growing well. Damson (the mum) is a bit grumpy about the whole thing, but slowly and gradually seems to be mellowing a bit. For now though its early morning and late evening feeds with Maple the calf for the team here at Black Down.

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Good luck little Maple, we are doing our best for you and hoping you pull through.

In between all of the other tasks involved in looking after the 1500 or so acres of countryside on the Black Down Estate we have been getting on with building our Orchard House.

Battens and the first of the Weatherboards have been put on, it is actually starting to look like a building now.

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The battens run across the tops of the rafters horizontally across the roof. They will provide a base for the courses of hand made wooden roofing shingles to be nailed on to. They were made from Douglas Fir, grown in a wood on the outskirts or Haslemere, and milled at Swan Barn Farm.

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As the battens creep up towards the ridge you start to get a real feeling for what the roof will look like when it is finished.

The end bay of the timber frame is being made into a store room for all of our apple pressing, gardening and beekeeping gear, as well as for keeping apples and apple juice and fermenting our cider in. It will have timber walls insulated with sheeps wool to keep the temperature steady. The outside of the wall is being made of oak feather edge boards. The oak came from the coppice woodlands at Swan Barn Farm, and is an absolute delight to work with, really fantastic quality and full of wonderful colour in its grain.

 

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These boards are thinner at the top than the bottom, tricky to mill, but it means they fit together really neatly on the building. We are scribing and cutting them to fit around the roundwood posts of the frame. It is very fiddly and time consuming, but the finished look is well worth it. After having put all that effort into making a beautiful roundwood frame it would have been a shame to hide it.

Lots more to do before we are finished, but it is definitely taking shape, I am really proud of the building and all of the hard work and woodworking skills that everyone is putting in to making it.

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Heathland fires in the high summer can be pretty terrifying, they can spread as fast as you can run and be very destructive for wildlife. Fire on a heath is not always a bad thing though. Here at Black Down we use fire every winter as a tool to help with our heathland management.

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We burn several small targeted areas of heath each winter as part of our habitat mangement work. This encourages fresh new young growth of heather and diversifies the ages structure of the heather.

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It is challenging work, especially making sure it is done safely. We cut a pattern of firebreaks first to make sure the burn can’t escape and always have a water bowser and firebeaters on hand, along with our well trained and skilled Ranger team.

We back burn against the wind to start with to extend the firebreak and then when the conditions are right set light to the leading edge. When it goes well it is quite a sight…

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The fire burns thrugh the vegetation up to the firebreak, and then extinguishes itself as it runs out of combustable material.

It looks dramatic, but on a small scale provides exactly the right sort of diverse habitat that so much of our really special heathland wildlife needs in order to survive. At the moment we are targeting our burn sites to try and help with the habitat for our Silver Studded Blue butterfly reintroduction project.

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We reintroduced the first batch of butterflies last year, more will be coming this year and next, but in the meantime it is going to be so exciting come the summer to see if the first batch produced any young.

 

Last year when we raised the frames for the orchard house a short film was made to record the event. If you would like to see how it all went the link below will show you the main frame of the building being put up.

http://youtu.be/CnEDug25hzQ

 

At Swan Barn Farm the sun was shining and the birds were singing today. You could feel spring threatening to burst onto the scene.

At this end of the winter we are always struggling to try and get everything we wanted to get done finished, sooner or later the season will overtake us and we will have to surrender to the sun, but for now it is all hands on deck.

Our orchards are getting their annual prune, and today we planted a new apple tree.

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It was kindly sponsered by Transition Town Haslemere, it is a Cornish Aromatic, it has rather wonderful red flushed, smooth, sweet flesh. I will look forward to some of its apples making an appearance over the next few years.

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I am so pleased to see the trees in our orchards growing well. Orchards are cultural landmarks. They give us a direct link with the past as well as the ability to provide food for the future. They are havens for wildlife and genetic variety, at blossom time they provide sights smells and sounds to stir the soul. We do everything we can to look after the orchards in our care, and would encourage local people to get involved, even simple actions like eating English apples, drinking local cider and apple juice and making a nice apple pie can directly support these treasures of our landscape.

In the background of the picture above you can just make out the progress we have been making recently on our Orchard House. We are building it to house our historic apple pressing machinery and over the winter we have put in the braces and rafters.

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It has been hard work with frost on the ground and on the timbers. But progress has been steady.

The braces hold the frame steady and stop it from racking in the wind. I am so pleased with the way some of them look, especially these triple ones holding this upright in place.

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The rafters form the frame on which our roof will sit. Putting in roundwood rafters on a roundwood frame has been quite a challenge. Especially in the cold, but I am so proud of how they look now they are all done.

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There are plenty more challenges to come to get it finished, but the main frame is now complete and freestanding, and that feels like an achievement. For now I am looking forward to the warmer months, and seeing the blossom in our orchard soon.

 

On Friday 23rd January from 7-9pm we will be hosting our annual Wassailing event at Swan Barn Farm. It will be a family friendly event and all are welcome.

A Wassail is a traditional way of giving a good luck blessing and banishing evil spirits from your Orchards to promote a happy, healthy and fruitful year ahead. It is great fun and a lovely way to see the countryside on the doorstep of the Town in a way you wouldn’t ordinarily get chance too.

Park in Haslemere Town centre and then walk in to Swan Barn Farm either down Collards Lane or through the farm on the footpath behind the Collingwood Batchelor Car Park. Bring wellies to ward off the winter mud and pots and pans to bash and clatter to ward off evil spirits!

We will meet outside Hunter Basecamp at 7pm and then follow a torchlit procession to find Old Man Apple, our oldest apple tree. We will sing songs and read poems in the orchard before offering traditional good luck blessings of toast dipped in cider to the trees.

We will then head back over to the basecamp where refreshments of apple juice, cider and burgers produced here on the Black Down Estate will be available. Entertainment will be provided by local band The Burning Glass. it should be a great way to see in the new year and look forward to the longer days and sunshine of spring and summer.

Hope to see you there.

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The bees at Swan Barn Farm have done really well this year. We have two colonies, and they each have very different patterns of foraging behaviour. The bees from one of them are always busy, always out and about gathering, making and doing. The other hive’s bees rarely get up early, they often don’t stir till mid morning, and even then take some time to get into the swing of the day. For a while I was worried that one must have some form of disease, but we have been making careful inspections all year, and nothing has shown up. It still might of course as we get into the winter, but for now we just have to conclude that they have different characters. Oddly they both still managed to produce a crop of honey, the busy bees more than the lazy ones, but even the lazy ones have provided a better harvest than I expected.

Watching the bees from the hive entrance is always fascinating, there is a great book on the subject out there that is well worth finding and reading. It can tell you so much about what the bees are doing, what they are like, and what is going on the the countryside around the hives.

A few weeks ago we made our apologies to the bees and took our share of this years harvest.

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In the frame above you can see where the comb has been filled with honey and then capped over with beeswax. We took the frames into the basecamp kitchen and cut the cappings off with a sharp knife

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The frames then went into our new extractor (a centrifuge for getting the honey out of honeycomb) where the frames were spun to liberate the golden harvest.

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From the extractor the honey was filtered into a settling tank, before being bottled. This is the only processing it gets. No heat treatment, no mixing or blending, just fresh from the hive and about as local and wonderful as you can get.

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Swan Barn Farm Honey

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