Aptly enough our first calf of the season was born on Mothering Sunday this year. Little Ling was born early on Sunday Morning in our fields at Shottermill.

ling at shottermill

Our herd of Belted Galloway Cattle are vital for our Conservation work, they help keep the scrub at bay and provide the diversity of habitat that is needed by so much of the special wildlife we are trying to look after. We are all really proud of our cattle here, and therefore very biased, but even with that in mind Ling does look a lovely calf, great markings and a very cute face. Fingers crossed she does well and takes her place with the rest of the grazing force out on the heath later in the year.

Below is a video of Sarah Fisk, Seasonal Ranger at Black Down, with Ling and her Dam when the calf was only a day old:

The cattle are a key part of the jigsaw that makes up the landscape, as well as the pattern of the cycle of the changing seasons of the year. Having them here is one of the real pleasures of our work. Without them our local landscape would be much the poorer.

Nothing is so good for the soul as planting a tree. At least that’s what I was told.

With that in mind we have recently been planting apple trees in our Orchards at Swan Barn Farm. I noticed last year that one of our plum trees had unfortunately died. It was in a corner of the orchard that often lies pretty wet, obviously it hadn’t coped well with the soil conditions it had been asked to cope with. Normally the trees we plant are local traditional varieties, we are trying to keep our local Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire fruit heritage alive, but we have a few modern varieties as well, mostly from Kent, and the odd variety has crept in whose main endearing characteristic is its back story. I’m always a sucker for a good story, or for a tree that reminds me of a special place, and that’s what got me thinking about a possible replacement for our demised plum tree.

I heard a while ago that an apple tree had been found growing in a corner of the old monastery garden on the Island of Bardsey off the Llyn Peninsular in North Wales. This tree has since been grafted and propogated and is now available to buy. I have never been to Bardsey, but I remember spending many days looking across the sea to it from the wonderful farm my family used to go to for holidays on the mainland facing it. This beautiful enigmatic place is famous for its scenery, wildlife and its history, due to its association with early Christianity in the British Isles. It is a very special place, but (and I realize I am speaking as a Cornishman here) the weather is not always quite as wonderful as the scenery. I remember lots of sunshine, but I know there was lots of rain too. What better a place to find an apple tree hardy enough to cope with a slightly soggy corner of an orchard in Haslemere than a tree that thrived in a forgotten corner of a tiny island off the Welsh coast (well, that’s my thinking anyway, and I like the story so I’m sticking with it!).

digging a holeYou can see from the soil we dug to create a hole for it why the last tree didn’t do so well. This time we dug an extra wide and deep hole, to make for good drainage, and added plenty of compost and light and airy soil to the hole to give the new tree the best possible start in life.

planting bardsey apple

We raised the new soil and compost up into a slight mound so that the water would have chance to drain away from the tree. Keeping its feet out of the wet should help it grow and put down strong roots during its first few years.

tree gaurd

A mulch matt, stake and rabbit guard finished the job off. We have to keep our young trees protected from rabbits, they absolutely love the fresh young bark of a fruit tree, and given half the chance will strip every last bit of bark up to rabbit head height off of it. This can be very frustrating! The spiral plastic guard keeps the rabbits at bay, and then the wooden guard and wire keeps the sheep that graze in the orchards from nibbling the tree as well.

tree planted

For the first couple of years it looks rather like we have imprisoned a twig… But, over time the twig grows and becomes a tree, full of blossom and alive with the buzzing of bees in the spring, and laden with fruit in the autumn.

Grow well little Bardsey Apple tree, every time I see you I will be reminded of the wonderful coastal scenery of your homeland.

 

This Saturday (26th September) from 10.30 till 4 we are hosting our annual community apple pressing day at Swan Barn Farm. If you have a laden apple tree in your garden and were wondering what to do with all that fruit, fear not, we have the perfect answer for you. Bring them to us and we will help you turn them into the best, freshest tasting apple juice you will ever have seen.

Apple Pressing at Swan Barn Farm

Our wonderful historic press and scratter will be used for the day to process the fruit, the press has been working in orchards around Haslemere for over 100 years. Even if you don’t have any of your own apples (or cant find any to scrump!) everyone is welcome, we have the bounty of our orchards to process as well, and everyone is welcome to come and join in. It is always a fantastic family friendly fun day, with plenty to see and do. The Black Down Ranger team will be on hand as well in case you have any appley, orchardy or fruit tree pruning questions. If you have some juice to take home with you we will also be able to teach you how to preserve it, or, should you so wish, turn it into your own home made cider.

Community Apple Pressing Day at Swan Barn Farm

We are enormously proud of our two orchards here at the farm, they are a haven for wildlife, and have growing in them a number of wonderful and rare varieties of fruit. Orchards are a living cultural link with the past, a very important, and now sadly increasingly rare and threatened part of our countryside. We are doing our best to look after the orchards in our care, we plant new trees every year, prune and tend to the ones we already have, and invite people to come along and take part in the traditional rituals and harvests that they have to offer.

As part of this many of you will know that we have recently been building a new Orchard House at the farm. It has been constructed from sustainably sourced timber from the woods we manage around Haslemere and put together on site by the Ranger team. It is a new home for our events to be run in, a storage space for our orchard, gardening and beekeeping gear and a place to keep our historic apple pressing machinery.

Last year on Apple Pressing Day we had only just finished putting up the timber frame:

Orchard House Frame Raise

This year I am pleased to say that it is all finished, ready just in time for everyone to come and use it to celebrate the bumper year we have had in our Orchards. Jane Cecil (National Trust General manager, South Downs) and Sarah Bain (President, National Trust Black Down and Hindhead Supporter Group) will be officially opening the building at 2pm. If you can be here to join in the celebrations with us you will be very welcome.

We are really proud of what has been achieved, it has taken a lot of work by a lot of people to build. I hope it is going to be a very useful and productive space. Orchards cannot survive as museum pieces, pickled and preserved, they need people in them making use of their product to make sense of them. Through the use of our new building I hope our apple trees will continue to flourish, grow and bear fruit for many years to come.

orchhouse finnished 3

orch house finnished 2

orch house finnished 1

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.

ccrafts1

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.

ccrafts3

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.

ccrafts2

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

WP_20150702_001

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

WP_20150619_001

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.

WP_20150626_004

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.

WP_20150617_006

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.

WP_20150626_003

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…

ssb on bl

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.

WP_20150612_002

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.

WP_20150612_008

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!

WP_20150616_011

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.

WP_20150614_002

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.

WP_20150616_004

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.

WP_20150521_0071

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.

WP_20150521_012

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.

 

WP_20150605_003

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.

WP_20150605_005

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.

burning 2

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.

burning 1

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…

burning 4

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.

ssb

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

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers

%d bloggers like this: