Archives for the month of: December, 2010

Over the last ten years or so we have been putting lots of work into restoring the heathland on Black Down. The work has been really successfull and has led to the reappearance of landscapes and views like this.

This has involved clearing areas of birch and pine, whilst the work is happening it can look a bit destructive, especially while the excavators are destumping and burning up the brash. Here you can see Stuart working on the hill earlier this month.

It doesn’t take long though for the heather to regrow and the wildlife to move in. Much of the tree cover is staying especially on the slopes of the hill where we actively encourage the woodland and trees, especially in areas like the beautifull beech hanger woods. There is also still a lot of woodland and tree cover on the summit of the hill, it will always be a landscape of trees, but one within which the heathland and its associated special wildlife hopefully also has chance to thrive.

The heath is now grazed by Aberdeen Angus cattle to help keep it clear of scrub and all sorts of fascinating wildlife is reappearing. This has recently been recognised by West Sussex County Council who extended what used to be a very small Site of Nature Conservation Importance designation to cover the whole of the property in recognition of all the work that has been done there.

Over the years this work has meant that Black Down has produced quite a lot of timber, this has been transported to timber mills throughout the country for various uses. Now, because of the speckled wood building we thought it would be really nice to try and use some of our own Black Down Pine in the new building.

Here I am cross cutting one of the pine trees that was felled as part of this years heathland restoration work. This tree along with a couple of others which were specially selected will provide timber for the studwork in the internal walls as well as for a number of other uses in the building. Most of the softwood we use will be Douglas Fir as it is stronger and more durable, but pine is ok for a lot of uses and its going to be really nice to see a use on the property for a timber we have produced so much of. There is nothing quite like the smell of fresh cut pine.

After we had selected and cross cut the best sections of pine they were stacked using our Valtra tractor with the timber crane and set aside ready to be sawn into planks.

Scots pine also makes for a very sustainable and envirnmentally friendly christmas tree. They hold their needles really well and I rather like the look of them as well. If you live near heathland look out for a site next year selling chrismas trees, at least one site locally usually has some the right sort of size and shape to pass on.

As I mentioned in a recent post, we have our own small herd of Belted Galloway cattle that we use for heathland restoration grazing on Marley Common. People locally always like to hear what they are up to so I thought a bit of a winter update would be appropriate.

They do a fantastic job for us and their munching and trampling helps us to create the right habitat conditions for the many rare and interesting species which rely on the heath for a home. At this time of year though we move them to their winter home down at Shottermill in the fields next to the Allotments.

Its been an exciting week this week for two reasons, planning permission for the new building and our two new cows arriving. They are heifer’s (young females) and, hopefully, they are both in calf, so fingers crossed for the spring.

Above you can see one of the new girls wondering what is going on with the stock trailer. In fact it was the three steers (young castrated males) coming down off the common for the winter.

Introductions were made, and there was a little bit of sizing up of each other.

A new pecking order is establishing itself and they are all getting used to their winter quarters. They are in the bottom field at the moment, but we layed the hedge last year so you can see them from the footpath if you are passing.

I am really pleased as we have been waiting for a while for the girls to arrive, somehow it now feels like a properly complete herd. We have a really interesting winter in the woods lined up getting all the timber ready for the new building, but its nice to be able to think ahead to the warmer days of spring when the calves should arrive.

Our Planning Permission has been granted !!!

This morning I logged on to our councils website to check if there was any news and was confronted by the message that “Full permission” had been granted. I could hardly believe it, and had to check several times to make sure.

Lots of our local freinds and supporters had sent letters and emails to the Borough Council asking them to support the project and I am sure that this made a real difference for us, so a big thankyou to all of you. We will be organising a number of events over the coming year so that people can come and hear more about and see the project, I hope that some of you who lent us your support will be able to make it along.

I have brought home a small bottle of Swan Barn Farm cider from our orchard restoration scheme to celebrate, its not really quite ready yet, it should really wait till christmas, but it tastes pretty sweet tonight.

There is still lots of work to do, on fundraising in particular, but as of today we are one big step closer to putting a new building into this view.

Guest blogger Dave Burges :

I have been thinking that it would be nice to have a way on the blog of letting people know about some of the fantastic wildlife there is out there on the Black Down Estate. I got chatting to Dave about this the other day when I met him up on the hill and he offered his assistance.

We have a new page on the blog, click on “wildlife postings” above and you will be able to get information on what is out there of interest to go and see, Dave has kindly offered his well honed birding knowledge to get the page off the ground.

Dave Burges has been an active birder for about 40 years, enjoying birds in Britain and around the world.  He has lived in Haslemere for six years, and now spends most of his birding time on and around the heaths and woods of the western Weald, with Black Down being one of his favourite sites.  He will be noting what’s about and what to look out for as the seasons change.  In his first piece, he has reflected on the autumn and early winter so far.

We have now finished the preparitory work for the orchard that we are planting as part of the Speckled Wood project, and are looking for fruit tree sponsors.

There is nothing quite like a traditional orchard, they are so beautifull when the blossom is out, they are a fantastic resource for all sorts of wildlife, and lets not forget the fruit they produce. There used to be quite a few orchards around Haslemere but they pretty much all dissapeared as the town expanded in the twentieth centuary. We planted one behind the High Street a few years back and it is just starting to bear fruit, its well worth a visit any time, but can really raise your spirits in the spring.

Now we want to plant another one in front of the basecamp. We have selected the varieties and put up the tree cages, we will be planting later in the winter.

We have often planted memorial tree’s for a standard charge on Black Down over the years, and now thought that the orchard might be a positive way of helping to raise funds for the Speckled Wood building. We have covered the costs of the orchard through staff and volunteer time and by using materials produced here on the Black Down Estate. We can therefore offer the oppotunity to sponsor a tree and promise that all of the money raised will go straight to the Speckled Wood building project. We are asking for £250 per tree and for that will be putting sponsors names on the tree labels and will show sponsors their tree so they can come and visit it and sample its fruit in the future. 

If you have sufficient means and are interested you can visit the sponsor a tree page on this blog, click on the button at the top of this page. If you can’t afford to help by sponsoring a tree you might still be interested to see the list of varieties that will be going in. Its going to be stunning at blossom time, and fingers crossed in a few years it will be bountifull at fruit picking time.

Well, you have to keep warm somehow.

Today we have been working in Witley Copse, one of the woods at Swan Barn Farm. Its a traditional hazel coppice with oak standards, a very sustainable and traditional form of woodland management. The trees in a coppice made up of underwood (which is cut on a regular cycle and regrows with many stems) and standards (the bigger mature trees which are thinned each time you cut the underwood) the two types of tree produce different materials which tend to have different uses. This has been happening for so long it has become engrained in our language, timber from standards and wood from coppiced trees.

The wood we produce in this coppice over this winter will have a variety of uses, the oak we produce when we thin the standards will be used to make floorboards and cladding for the building, some of the underwood will probably be used for the woven panels in the building, but it will also be used for charcoal making and firewood for the biomass boiler which will keep our volunteers warm, as well as for stakes and binders (which you use when hedgelaying to help form the hedge).

Helping cut hazel today was Catherine, she has joined us on a short term contract over the winter. This is her first week with us, a bit of a baptism of snow, hopefully it wont have put her off.

Up on Black Down this afternoon the views were fantastic again, the sky was just so blue.

The roads around here are pretty impassable at the moment with all the snow and ice, so it was unusually quiet on the main paths on the hill. Only the hardiest souls were out and about.

Kind of stating the obvious I know!

The animals all still need looking after though. My chickens at home get completely freaked out whenever it snows, they are so funny, this morning they took one look out of the door of their house and then absolutley refused to come out. Can’t blame them really as it has been perishing here today, very pretty though, especially out on top of the hills, where we have had about a foot of snow.

It always takes Willow by suprise too, but she soon gets used to it and loves dashing about and skidding on icy patches. This was earlier today when we were up on Marley Common checking on our 3 Belted Galloway Cattle, they are part of a joint project we are running with our nieghbours, The Lynchmere society, which is aimed at restoring the habitat on the hill.

They do a vital job for us out on the common, the trampling and munching they do is one of the main tools we use to keep the heathland open, which it needs to be for all of the rare and special wildlife which thrives there.

They are checked every day, we keep them voice trained so that they come to us when we call them, some of the looks we get from passers by are quite amusing, I think they assume we are calling for a lost dog and it always brings a smile to their faces when they see the cattle come trotting up.

We have two new heifers (young females) arriving soon, they have spent some time with a bull prior to their arrival, so should have little beefy buns in the oven.

We are really looking forward to meeting the new calves in the spring.

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