Archives for the month of: July, 2011

This took place yesterday, thanks a lot to everyone who came, we hope you had a good time.

There were displays of pole lath turning, broom making, shingle making, lath making and charcoal burning as well as refreshments, a bouncy castle and story telling for the kids. We also had a display of our sawmill and machinery. It was a chance for people to see the new building, and ask us questions about it. There was a steady stream of people, and a really nice atmosphere.

The craft displays were especially popular, with people learning about the many skills required to work wood, and some of the uses wood can be put to.

Some of my sheep and chickens were pressed into service as part of the display, not sure they are show quality, but the chickens clearly didn’t mind as by the end of the day they had layed 5 eggs.

After everyone had drifted away we shared a few bottles of cider, and Mark got out his guitar to play a few tunes, a nice relaxing end to a pretty busy day.

Look out for our apple pressing and cider making day coming later in the year, I think that will be a good one too.


I managed to get the day off yeasterday, and headed off for a walk across the countryside between Midhurst and Haslemere. I couldn’t resist a stop off at one of my favourite tree’s, The Queen Elizabeth Oak in Cowdray Park.

It is one of the most outstanding oaks in the country, if not in europe. We are incredibly lucky in this country that the history of our management of tree’s has allowed specimens such as this to survive.

It is named after Queen Elizabeth I, who supposedly sheltered under it in 1591 whilst on her way to Midhurst. It is thought to be somewhere between 800-1000 years old and has a girth of over 40 feet. It is quite possible that as a young tree it was around to see the Norman Conquest in 1066.

For most of its life it was managed as a pollard tree, whereby the top was cut out of it on a regular basis to produce a crop of firewood and poles, it is a process very similar to coppicing, but happens 6 or more feet up in the air. This keeps the regrowth out of the reach of the livestock that would have been grazing around it. Pollarded tree’s can be seen in many places, by keeping the form of the tree low and compact it can elongate the life of the tree and is one of the main reasons this country is the gaurdian of some of the oldest specimens in europe.

As the tree aged it rotted in the middle and is now completely hollow, the deadwood inside the tree is a very important habitat, and provides a home for a wide variety of wildlife, some of which can only survive in close association with very old trees.

As you look up from the inside the sunlight glints in through knotholes and branches, it is a very special place, a living museum, testament to the passing of time and gaurdian of a wealth of knowledge, much of which we are only beginning to understand how to read.

To put up the Speckled Wood building we felled quite a number of tree’s, sometimes I get asked if I feel bad about this. The answer is always no, the timber we are using has been sustainably produced, it comes from woodlands which are managed to produce both good conditions for wildlife and access as well as a useful environmentally friendly product. There are though many trees in our care we should never dream of allowing to suffer harm, and I think it a scandal that they do not have the legal protection they deserve. I just think its important to make the point that there is a distinction between the two and a differnce in the way they can, and should, be managed.

Coming up this weekend on Saturday 30th from 10 – 4 we have a Green Woodworking Event happening here at Swan Barn Farm.

It will be a chance to see the new Speckled Wood building, and ask us questions about it, as well as to see some traditional woodland crafts in action. Amongst other things there will be pole lathing, charcoal burning and shingle making, we will have a display of tractors and machinery and there will be refreshments available. For children a story telling trail will be happening at 11 and 2 and there will also be a bouncy castle.

Parking is not available on site so will be in the town centre car parks. From there it is about a 10 minute walk either down Collards Lane or across the field behind Collingwood Batchelor to Swan Barn Farm. Hope you can join us.

Things have been moving on with the project, last week we had another group of working holiday volunteers helping us out, they had a good week in the woods, making over 800 shingles. As well as that they were drilling holes in the shingles, helping with some sawmilling, preparing and peeling roundwood rafters and making some benches which will sit on the verandah.

They were milled out of some of the Swan Barn Farm oak that came out of the coppice here last winter.

Once the timber had been cut out it was taken into the workshop to be cross cut, planed and have the edges rounded off. Below you can see the timber being processed through our planer thicknesser.

The finished pieces of timber were then put together to a pattern we have been developing here for a while, I think they look really nice, and when the verandah is finished they will make a great place for our long term volunteers to relax after a hard days work in the woods.

I noticed the other day that the Lammas growth has started on the oak trees around here.

A number of our native species produce a second flush of new growth at this time of year, oaks are one of the best known for it. In the picture above you can see the older darker green leaves and the fresh lime green new shoot which has emerged from a terminal bud on the twig.

Lammas growth is named after Lammas day, which falls on August 1st. This was a traditional day of celebration dating back many centuries when blessings were sought for the harvest. It apparently comes from the Anglo Saxon word Hlafmaesse which means Loaf Mass. Traditionally bread was baked from the very first grains that could be harvested and crumbs from the loaf were sprinkled in the corners of barns to bring luck for the coming season.

Lammas growth on trees can be really pretty. On oaks it tends to be lime green but is also often tinged with red.

It brings the trees to life again, and makes the woods and hedgerows feel refreshed. It is thought by many to have evolved as a way of coping with the destruction of leaves caused earler in the summer by defoliating insects.

It definitely feels like the seasons are starting to move on in the woodlands, the other day I noticed the very first blushes of colour starting to appear on the sloes and the hawthorn berries have been showing colour for a while.

I have had an eye on the crab apples too.

Last year I used some of them to balance the flavours and provide pectin in a batch of perry I made from the pears growing in the orchard behind the high street, it didn’t look too promising at first but in the end turned out to be really nice. I’m really looking forward to the apple season this year, there is plenty of fruit on the trees, looks like it might be a good cider year.

I thought some of you might be interested in this rather clever piece of green technology, and was reminded to write a post about it as I recently had to replace one of the seals in the pump.

A few years ago as part of our heathland restoration work we reintroduced grazing animals onto Black Down, one (amongst many!) of the issues we needed to address with the cattle was a supply of clean drinking water, the hill is the highest point in Sussex, and above the local reservoir, so even if we had wanted to using mains water would have been impossible without a costly (financially and environmentally) electric pump.

The idea we hit on instead was to use a lost volume pump. These have been around since victorian times, and the papa pump is one of the latest on a similar theme. They use the power of a body of falling water to drive a small percentage of that water up a hill. On Black Down we have loads of natural springs, they form wherever the sandstone meets the clay. This one is the source of the River Wey.

You can’t really tell from the photo, but it is in amongst a lovely glade of aincent beech tree’s. The spring has been contained within a brick cistern, which supplies water to a number of our nieghbours, we decided to use this spring as well as a clean source of water for our cattle.

We built an extra cistern on the front, and then led a drive pipe from this downhill to a chamber which housed the pump.

The metal pipe has about a 4 metre fall before it arrives at the pump chamber.

Inside the chamber sits the pump (on the left below) and a pressure vessel.

Water falling down the length of the metal pipe rushes into the pump, through a valve and provides the impulse to send a short pulse of water through the pressure vessel and into the smaller blue plastic pipe. The drive water then spills out of the chimney in the top of the pump and the cycle starts again sending the next pulse up the pipe. No external source of power is required and the drive water is returned down a seperate pipe back into the stream it would have been in anyway.

The pressure vessel smoothes out the “stroke” of the pump so the water travels evenly up the pipe rather than in a series of pulses.

The top trough the system pumps to is about 1000 metres away from and 100 metres above the pump, pretty impressive I always think. Also, it makes a really satisfying sploshing heartbeat noise as it works, one of the wardens who used to work here always used to tell groups on guided walks that another local lost volume pump was the sound of the heartbeat of the earth, and that stuck with me, I always stop by whenever I am passing, firstly to check it is working, but also to listen to the heartbeat. If you are ever out for a walk on Black Down and are passing Cotchet Farm you could try keeping an ear open for it.

Or lack of it, we started the day like this:

By lunchtime the scaffolding had all come down:

I know the scaffolding wasn’t hiding much of the structure, but for some reason with it out of the way the whole thing looks so much more elegant. You get a feel of the wood, and the time and effort that has gone into creating the frame.

The interior space suddely looks really big again, in the finished structure half of the building will be open from floor to eaves, today for the first time I got an image of what this will be like.

The verandah frame was put on its padstones yesterday as well. The next verandah frame is now on the framing bed being put together. Soon all of the frames will be finished and then you will be able to see the footprint of the whole building.

The next couple of weeks will be a really good time to come and see the structure if you are nearby, as its at a really pretty stage. Fairly soon protective tarpaulins will be going up to keep our straw bale’s dry. But until then you will be able to see the whole frame looking fantastic.

One of the main jobs on the building this week is constructing the verandah frame.

The framing bed had to be rebuilt and extended to cope with the extra long frame. This meant extending it out over the old concrete track at the back of the basecamp.

Each frame in turn has been constructed on the framing bed, the verandah frame is the latest to be jointed together in this way. Doing it like this means the timbers can be cut, jointed and put together prior to the parts all being lifted over into their finished positions in the building.

In the picture above you can see that the uprights have been held in place with ratchet straps while the tenons have been cut on the end of them. The long beam which forms the wall plate at the top of the frame is then moved using the tripods with blocks and tackle. This allows it to be lowered and marked and then lifted to have the mortices cut prior to being lowed and attached.

This frame also has a number of windbraces in it.

They stop the building from racking, or twisting over time, and also add to the appearance of the finished structure. They are the short angled timbers in the picture above, it all means quite a bit of complicated roundwood timber joinery, which the guys on the framing team have been coping with admirably.

Once the frame has been completed it will be lifted onto its padstones.

You can see the line of stones waiting for it just to the left of willow (my collie dog).

Like the other structural timbers this frame is mainly made out of sweet chestnut from Ridden corner on Black Down. The long beam at the top is another of the larch poles we brought in from valewood, it will have a Swan Barn Farm oak under floor beam. I am really looking forward to seeing it in place as it will define the finished width of the building.

The rain has returned over the last couple of days, can’t really complain though, its been such a dry summer so far.

Our biosurvey volunteers have made a great job of surveying the meadows, and today are entering data from the survey onto the computers as well as making a few shingles for the Speckled Wood project.

Meanwhile on the build site the framing team have understandably been sheltering from the weather. This has meant a move inside the newly membraned roof to get on with a few jobs where it is nice and dry.

The first fix electrics have been going in, and the inside of the roof has been plasterboarded. The small black squares you can see in the plasterboard are where our rooflights will be going. Each of the upstairs bedrooms will have one, and there is another one which will end up over the upstairs gallery.

The rain will be doing the world of good to all sorts of plants and trees which had been starting to feel a bit parched, I should think the orchards here at Swan barn Farm will be particularly gratefull for it. Most of the trees in our new Speckled Wood Orchard are doing well. In the other orchard, which backs on to Haslemere High Street I have been really pleased to see how much fruit there is growing this year. We planted it about six years ago, and it looks like this year it is going to produce our first decent crop.

The denistons superb gage tree has brances weighed down with gage’s and just near this one of my favourite apples is having a great year as well.

Its a knobby russet, probably the ugliest, whilst also being one of the tastiest apples you will ever see. Its skin is so heavily russeted that it cracks and folds and goes knobbly all over, a very unpromising looking thing, but later in the year eaten with a glass of cold cider and some bread and blue cheese it is sheer apple heaven.

This week we have a group of volunteers staying in the basecamp who are helping out with our annual biosurvey of the estate.

Every year we survey the flora in a selection of our meadows and heaths and over time have built up a picture of the types of plants we have growing on the property. We have developed a methodology that allows us to show changes in the composition of species in the meadows over time, this helps us to show where our management is working (or not) and informs the way we graze and cut our grasslands. The aim is to build up the conservation interest of the sites by encouraging things like grasses which are the larval foodplants for butterflies and flowers which give nectar for other invertibrates.

Its also a good way of brushing up on our plant id skills, as well as passing this knowledge on to the volunteer groups.

Amongst the other wildlife surveys we run is a butterfly survey at Swan Barn Farm, last weeks survey brought a very interesting find. Matt spotted a Purple Emporer, one of this country’s most spectacular, and elusive butterflies. It hasn’t been recorded at Swan Barn Farm since 1983, so it was really exciting to find one here again. The males have a beautifull sheen of purple on their wings and allthough they spend most of their time in the treetops can sometimes be seen down on the ground due to there habit of flying down to investigate mud, faeces and even carrion. Apparently the one Matt saw was investigating a puddle.

Meanwhile, back on the building the Sprockets have been going in this week.

No, not that type of Sprocket (sorry, poor joke, regulars here will know that Matt’s dog, the one on the left, is called sprocket).

I mean the sprockets which form the outer edge of the roof.

They carry the roof over the top of the bale walls and are set at a slightly different angle to the rafters they join onto. This flares out the roofline which slightly slows down water as it is running off the roof prior to it arriving at the gutters.

They are made out of coppiced sweet chestnut from Ridden Corner Copse. They sit on top of the wall plate in a cup that is chiseled out to allow the two pieces of round timber to join together effectively.

Once the sprockets and the boards that sit above them are all in place it will be time to move on to battening and shingling the roof.

Now that the main structure of the roof has been completed the insulation it needs has been going in.

We are using sheeps wool, it’s an effective, natural, sustainably produced insulating material which is produced in an environmentally freindly way. The recent development of its use in building is also starting to open up a new market for fleeces, hopefully over time this will offer a bit of much needed support for the sheep farmers in this country.

Wool used to be one of our most important industries, as I have said before it shaped landscapes and provided a huge economic boost for the country, hence the reason why the speaker in the House of Lords sits on a woolsack.

When you mention to people that we are using sheeps wool I think they expect us to be stuffing whole untreated fleeces in between the rafters, actually the wool has been treated and washed and comes in rolls of specified sizes, just like any other insulation.

Here you can see where it has been unrolled and put into place between the rafters. When the whole roof was done there was a distinct smell of sheep in the air, fortunately the membrane and plastering will keep this from being an issue when the building is finished.

Once all the insulation was in a second membrane was put into place. This regulates the flow of moisture out of the building through the roof thereby ensuring you don’t get condensation in the roof which would dampen the wool.

This second membrane is held in place with pine battoning, onto which the plasterboard ceiling will be attached.

I was really pleased to see some Black Down pine starting to go into the building. Matt and I felled it over the winter in Ridden Corner on the North West corner of Black Down, and we brought it back to Swan Barn Farm for milling a couple of weeks ago.

Over the last few years we have cleared quite a lot of pine off the hill as part of our programme of heathland restoration work. This pine has been sent away on lorries to destinations across the country to be used for all sorts of things from chip and block board to paper and also to be used in construction. Using it here a mile or so from where it grew makes a nice change, and brought home to me again how important I think it is to try and source the materials we use as locally as possible.

We have had quite a few visitors over the last couple of weeks, coming to see how the project is doing. Later this month we are hosting a Green Woodworking event here at Swan Barn Farm, it will be an oppotunity to see the building, as well as to meet some local craftsfolk and see a number green woodworking skills in action. Its on Saturday 30th July from 10.30 till 3. We will have some of our tractors and machinery on display for kids (big and small) to come and have a look around as well as a resident story teller. Unfortunately parking is very limited here so we will be asking people to park in the town centre and walk down to the farm. Hope you can make it.

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