Archives for the month of: April, 2012

We are now entering the final stages of construction of the Speckled Wood building, so the time has come for us to start to hunt for the people who are going to get the opportunity to be the first to come and live in it.

We are looking to recruit 3 long term volunteers to come and work with us on the National Trust’s Black Down Estate in The South Downs National Park near Haslemere on the borders of West Sussex and Surrey.

The successful candidates would get an opportunity to develop their experience of working in countryside conservation on an estate with lots of woodland, grassland and heathland as well as a small herd of in hand cattle. There would be opportunity to work with volunteer groups staying in our basecamp. as well as to get involved in small scale sustainable food production and our events programme.

The role would mostly involve working out and about across the Black Down Estate, but would also involve helping to look after the basecamp and its volunteers, maintaining the biomass boiler and looking after the basecamp vegetable garden and chicken run.

The volunteers would be offered free accommodation in the Speckled Wood Building, our brand new cruck framed eco building which was sustainably constructed using the products of our woodlands by the Black Down Countryside team in association with local craftsman Ben Law and his Roundwood Timber Framing Company. Ben became well known following on from his appearance on Channel 4’s Grand Designs programme and the publishing of his books on woodlands and sustainable construction.

The volunteers will help us to run the estate in a more sustainable way, whilst living in a house constructed from materials that were produced in the woodlands within which they will be living and working.

We anticipate quite a few people being interested in this rare opportunity, therefore a shortlist of applicants will be invited to a practically based selection process on the property. This will consist of working on a task with the countryside team over the course of two days as well as a short sit down discussion with the team. Free overnight accommodation will be provided on site. The selection days will be 23rd / 24th May and the closing date for applications is 9th May. For further information and an application form please contact :


They say the weather is the top British obsesion, seeing as how its so rubbish at the moment I thought a post on it might be appropriate. The rain has been teaming down onto our handmade shingle roof.

No leaks so far (touch wood).

There is though at least one upside, it is filling up our new rainwater harvesting system nicely.

But, of course, water is becoming an increasingly precious commodity. I remember a colleague of mine once told me that you have to be very careful not to mix up climate and weather. Never mind the fact that the weather is not great at the moment, the evidence suggests that our climate is changing, and one of the consequences of this (in this part of the country at least) is going to be that we are going to have to be much more careful of how we use what is probably going to become an increasingly scarce resource. When you think about it that way, the amount of it we flush straight down the loo, after having spent huge amounts of energy on capturing and purifying it just seems plain crazy. Our new building will accomodate 3 people, and the basecamp sleeps up to 19, thats a lot of mains water being flushed away every day. Of course there are lots of things you can do to help, from composting loo’s right down to just putting a brick in the cistern so it uses less water. I think one of the most important things is to try and make best use of the water resource you have available to you. This was the idea behind our rainwater harvesting system, we wanted to recycle the rainwater that fell on the roofs here and use it for flushing the loo’s, watering the vegetable garden and have an outside tap for filling bowsers and washing vehicles etc.

It made quite a mess of the site earlier this year, but the first thing we did was to reroute all of the downpipes off both Speckled Wood and the Basecamp, and bring them underground to a collection point at the front of the buildings.

At this point a large 10 000 litre tank was burined in the ground. The water is filtered and then stored in this tank. From there it is pumped up to a small header tank in the loft of the basecamp. This tank is kept permanently topped up with rainwater, and, should the large tank outside ever run dry there is an automated back up system which will top it up with mains water if neccessary.

From the tank in the loft the water is piped down to the 6 toilets, the outside tap and the water trough in the vegetable garden. In the plant room there is a gauge on the wall showing the level in the main tank. You wont be supprised to see that after the recent weather it is totally full.

We had a very dry early spring here, it didn’t rain for quite some time, but we didn’t run out of rainwater. The only real test will come during a very dry spell in the summer, but so far the mains backup has not been required.

I am chuffed to bits with the system, I’ve always been a keen supporter of taking action on water conservation, and for me its one of the more important parts of the work we have done here. There is only one drawback…and that is caused by…

Our lovely handmade shingle roof. As it is made of green wood the rain water picks up tannins as it flows over it. As any of you who work with wood will know this means the water picks up a sort of black / dark purple staining. This means that when you flush the loo in the building the water comes out looking pretty murky.

Of course we are incredibly proud of our roof as well, and once it has started to season and grey down it will stop leaching tannins and the staining issue will lessen, for now though we just have to point out to people that the water isn’t dirty, its recycled.

Meanwhile the sheep that graze in the Speckled Wood Orchard have finished lambing. The last ewe to pop even managed a bit of a surprise.

Triplets! She managed to deliver them herself, Jacobs are a hardy breed and are very self sufficient. Usually one of the triplets would be fostered off onto a ewe with a single lamb, but there weren’t any singles this year so that wasn’t an option. So far she seems to be coping pretty well, I think it s going to be a case of stepping in with a bottle to help out as the lambs get a bit bigger, depending on how that goes it might be an excuse to get one halter trianed and see about putting it in one of the local shows, maybe…

There are two girls (apple and badger) and one boy (don’t realy believe in giving the boys names bearing in mind that they end up in the freezer). Now the rainwater tank is full I am hoping for a bit of sunshine to help them along a bit.

I know, its a terrible pun, but it wasn’t my idea. One of the beds in the basecamp provided the perfect area for germinating seeds.

Some of the vegetable seeds we planted out a couple of weeks ago needed thinning out and transplanting this morning, its really exciting seeing the seedlings starting to grow, for some reason I especially like it when the bean plants germinate, they have a really comical way of unfurling their first couple of leaves.

We tried to get a nice mix of vegetables, which we largely did. Not quite sure what happened when it came to the brassica’s though, we seemed to plant quite a lot, could be a bit windy at Swan Barn Farm later this year.

Meanwhile the onions are starting to grow and you can just make out the first rows of salad and rocket reaching up for the light.

I’ve been waiting for the last couple of weeks for the first of the lambs to be born to the small flock of sheep that graze our orchards. This week the first ones finally arrived.

Very cute, I am sure they will be getting quite a few visitors in the coming weeks.

Things have been a bit quiet on the building for the last week or two, we have been having to catch up on a number of other jobs across the Black Down estate as well as getting easter over and done with (if you came along I hope you enjoyed the easter egg hunt, it was very well attended).

Over the coming weeks we are going to be getting back in the building and aiming to get the last details finished as soon as we can.

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