Archives for posts with tag: Black Down

Marley Cattle promo reduced file size

It has been a busy time lately for the Black Down herd of conservation grazing cattle. They have been moving around our sites completing our programme of summer grazing and will soon be heading out onto their winter quarters. Four of our girls have returned from the bull, fingers crossed for a full set of beefy buns in ovens. Also two of our steers have reached the age where they go for beef.

We run a breeding herd, heifers (young females) are kept for breeding so that we can build up numbers and select for good characteristics. Steers (the castrated males) are kept for 3 years and then go for beef. We sell the beef in a local box scheme, the profits of which help support the running of the property and the herd, as well as giving people a taste of some of the finest tasting, highest welfare, most sustainably produced beef you could ever wish to put on your plate.

Someone from the Black Down team visits every one of our cattle every single day of the year. Come rain, hail, snow or (occasionally) sunshine we look after them from birth till death. The work they do for us is absolutely vital for our management and stewardship of the countryside in our care. Without them the habitats and landscapes we look after around Haslemere would be very much the poorer, for both wildlife and people. Needless to say it is difficult not to get enotionally involved. Especially on the day you take an animal you have known well to the abbatoir. Yesterday was such a day, and I don’t mind saying it wasn’t easy.

Today is a new day though. I couldn’t be more proud of the animals we raise here, and know that they live just about the most contented and rich life it is possible for a cow to have. This is reflected in the beef we produce and sell.

So, on a stricly first come first served basis (limited supply available) we are currently offering for sale 5kg boxes of mixed cuts of our rare breed Belted Galloway beef which will have been traditionally butchered and hung. The boxes cost £50 and will be available for collection from Swan Barn Farm on 6th November between 4 and 7pm. We have a list of customers in the office, to get on the list you need to ring 01428 652359 and speak directly to one of the team. I have to warn you though, supermarket beef will never be good enough again.


I love working in the countryside, come rain or shine there is always the potential for something interesting to appear around the next corner. You are also never short of something new to learn about. Regular readers will remember that for the last few years we have been undertaking a reintroduction scheme for sand lizards on Black Down.

sand lizard hatchlings 10 2013 resized

We have been working with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust releasing hatchling lizards (seen above) to an area of specially managed heathland in the hope that this fascinating and rare species would manage to reestablish itself on the hill.

Natural England estimate that they have been lost from over 80% of their former range, they are a classic heathland species and we really wanted to do our best to provide a safe refuge for them.

So for the last three years each year we have released handfulls of pretty tiny lizards onto the heath wondering if we would ever see them again.

sand lizard mb resized

Trouble is the little perishers are pretty much impossible to find until they get to maturity at about 3 years of age. This is when the males develop their fantastic vibrant green colouration. So… this year is the first time we have had chance to see whether the reintroduction has worked…

The winters have been pretty harsh, and various predators were bound to have had quite a few of them, but had any survived?

Well, yesterday, whilst working on the hill Matt discovered the answer, tucked in amongst the heather was a little green wildlife wow, a male sand lizard decked out in his mating finery.

S Lizard 2013 resized

It is great news for our largest and rarest lizard that it is establishing itself in a new home, and great news too for Black Down and all the people who worked so hard to make it happen.

Sorry if I have been a little quiet lately. I think everyone at Swan Barn Farm has fealt the hectic year catching up on them a bit over the past couple of weeks and we have all needed to take a little time to get back on track. The building has been coming along well, with lots of work being done on the earth plastering and decorating front. Meanwhile I thought with autumn advancing it would be a good time to go back up to Ridden Corner Copse, the coppice where we cut most of the timber for the building, and see how the regrowth is looking.

As I have explained before, the main species of wood we used for the build is sweet chestnut, it comes from a coppiced wood, meaning that when you fell the tree it doesn’t die, but regrows with many stems from the cut stool. This is a very sustainable, environmentally friendly and aincent way of managing woods, which also provides fantastic conditions for wildlife. Now that the stools where we cut the timber from the house have reached the end of their first growing season I wanted to see how well the regrowth was doing.

As you can see from my cunningly devised dog by tree scaled measuring device much of the regrowth in the wood has reached 5 or 6 feet in its first year. The first year or two is crucial for the regrowth in the coppice, as the trees strive upwards towards the light the main threat comes from browsing deer. If they get chance they will nibble the leading shoots causing a massive ammount of damage to the future viability of the coppice. One of the ways we get aroung this is by creating glades which are large enough so the deer feel threatened in the open space, they will always browse round the edges, but tend not to go out in to the middle. This area of woodland seems to have faired well, there is a little deer damage, but not too much, and by next year the shoots will have grown out of harms way. Given another 15 or 20 years this area will have regrown to a size where it will be ready to be cut again.

This is the time of year when thoughts turn towards keeping warm by the fire, and I was pleased to see our stacks of cordwood drying nicely by the trackside. We are currently having a log fired biomass boiler installed as part of our building project. Next year this is the wood that will be keeping the building warm and providing its hot water.

The other thing that I was really pleased to see was how the ground underneath the trees was starting to fill in with all manner of interesting plants.

The wood sorrel is growing in big clumps all across the woods.

And wherever there had been a bit of light disturbance of the soil foxgloves are proliferating.

Of course only the leaves are showing at the moment, but it is a real sign of things to come, it looks like next year the coupe will be a riot of sorrel and foxglove flowers, I can almost hear the hum of the bee’s already.

Its a fantastic time of the year to get out in the woods for a walk, (I intend to be taking my own advice on that this week, with a few days off and a long walk planned) the colours are absolutely at their peak. But its not only in the woods that the colours are looking stunning. A short walk across the heath is also pretty rewarding right now as I saw on Black Down this afternoon.

And, no matter what the time of year, if you keep your eyes open there is always some fascinating wildlife out there to spot, like this clump of wax cap fungi I found growing amongst the grasses on the lower slopes of the hill.

Wax caps usually only grow in areas that have not had artificial fertilizers or chemicals applied to them, so when you see them you always know you are somewhere a bit special.

I justed wanted to let you all know about a some guided walks we have coming up.

First of all on 22nd October from 10.30 till 4ish as part of the National Trust’s walking festival we are offering the unique opportunity of a guided walk across the Milland Bowl from Black Down to Woolbeding. The walk will link together these two outstanding NT properties and cross the fascinating countryside between the two. Below is a view from Black Down looking towards Older Hill, which is en route to Woolbeding.

We will be meeting at the Car Park on Tennysons Lane and heading out past the Beech Hanger…

Towards the Temple of the Winds…

Before dropping down past Fernhurst, across the bowl and up to Older Hill. Once there we will have chance of some hot drinks before completing the walk down to Woolbeding.

Transport will be provided back to the start and participants need to bring a packed lunch. Booking is essential due to limited places on the transport back. Phone 01730 816638 to book, the cost is £3 per adult and £1.50 children.

The woods are looking fantastic at the moment, with the autumn colours just starting to show. Its a beautiful route (about 10 miles or so) and I am really looking forward to it, hope you can come and join me.

We are also taking part in the Chichester District Council organised Health Walks programme. The idea of Health walks is to get people out and about in the countryside getting fit and enjoying the fresh air, its good for any number of health issues and as I can testify, is about the best way of gaining some perspective on the hurly burly of life. They are designed to cater for all ages and abilities and offer an opportunity to excercise and meet new people in a safe and friendly way.

Our health walks are led by two of our wardens who will also be able to give you an insight into local countryside management and tell you all about the wildlife you encounter en route.

The next two dates to look out for are 15th November 10.30 am on Marley Common and 13th December 10.30am at Swan Barn Farm. You can find out more details by clicking here.

If you will pardon the pun.

Earlier in the year the team that look after the Wey Navigation asked if we could spare some timber for some boat mooring bollards. I quite like the idea of some Black Down timber ending up by the side of the Navigation, after all Cotchet Valley on Black Down is the site of the source of the River Wey.

We passed on to them some nice chunky pieces of coppiced sweet chestnut. The other day Steve, the Navigation Foreman kindly sent over these pictures of them being installed. Our post hole auger runs off a tractor, but when you are looking after a navigable waterway a barge becomes the source of the horse power.

This sort of job still needs someone on a spade at some point though.

I hope the wood we provided for them does the trick, we wouldn’t want to see any barges slipping their moorings.

The Navigation opened in 1653 and was one of the first British rivers to be made navigable. In 1764 the Godalming Navigation opened, creating a 20 mile waterway running from the Thames at Weybridge to Godalming. Originally the Wey Navigations were used for transporting barge loads of heavy goods via the Thames to London. Timber, coal, corn, flour, wood and even gunpowder were regularly moved up and down the waterway. Its a lovely place for a walk, and you never know, you might even see a bit of Black Down timber by the tow path.

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.

Last week was really pretty exciting here, the day of the frame raise started out very stressfull and ended up a bit emotional. I think it has taken a bit of a readjustment this week to get back in to the swing of things again. The frame looks great still, I can see it out of the window as I’m typing. But after the excitement comes more hard work. We have a group of volunteers here this week in the basecamp who have been doing brilliantly on the shingle making for the roof. There has also been lots more sawmilling being done, finishing off the rafters and joists.

One of the other interesting jobs that has being happening is the damp proofing of the frame. This seems to be an idea that Ben has developed over the course of a few of his buildings and I think is a neat little refinement. You may remember that the uprights of the frame sit on recycled york stone padstones. Well, what is there to stop water from sitting on these stones and working its way into the uprights and rotting them? The first line of defence is the fact that they are under the building and so sheltered to some degree. The building also sits off the ground allowing a drying airflow underneath it. But there is a further piece of weather proofing as well.

The bottom of each post was painted prior to the raise to protect it and now the frame is upright each post in turn is jacked up and has a thin piece of slate put in under it.

This piece of slate acts like a damp proof course stopping water getting from the padstone to the wood. Slate used to be used in brick buildings for damp proof courses, and this is an adaption of the same principle.

After the post has been put back down the slate is chipped away around the post, in the end you wouldn’t really notice it unless you knew it was there.

Meanwhile out on the heaths local bird watcher and guest blogger Dave Burgess has been busy, he has sent in an update on what is around to be seen at the moment which you can see on the wildlife postings page.

Its a lovely time of the year up on Black Down, the heathland wildlife is just starting to resurface, but the woods are still looking stunning in their late spring / early summer foliage. The beech hanger is particularly worth visiting, especially on a sunny day when the cool shade can be really refreshing.

It’s on the eastern side of Black Down, you can’t really miss it, if you walk through it you will also find a couple of fantastic viewpoints from which you look out over the patchwork quilt of woods and meadows that make up the western weald, I am clearly biased, but I reckon Black Down gives just about the best views you can get over the new South Downs National Park.

In his update Dave mentions some of our classic heathland birds, it got me thinking about the return of the nightjars, always something to look forward to. Its well worth a walk across the heath in the evening just as the sun is dissappearing, I reckon in a couple of weeks time there will be a very good change of hearing nightjars around here, his description of them sounding like a cat purring loudly is spot on, if you get to hear that as well as spotting a decent sunset it makes for a pretty great evening in my book.

Last friday evening I was working late on Black Down, it turned out to be well worth it as I was treated to seeing something pretty unusual, a Black (or melanistic) Adder. I know some people don’t like them, but I think adders are fantastic creatures and always really enjoy seeing them.

Their usual colouring is grey and black for the males and copper and black for females. I always think the copper colouring is particularly pretty, but sometimes an excess of pigment leads to the snake taking on a much darker overall colouration. It’s not something you see very often, so I was really pleased to spot this one and thought I would share it with you.

Its been a busy week on the build site, foundation trenches have been started and we have been busily cutting out rafters and joists on the sawmill. The first of the A frames of the building is now sat on the framing bed being worked on.

Above you can see the timbers for it being lifted onto the bed. Some of you might start to recognise them by now, and maybe even where around Haslemere they came from. I certainly wont forget, especially that oak beam!

And, lastly for this week, in a sure sign that easter is nearly here, the sheep that graze the Speckled Wood orchard have started to lamb. Here’s a picture of the first one to arrive.

If that sounds a bit odd, then bear with me! The crucks are the uprights of the A frame sections around which the main frame of the building will be constructed. They are being made out of some of the larger more sturdy timbers that are coming out of the coppice. Here you can see a couple of them have just been brought up to the track using the winch and crane.

These are measured and cut to length like the other timbers, it was a bit more exciting cutting this one out though, its going to perform such a key role in the house.

They are pretty long, 9 metres in fact, so getting them back to Swan Barn Farm is a bit of a challenge. The first bit of their journey involves skidding them out of the wood. The long lengths are attached to the butt plate of the winch with chains.

The tractor then drives out of the wood dragging the poles behind it.

The poles were skidded out of the wood and across the heath to a place where we can get to them with a big bale trailer. When we have all the long lengths we need stacked up like this we will use a bale trailer to take them to Swan Barn Farm.

Unfortunately the load will be too long to fit into the lane at the other end, so we will have to use a bit of inginuity there too, there will be more on the crucks journey to the build site soon.

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