Archives for the month of: January, 2011

In this week’s blog David Elliott, National Trust Head Warden for the Black Down Estate, starts writing about the Speckled Wood project at Swan Barn Farm.

Swan Barn Farm is a National Trust property next to the small town of Haslemere. Being right on the town’s doorstep it offers a real opportunity for people to get involved in the countryside. It is made up of about 100 acres of ancient woodland and meadows as well as a small orchard and a number of ponds and streams. It is home to the Black Down wardening team as well as to Hunter Basecamp.

Hunter Basecamp at Swan Barn Farm

Hunter Basecamp at Swan Barn Farm

The basecamp, pictured above, offers accommodation to volunteers who come for week long working holidays and work on a number of NT properties in the area. It is also the site for an exciting new project; a project that aims to extend the basecamp facilities by building new accommodation for long term volunteers.

View across the estate

View across the estate

From our base at Swan Barn Farm the Black Down countryside team manages hundreds of acres of woodland, heathland and meadows. This countryside and its important wildlife are much loved by local people. We want the new building to reflect this landscape and to be constructed from materials sourced on the estate in an environmentally friendly manner.

Woods near Swan Barn Farm

Woods near Swan Barn Farm

The woodlands on the estate are managed primarily for public access and nature conservation. Large areas of them are traditional coppiced woodlands. The cyclical cutting of coppiced woodland provides ideal conditions for a wide range of woodland wildlife as well as providing timber for use on the estate, including our new building.

Chesnut coppicing on the estate

Chesnut coppicing on the estate

We have been working with local designer and woodsman Ben Law, who you may have seen building his house (shown below) on the Channel 4 programme Grand Designs. Ben is working with us to design and build an environmentally friendly, locally sourced building which we can construct with the help of our volunteers.

The house Ben Law built

The house Ben Law built

Next week David will share more details about this project including what work has been carried out so far and the design of the building.

Well, the end of the year has come and gone. The end of “International Year of Biodiversity”. (IYB, no less) Please don’t say you missed it!

I realise that there is a “year”, “week” or “day” to “celebrate” almost everything. I believe that there is even some sort of celebration of that most pernicious, disgusting and, frankly, evil member of the planet’s flora – the Brussels Sprout. But even this object of torture that torments us from childhood to the grave has its moments. If you cut out the middle man/woman and chuck them straight on the compost heap they can benefit any number of microbial species and will no doubt nourish our earth worms. The worms will go deeper into the soil as the surface temperatures drop, but a compost heap is likely to be warmer (as a result of all that decomposition). I have sometimes put a bit of old carpet on my heap to speed up the rotting process. If you do this, then roll back a bit of the carpet in cold, snowy weather you are likely to find birds aplenty descending on it to find worms and other invertebrates.

One species you are likely to see is the Robin. This charming little bird (as seen on a Christmas card recently, no doubt) is actually a bit of a brutish thug at this time of year, engaged in some aggressive activity to defend its territory. Robins have no doubt been put off vegetarianism by the thought of sprouts, and prefer to eat meal worms from bird tables. They are the gardener’s friend – I have a “pet” on my allotment (whom I have imaginatively named “Robin”) who follows me up and down the plot as I dig.

Talking of aggressive, largely (but not solely) male behaviour, at the end of IYB…. There are other parallels in the generally mindless, drunken lechery and aggression that is sometime referred to by us humans as “celebrating” New Year’s Eve. As the New Year begins you can see some of our early breeding birds coming into full breeding plumage. Try and see through the apparently sordid mating scenes of the Mallards on your local Trust pond. Admittedly the females look battered and scarred and can sometimes be drowned by the “over-amorous” behaviour of a group of drakes, but this seems to be the way they work and you may wish to concentrate your thoughts on the male’s plumage. The head which may look, at first sight, to be dark green can shimmer as it moves from a sort of luminescent turquoise to blue and purple. And look at the colours of Starlings too. Close up that apparently dull dark brown/black also goes through all sorts of shades of deep purple – showing the sort of subtle “make up” and glamour that nature can produce but us humans may struggle with as we prepare to go out for New Year.

Mallards on frozen water at Petworth Park

After dark you will still hear the ducks (carrying on all night!), and last night I listened to a coo-ing collared dove sitting on a snow covered chimney in the cold and dark. But daytime also brings sounds of impending spring. If the sun manages to poke through you will here the “squeaky wheelbarrow” call of Great tits and the chirpy and generally “happy” sound of Chaffinches as their minds turn to finding a mate and getting down to the business of…well… life

So IYB comes to an end as 2010 closes, but I am glad to say that there is a sequel … well there is in my book. If “biodiversity” is simply our variety of wildlife, then every year is one in which to celebrate it, fancy logo or not.

A new year starts here – get out to your local Trust property and enjoy it…Ravens and Peregrines on the White Cliffs; orchids on the North Downs (and Bee Orchids in Batemans car park); Dartford warblers (have they survived the cold?) on our Surrey and West Sussex heaths; “mad” March Hares on the lawn at Uppark; Serotine bats at Polesden Lacey; dragonflies gracing ponds at Nymans, Ightham, Hatchlands and Sissinghurst and, best of all in my book, nearly 2,000 hectares of Trust woodland to explore in Kent, Sussex and Surrey.

Early morning, afternoon tea time, or after dark… get out there and enjoy it.