In between dodging the heavy showers, we have had a few hours armed with a billhook and some loppers to begin clearing the felled overhanging branches and brash from the pond.
It is slow work and hard graft plodding through the mud to get at the fallen willow branches and even harder work dragging them out onto firmer ground but it has to be done. I can see why many of these restoration projects advertise for volunteers; I am sure that the old adage of many hands making light work was never so true.
I try and plant up at least a few gaps in the hedges each year but this season has been so dominated by tree planting nothing has happened yet and there is only a couple of weeks before the supply of bare rooted plants ends.
Having seen todays forecast for inclement weather moving in from midday I thought it would be an ideal day to do at least one hedge gap so this morning I called in at JA Jones’ whilst in Banks and picked up 50 60-80cm bare rooted hawthorn plants.
They all just got planted in time before the rain started. And it did rain. Outside jobs were definitely off the agenda so the chainsaws got a good service and all the chains got a proper sharpening.
Not the wasted day I thought it might be after all.
On our fields at Hesketh Bank we seem to have a comprehensive selection of different farm pond types:
A derelict natural pond that has never been cleaned out for ages and is full of rubbish, general detritus and the odd bit of scrap metal.
A ‘ghost’ pond where a natural pond used to be but has been filled in to square up a field for agricultural use.
An overgrown man made pond that could possibly be a marl pit but, in my view, is more likely to be a bomb hole left over from the WWII attack on the boat yard.
A series of linear ponds created when the natural river bank was excavated to provide material for the new bank when the marsh land was reclaimed. The ponds have subsequently been drained to create additional grazing land.
These ponds all need bringing back to life for habitat and wildlife but it is a big and potentially expensive job. But, if we don’t try then nothing will change so this week we have made a start.
Job one was to begin the process with WLBC to ensure we don’t fall foul of any regulations or permissions as rework after the event would be unaffordable.
Job two was to call in the experts and we have had site visits from both Gavin Thomas, a Conservation Adviser for the RSPB and Helen Greaves, a PhD student from UCL who is involved in the science of farm pond restoration. Both were enthusiastic about the potential project and hopefully will be able to offer ongoing advice and support.
Job three was to drop all the overhanging willow branches of the derelict natural pond (Pond 1) as the DEFRA guidance is to do no farm tree work between 1 March and 31 August so as not to impact on the bird breeding season. The easy bit has been completed this morning but the clearing up may take a bit more time.
Our annual update on the progress of our firewood growing trials. All have made very good progress but the Eucalyptus seems to be doing the best at the year 3 point. The hybrid willow would normally be harvested now and it is a perfect size for making wood chunks.
I’m beginning to notice quite a few of the ‘year 4’ hybrid willow starting to fail at the stool union with branches starting to ‘lie down’ in just the same way as mature willow trees often do. This was not anticipated (there haven’t been any storms or strong winds) but it does perhaps explain why ‘year 3’ is the target for harvesting commercial hybrid willow plantations for biomass woodchip. The purpose of this trial plot was to extend the cycle to six years to see if firewood logs could be produced.
The fallen branches have been harvested and the stools have been tidied up; all with a very old and dull Silky. It was noted that some of the remaining branches are now getting beyond tackling with a handsaw and will require the chainsaw.
Not a bad haul from just half of one stool but I am beginning to think that the ideal point may well be at the the three year point when everything can be cut with a silky and sent straight through the branch logger for wood chunks. (Once thoroughly dried out, willow wood chunks make exceptional ‘charcoal’ fuel for wood fired pizza ovens).
The pollarded ash is looking good with the regrowth just 1.5 years old. These trees were pollarded rather than coppiced as they are there to provide a canopy over where free range hens roam, giving them some shelter and protection from aerial predators.