Scrapes for wildlife

Whilst clearing out are farm ponds last Autumn, whilst the digger was on site we also took the opportunity of putting in a series of wildlife ‘scrapes’.

Our scrapes quickly filled up with rainwater during one of the wettest winters on record.

The freshly dug 'scrapes' filled up quickly
The freshly dug ‘scrapes’ filled up quickly

The scrapes are just shallow depressions in the land with gently sloping edges, which (importantly) only seasonally hold water.

They create wet areas in the field that are very attractive to wildlife and support a wide variety of invertebrates that provide important feeding areas for breeding wading birds and their chicks as well as a watering hole for passing mammals.

The most important parts of scrapes for wildlife are the margins. Shallow water and muddy edges provide ideal conditions for wetland invertebrates and plants, and allow access for waders and their chicks to find food. Scrapes should hold
water from March ideally through to the end of June.

An invertebrate survey was done whilst the main ponds were being sampled. All three scrapes were teeming with life only a few months after being dug which begs the question where do they all pop up from?

Footprints of the visitors to the scrapes
Footprints of the visitors to the scrapes

Our cluster of three scrapes provides a variety of shapes and depths, designed so that each is at a different stage of it’s cycle at any one point in time during the breeding season. The middle one was the first to dry up in mid June after a prolonged dry spell but the other two still held water.

One of our wildlife 'Scrapes' drying out
One of our wildlife ‘Scrapes’ drying out

For the record (and the sceptical) there were no grants received or stewardship schemes entered into etc. Just us doing our bit.

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Growing Firewood – 2018 Update

The latest annual update in our trial of a number of species planted specifically for firewood. All species are on the same soil type so whilst not particularly scientific the findings are sufficient to judge which performs best for us.

Storming ahead in both rate of growth and quality of logs is the Eucalyptus Omeo. A very hardy variety which has incredible growth leaving everything else well behind. It is incredible to think this was a tiny seed in a packet four years ago.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Eucalyptus Omeo
Growing firewood 2018 update – Eucalyptus Omeo year 4

The Eucalyptus Gunnii is not far behind. Gunnii is a popular UK garden tree, not as hardy as the Omeo but easily and cheaply sourced.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Eucalyptus Gunnii year 4
Growing firewood 2018 update – Eucalyptus Gunnii year 4

The hybrid willow would be next in rate of growth. This would be commercially harvested every 3 years as chip for biomass boilers but we wanted to see, if left, would it make decent logs. What we have found is that as the regrowth gets bigger, the stool struggles to support the weight and splits. For more detail please see the August update on the 2017 post

Growing firewood 2018 update - Hybrid willow year 4
Growing firewood 2018 update – Hybrid willow year 4

The same hybrid willow in its third year is perfect for making wood chunks and so it is likely that this will be the optimum time to harvest. Willow wood chunks really do make a for good biomass when dry. Fantastic for use in log boilers, good for the first load in a wood burner and the perfect fuel for pizza ovens where the gases flare off quickly and leave a wall of very hot charcoal that can be moved around easily.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Hybrid willow year 3
Growing firewood 2018 update – Hybrid willow year 3

We have some older Alder plants that we grew from seed but to keep up with demand for our Alder wood chunks (used primarily by local Polish and Latvian migrants for smoking meats and cheeses) we planted an acre of Alder in spring 2014 as 40cm bare rooted saplings.

Alder four years on from planting
Alder four years on from planting

Lastly and for reference the sycamore which was planted out from pots in the same year that the Eucalyptus seed arrived is doing will but just shows how far behind it is in terms of growth rate.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Sycamore year 4
Growing firewood 2018 update – Sycamore year 4

Links to the previous updates are:
2017 update
2016 update

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Recycling telegraph poles for farm gate posts

Since all the horrible additives were banned from pressure treated ‘tantalised’ wood we have found that modern fence posts last little more than 3 years before rotting off at the base. Whilst this has dramatically increasing the maintenance bill for stock fencing it is totally impractical to replace corner posts and gate posts so frequently. Old telegraph poles are perfect for recycling into gate posts that will give many years of further service and, for that reason, are becoming fairly hard to source. The first problem is getting hold of them and the second problem is transporting them. So when you see the the contractor parked up right outside the yard with three old full length telegraph poles on the back it not time to ponder, it is time to act. For an appropriate consideration they unloaded the poles exactly where I could store them.

Recycling telegraph poles for farm gate posts
Recycling telegraph poles for farm gate posts

Today provided a rare rain free day when I could cut them to length ready for the fencing to go around the new implement shed that (at last) has started to be erected.

Farm gate posts made from old telegraph poles
Farm gate posts made from old telegraph poles

Two of the three poles were cut to length at the yard and points put on ready to be knocked into the ground. From the two poles I managed to get four 9ft long posts and two ‘heavy duty’ 10ft long posts all of which should be enough to provide the corner posts and gate posts needed to fence off the shed. The trusty little 240v mains powered Husqvarna 317 electric chainsaw was all that was needed  to save the neighbours from a din on a Sunday afternoon. Job done.

New farm implement shed finally underway
New farm implement shed finally underway
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Tree Planting Season Begins

Last year it was 5000 trees on 11 acres at Banks and this year the plan is for some 2500 trees to be planted on a field off Becconsall Lane in Hesketh Bank. The saplings were delivered this morning so now it is race against time to get the bare rooted plants into the ground before they dry out.

Planting trees in Hesketh Bank
Planting trees in Hesketh Bank

As the ground is still very very wet, the trees, stakes and guards have all been moved onto site with the low ground pressure trailer and a compact tractor.

Ready to go - tree planting 2017Ready to go – tree planting 2017

As we passed the recently restored ‘bomb hole’ pond, two Snipe got up from the rushes on the pond edge . I have not seen snipe in these fields for the twenty two years we have been here so that was noteworthy.

Preparing for tree planting
Preparing for tree planting

Distributing the stakes and tree guards around the plot without doing damage is very difficult when it is so wet. Our small compact tractor with grass tyres was again used but this time with some pallet forks fitted rather than a trailer. To minimise the impact the front weights were removed which meant additional trips but really did minimise the ruts left. After the next (seemingly inevitable) downpour there was little evidence left of a tractor being on the field.

Winter 2017/18 Tree planting at Becconsall Lane, Hesketh Bank
Winter 2017/18 Tree planting at Becconsall Lane, Hesketh Bank

It will be 10-15 years before this new coppice plantation will become productive so it is not a short term project.  It will eventually provide a source of timber for traditional woodland crafts, wood chunks for flavoured smoke for food smokers and BBQ’s (WoodChunks.co.uk), fuel for wood fired pizza ovens and firewood (CarbonNeutralFuel.co.uk) but, in the mean time, the growing trees will store carbon, will provide a home for wildlife, absorb air pollution, help reduce water flow/flood risk into the Douglas and Ribble and help river water quality by absorbing any nitrogen run off from the sheep grazing on the higher land.

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Harvest Wreath Success!

First prize at the Hesketh Bank Village Show for my ‘Harvest Circle’ creation. I’ve never done any flower arranging before but I couldn’t miss out on the chance to include logs, pumpkins and wreaths so very pleased with coming first!

'Harvest Ring' on a log slice base
‘Harvest Ring’ on a log slice base

Slices of our home grown Silver Birch made up  the base with a simple squash centrepiece with a pine cone, barley, cotoneaster and ivy decorations.

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Farmland Pond Restoration Opportunity

Ecologists wanted for Hesketh Bank pond restoration project.

Ponds and scrapes provide environments in farmland for aquatic biodiversity covering plants, invertebrates, amphibians, fishes, and mammals. Many farm ponds in the area have already been lost to modern agricultural practices.

Farmland pond awaiting restoration
Farmland pond awaiting restoration

Our own derelict ponds have now been cleared of most of the overhanging trees, scrub, scrap and general detritus and the next phase will be the digger work.  A habitat survey has been completed earlier this year to provide a baseline but if anyone is interested in following, monitoring or documenting the changes to the habitat and ecology they would be very welcome.

A drained scrape awaiting restoration
A drained grassland ‘scrape’ awaiting restoration

We are particularly keen to take a scientific approach to steering the re-establishment of these farm ponds and measure wherever possible the influence of pond restoration and management on the biodiversity in both the ponds themselves and the surrounding area. We ourselves  have no previous experience in doing any of this but have sought advice from the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group, Freshwater Habitats Trust and the RSPB.

Grants or any other source of financial assistance have not been identified but we are pushing ahead on a very limited budget rather than wait any longer.

This opportunity to be involved may be of interest to any Ecology and Conservation Management students or Geography students as a as a case study or basis of a dissertation but the offer is also open to local amateurs / enthusiasts to have an input or just people who might be interested in volunteering as and when a bit of help is required. Please email mark@ohanlon.co.uk with your contact details for more information.

Overgrown Farmland Pond
Overgrown Farmland Pond

Please, please share this post with anyone individuals or organisations who you feel might be interested in getting involved from the outset.

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Cutting Silver Birch Display Logs

The dreadful weather this morning put paid to any outside jobs which was bad news for the pumpkins but good news for one of our local florists. She has been patiently waiting for a selection of premium Silver Birch ‘display’ logs to use in wedding features and flower arrangements.

Silver Birch Logs For Wedding Feature
Silver Birch Logs For a Wedding Feature

I’ve cut many more than she will probably need to allow her a good choice. Any rejected will probably end up as blanks for the kids to paint up as log Santa’s or table numbers for restaurants or weddings.

 

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Event Props: Achtung Minen Sign

A request for a wooden Achtung Minen sign for use as a prop at an event is not an every day request but I have learnt it never to be wise to be asking too many questions.

Wooden 'Achtung Minen' sign
Wooden ‘Achtung Minen’ sign

Whilst waiting for it to be collected it has been pressed into active service sending a not so guarded message to our errant local dog walkers. We’ll see if it makes any difference.

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6m x 3m ebay Polytunnel

We needed some temporary storage for keeping the elements off some small farm implements and thought a domestic polytunnel would fit the bill and, if it lasts long enough, could be reused for ‘kiln’ drying wood when the storage problems get resolved. I also had wondered if such a thing would be any good for creating a moveable cloche in the fields for sheltering the giant pumpkin plants. Only one way to find out; so onto ebay for a look at what is available.

A 6m x 3m x 2m would hopefully have enough height to allow the implements to be put through the door so searches were restricted to this size. I discounted anything with painted metalwork (as this has been next to useless on previously purchased gazebos and the like) and went for galvanised.

6m x 3m x 2m polytunnel from ebay
6m x 3m x 2m polytunnel from ebay

Our £118.90 purchase arrived very quickly via Yodel in two heavy boxes. In between the seemingly never ending downpours, I have got the polytunnel assembled in probably around 4 to 5 hours total without any assistance.

The steelwork is a league different in quality from that used in a commercial polytunnels but I was surprised how rigid it all became once bolted together. The steel tubes all fit perfectly (some long nose pliers were required to take out a few dints in the ends of a few tubes but nothing major). All the holes aligned and the exact number of nuts and bolts were included in the kit.

Domestic 6m x 3m Polytunnel Frame
Domestic 6m x 3m Polytunnel Frame

I made my own ground anchors from 8mm steel rods – eight in total were used, evenly spaced around the perimeter of the base.

All four of the ‘number 4’ tubes were rusty which was a shame but not really bad enough to warrant the delay in returning them to the seller. They can always be painted in situ.

Ebay 6m x 3m Polytunnel rusty bars
Ebay 6m x 3m Polytunnel rusty bars

Having noted the necessity of hot spot tape on our commercial polytunnels I thought it daft to not pay the extra and get some tape. I used six rolls of 25mm x 9m hot spot tape at £1.95 a roll +p&p bought from ‘dandbtapes’ again via ebay. Five rolls will cover the hoops but the sixth roll is needed to do the face side of the ends of the polytunnel (I don’t know if this is necessary but it is what the professional installers did on our commercial tunnels). The tape was excellent quality and did a really good job.

The sheet was unfolded and lifted on unaided and was surprisingly easy get in place. Having sheeted a real polytunnel this really was a joy to fit! It has zipped doors at both ends (something that wasn’t clear in the ebay description so that will be useful for airflow if it ever gets used for drying wood.

6m x 3m Polytunnel problems
6m x 3m Polytunnel problems

The velcro fasteners worked surprisingly well but problems noted where three of the fasteners were sewn in at the wrong position (very odd given how precise all the others were) and also a small gap where the stitching around a door had been missed and left a gap. It will fix with clear tape so again not a problem big enough to warrant a return in my eyes.

6m x 3m galvanised domestic polytunnel
6m x 3m galvanised domestic polytunnel
6m x 3m Polytunnel Sheeted
6m x 3m x 2m Polytunnel Sheeted Up

Even taking into account the few (avoidable) problems encountered, I think it is a really good buy and am pleased with how it all went together. How long it lasts remains to be seen but it is definitely a cost effective solution for the problem it was bought to fix. Will it work out in the fields – I don’t think so. I don’t think it is maneuverable enough. Once the cover goes on this one I might use the frame as a support for mounting a wind break around a giant pumpkin plant.

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Hydroponic Trials Update

Celeriac

Celeriac being a moisture loving plant that needs fertile, moisture retentive soil I thought it might perform well hydroponically. Our celeriac was grown from seed (rather than the recommended plugs) in 8cm pots. When roots were showing, the pots were then placed in a small NFT system. These have overwintered in a small greenhouse without heat and are doing well. Progress is very slow though.

Watercress

The Watercress trial has been interesting. In the wild, watercress grows partially submerged in running water in moderately cool climates. We trialled it in both an aquaponic system and an ebb & flood tank situated near each other outdoors.

The above photos speak for themselves (both of which were taken on the same day). Whilst the aquaponic system best mimics a running stream I suspect the nutrient levels are too high and the watercress is struggling. By contrast, the ebb and flood (sometimes called an ebb and flow or flood and drain system) tank filled with nothing more than inert clay balls and rainwater provided a great crop.

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