You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘hedges’ tag.

calves on Saturday's frosty morning

calves on Saturday's frosty morning

Glorious October certainly! We continue to be busy outside with the hundred and one jobs this dry weather has allowed us to get on top of…dung spreading, ditching, fencing, hedge trimming, cutting and carrying wood from our wood stacks to our winter store and, of course, never ending topping (yes, we are still able to get onto the land with a tractor!).

ewe lambs enjoying the autumn sunshine and grass

ewe lambs enjoying the autumn sunshine and grass

The ewes have been tupped and are now grazing peacefully, happy in the autumn sunshine and revelling in the unexpected bonus of being dry underfoot.

Cows and calves are contentedly munching away in the River Meadows, whilst the bull and his cohort are doing a first-rate job around our smaller meadows at the home farm.  Our autumn flush of grass has been excellent – more sustaining and nutritious than the rank crop our waterlogged fields produced during the wet summer months.

the bull happily grazing Flop Meadow

the bull happily grazing Flop Meadow

Polytunnel beds are gradually being mulched down with our organic dung and covered over for winter – though a handsome supply of chilli, aubergine, tomato, squash and carrot are still providing us with tasty suppers. Outside in the kitchen garden leeks, kale, red cabbage, spinach, broccoli spears and roots are giving us delicious seasonal variety.

Though apples haven’t produced that well this year the quince tree is heavy with golden, fragrant fruit which I’ll pickled, make into jelly and quince cheese. The pear tree in the orchard is also bowed over with small, bullet hard fruit for which I’ll have to invent some different preserves.

It’s a good autumn; land, man, beast and wildlife flourish. Next weekend, on the 25th, we have two farm walks, so though the weather is due to break tomorrow I hope  we won’t  return to horrendous torrential drenching!

Devonian Whitebeam (indigenous to Devon) berries, which I'll harvest to grow sapplings from.

Devonian Whitebeam (rare and indigenous to Devon) berries, which I'll harvest to grow saplings from.

Meet Dora the Dormouse. She’s very special (and hugely cute). Dora made her first public appearance yesterday at our dormouse and hedge training day. She was the icing on the cake!

Dora the Dormouse

Dora the Dormouse

What? Why? How? I hear you exclaim. ‘Aren’t dormice a rare and protected species?’ Yes, yes they are, you’re quite right. So let me tell you Dora’s story.

Over the next month or so we’re holding a series of training days on hedges, hedgerows, their management and their wildlife, especially the dormouse.  As you probably gathered in various other posts I’ve written, we have magnificent hedges on the farm which are home to a thriving dormice population. This year numbers appear to be down compared to previous years – probably the result of three wet summers in a row; but still, when people come on these training days what they are really keen to see are dormice nests and dormice! Dormice nests, yes, we can generally oblige, but dormice? Not a given, more luck than anything else.

Now I’d heard that Paignton Zoo (who are involved in a dormouse breeding programme) occasionally need to find knowledgeable homes to care for individuals unsuitable for release into the wild. This would be, I thought, a wonderful opportunity to show people a real live dormouse.  I contacted the zoo to see if they had anything and would consider us appropriate guardians.  Unfortunately they’d recently just re-homed the last of their old breeding males the keeper Julian told me, but he would have another look and call me…!

On Thursday, just as I’d given up all hope, he contacted me and said they had a young female which had lost her back leg. It was completely healed; she was fine, she’d been checked by the vet, it was really unnoticeable, but they’d be willing to loan her to us if I was interested. She couldn’t be released into the wild and they wouldn’t want to breed from her. Was I interested? You bet!

So on Friday afternoon we went to collect Dora.

Dora

Dora

Yesterday, Saturday, was the training day, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. A golden afternoon. Jane from UrbanExtension came all the way from Dorset with fellow officers from the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Not only did we find dormouse nests we also saw three wild dormice…and then, of course, there was Dora!

wild dormouse, Flat Field

wild dormouse, Flat Field

juvenile dormice - can you see the currant eye of the second one on the right hand side?

juvenile dormice - can you see the currant eye of the second one on the right hand side?

I had to do another dormouse post. Just look at these photos! Also Robert has, this weekend, been to the 7th International Dormouse Conference, attended by some 150 people from all over Europe and even as far a field as Japan and South Africa, all passionate about these amazingly appealing mammals.

holding onto a rush stem

holding onto a rush stem whilst performing an intricate 'manover'!

Through Robert’s interest I’m also learning quite a bit about them too. Dormice do best in places that have hot summers and cold winters, like many central and eastern European countries, so the cool wet summer we’ve been having must have been as difficult for them as it was for us.  They will have delayed their breeding for as long as possible, but by late August must have decided it’s now or never, and the adult females got on with the business of constructing  their nests of woven grass, waterproofed with layers of leaves, in as sheltered and as warm places as possible.  Earlier this month, Robert found one such nest low down in bramble and rose growth on the edge of one of our hedges, and when he gently disturbed it an adult emerged, which he thought looked like a lactating female as she was rather thin.  On Sunday evening he went back and was bowled over when three young came out of the nest and posed for him on rose and rush stems out in the open.  They are quite the cutest of creatures.  Luckily there are still plenty of hips and other fruits and berries around, so it is likely that these youngsters will manage to put on enough weight to safely go into hibernation, probably sometimes in October.  A bit later, and they probably would not have survived.

quickly - let's just rush along here...

quickly, quickly - let's just hurtle along here...

At the conference Robert heard that in Lithuania, where they estimate they have a staggering one million dormice (the country remains densely wooded), females sometimes produce three broods a year, although this is exceptional.  In England, they sometimes manage two, although probably not this year!  But at least on Locks Park one female has succeeded in producing a litter of three, or possibly more, young to keep the population going, together with surviving adults which can live for four years in the wild (and six in captivity).  Robert also learnt that dormice are promiscuous – males and females don’t form pair bonds, instead females mate with several males, so the young in a single litter may all have different fathers; also males try their luck as often as they can, travelling quite large distances in the process.  This, did you know, is the normal pattern of mating behaviour in mammals – and our ‘human systems’, of either marriage or harems, are unusual, but not unknown. Umm, well, maybe. Possibly those researchers are not in the habit of reading Hello and OK! magazines or watching the odd soap on telly.

who are you?

just who are you?

But back to those oh-so-appealing photos. My mother had a pet dormouse when she was a school girl; I have ancient photos of her with him, he was called Rusty. I’m green with envy!

returning to the nest (you can see the nest at the bottom right)

and back to the nest (you can see the nest at the bottom right behind the rush stems)

spindle berries

spindle berries

I’m still revelling in the sun and dry, so my walks have become happy, smiley affairs once more; it’s also perfect weather and the best time of year to enjoy our farm’s hedgerows.  Among the just turning leaves you can find nests, berries and fruits of all sorts. The blackberries, unfortunately, have all but gone, moulded away in the wet, and those silly, greedy squirrels have gnawed and spat out every last one of our hazel nuts long, long before they were ripe; but there are still plenty left – crab apple, bullace, wild pear, and all those aforementioned bryony ropes, guelder-rose bracts, sloes, hips, haws and the shouting pink-orange of  spindleberry – creating intensely vivid splashes of colour.  Hopefully these will help feed  flocks of redwings and fieldfares that pass through the farm on the way from cold northern climes to their southerly winter quarters. You could also find dormouse nests, if you’re lucky, and the remains of this year’s birds nests – blackbird, song thrush, chaffinch, wren – the list is endless.

blackthorn sloes

blackthorn sloes

Did you know there’s a rule of thumb that says that every woody plant in a 30 metre stretch of a hedgerow adds a century to its life?  By that reckoning, some of our hedgerows are a staggering 1200 years old.   This may well be true, since the great Devon historian Professor W G Hoskins estimated that a quarter of our hedgerows are over 800 years old.  That’s older than many of our parish churches!  And some hedges running off Dartmoor, a continuation of the old Bronze Age reeve system, must be around an extraordinary 4000 years old.  Others will be original remnants of the wildwood that clothed the landscape before man carved out his fields.

guelder rose berries and leaves

guelder rose berries and leaves

Devon really is the place of hedgerows in a nation renowned across the world for them.  We’ve got more than any other county, and not only are a great many of them ancient but most, like those of our farm, support a remarkable variety of different trees, shrubs and, of course, abundant wildlife.  Each part of the county has its own distinctive hedgerows, ranging from the ancient lines of ash and maple enclosing sunken lanes in the Blackdowns to the tall beech hedges of Exmoor.  But it is perhaps the banks upon which the woody plants grow that show the most variety.  In our area around Hatherleigh these are turf-faced, low key affairs in comparison with the granite boulders, often huge, than underlie Dartmoor’s hedges or the beautiful herring bones patterns of Morte Point on the north coast.

elderberries

elderberries

Here are just a few photos to show you the richness of our Locks Park hedges. If you’re interested to find out more  follow this link to Devon Hedges where you will find information on the Devon Hedge Group which celebrates this heritage by organising Devon Hedge Week.  This year the week runs between 25 October and 2 November, and its theme is the diversity of hedgerows.

dog rose

dog rose

On Friday I went to the Royal Show; not a show I would generally choose to go to. Once a showcase for some of the best examples of British livestock and businesses in the industry, now prohibitive costs and soaring overheads have taken it out of the reach of most exhibitors leaving it to corporate bodies, supermarkets and ubiquitous market stalls to fly the flag.

But I was going for a reason. It was the launch of Hedgelink, a partnership of organisations and individuals leading and supporting the conservation of the UK’s hedgerows, and a project that Robert has been closely involved in over the years and one he’s passionate about. Prince Charles was going to be at the launch. Robert had asked me to go along with him.

nigel with the new hedgelink banner and dvd

We left the farm at the crack of dawn and had a happily uneventful drive up to Stoneleigh, the Royal showground. The day was perfect too. No rain, just sun and clouds with a breeze. The launch was taking place on the Natural England site which is an impressive acre or so of various ponds and plots giving examples in how to encourage wildlife and diversity on farmland and in your garden. The whole was a serene, peaceful green oasis in an otherwise confusing array of stalls and roads.

Leaving Robert to fluster and muster I went off to do a reccy of the showground and inadvertently became caught up in the Prince’s and Duchess’s arrival! I duly shook hands and murmured complete nonsense while being once again taken aback by Charles’s approachability and the genuine interest he shows when talking to people.

Prince Charles with a group of very happy schoolgirls – they were chuffed!

I’ve had contact with the prince before. It was nearing the end of the 2001 FMD outbreak when a small group of us were invited to have tea with him on one of his supportive visits to a devastated West Country. He had apparently followed all my weekly TV video reporting on Countryfile; knew intimate details of my stock and farm; displayed real understanding of the trials and tribulations I and others had been through. In other words he cared, and there was no indication of doing lip service. I like that, a good egg.

Back to Friday. The launch was due at 1pm. Robert was beginning to show signs of stress when a steward appeared and announced the Prince would be there in a few minutes as he was running well ahead of schedule. The place was immediately seething with a plethora of paparazzi and a surge of people. The line-up had only just organised itself when the prince and his entourage arrived. Feeling small and insignificant with my diminutive camera against a bank of monstrous super-zoomed beasts handled by hardened push-hardest-and-shove journos I was startled when I found myself being asked by his personal aide if I’d like to stand practically next to the price to take my photos!

robert shakes hands with the prince

It was a great success. Hands were vigorously shaken; smiles were stretched across faces in wallace & gromit-like proportions; Prince Charles grinned and crinkled, spending a good time with each member of the team discussing the work they had done in creating Hedgelink and the DVD ‘A cut above the rest’. He’s an avid supporter of the hedgerows in our countryside and went away clutching his copy of the DVD.

the prince discussing the finer points of hedgelaying

Having just watched the DVD. I can honestly recommend it to any of you that have even a tiny interest in hedges. It’s beautifully filmed and presented. The clear, practical information is easy to follow and holds your attention to the end. Even though I have a fair knowledge of hedgerows gleaned from Robert I found there’s lots which will make me look at hedges and hedgerow trees in a new light. To see excerpts of the DVD follow the link and also to order your free copy.

Well done Hedgelink!

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

Archives

CPRE


CPRE Logo
The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk

follow me on twitter