Monday, 17 October 2011

Pollarding Willows

One of the important roles we have as land managers in the countryside is to look after the trees around the farm.  Willow trees are part of the traditional landscape in this area and grow well in the wetter areas of the farm.  From time to time they require a bit of a hair cut as you can see from the picture above.  This tree is a bit overdue a trim.  Allowing these trees to grow tall can make them unstable when it is very windy, which can cause them to split off and fall down.  That in itself is dangerous, but the tree can then be exposed to disease entering the trunk through the split wood which may kill it.  These trees provide a great habitat with holes in the trunks which make for very good nesting sites and providing very early pollen supplies for emerging insects after hibernating through the winter.
We would usually be able to pollard the smaller trees with our own staff but when they get this big we need to call in the experts.  Here is Tim, suitably dressed with climbing gear bringing down the limbs of the tree one by one until just the two main trunks are left.  Simon and Tim are very skilled and soon safely brought the tree down to it's desired height.  The guys had a great day pollarding several of these massive trees.

Graham was on hand with our JCB loadall to help clear away the brash, ready for burning, and the cord wood (which we will dry out and use in our farm wood burners in a couple of years) . We have to move all of the material away from the stream as it can flood during heavy rain and these would very quickly dam up the stream further down.  The majority of the cord wood will be stacked in the field, away from the stream, to rot down over time to provide food and homes for many insects, fungi and small mammals.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Hare's, Hairstreak's and Harebell's

On the 21st September we organised a farm walk to look at how our Higher level Stewardship options can be used on a modern farming business to increase habitats for our farmland species. The walk was jointly organised by FWAG (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, the CLA (Country Land and Business Association) and GWCT (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The title for the invitation was Hare's, Hairstreak's and Harebells, which basically meant, animals/birds, plants and insects.

The tour started with a brief introduction then it was off on the trailers around the farm.  Our first stop was with Peter Thompson from the GWCT who was telling us about the benefits of pollen and nectar strips and wild bird food.  This strip looked great with the pollen and nectar providing insect food which could then be fed on by young birds, especially grey partridge chicks.  We haven't seen grey partridge on the farm for a few a years so I am hopeful that with these areas dotted around the farm we could see their return!  Peter also demonstrated the wild bird mixture planted adjacent to the pollen mix.  This he descibed as a 'bird table ready for winter'.  He's quite correct with the quinoa, millet, triticale present it should really attract the small birds through the winter, when the hedgrows and woodlands have run out of food.  The combination of these two mixes with the hedge and grass verge provide the three crital requirements of our farmland birds, nesting habitat (hedge/tussocky grasses), chick feed (Pollen and nectar) and adult winter food (bird table).
After this stop we headed out up the hill for some fresh air and a leg stretch to learn about beetle banks.  Click HERE to listen to Peter again telling us of the vital role these habitats can play in conservation.  They are also a good way to help friendly beneficials get further into our fields to help control aphids!

After this stop we loaded up again and headed to another area of the farm were we are maintaining species rich limestone grassland.  The sheep are helping to graze this vital habitat where grass and wild flowers have regenerated the fields after being in arable production.  On the way around we managed to spot a brown hare and also some harebells so as Meat Loaf would tell you , 2 out of 3 ain't bad.  A huge thankyou to our speakers, Bob Slater from FWAG, Matt Willmott from Natural England and Peter Thompson from GWCT who made this a real enjoyable farm tour to be a part of and for teaching me something new!