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Archive for the ‘Lynchmere Common’ Category

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Gorse flowering on Lynchmere Common

SO it’s not that easy to get rid of me after all?  Last time I looked it was the depths of Winter and now Spring has been rushing past in it’s usual way with a frantic list of things to do.

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Tidying up  after the winter work, plenty of maintenance and then straight into the summer season of events, courses, bracken management and charcoal making to name but a few.

Writing up blog articles never seems to come close to the top. We had the pleasure of a brief visit from Sean Hellman and Lucy this week. Sean’s inspired me to make a start on the mound of pictures and ideas I have to catch upon.

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With the sudden improvement in the weather charcoal is in demand again. So I have to stop this post and go deliver a few bags to our local hardware shop – Liphook Hardware.

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Back soon!

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Frost on the Landrover window this morning.

Season’s Greetings! Last time I looked it was summer. 2016 has certainly been busy with plenty to post about but despite my good intentions it hasn’t happened. Where does the time go? No rest for even the slightly naughty around here?

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Silver Birch in Midwinter Sun on Lynchmere Common

With the busy summer season of craft demonstrations, shows and teaching over its back to the woods cutting trees, scrub and clearing up. It’s just as hard to keep up as there are a lot less hours in the day. It’s dark by 4pm in midwinter but the light from the low sun angle is glorious and helps to make up for the frozen fingers and toes a little.

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Where ever you are I hope you have a good break (if you get one) and best wishes for the New Year. See you there! Meanwhilst put another log on the fire and enjoy the fruits of all that labour.

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My favourite time of year. The light on the Lynchmere Commons is always special as the wall to wall green of summer turns to a riot of colour.

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The bracken turns a glowing copper dappled with the autumn sunshine

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All summer the leaves have been a monotonous shade of green and now they put on a show as they slowly reveal the silver structure of the Birch trees

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And then there are the sunsets! (this one was taken at the Weald & Downland Museum)

Sometimes I wish I could grab it and hold it but it’s so fleeting as the leaves are falling all around me and the sun is lower every day. My enjoyment is tinged with a hint of apprehension as winter approaches.

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Season’s Greetings!

DSCF1181How did you spend your Christmas Day? Normally I’d post a seasonal photo of  a roaring log burning stove. But this year something different as we are both working over the Christmas holidays. I had a quiet and restful Christmas Day planned. No chainsaws and some therapeutic firewood splitting. But the trees don’t know it’s Christmas.

DSCF1168I was just thinking that there had been very few trees down this season and then……..A large multi-stemmed Birch tree hung up in a massive Oak over a popular local path late on Christmas Eve changed the plan. Too late and too dark to get it down safely on Christmas Eve and with a storm moving in on Boxing Day the chainsaws weren’t neglected after all. Plenty of exercise and with a nasty hung up tree always a little bit of adrenalin as well just to work up a good appetite.

 

DSCF1185Still time to fit in a little therapeutic Christmas logging, though unless we get a very hard winter this lot might even stretch through to help making some charcoal in the summer.

 

DSCF1191All too soon, by about 3:30pm the sun is almost down and it’s time to leave the commons for another day with the golden light shining gently on the Birch.

 

DSCF1203Just time to feed the pigs (they get fed before I do) their Christmas lunch with extra chestnuts and then home to stoke up the log burner.

 

DSCF1194So wherever you are and whatever you are doing – Season’s Greetings – and I hope that you have a good one!

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DSCF0989…..but the sky is blue. I’ve been out to work – on an Autumn day.

As the song didn’t quite say but perhaps it should have? Just an excuse for me to post a photo of the Lynchmere commons looking at their best in recent Autumn sun.

These open woodland views don’t make themselves and behind the scenes there is a lot of woodland management that needs to happen. The leaves falling is our signal for the winter season of work on the commons to begin.

DSCF0948The major part of our winter work is in maintaining the areas of restored lowland heath. Lowland heath occurs where the soil is very poor and acidic and once widespread is now a rare habitat in the south of Britain.

I define lowland heath as woodland with the trees temporarily absent. The young scrub woodland is always threatening to engulf the heath and we have a winter work team on the commons known as ‘Roy’s Gang’, this year led by Lowell and Ed to help with the work.

DSCF0942Before. A typical scene on Marley Common with  some open spaces, but it’s hard to see the extent of the heath for the trees.

DSCF0970and afterwards. The scene is opened up and there is a sense of the expanse of the heathland as well as the woodland edges. But don’t worry, the trees have not gone away, it won’t be long before the scrub grows again and we’re needing to cut it – the commons are not static. It’s not a case of they were woodland and now are heath. This cycle has been going on for centuries and in that sense we are keeping up a very old tradition.

DSCF0981These areas of ancient ‘commonland’ were too poor to be enclosed and turned into fields. The definition of commonland in English law is complicated. Although actually private land and often owned by the lord of the manor the commons were always unfenced. They were habitually used by subsistance farmers as rough grazing and harvested by villagers as a source of firewood and other produce with or in many cases without the permission of the local lord.

Although today we are managing the commons to improve the wildlife and biodiversity I think it is this cycle of using and harvesting the woodlands and heath which is a key to understanding how to sustain them indefinitely into the future as a part of our local community. So that landrover load of logs that’s snuck into the photo is entirely in the best traditions of managing the commons!

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DSCF7675I had been intending to write about something other than fallen trees in February. It seems that my life this winter has been dominated by the incessant storms and their consequences the fallen trees and the wet weather.  It’s still happening! We’re told that this has all been caused by a wrinkle in the North Atlantic jetstream. Some wrinkle.

A few of the resulting storms have even been given names like the St Jude Storm, the Christmas Eve storm and the one two weeks ago which caused a lot of damage across the south of England and I’m calling the Valentine storm. I know that commuting to work can be a big problem in the South of England and the wrong type of leaves on the line is an excuse for train delays that we are all used to, but this time it was the wrong type of tree on the track.

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It all started back in October with the ‘St Judes’ storm – which now pales almost into insignificance in comparison with the later arrivals, but it did have some powerful gusts which caused a lot of tree damage in small swathes where it moved through. The gusts have been features of these storms reaching twice the speed of the winds. This makes the damage quite unpredictable. All the trees you expect to fall don’t whilst the next study tree is ripped in two by the gust. There have also been a lot of trees falling because of the saturated ground and either the whole root plate lifts or the roots just snap and the tree falls.

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These trees are a lot harder to deal with than those we fell intentionally as this snapped Birch shows very well. The violence of the force that snapped the tree causes a lot of shattering and tension in the branch wood all of which needs to be carefully released – it’s dangerous – and it’s still suspended in the air caught between more Birch trees. Not a simple job and it needs to be left until it can be completed safely but just to complicate matters it’s right across a Right of Way and next to a stream so access for machinery is complicated.

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With over 100 trees down across the commons we can’t get to them all immediately and we have to prioritise our work. Clearing the roads is the first priority – though it is the most unpleasant of tasks as the hazard of fallen trees is compounded by the hazard of bizarre behaviour by other drivers.

You put up signs, vehicles with flashing lights and work on the road with a chainsaw and as soon as one carriageway is clear – they drive by at 50mph and only slow down to swear at you for holding them up. On Christmas Eve I was stuck clearing a birch top that had only blocked one side of the road, still windy and raining and cars speeding past wondering why I was bothering  when I sensed a car stopping  and I heard a voice say – I do like a man with a chainsaw! No it wasn’t yet more strange behaviour by drivers but a Police Landrover who blocked the road and got out to help me clear the branches.  A rare treat indeed and thank you to those two West Sussex officers!

Unfortunately you don’t get to take photos in these circumstances – your mind is 100% engaged in dealing with the tree, the weather and the road conditions as safely as possible. I do wish that I had a photo of the situation that I found when I turned out at 7:45 on the morning after the Valentine Storm to clear the local main road. A two foot diameter oak tree had split at waist height and fallen totally blocking the road. But  it was crowned by a modified 4×4, you know the type with the air intake so high above the vehicle that driver will need scuba gear!  It was stuck on the trunk having tried to drive over it. It took three of us an hour to cut the 4×4 free and open one side of the road.

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Luckily there are few trees that fall across the roads. The next priority is the network of Rights of Way that cross the commons and any trees that have not completely fallen and remain in a dangerous state – or both. This bridlepath leading onto the commons was completely blocked by several fallen trees some of which had fallen into other trees knocking them down like dominos and a couple more that were still suspended over the path. Another tricky job to clear – and one that needs to be completed safely both for us doing the job and for users of the path.

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You might get the impression that all the trees on the commons have fallen over – but there are still tens of thousands more to go. The Birch in the picture look very pretty – but if you notice the spray (end of the branches) are all bending to the left you get a feel for the strength of the winds to which they are exposed.

All trees will fall over unless we cut them down first. It’s a natural process, the soil on the heathland is very poor and acidic, only a few inches in depth before you reach the natural bedrock sandstone so many trees are literally clinging on. As they reach old age they are stressed and succumb to disease and the next storm may bring them down. The fallen trees do represent an opportunity – we can use the wood as a zero carbon source of fuel and timber (for my polelathe), the trees will regenerate and before we know it there will another young crop of trees across the commons.

I’m off to work on a few more trees now – at least the firewood for next year is getting sorted early!

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The Winter Season is when we do most of the conservation work on the Lynchmere Commons. The volunteer gang has worked hard this season and despite the near continual rain and snow we’ve been very busy. Now the nesting season is suddenly in full swing (as it’s not snowing this week) we can stand back and admire all of the cutting, felling, burning, thinning, scraping, digging,filming, laying, fencing and mending we’ve been doing but before we do there is just time to fit in a little mowing.

We planted a community orchard a couple of years ago in a sheltered corner of one of the Ridgecap fields that adjoin the commons. These fields are traditional hay meadows and pastures, once the mainstay of every small farm but now very rare and endangered. This is mainly because without being ploughed up and reseeded with modern varieties of grass, and with no fertilisers and pesticides being applied the yield (in terms of grass) is far too low to pay for the monster machinery that now populates our farms and countryside. Likewise we’ve planted up the orchard with traditional apple varieties from Sussex and surrounding counties, all on large and traditional half-standard sized rootstocks  rather than the higher yielding and smaller bush varieties.

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The orchard is not grazed so we need to cut the grass by hand. Having been a rough corner of the meadow it’s a serious challenge and the first aim is to reduce the tussocks and remove the old thatch of dead plants ready for the new season.

With a little sunshine a tiny bit of coaching in technique with a scythe and a lot of enthusiasm it didn’t take long to get through the orchard – keeping the rakers busy. Andy is using one of my oversized hay rakes – it has a 32inch head,nearly 3 foot, and a 6ft handle which makes it harder to use but once you get used to it you cover a lot of ground. Both Andy and the rake seem to have survived the experience.

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With a good turnout (a promise of free food and drink is always a good thing) we had upto 9 scythes out mowing, enough for a team, with several Austrian Scythes a couple of English Scythes and Nick joined us with his original ‘Turk Scythe’. These were first imported from Europe around the 1970’s when manufacture of English scythes stopped. Very light in comparison to the English Scythe. This one has a classic Austrian style blade that we often use today but the handle or snathe is very interesting with it’s straight shaft and fixed handgrips. Very light but only suited to one size of user.

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I’m not sure that the scything and raking was the main attraction here, I rather think it was mainly just to work up an appetite for lunch! It was the last task of our winter work programme and so a bit of an end of term party as well as the nature of the work now changes through the summer season.

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A good job done. A little bit of exercise, good company and a lunch in the orchard, a nice way to get some fresh air. Of course the job could have been done with a strimmer – but it’s really not so much fun to stand and watch a strimmer, you can’t rake the grass off afterwards and with 9 mowers on the task  it was a really quick (if not completely proficient) job.

I find it thought provoking to reflect upon which is really the most efficient way of working, one mower with a petrol strimmer for a dayor two, and Allen Scythe for a few hours or several mowers with scythes and a few rakers and forkers for a couple of hours? This blog isn’t really the best place for discussing this so I’m in the process of opening up a new site ‘The Scythe Grinders Arms‘ to host a wider discussion of environmental issues and my pet rants.

If you live in the Haslemere area and like the idea of working on the Lynchmere Commons and the meadows now and then why not join in with the Volunteer working tasks – you can get more information via the Lynchmerecommons blogsite.

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