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Posts Tagged ‘Lynchmere common’

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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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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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Bitterly cold again outside. Which makes me think of warmer times and so I’ve spent some time updating the Courses & Events page on the website this morning whilst I huddle next to the woodburner and try to mentally prepare myself for going out and getting cold again.

On the rare occasion that the sun does pierce the snowladen grey clouds I have been treated to some very season displays of colour –  as here when I was preparing pea sticks from the cut stems on Lynchmere Common when the low angle of the sun lit the bronzed bracken against the Silver Birch stems and the grey skies behind.

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Just a quick post to get around my continuing writer’s block which seems to have prevented me from posting on almost anything for months now.

The winter working season is in full swing on the Lynchmere commons now. Back in November a film crew from the BBC programme Countryfile spent a day with a group of our volunteers while we were working on Stanley Common and the programme went out on the 2nd December.

If you missed it and want to see what we got upto then this link should take you to the BBC Iplayer ( sadly I think this is only available for IP addresses in the UK) and it’s probably only available until Sunday 9th December. The section on the commons starts at around 20 minutes into the programme.

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We were cutting scrub encroaching upon part of the restored common and as usual we were trying to use as much of the cut material as we could. We  threaded (taking the branches off with a bill hook) the straight birch poles and put them to one side for stakes and binders for a  hedgelaying project. After a lunch cooked on the dire I made  a besom broom with John Craven who immediately put it to good use. And yes I am looking for a new test pilot!

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As you might imagine it was quite hectic to get everything organised for the day and the time flew past. All in all we had a productive day’s work as well as filming and thanks to the weather we all enjoyed it – I think it’s given us plenty to talk about since just about everyone who turned up ended up on film in one way or another.

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Normally my charcoal making site on Lynchmere Common is a quiet and solitary place with only the odd visitor to counter the sound of axe splitting wood (And my chainsaw of course).  But last week I had the pleasure of a visit from the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service to learn Besom (Birch) broom making. The first task of the day was to make a couple of shave horses so as we worked out how best to start everyone off Dan plays the ancient game of ‘pass the beetle’ (a beetle is a simple heavy wooden mallet) to see who gets to cleeve the first log.

Making Besom (Birch) brooms is an old tradition on the Lynchmere Commons where birch scrub grows so fast on the poor heathland soil that if you blink it will turn to woodland whilst your eyes are shut.

The making of besoms helped to keep areas of the heath free, a process which today in many places is largely replaced by mechanisation and spraying chemicals – but I am very keen to see the birch as a useful crop in the local economy rather than a nuisance and weed, so making besom brooms is a way for people to learn how best to use all parts of the tree.

While making the shave horses and besoms is of course important, the day has to start with putting the kettle on and as you might notice there are not many photos without a mug of tea lurking somewhere – just like the landrover. The washing machine drum has been joined by my recently rebuilt barrow, an old builders barrow rescued from a skip and very simply rebuilt for a new lease of life carrying brushwood to fuel the kettle.

A hive of industry as the two new shave horses take shape accompanied by the inevitable cups of tea.

With the new shave horses ready for use we switched to making besoms, first learning to select the material to build up the heads of the brooms as I demonstrate by making one from bales of birch gathered on the commons in the last winter season and stored in the dry and dark to keep the material from becoming brittle and going rotten.

Jean and Arthur put the new skill touse building their own heads and in the background are the birch poles selected to make the tails 0r handles of the besoms.

While Stephen takes the more comfort oriented route to finishing the head, once complete I use a leather belt to holt the bundle of birch tight enough while the wire bonds are placed around the head.

The last job is to bang the shaved and pointed tail into the bound head. These besoms should be good for a few years of use provided that the birch has been selected, cut at the right time of year and then stored well.

I have been told that for the first year the fresh broom with its long lead would be used to sweep the dew from the lawns (preventing the lord and lady getting their feet and long dresses wet I suppose), the next year for sweeping up leaves, the third in the yard, by the fourth it would be short enough for sweeping out the parlours and the fifth year with just the stubs left would be ideal for sweeping snow from the paths. Then it’s perfect fire lighting material and so the cycle would start again.

Before putting the besoms to good use, which seems to involve beating off the encroaching photographers more than it does sweeping the dew from the lawn. A nice collection of besoms resulted from the day – which I think says more about the aptitude of those taking part than it does my ability to transfer the skills.

 

 

 

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Yesterday the South Downs National Park, which has been in existance for a year, cleared its final hurdle as the Park Authority came into existance. By and large it’s business as usual, the hills and valleys, trees and birds haven’t noticed the change but the old south downs committee has now become the park authority – cue rebranding expense as usual. To some this will just be another layer of beauracracy. I’m not a lover of extra layers of government but I do think it’s good that the Sussexand Hampshire South Downs and particularly our section of the Western Weald is recognised as special area with the protection that the National Park brings.

 

And besides it give me the opportunity to post some photos and say a little less. So here is a quick selection of recent photos from the Lynchmere Commons a part of the South Downs National Park.I can never see enough sunsets over the folds of the national park. This one is taken along an Electricity ride on Lynchmere Common.

 

Silver Birch is the most common tree on the commons, having grown largely since the 1940’s they are reaching the end of their short lives.

 

The Birch and Oak provide plenty of opportunity for other flora and fauna to live in and on them – this is a Chicken of the Woods. I’m not saying where I found it as I managed to resist the temptation to take it home and cook it last year.

 

A view of Lynchmere I get to see a lot as it’s the view from my charcoal burning site in the valley by Danley Farm

 

The commons are surrounded by coppice woodland which is primarily Sweet Chestnut used for a range of purposes and particularly good for traditional chestnut fencing in palings, post and wire or post and rail.

 

Making charcoal invovles burning off all of the volatile chemicals from the wood to leave only carbon. The gases are highly flammable and you need to be careful – don’t try this at home, unless you like the smell of singed eyebrows!

 

Traditional Sussex Post and Rail fencing with Sweet Chestnut on the barnyard fenceline. This fenceline is over 30years old since it was put in by one of my neighbours and now it’s being replaced by one of my friends. A nice example of the continuity and consistency which has kept the South Downs and the Western Weald a special place – in these terms I am a newcomer!

Gathering Pea-sticks and beanpoles by hand on the commons is another way in which the character of the landscape is retained. Both in the areas of birch coppiced and in the gardens and allotments that use them.

 

Working outside in all weathers means that I sense much more of the change in weather and the seasons than I used to when I worked indoors and looked out of the window at the weather.

 

I also get the full sense of smell, sights and sounds that the woodland brings through the year – when I can escape from my own perculiar blend of 2-stroke, sawdust, smoke and diesel. Eau de Woodsman I think?  I welcome the South Downs National Park and I am looking forward to working in it immensely.

 

 

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