As we begin to move away from spring we put down our chainsaws and billhooks and pick up our hammers and nails. Instead of hedgelaying and coppicing, the activities that Hannah and I are undertaking are more focused on building and creating. We have to stop such activities at the end of April so as not to disturb nesting birds or hedgerow inhabitants. It also gives the plants that we have cut back a chance to grow and rejuvenate. It means that we are now able undertake some essential site maintenance and construction!
As Hannah has already said, we had to opportunity to lead a group of Prince’s Trust trainees for two weeks which allowed them to get an insight and hands-on experience in a countryside management role. They helped us maintain and repair the river walk bridges and undertake various other site activities, but Aaron, one of the trainees, had the chance to stay on for an extra few days and he helped us to construct a much needed muck pen for the farm. This required us to dig fairly deep through some heavily compacted stony soil to set all the posts in to make them sturdy and level. And this was all done by hand! There were sore backs all round that day. It took us several days to construct but we are all very proud of our efforts and it is greatly appreciated by the farm team.
For the past few weeks we have had a good run of getting a lot of fencing installed around the site. The main area of work has been in the overflow car park fields where we have placed posts that will allow us to create a semi-permanent electric fence for when our Suffolk Punch horses are kept in there. In an adjacent field we have constructed a long length of stock proof fencing along a ditch so our sheep don’t go wandering into it. This was a good collaborative effort from Hannah and I, the two new farm apprentices and volunteers. We haven’t had any wandering sheep so far which must be a sign the fence is working.
Even though we have stopped any substantial vegetation removal there can still be essential trees that must be taken down. Such a tree was a particularly unhealthy Elder that was too dangerous to be left standing in the Woodland playground and so Hannah, Mike Crisp and I took it down safely and so removed it from being a problem. It has also helped us to top up the farmhouse’s wood store along with some more of our wind fallen Ash (with the aid of Mike’s handy log splitter!).
We have also had the opportunity to create things a bit more fun than just fences. During the May half term Hannah and I have been running Environmental Art sessions in the Museum courtyard. This has involved us collecting flint stones, sticks, leaves, sheep wool, horse hair and clay and helping children and adults make objects and art using all of these natural materials. This is has been a surprisingly successful activity and was great fun to run with some adults enjoying it more than their children.
It is not all glitz and glamour working here at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse; sometimes it requires us to get our hands dirty. After noticing some of the farmyard’s drains were backed up, myself and Ben (the new Skills for the Future Farm Apprentice) soon realised there was only one thing to do, and that was to roll our sleeves up and unclog the drains by hand. Even though it was an unpleasant job it still had to be done and now the drains are all flowing free.
Due to the arrival of some lovely new ducklings on the farm, Hannah, Ben and I decided to start building them a new house so that they can finally be put onto the grass and out in the open. As you can see from the photo, it is starting to take shape and they should be out in the farmyard any time soon.
Hopefully the weather will begin to improve and we can enjoy a summer full of sunshine!
Thomas Watson, Heritage Landscape Management Trainee