New Opportunities and New Discoveries

Hello! My name is Lee, myself and Daniel recently began our 18 month placement at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse as ‘heritage landscape management trainees’. It’s been a hectic first few weeks, though I already feel as though I’ve learnt so much and the first month isn’t even over yet!

Our experiences so far have been extremely varied, from felling a tree with an axe (as mentioned in Tom’s recent blog post) to a visit to the Weald and Downland museum in Sussex to see how they manage their land and their livestock. Richard, the farm officer at Gressenhall,  also took the time to teach a few of us new trainees about the maths behind ploughing with horses, I have to admit that it’s a lot more complicated than I ever imagined!

pic 1

View from the top of the Weald and Downland Museum site in West Sussex

I was also involved in the recent apple day at Gressenhall; Gressenhall’s annual celebration of apple varieties from the local area. Tom and I manned a green woodworking stall during the day; this was a great opportunity for us to display the traditional techniques of working with wood whilst it’s still green (wood is known as green whilst it still has a high moisture content). The great thing about green woodworking is that you don’t need any power tools, everything made is usually created using just hand tools and leg power!

pic 2

In times gone by green woodworking was known as ‘bodging’. This title described the way in which the woodsman would use whatever species of trees were ready to be coppiced during that season.

pic 3

The pole lathe is a great way to speed up the carving of wood. Here, my leg is providing the power and the ash pole above is providing the spring to spin the piece of wood around.

Not only am I new to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse but I’m also new to Norfolk, I’ve been enjoying getting to know my way around Gressenhall and its surrounding villages; much of this discovery has been during mine and Daniel’s time on placement with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Whilst on placement we’ve been able to assist the woods and heath team with the management of a traditional coppice within Foxley wood as well as the rounding up and checking of the Norfolk Wildlife Trusts grazing ponies at Buxton heath. This placement is a great learning opportunity as we’re able to work closely with, and learn from, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust wardens. Gaining practical experience with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust is proving to be a great way to learn about nature reserve management and the many skills required for the conservation of biodiversity.

pic 4

Grazing ponies at the Buxton Heath Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve

One of the main aims for us heritage landscape management trainees over the next few months is to develop and initiate a management plan for Centenary wood, primarily to ensure that its value for biodiversity is maximised. We were fortunate to have a visit from Helen Baczkowska of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust who kindly came to give us some advice on how we can go about improving the woodland for wildlife. Helen’s visit gave me an opportunity to properly explore Centenary wood for the first time; I was amazed at the diversity of fungi in the woods and actually saw my first fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria).

pic 5

The first fly agaric mushroom I’ve EVER seen!

In addition to implementing the management plan of Centenary wood ourselves we’re also hoping to set up a volunteer group who will be able to assist in the management of the woodland. If you or anyone you know would like some more information about our new volunteer team please feel free to get in touch. We’ll be meeting once a week and will be carrying out a diversity of management tasks within the woodland.

In summary, it’s been an amazing first few weeks and I can’t wait to get stuck in to the many opportunities to come!

Lee Bassett

Heritage Landscape Management Trainee


Horse Power! Day: Sunday 29th September 2013

Horse Power! Day took place a few weeks ago down here on the farm and it was both successful and fantastic fun.

Preparation for the event took place the week before with the fields having muck spread on them and the horses getting groomed until they shone.  The preparation was useful to both Ben and me as we learnt how to use the muck spreading machine (a machine imported by Richard from an Amish community in Canada).  It was amazing to see and is much more efficient than the old fashioned way of loading muck onto a tumbrel, forking it off onto the field then going back and spreading it out by hand. The machine is loaded with muck and then the forward motion of the horses initiates the table of the machine, pushing the muck towards the back where it is picked up by rotating blades and flung into an arc out onto the land.


We were very lucky and on the day itself we had fantastic weather.  It wasn’t too hot for the horses to work and it didn’t rain either.  19 horses were on site during the day and they took part in a variety of activities for the public to witness.  We had a pair muck spreading, a pair disking, a single horse harrowing, and 4 pairs of horses taking part in a ploughing match. I had never seen a ploughing match before so it was a new experience for me.  The general idea always appeared to be simple- plough the straightest line and you win.  However, as I learnt throughout the day and have subsequently been informed on in much more detail, it is much more complex than it initially seems!


The straightness of the furrow is vital- the first draw across the field is of the utmost importance, but you also have to consider depth, distance, working speed of the horses and how much soil you push over as your plough moves forward. The match on the farm was taken seriously, although there were teams competing that had done very little or no ploughing at all in a competitive field so the public were able to see all sorts of styles and techniques.


Not only did we have horses out working but 2 of our own horses were on show in their stables, a pair of Shires were put together in all of their show gear and became very much admired. We were also lucky enough to have the fire service come down and demonstrate how they rescue horses and livestock from ditches etc with their rubber horse named Randy. This was very interesting and informative to watch and learn about however it did cause a bit of a stir when they left the very realistic looking Randy hanging from the grab of our tractor and people thought it was alive! Ray Hubbard also joined us in the farmhouse and entertained people with live music and stories from his past.


On the top site we were visited by a previous trainee Alex who worked in the forge making horse shoes for our horses and we also ran themed art attacks for our visitors.

Overall it was a fantastic day where I was able to learn a lot about horses and farming, and I can’t wait for next year!


Dani Chatten

Heritage Farming Apprentice

All change at Gressenhall Farm

Over the past month there has been a lot of change down at Gressenhall Farm as two new Landscape Management Trainees, Lee and Daniel, have joined us. Their start date signaled my movement into the final 6 months of my traineeship which has also seen me beginning my third and final  placement. I have chosen to spend 3 days a week with the National Trust Ranger team at Felbrigg Hall and Sheringham Park in North Norfolk.

Even though I have only been with the National Trust team just over a month it has already given me a great insight into how their organisation works and the complexities of running such a big site! I have been involved with lots of different projects and types of work, no two days are the same which is great as each time I turn up there is something new to do. The work varies from fencing and tree work to renovating an old saw mill!

One of the biggest ongoing jobs at Felbrigg over the last few weeks has been the mowing of all of their grasslands in order to keep their growth down and control the weeds that have grown up in the fields. There are many areas that need mowing and so I have been able to lend a hand in sharing some of the work. It is very different to mowing your lawn! I have been using a multi-directional Rytek mower that is pulled by a tractor which tackle heavy vegetation and allows you to cut in areas that normal toppers and mowers would not be able to get to.

View from the National Trust Tractor

View from the National Trust Tractor

Rytek Mower

Rytek Mower

As with any conservation organisation  they rely on their volunteers to help look after various sites and undertake work that would otherwise never get done, one such group maintains the National Trust site at West Runton. They meet once a week and repair anything that has broken and deal with scrub clearance and the mowing of the sites fens. It was a fantastic opportunity to work with them last week, even though it was incredibly windy so close to the coast! The work they do is so visible in making a difference to the area and I look forward to working them in the future.

View from the top of the West Runton site

View from the top of the West Runton site

With autumn closing in, the Landscape Management team has decided to practice our heritage woodland skills. After digging out an array of two man saws and axes we have been spending time felling trees in a traditional (pre-chainsaw) way. The technique of felling a tree has not changed since the days of axes and saws and so we were able to put the knowledge that we already had about tree felling and crosscutting into practice with these traditional tools. (As can be seen from the photos below).

Creating the gob

Creating the gob

The finished gob

The finished gob

Making the felling cut

Making the felling cut

We are going to continue using these tools and traditional methods in order for us to hone our skills and increase our knowledge about them as we believe that they should not be lost. It was great fun and we are looking forward to getting back into centenary wood soon!

See you on Apple Day!

Tom, Heritage Landscape Management Trainee.

A brilliant new beginning…

Before I begin my first of many blogs, let me introduce myself…my name is Poppy and I moved to Norfolk in August from North East Lincolnshire to begin my year placement as a Rural Collections Management trainee.  It’s been a big move for me but every part of working at Gressenhall has been worth it.  Even the drive to work every morning through rural country lanes makes me realise how lucky I am to have been given this opportunity.  Never would I have thought that I would be working in such a beautiful place with lovely surroundings; it’s a brilliant change from large towns and motorways!

Since I started my traineeship I have learnt so much already and there is never a dull moment.  Everyday you learn something new, meet new people and gain a new experience.  It’s safe to say this month has flown by and in such a small space of time I have had training in documentation, auditing and packing objects.  The list however does not end there; there are courses, conferences and always new learning opportunities for me!

One of the biggest things I love about my traineeship is finding objects which make you think ‘wow’ or really stimulate your imagination and create new thoughts and questions.   At a recent museum conference I attended, the audience was given a question to consider which I found quite thought provoking…

“Think about a recent experience which you found surprising or delightful and what it meant to you”

This question made me think automatically about my most recent experiences which all come back to my traineeship at Gressenhall.  I have already had a lot of experiences here where I have been surprised or delighted at something; and In turn these experiences have given me a sense of personal achievement.

Recently I found a tin of wartime Johnson’s baby powder; finding this object surprised me because the same baby powder is still used today (though in very different packaging) and brought back my own memories of using it as a child.  This is one of the things about working with and seeing collections which always intrigues me; an object has the ability to allow you to recollect your own memories and inspire new thoughts.


How may Johnson's baby powder look in another 70 years time?

How may Johnson’s baby powder look in another 70 years time?

A moment where I have felt particularly proud was at the Heritage Open Day at Gressenhall.  For the event my fellow collections trainees and I created a small exhibition about the last horseman of Norfolk.  We worked hard on making the decisions on what objects to put in the case and the text and labels.  It was a personal achievement for us all to put it in for the public to look at and enjoy our display of objects.

This was me installing a small exhibition about one of Norfolk’s last horseman

This was me installing a small exhibition about one of Norfolk’s last horseman.

In this next month my fellow collections trainees and I will be hanging up our white gloves for a day on the farm where we will be getting stuck into some real physical work.  We will get to try our hands at ploughing which is one thing I never thought I would get an opportunity to do, and despite the fact that my clothes are likely to get very dirty, I cannot wait!

Already my traineeship is a month in with only eleven to go; and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead of me!

Thanks for reading, Poppy Hill.