Wednesday 30 October 2013

Preparing the security unit and river erosion

We were able to get on the orchard site today. We started to lay the base of the temporary security box. This unit will store materials and dangerous tools while we work on the site to clear the field, plant the orchard, install drainage and manage the woodland. 

The metal base frame is filled with steel fibre reinforced concrete mounted on a sheet of vapour barrier plastic. This plastic sheet will protect the soil from the concrete for when we come to remove the temporary store unit. Water for the concrete comes from the Ecclesbourne River. 

A toughened steel security chain is embedded in the very heavy concrete base and attached to ground anchors. The chain will be used to secure tools when they are not in use. Other hidden security measures may be in operation. ;-)

The petrol motor brush cutter we're using to clear the field is quite long at 2 metres. We had to chose a large security box to provide space for the brush cutter. The long-handled Stafford Billhook we'll be using for hedge laying is now literally razor sharp. At times we'll be using other power tools. The intent is to be able to safely lock away tools such as these and also angle-grinders and chain saws during the day when we are working at the other end of the field or in the woodland. Better safe than sorry, but if kids were to mess around with those forestry tools they could be become injured. It's unlikely, but the site is very close to the road with a public footpath running next to the river.

Nothing valuable will be stored overnight. We'll even release trespassers from the chains before we pack up for the night.

Update 31/10/13  I've discovered I have muscles involved on concrete mixing (by hand/shovel) which I've not used in a long time. 

We also noticed some exposed flower bulbs, snowdrop, on the river bank. There's probably been some soil erosion during recent years. We may need to consider some method of natural reinforcing to prevent the erosion extending. If we leave this the erosion will eat into the public footpath and endanger the farm access to adjoining fields.

Exposed flower bulbs (Snowdrop) on the bank of the Ecclesbourne

There's some useful information here. Obviously concrete is out of the question and geotextile or wire gabions always looks quite tatty after a couple of years. Tied brushwood bundles (fasces) and/or introducing some live Willow Spiling to replace the undercut elm and ash may be a suitable method of approach. Here's other willow supplier and locally. This requires soon winter work (to allow the live stakes time to take root for the summer), but as we have other more urgent work on the Orchard site the bank reinforcing will have to wait until the 2014 winter.

I suspect some of the erosion is caused by eddies from the road bridge piles when the river is in spate. Note to self: find a source of live native willow stakes

Update 3/11/2013: We've discovered any river bank erosion control scheme needs Flood Defence Consent Approval from the Environment Agency. This will definitely delay the Spiling works until next year. It also implies a £50 fee payment for us doing work to "improve" the river bank and the same forms as if we were constructing flood defences for Derby, ho-hum!. We've contacted the Environment Agency and we'll keep you posted on progress. We'll see if there's bureaucratic overload for the planting  a dozen live willow stakes in the bank and weaving twigs between them.

Update 6/11/2013: The environment Agency Help Desk gave us the wrong information. It looks like Derbyshire County Council look after this. Their documentation is here. Their guidance suggests we need no special permission, but we are in contact to with DCC to confirm.

Update 10.06/2015 We read in the Derby Telegraph newspaper today that volunteers for the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust that they've being undertaking some spiling on the Ecclesbourne river to protect the banks from erosion. Great minds think alike eh?! Here's DWT's report on their work.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Will the site flood?

We did a brief site visit to assess the impact of the past few days of heavy rain. The River Ecclesbourne is now running fast and a lot deeper than its normal state.

However the river would need to rise about another metre before any flooding takes place, so at the moment no major worries.

Note 1/11/2013:
I have made a note later in the blog about river bank erosion. You can just see some of this erosion where the Elm sapling grows in the above picture. The bank are about 2 metres and pretty much vertical above the river bed. During the summer the edge of the river is only 5 cms deep so the spate condition must be at least a metre deep and fairly fast flowing. The opposite bank has some stonework and steps to provide access and some protection against erosion. The general state of neglect by the previous owner(s) of the field and river bank will need some remedial work to prevent further damage.

Sunday 20 October 2013

First trees down

We're making slow progress on the site due to the poor weather. We are not being total wimps just because of some rain, but we are taking heed of the safety warnings of not using power tools such as the chainsaw in wet conditions. However we have used a bow saw to take down three small elm trees. We've left them as coppice stumps/stools. The trees were saplings really, with  only 10 cm diameter trunks but were growing out of the base of the wall. Potentially if left unchecked they'll damage the wall on that part of the field. Some of the branches had died. We'll check the regrowth on the stools next year and subsequent years to see if the elm is disease free.

The small branches will be chipped, but the thicker elm is hopeless as firewood. It would burn slowly and with a lot of smoke. We'll keep the trunks as long elm logs for use in the base of the wood piles. Elm wood has a good resistance to rotting. We'll pile more valuable wood on top for seasoning. 

While the elm trees were not part of the roadside hedge, the reduced foliage after their felling has exposed the rather poor state of that hedge. It emphasises the need to provide a secure fence as there is quite a steep drop into the field. The rolls of stock fencing have arrived and we hope to start work soon, but the first priority is the completion of the secure storage unit.

I've performing research into manual cable winch units for the logging work. When we take down trees close to the road and the river we'll need directional control to prevent the trees falling in the wrong direction. I've settled on a Tirfor winch with wire cable, now the problem is to source one inexpensively through rental or purchase.

Monday 14 October 2013

Increasing security and safety at the site

We've just ordered 150 metres of stock fencing, fencing wire, and staples for the site. We're going to run a 90cm high stock fence along the road side boundary of the plot. The hedge is damaged and poorly maintained so the fence will provide some basic protection while we work on clearing the site and coppicing the trees. If we don't install the fence there's a risk that people especially local children and/or pets could enter the site to nose around. Normally this would be of no concern, but there will be some risks while work is in progress. 

There's also a risk of farm animals straying on to the road during coppicing work along the embankment. While this work is in progress we'll temporarily dismantle the lower fence at the foot of the embankment, hence we need the roadside fence.

Longer term we plan to fully restore the roadside hedge by having it properly laid, but that process will take a couple of years. Once that process is complete we'll remove the stock fence at the roadside. The top edge of the embankment is mostly rubble from the road construction/maintenance process. It will be difficult to drive fence posts without causing damage. Where possible we'll use existing tree trunks in the hedge as posts for this "emergency" repair.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Bad weather - no progress

We're itching to continue work in the Orchard site, but the current poor weather is preventing us from working with power tools in the soaked "jungle".  Ah well it gives us time to work on the Company Accounts instead.

I might pluck a few more of the Bullace to increase the "Sloe Gin" yield, it tastes really rather good, even in the immature state.

Thursday 10 October 2013

A safe place for the tools

We've realised we'll need a safe place to protect the tools used to clear the land at the orchard site. The primary purpose of the storage is safety, but also theft prevention. We're concerned inquisitive kids might wander on to the site, after all there is a public footpath running along the edge by the river. The tools are designed for forestry activities and in the wrong hands can be very dangerous. 

We've taken delivery of a steel tool storage cabinet which we'll temporarily place on the site while we are undertaking the main site clearance and planting activities. Nothing valuable will be left there overnight, but it will be used to secure tools during the day.It is also a convenient location to house fencing materials for the duration of the fencing/hedging process. It has meant additional expenditure, but given the the easy public access to the site we treat safety as an important matter.

The store cabinet will be tucked away out of sight and is green coloured to avoid being an eyesore during its temporary stay on the site.

Sunday 6 October 2013

A disappointment at the Orchard

We were quite disappointed to find recent dog poo on the footpath we'd cleared by the river bank in our site. We know it is the countryside, but leaving dog poo where other people walk is rather antisocial. 

There's no real excuse for this type of behaviour. There is a litter bin just outside of the main gate where filled poo bags can be deposited. While we can do nothing about people using the public footpath on our land is does provide a disincentive to us opening up the the rest of the orchard to public access. At the very least it may lead to us banning dogs in the main part of the field/orchard where there is no public access.

Members of the public can find guidelines here.

Saturday 5 October 2013

Fruit and the Bees in the Orchard

We're planning to plant a variety of fruit trees in the orchard. We'll plant some tasty variety of apple and pear of the type not normally found on supermarket shelves. There'll also be some soft fruits too. We have already visited several nurseries, including Meynell Langley, to investigate the varieties of trees suitable for our plans. Rob Walker at Meynell Langley was a useful source of information

We are planning to install a couple of bee hives in the Orchard once the disturbance of clearing the land and coppicing the trees is complete. Hopefully this will occur sometime in the summer of 2014. 

Planning the Ashbourne Road orchard plot fence

We've reviewed the roadside hedge on the Orchard project. 

The approach road to the railway bridge creates an embankment leading from the River Ecclesbourne to the crest of the road bridge. 

To improve the natural environment, we're going to coppice the trees growing on the south side of the embankment. The tree canopy blocks out the light and reduces the variety of species growing on the south facing embankment. The existing trees appear not to have been managed for many years. Some of the taller trees overhang the road and railway. When we fell the trees to create the coppice stools we'll have to proceed carefully. We'll use wire cables and winches to ensure the tree fall where we want them to go.  We'll probably have to take out most of the trees progressively along the embankment working from the river end toward the railway. This is necessary to create the safe felling space for the larger trees. Within a couple of years though there will be substantial regrowth from the coppice stools, but in the meantime other natural species will have the opportunity to recolonise the embankment.

The roadside hedge needs a lot more attention before we'll have it fully restored. There are gaps from deadwood and also from damage caused by a road accident. We need to make the hedge stock proof, so we are planning to install a 90cm high galvanised wire stock fence along the roadside boundary extending from the river gate to the end of the rail bridge parapet. We measured this and discovered we'll need to install 108 metres of wire stock fencing. The need for the fence is improve public safety and to reduce the chance of livestock escaping on to the road. There is a fence lower down at the foot of the embankment slope, but we'll need, temporarily, to dismantle the fence during the coppicing process.

Once the fence is secure, we'll gradually work on restoring the hedge using traditional layering and replanting at the top of the embankment slope as necessary. Our estimate is it will take about three years before it starts looking like a reasonable countryside style hedge. We'll plant a variety of hedgerow saplings in increase disease resistance and also to provide better variety. Once the hedge is properly re-established we'll remove the wire fencing.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

The Orchard - We've started clearance work.

Yesterday we started the process of clearing the plot in preparation for planning the orchard. The picture below is the strip of land next to the River Ecclesbourne. One of the local farmers has a right of access to his fields through this strip. We managed to to clear back about 80% over the undergrowth in the available time.

Given the uncertainty of what is hidden under the grass and brush we only using hand held tools to clear the ground during this first pass. We were using a Kawasaki KBH27 brush cutter and managed to burn through two tanks full of petrol in the clearing process. We're raking up the felled vegetation and will be hot composting it later. The brush was mostly grass, nettles and some Himalayan Balsam. The Himalayan Balsam is an invasive species and will take a few years of repeated strimming to eradicate.  Given the proximity of the river spraying with chemicals is not an option.

We'll be relaying the hedge on the left hand side of the picture at some point soon. It looks like there's been no proper hedge maintenance for a good few years.  I was pleased to note there is some healthy looking English Elm saplings forming part of the old hedge. We'll do what we can to preserve this species of tree. The question is should we lay Derbyshire Style or Midlands style, I was raised in Buckinghamshire so I prefer the Midlands or Southern Style hedging. 

We also need to have a missing gate post installed in the entrance to the main field to enable us to rehang the steel gate which we found laying on the ground.