Thursday 26 December 2013

The hungry horde

We called by the orchard site on Boxing Day to find about 15 sheep from the adjoining field. We gently herded them back, but had no equipment with us to fix the fence problem. They'd found new gaps. further along the field from our last repair. The sheep are clearly very hungry having destroyed many wild tree saplings and ring barked some other hedge trees too. The branches and logs we'd left from the last trimming work have been completely stripped. Most of the ewes have babies on-board, so we can't be aggressive with them. The soil is getting quite damaged from their hooves, but the sheep have removed a lot of the brush we were intending cut anyway saving us some work.
The field "mown" by the sheep.

We'll pay another visit this week to patch the holes in the fencing. I'm quite pleased we haven't planted the orchard trees or we'd be looking at having to replace some expensive fruit tree. We're suffering from the neglect of the land by previous owners.

We discovered a small stone lined entrance of a tunnel/culvert (about one metre in diameter) running under the road bridge embankment. We think it is the route of a small stream which shows on some of the older maps but the stream bed across our land has been mostly filled in at some point in the past 150 years. From the style of stone work I'd guess it was built at the same time as the railway bridge. In the autumn this tunnel entrance was hidden from view by a large rose bush and blackthorn. We can see an old iron grate a couple of metres into the tunnel presumably installed to stop animals straying up.

Stream bed in orchard at Turnditch Orchard
Residue of stream bed running across orchard site

Edit 29/12/13: We had a chat with the farmer about the sheep. The four legged demolition machines are just being stubborn. There is plenty of food and mineral supplements for them at the other end of their field. They just love ash tree bark! We also called to let them know are hedging contractor is going to start work today on renovating/relaying the hedge between our fields. They were pleased to learn that we are not ripping out the old hedge and replacing it with fencing.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Sheep 1 Orchard Site 0

We visited the site today and found three sheep on the land. Our fence repair is intact so they must have found another route on to the land. They soon retreated when we started a chain saw to do some work. We don't want to panic them because at this time of the year they are probably pregnant. 

We discovered the sheep had gnawed the bark from some off the branches we'd felled a couple of weeks ago. I'd imagine that unprotected fruit trees would suffer the same fate.

We spend a couple of hours cutting down small trees and working to tidy the embankment. It was mostly ash and hawthorn, but now there is a large pile of branches which need trimming and brushwood to burn or turn into wood chippings. It was hard work, with loads of thorns grabbing at us, but the result was satisfying. We removed four trees which were leaning over the fence and threatening long term problems. We cut their bases low in the normal coppicing style. It's far better to remove them now rather than waiting until the fruit trees are established.
Sheep Damage
In the picture you can see some of the damage caused to an Ash tree and an Elderberry shrub. The sheep have completely debarked a long section on each tree. Those trees will need to be dut down and coppiced to see if they'll recover.

Edit: 22/12/13 We met with Adrian, the guy who's going to lay the hedges. He told us sheep love to eat the bark from ash tree branches. Sure enough it was those branches in the log pile which the sheep had chewed.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Sheep expelled

We are now ready to plant the fruit trees, but they need protecting from sheep incursion. Today we effected a repair to the hedge where the sheep had created a trail via a hole in the hedge from the adjacent field. This morning there were none of the woolly beasts to be found in the orchard site, they're probably grazing elsewhere. Yesterday there were several sheep in our field.  We don't mind their presence particularly, but we need to keep them out when the fruit trees are planted,

The hedge is in a poor state, both overgrown and also a lot of dead wood after years of neglect. Blackthorn really is nasty stuff to battle through when fixing stock fence in place! What appeared to be a small gap took four metres of wire stock fencing and some fence posts but the gap is now fixed. This will be a temporary repair until the hedge is relaid during the winter.

We'll be creating stock fence wire enclosures for each tree that we plant. These enclosures will provide protection for the fruit tree saplings if any sheep manage to find another route into the field. Next to consider is protecting the trees from rabbits! Maybe some plastic sleeving is required. We've delivered a heap of fence posts to the site ready for the tree enclosures.

We'd noticed a 5 metre elm tree which had been snapped by last week's winds. It was in an awkward position overhanging the River Ecclesbourne. To simply cut it down would have caused it to fall into the river. In the end we attached a long rope and, from a position of safety, winched the broken top half of the tree down and away from the river. The dead tree top is now pile of logs on our wood heap and I now have greater confidence in my rusty skills of creating eye splices in ropes.

A large ash branch had fallen in the winds and was projecting over the roadside pavement. It was hung up in other branches and too heavy to pull down safely. We chain-sawed it into sections in situ and removed the individual pieces. For ash wood, it was surprisingly heavy. 

After the work we called in to the local butcher Anthony Andrews to buy some meat for our Christmas Open day. It is really pleasing to find such a good butcher's shop in the locality. We've not been disappointed so far.

We've appointed a fencing contractor to install a roadside stock fence. Over the next couple of years we'll rejuvenate the old hedge with the intention of having it relaid and subsequent removal of the wire stock fence.

ps: The following day. Despite the efforts to protect the trees from sheep/rabbits we ignored the far greater risk. Wolf damage!  We've temporarily stored the trees in our back garden. This morning we discovered our German Shepherd 6 month old puppy had chewed off the top of one of the apple saplings. Grrr!

Monday 9 December 2013

Fixing the hedges

Now the leaves have dropped at the the autumn (fall) frosts we are able to the see the extent of the neglect of the hedges by the previous owner(s). It is outside of our abilities to quickly repair the fences so we've asked a couple of fencing contractors to quote for installing a stock wire fence next to the roadside hedge. It will provide some security and also prevent animals straying.

We've accepted a quote from Adrian Rochford to have the field side hedge (between and the adjoining fields) restored and layed in a traditional Derbyshire/Stafford style. Work should start in a couple of weeks.

We've also taken delivery of the first trees for the orchard. We'll be planting them soon, but first we'll need to patch a couple of gaps in the fence. Currently sheep are straying into the area and would no doubt do some damage to the young trees.

Last week's storm did some damage and snapped some of the dead trees. I'll be visiting with the chainsaw to tidy the mess. Some of it will have to be winched from the place it overhangs the River Ecclesbourne. More timber for the firewood pile.

We've placed a small notice on the gate post providing brief details of the project and a link to this site.