Tuesday 31 May 2016

There's a reason for the wire!

There's a few previous posts on this blog about the problems of sheep invading our orchard from the adjoining fields. One of the problem areas is the field gate between our orchard site and the adjoining farmer's field. The iron gate is a four bar gate which is good for preventing the escape of cattle, horses and adult sheep. However the gate does not stop lambs wriggling through the gaps between the gate bars and invading our land. Once on the land they can and do cause damage to our fruit trees. So with the prior agreement from our neighbouring farmer  we have added a layer of wiring to close off the gaps in the gate, thus protecting our trees from the sheep.

However we have found that people using the public footpath have been damaging and loosening the gate wiring and consequently allowing the lambs to gain access to the orchard field. At the moment we have to visit the orchard a couple of times each day to round up any intruding lambs and to check the security of the gate. The people loosening the wiring are doing this to provide access for their dogs which are accompanying them on the walk along the public footpath. Having moved the wires, the walkers do not restore them to the secure position. They are in effect causing damage to our property and if, as a consequence of their actions, the sheep damage our trees those walkers are responsible for the damages.

As land owners we have a responsibility to maintain stiles for the footpath. We are not allowed to block the footpath to people using the path.  Our wiring of the field gate does not obstruct the stile. We are under no obligation to ensure the stile is dog friendly. Dogs have no rights on the footpath, although they can be a Natural Accompaniment to someone using the path. The law is summed up here. and our responsibilities are described here.

Over the past couple of years we've put a lot of work and our own money into making sure the public footpath is easily accessible, not overgrown after years of neglect and improving safety for children/pets beside the river. We're also investing in new gates by the roadside which will improve access for walkers, their dogs and wheeled equipment such as wheelchairs and pushchairs. However when you have people causing damage it does make us think twice about being friendly to the public.

On today's visit to the site we found on the footpath recently dropped litter, dog faeces and further damage to the wiring on the gate. Ironically the purpose of our visit was to check the dimensions of a new dog gate we are building to ensure it would fit in place!

Friday 27 May 2016

Loads of visitors to the Orchard

I'm working on producing a "dog gate" for the field gate gate which leads to the adjoining field at the orchard. I'd temporarily covered the field gate in stock wire to stop sheep leaking into our orchard. However the blocking of the gate makes it difficult for walkers using the public footpath if they are accompanied by their dogs. The stile by the gate is a climb-over version and is difficult for dogs to negotiate. I'd arrived to double check the measurements of the dog gate I'm building and found a couple of lambs grazing down by the willow grove in the orchard. My herding skills came into play again as I directed them back into the adjoining field. Someone had loosened a section of the wire fence I'd fitted to the gate. The lambs of course had taken advantage this hole in the security. 

While I was working on the field gate I heard a lot of commotion at the roadside gate on the north side of the orchard. I went over to look and found a large group (approx 50) of schoolchildren, accompanying adults and dogs. I think it was from the local primary school in Turnditch. They'd been following the public footpath through the fields to the north of the A517 Ashbourne road. The group was making slow progress in negotiating the stile on the other side of the road. I gave them a hand by unlocking our gate  so they wouldn't be slowed by the stile next to the bridge. The accompanying adults were worried by the fast moving traffic on the A517 so I donned my bright yellow PPE jacket and helped to stop the traffic while this group safely crossed the road. The process took several minutes slowed by small children with large rucksacks negotiating a narrow stile gate.

Once the road traffic was flowing again, I turned my attention back to the other field gate next to the sheep field. The school group were having trouble with getting their dogs through the field gate or over the stile. I took pity on them and released that gate from its chain. The chain has two large padlocks, but is in reality only secured by being hooked over a bent nail. There were lots of thanks from the group and they were on their way. It proved to me the efforts to provide a dog gate on the footpath is worthwhile. If I don't do this I'll only find that some idiot has left the gate unsecured and I'll have an orchard full of sheep and no leaves left on our young fruit trees.

Edit 30th June 2016
I've been told the school visitors were probably taking part in the activities celebrating Ascension Day.

Sunday 22 May 2016

Young visitors to the orchard

I visited the Turnditch Orchard this evening to start some preparatory work for the road side gate installation. My car was loaded with the necessary tools, but alas they did not get used. As I arrived I noticed six young sheep in the orchard eating grass. They'd invaded from the adjoining field. The skills I'd learned in my childhood on the local farms in the Buckinghamshire countryside came in to play. I was able to herd the sheep off the orchard back into their field without them panicking too much. 

They'd found two routes into the orchard. Their main route was through a rickety old wire fence which previously been protected by my electric fence, but alas no longer since the theft of the fence energiser box. The second route was via the field gate belonging to the neighbouring farm. That gate is an iron gate with just four horizontal bars rather than seven bars. It is fine to retain cattle, horses or adult sheep, but the gaps are too large to enclose exploring lambs. After a quick inspection of the extent of the problems I drove to my home to pick up my fencing equipment. Fortunately I have a spare roll of one metre high wire stock fence and some spare two metre treated wooden fence posts.

I was working until dusk to repair 20 metres of fence and install new fencing. I was able to re-use a lot of the old fence posts in place, but I ended up having to drive six new posts into the ground. Once the fence was secure I set to work on the troublesome gate. As a temporary fix I wired four metres of wire stock fence along the gate. I'd previously mentioned to my neighbouring farmer I was considering making his gate secure and he'd been happy for me to do so.

It is the farmer's responsibility to make sure his stock do not wander and cause damage, but I have to be pragmatic and take proactive action to protect the young fruit trees from marauding sheep.  I'll revisit the gate during the week and install a barrier which is more friendly to the dogs of people using the footpath. 

It would be interesting to know who has responsibility for the boundary hedge/fence and the their field gate. The farmer is a tenant of the Chatsworth Estate who actually own the land which adjoins our orchard site. I organised and funded the relaying and restoration of the blackthorn hedge. It had been neglected by previous parties. At some point part of the historic original hedge has been torn down, possibly during works to lay the sewer/water pipes or during river bridge repair work. Whichever it was, it has left us with a rickety wire fence which proved to provide no barrier to the sheep.

Friday 20 May 2016

New gates at the orchard

We took delivery yesterday of the new gates for the orchard. It is a pair of galvanised steel  gates, their fittings and the steel hinge posts. One gate is four feet wide and the other is eight feet wide. Together they'll be wide enough to span the gateway at the roadside near the river bridge. 

We'll need to dig some post holes and mount the gate posts in concrete, though for the small gate side the majority of concrete was laid in December 2015 as a reinforced concrete beam which presently hidden underground. We've chosen to have a smaller gate on the right hand side near the stile so we can enable access for dog walkers to the public footpath without opening the main gate. We'll have some type of gate closing arrangement which will prevent people from leaving the small gate open after they've left. Certain features will be added to the gate to provide enhanced security in addition to the covert camera system.

We were going to build wooden gates bespoke to the old gateway, but recent vandalism and crime at the site has convinced us that a timber gate may be open to abuse and damage. We'll preserve the existing old sandstone gateposts in place, but they will be redundant. Work on the installation is planned to commence soon. The new gates will be reinforced to prevent future "accidental" damage.

Edit: 21st May

Thank heavens for the internet! The steel square section gate posts were supplied with matching ground socket tubes and cap plates. I've been trying to work out the most appropriate way of installing the socket tubes. Unfortunately the square base plate at the end of the socket is too wide to fit through the existing 160 mm round hole I've already cast for a wooden post in the concrete beam back in December. 

I was thinking I'd have to angle-grind the baseplate to a 150 mm circle to allow the socket tube to fit through the beam. The steel is about 8 mm thick so this would have taken a while to complete. Fortunately it started raining just as I was setting up the 110v AC generator for the angle grinder so I had to stop. I used the time to do some research on the Internet as to the best way to undertake the installation of the post sockets. Eventually, after almost an hour of search, I came across a single reference to field gate post sockets. It seems you only use the sockets if you want removable gate posts. This is not essential for our purposes. We can just directly and permanently concrete them in position. It makes life a lot more simple for the installation.

Thursday 19 May 2016

More crime in Turnditch Orchard

At the weekend when I visited the orchard to pick up some sawdust left over from the tree felling work I noticed that someone had cut the main gate chain. They'd used bolt cutters to cut through the chain, I found the evidence in the cut links on the ground. There are clear cut marks on the link. Whoever did this tried to hide the effects of their criminal damage by attempting to knot the chain around the gate frame.

Turnditch orchard crime a link cut from chain.
A link cut from the gate chain on Turnditch Orchard

I don't know the motive behind this latest attack, but it is getting damned annoying. Those people/organisations who are allowed vehicle access have been given a key, at our expense, to the gate padlock. We'd allowed enough looseness in the chain to allow dog walkers access for their dogs to the public footpath. In common law we only are required to allow access to humans along the foot path and the old stile remains open. A contact phone number is posted on the gate to allow people to call us if they need access.

It is time for us to get a bit tougher on the security of the site. Few people know I used to help design physical security for premises located in Africa and the Middle East. Soon people will be finding access security to the orchard much more difficult to compromise.

Edit: 8th June 2016: I spoke too soon. We've had another attack before I had chance to introduce the new security measures.

Monday 16 May 2016

Natural branch chipping

Following the winter tree felling work on the orchard we've been left with two large piles of branches requiring disposal. I checked the rental cost for a suitable chipping machine and found one for £114/per day from the local Buildbase. Of course fuel would be extra. I looked at transporting the wood to a Local Authority dump for disposal, it needed the rental of a trailer (£40/day) and several trips to the dump.

Eventually I decided on a centuries old method and lit a bonfire. The piles of branches were cleared in 3 hours hard work. I'll be gym fit in no time if this carries on. No fossil fuel was required, though I did need a glass or two of cider afterwards to recover.

Saturday 14 May 2016

The future of the Orchard Project at Turnditch

We've just been reflecting on the future of the project to create the orchard site at Turnditch. The current objective is to provide an amenity space for the public. A lot of the work and financial investment so far has been targeted at providing a safe place for local children and families to visit. It's been a lot of  hard physical work to clear the previous neglected scrub land. The recent events of theft, intrusion and damage to the fences makes us wonder if there's some resistance or lack of support from the local population. 

In reality the land is not of any great agricultural value, it is too narrow for economic farming. Perhaps it might be better if we used the land for development instead of the orchard. We should be able to house ten families on the land with some careful development of suitable multi-occupancy buildings. It will still be possible to provide social benefit from the project by making the housing low cost for families who cannot afford the high Turnditch property prices. Alternatively it would be an ideal location to house some refugee families. My friends in the Home Office tell me they are desperate for such sites for the Syrian refugees and will provide substantial grants for such developments.  It would also help Derbyshire County Council meet its targets for housing refugees.

We won't make a decision yet, and will continue with the orchard project. However before we invest too much more of our retirement savings in this project, it is probably worth visiting some old friends in Whitehall to sound out their views. 

Friday 13 May 2016

Crime in sleepy Turnditch

Crime visits the sleepy village of Turnditch, or rather the orchard site we're developing. We'd installed an electric fence between our site and the adjoining farmer's field The purpose was to stop sheep coming into the orchard and destroying the young fruit trees. This electric fence also had the side benefit in that stopped the farmer's sheep wandering on to the Ecclesbourne Valley railway. Those sheep are not our responsibility, but it cost nothing to have extended the protection, so it was a courtesy.

This evening we visited the site to charge the battery which powers the fence. When we arrived we found that someone has stolen the fence energiser unit. We'd hidden this unit out of sight under a builder's bucket, but anyone following the fence line would be able to find it. It was positioned in such a way that a deliberate premeditated activity is needed to locate the unit. 

It is a red coloured Hotshock A15 energiser worth £137. and was equipped with an iron stand post.

Ironically the thief left the lead acid battery in place. It was worth more than the energiser, but weighing in at 20 Kgs was less attractive. This crime will be reported to the police so will be included in the official figures for the locality.

There was also damage to the street side stock fence where someone has cut through the wire stock fence to gain access to the orchard. It is quite a distance from where the energiser was located, but this criminal damage is probably related to the theft. This will be reported as a crime. The combination of the two activities means it is possible for the sheep to gain access to the road. 

Criminal activity as thieves cut through fence in Turnditch Orchard
Hole cut in roadside stock fence

By the way, the unit is forensically marked. Should anyone be daft enough to buy it they'll find out the hard way such things are traceable.

Sunday 8 May 2016

Tidier orchard

We've just given the orchard it's first grass cut of the season. The quality of the grass is improving with a lot less weed than previous years, but it had grown a bit too tall. The weather was rather hot and we had to drink a lot (plain water !) to keep hydrated.  The field trimmer worked well despite giving us a bit of a scare earlier in the week when large cloudss of dense white smoke came out from the engine. After some investigation we realised we'd over-filled the oil sump in the engine, when we serviced it, and this had been picked up by the piston when we were attacking a slope. The dip stick for the engine oil is easy to misread.

We also did some weeding around the base of the trees and some of the herbs.  It was hard work overall but quite enjoyable in the current spell of fine weather. Our thoughts go to the volunteer team who are tucked away in their home revising for school exams.

Most of the trees are looking healthy with the exception of the Queen Cox Apple. I don't think it has survived the winter and the poor soil in the place we planted it. You live and learn. Our new Medlar planted earlier this year is doing well.