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Posts from the ‘Conservation’ Category

Everything from Food to Shelter to Products…the wonders of…

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The Hedgerow

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Hedgerow Book www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com*

muddy boots www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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This morning I struggle with the swollen front door, meeting a wall of wind which makes me stagger. I head over to the cow field. The going is getting really tough, each foot sinking into a sticky squelchy hole. A jet of liquid mud and manure is nicely timed to splatter over my jeans. This morning we heard on the radio that the main train line has been washed away by the sea at Dawlish.

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The trees are swaying like giant jellies and the bawling wind is deafening. The rain stings, little pinpricks on my skin. The cows aren’t bothered and they are grazing down the hill, though the moment they see me they pick up their hooves eagerly, and squelch and slip towards me. I have the usual moment of utter disbelief at the state the field, and the usual response it’ll stop soon, won’t it? spring is coming, things will dry out, the grass will recover

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muddy field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com*

River Valley North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This is the view from the cow field. Normally you can’t see the river very well as it is hidden by steep sides. The adjoining field aslo flooded here.

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Muddy Cow Feet www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Dainty

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Despite all, we have managed to get some some winter jobs sorted out on the dry days. Hedge work has been ongoing for a few years as we are in the process of restoring our hedgerows  – not on our own though, far too big a job for us alone, we have lots of help. It doesn’t come cheap but we think it’s worth it.

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Layed Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This is new growth sprouting from the hedgelaying last winter. It’s a little rough and ready and not as beautiful as some hedgework but we are working with what we’ve got – in this case, outgrown hazel. Hawthorn whips were planted to fill any gaps, though the hazel is quite dominant. In the past, without barbed wire the bulk of the hedge would have been hawthorn or ‘quickthorn’ as it is known colloquially.

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Layed Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

You can see here where the hazel was laid down with a cut from the billhook.

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Billhook www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A billhook

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The thicker hedges will provide a great habitat for wildlife. We leave some trees at intervals, as is tradition. These provide shade and another kind of habitat.

This book ‘Hedgerow’ by Eric Thomas & John T White is now out of print but it is a lovely book and some copies are still available online. I think it deserves a reprint. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but hey, why let them have all the fun?

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Cut native hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This is one boundary which had overgrown into trees. We’ll do the other half next year.

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Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This hedge down the bridlepath has a lot of sycamore in it – not something you want in a hedge. This year we have taken on getting rid of them by cutting and poisoning the stumps. This work has to be done in the winter, soon the shoots of bluebell, campion and stitchwort will appear.

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Sycamore stump www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

One of the sycamore stumps ready to apply the poison. I drilled holes into the top as well. It looks brutal but will be beneficial in the long run for the all the flora along this stretch.

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Traditional Hereford Heifer www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Hello, what are you doing in the hedge? Bit windy?

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Showing all the useful plants found in a hedge in autumn

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We are also having trees cut for some of next winters firewood, using old pollard points to take the trees back to. Pollarding is an ancient practice of harvesting tree growth at a manageable height. This wood had many uses in the past…animal fodder, firewood, wood for the production of simple household items such as door handles and broom sticks. The Hedgerow book takes you on a fascinating journey into the history and culture of the hedgerow.

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Slightly neater than ours... Hedgelaying competitions are still held every winter to find the quickest and neatest craftsman. I've always enjoyed the process, if you get a chance, do pick up a billhook and give it a go.

Slightly neater than ours… Hedgelaying competitions are still held every winter to find the quickest and neatest craftsman. I’ve always enjoyed the process, if you get a chance, do pick up a billhook and give it a go.

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Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Hedgework and the resulting firewood

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The hedges’ summer bounty – showing edible and medicinal plants.

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Ash Tree Pollard www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

An ash tree pollarded

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Ash Tree Pollard www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

An ash taken back to old pollard points – this tree has been managed like this for many years. Pollards live for a very long time – some oaks pollards have survived 600 years. I always think about the people all those years ago cutting in this same way.

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Some of the products which might have been made from the hedge

Some of the products which might have been made from hedge & tree wood

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As the grass is so wet there is not much nutrient to be had from what’s left on the pasture. The cows are always hungry, they really love the hay. Every time I split a bale last summer just tumbles out. I have to corral them while I clean out their shed and divvy up the hay, otherwise it’s all a bit hectic. Just don’t get between a heifer and her hay!

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Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Don’t worry I’m not going to steal it…

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What a lovely haul

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Logs in Field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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Another beautiful feature of the book are the double and four page spreads in the centre. Obviously my pictures don’t do it justice but you get the idea.

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This is the diversity which you would hope for in a traditionally managed hedgerow.

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And come autumn...

And come autumn…

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Hedgerows are steeped in social history

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And just to finish off, the cows in their natural habitat…

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Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com*

Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We’re coming, where’s our hay?

The Crush, the Pond and the Hothouse

Phase 1 of Operation Crush Training is now complete.

The hard standing is down, the fence and gate erected and the cattle crush in place. Next, it’s time for the girls to come through, lured as usual with their favourite thing – food. I close the gate, leaving them behind it and a pile of hay in the new corral. The only thing which separates them from their hearts desire is the crush. After some nervous sniffing they gingerly step onto the boards. It all goes very well and I’m relieved. Now they are like old hands at coming in and out of the crush.

Next phase…trapping them inside it… gulp. I will keep you posted.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com d

The Slow Approach

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Mary Rose keenest (on hay)

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Next is Belita (surprisingly)

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Come on Lucy

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

That’s it good girl

Traditional English Hereford & www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Very happy

And just to show you how much they really like hay…

Traditional Eglish Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Tucking into T’s hay which he is transporting home

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Yes, caught you!

Phase 1 of Pond Rehabilitation is now complete.

We had the pond dug out with a digger a few years ago. It doesn’t have a liner but fluctuates with the water table. While I was moaning about the relentless rain here I happened to go on Twitter (yes, I’m doing that) and found out that yesterday it was World Water Day so I tried to think of all the people and places in the world who have no access to clean water and are suffering terrible drought. It did help.

I think I mentioned that digging the pond had somewhat cured our damp problem in the house. Somewhat…. Our plan is to attract as much wildlife as possible and the pond really helps with this. The birds love to bathe and drink and there are hundreds of creatures in there. Periodically it does need a clear out and I did this a couple of weeks ago. My, that weed is HEAVY. There were a few casualties but I’m afraid that is the price which has to be paid – but the starlings and the blackbirds had themselves a good feed.

Natural Pond www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The pond when it was first dug – very brave very pale man

Wildlife Pond www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comPond Weed Clearing www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Wildlife Pond in Rain www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The pond on World Water Day 22 March 2013

Starlings in Winter www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Not sure when the starlings will fly back – it’s pretty cold in Russia and Northern Europe right now

Phase 1 of Getting Excited about Spring is now complete.

Despite the still wintry weather there is a gleam in the eye of springs’ arrival. The equinox has passed and the buds are waking and breaking. Last week on a bitter day I went with my mother and stepfather to the RHS garden at Wisley. To be honest the majority of our time was spent in one of the cafés and the gift shop where they have ACRES of lovely enticing books on horticulture, design, nature and landscape.

I bought a book called Edgelands written by two poets, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts which I’m really looking forward to – it forms, according to the back cover

a critique of what we value as wild, and allows our allotments, railways, motorways, wasteland and water a presence in the world, and a strange beauty all of their own

If you want to read about a walk in the edgelands Gerry has done one here called ‘Along the Garston Shore’ which I think is great – and tells you a bit more about the book and when the phrase was first coined.

Anyway, we also went to the warm glass houses where the orchids and other amazing flowers and cacti were an uplifting treat.

MarchA2013 033compressed MarchA2013 011compressed MarchA2013 014compressed MarchA2013 024compressed MarchA2013 027compressed MarchA2013 031compressed MarchA2013 010compressed MarchA2013 008compressed Glass House RHS Wisley www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comMarchA2013 036compressed MarchA2013 035compressed

It only needs the jet stream to shift a little and some of that spring warmth to awaken the beast!

The Ghosts Of the Farm

ghosts

Convalescing in bed a few days ago after a nasty cold I heard some unexplained noises in the kitchen downstairs. It’s a very old house and there are often creaks and groans, as if the weight of the past is sighing through the thick stone walls. We spent so long restoring it we had plenty of time to think about the people who lived and farmed here before, imagining them treading the slabs and floorboards through the centuries. We know that at one time the two rooms downstairs, now separated by a nineteenth century panelling hallway, were just used as one room and this is where the families would have cooked and lived.

Clome oven in fireplace www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Clome oven in the fireplace, used for cooking and baking.

So, we get used to living with ghosts.

 I wonder if that’s Mr. Creeper, I thought, feeling comforted, as always, by the knowledge that the farms’ most recent resident, prior to our occupation, is possibly still with us. What a good name for a ghost, I hear you say. One friend swears she has seen him, a figure by the bottom of the stairs, not unfriendly.

William Creeper was a tenant farmer who moved here in 1922 as a boy of seven. In those days the farmyard was a rocky slope, a continuation of the bedrock on which the cottage stands. We have tried to recreate this unevenness by breaking up most of the slab of concrete which covered it, allowing the wildness back in, including digging a huge hole, the pond, which fluctuates in level with the water table – it has never dried out, so that gives you an idea of all the spring lines that run down the hill. In fact we didn’t realise how wet the place was until our first autumn when it rained solidly for month and water started gushing around the sides of the house and out of the front, veritable rivers UNDERNEATH the house. Digging out the soil from the back of the house and installing a drainage pipe solved most of the problem but the pond, by accident, was what really solved it in the end. Anyway, the concrete was far more practical and I completely understand why it must have been a joy to a farmer, but we’re in it for different reasons.

The Pond

The Pond

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See what happens with no concrete!

Mr. William Creeper used to have a herd of Ruby Reds (North Devons) which shrank to around to nine or ten cows as he got older and the land of the farm was gradually sold off, ending up eventually as the ten acres it is now. There are people in the village who knew him well and we have heard many stories about him. I like to think that I’m following in his footsteps with my small herd which I’m planning will eventually reach a similar number to his.

Herd of North Devon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Herd of North Devons

Right from the beginning his presence was felt very keenly. The house hadn’t been touched for years, possibly since 1922, and had no running water, rotten floors upstairs and a gaping hole in the roof of the lean to extension on the back, sending rain and wind howling into what is now the kitchen. He lived solely in the other downstairs room, while the rest of the cottage fell into disuse and ruin around him. There was an earth dunny in a little lean to on the side of the piggery.

The dunny www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The dunny

There were dark stories about the owners, relatives of his, who refused to do any work on the property because they wanted to sell, hoping to force him out, the sitting tenant, by making it so uninhabitable he would have to leave. Of course this is entirely possible, but we don’t know for sure. Whatever the reason for the gradual delapidation, he stayed put.

He was eighty eight when he suddenly got ill and became very distressed at having to leave his beloved farm. However, according to the story, once in hospital he was incredibly impressed by the warmth and particularly by the bath and didn’t want to leave. Perhaps a revelation to a man who had washed every day in the farmyard in all weathers at the one and only cold tap, which was only installed in the 1980’s, before that it was the well. He died there just a couple of months later.

He was, by all accounts, rather stubbornly eccentric and loved his cows more than any thing or person. He never married, his cows were apparently the only company he required and they used to come up the front steps and into the house, as the front door was always open, whatever the month. He had abandoned cleaning long ago and when we arrived there was a tell tale area of dirt and grease beneath the door latch to his room, where he’d placed his hand so many times to open the door. We became fond of his traceries and I felt a sadness when about eight years later I finally got round to stripping the old paint off the doors, including his patch of ingrained life.

When we arrived, he had only recently left so there were lots of artefacts of his life around the place, which made him very real. He was a small man and his standard issue hospital style walking stick was propped up in a barn. We still have that. We also have the branding iron which is what farmers used in the old days before the more humane ear tags were deployed for identifying cattle. It is only the C for Creeper which remains, the W we never found, so there is a space where it should be. It is hanging by the front door, a constant reminder.

Old Branding iron by door www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Branding Iron www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comBetter still, we have the prizes which he won for his cattle at the now defunct local Five Lanes and Camelford shows, which he proudly fixed to the joists in the shippen. I love to look at those.

Cattle prize 1952 www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cattle Prize 1965 www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It doesn’t seem important whether he is a real ghost or not. It is his presence which haunts us, and there is one thing at least I do know for sure – we will never forget William Creeper and his cows.

The Advent of Winter – Stuff on the Farm

Over the last few months I’ve been recording some of the stuff which has been going on outside. It’s a time of change and senescence, of storing and stowing.

Blackbird on Ivy www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Jackdaw in Dovecot  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Mr or Mrs Jackdaw checking out next years nesting accomodation

Wild Carrot in Winter  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Wild Carrot

Crows in Ash Tree  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Dogrose Hips  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Willow and Wild Carrot  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Dogrose Hips Sycamore Pollard  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The cows are getting their winter coats and eating plenty of hay.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional English Hereford Heifers  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The light is low and gentle.

WinterTree Shadows  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Sycamore in Winter Light  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Light Shaft in Barn  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Sunset  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

It’s sometimes easy to get over attached to the indoors in winter, driving wind and rain causing mine and many a bottom to become welded to an armchair as a result. Having spent a good part of life doing an outdoor job I know that the only way to get-over-it is to get-out-in-it.

Thus today found me togged up and trowel wielding as I finally decided to plant the tulip bulbs in the tubs in the front yard. Luckily tulips are quite forgiving of procrastinating ways, people have been known to plant them in January. Gasp.

I go into the barn where I left the bulbs and all I find is a couple of empty nets. Storing and stowing. Storing and stowing. Hmm. I get on the phone and order some more.

Bulb Nets  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Luckily, there is one bag which has escaped the mouse/squirrel/rat assault so I get down to business. What is it about about preparing soil for planting? I don’t know, I just love it…I did mention to fellow blogger Fran about my cruel ways with ditching plants and I thought of her as I gaily tossed last summers pelargoniums into the death bucket (wrong colour – another procrastinating moment – leaving it so late they only had deep pink ones left at the shop. Sigh. It’s the Cornish air).

Belfast Sink with Plants  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Clearing out summer pelargoniums

This is a cunning trick which keeps the squirrels off your bulbs (if they haven’t already stolen them that is). After planting you tread the ground firmly, then get some dead leaves and scatter them over the area. This really foxes them – they look for disturbed ground and signs of digging. This method always worked for me in the city, though pots can be more vulnerable than the ground, depending on squirrel numbers and ingenuity.

Belfast Sink as Plant Container   www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSink

Tulips in, treading down and leaf method deployed.

Back in September when it first started to get cold I posted about wood including how much we were going to need over the winter.

Firewood Basket  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Empty Wood Pile  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The woodpile three months on

The wind has damaged a barn, lifting old slates right off. This scaffolding tower was found dumped on the streets of London years ago and came in very handy with renovations.

Dislodged Slate on Barn  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Scaffolding tower by side of barn  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Baler Twine in Wood  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I’m trying to think of things to do with baling twine. Any ideas?

A Walk in the Woods – a Spooky Ramble

Walking Boots in Action www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Overnight last Friday a fierce north wind from the arctic swept over the whole country, swishing the prevailing south westerleys out of the way in its advancing grip. On the weather map it shows an arc of clear blue advancing southwards like a cartoon shadow, swallowing up the muted softness of the taupe and brown. We are the last to receive it, it looks like liquid fill.

The moon was full and the stars were bright in the night, there was a sliver of silvery light on the reveal. And we wake to brilliant sunshine, the sky is clear and cloudless and the wind is strong, the boughs of trees are being stirred to the core. Everywhere is rustling and sighing. I put on my gloves, hat and boots and go forth, as I do not want to miss this rare crispness, this wringing out of damp and mist.

It is the kind of cold that cuts through and I wrinkle my nose as it stiffens in the wind. The light is diamond sharp and the contrasts are deep, sometimes there is nothing in the shadows except black.

Ash Keys www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Tyre Tracks in Mud www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSun through Trees www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comMy feet make a crackling sound on the fallen leaves and then a crunching as I hit some sun dried shale. I take the route down the bridlepath, across the stream by way of a granite bridge and then cut away to the rivers’ edge and upwards into the woods. I have trodden this way many times before and today the going is hard on the sloping fields, the surface broken up into deep uneven divets where the resident dairy herd have chewed up the saturated ground with their hooves.Green Stile www,thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I can hear the whoosh of wings as I disturb a wood pigeon. Crows are calling high in the sky and there is the ping and chatter of smaller birds in the thickets and understorey.

Granite Bridge with StreamI roll under an industrial looking electric fence and come into the pasture which borders the river. To my left there is high knoll stubbed with trees and then below to the right on the other side of the river are flat meadows punctuated with flag Iris.

River with Trees North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comKnoll with Trees North CornwallRiver Meadows North CornwallI make my way to the wood which rises steeply away to the left, almost a cliff, the trees at a dizzy angle above me, the sunshine illuminating each branch and leaf. Once upon a time this was a working quarry so this is secondary woodland. Trees and Sky www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I notice that there has been some major earth working going on and a track has been made by shifting tons of shaley soil, presumbably for efficiency to link the fields either side of these old quarries and woodland. I can see the scars on the bank which have been left by the digger. It makes it feel less secret than before and I have to scramble up an unstable bank, stones and soil slipping behind.

It brings it home that there are many ways of thinking about land. To me this is a place of living history, a place of beauty which reveals the story of its past in subtle ways. To this particular farmer it seems that it is in the way, an inconvenient rumple on what might be a smooth featureless land of endless green. But this is the same farmer who ploughed up old meadows and reseeded them with rye grass, and ignorantly filled in the wiggly stream at the bottom of the valley bordered by trees so the two fields either side could be linked. And then who knows, were they surprised when it flooded and many of the trees drowned? Out came the digger to scoop it out, leaving piles of earth by the side, gradually getting colonised with nettle and thistle. It made me weep. A whole ecosystem destroyed in one season, its beauty and purpose having taken hundreds of years to form. But we should take responsibility ourselves too – this is an industrial scale dairy farm – the supermarkets often pay for milk below what it actually costs to produce and this is driven by consumer demand for cheap food. Is it any wonder the farmer feels the need to maximise production from every square inch of land?

As Oliver Rackham says in his book The History of the Countryside

“(the rural landscape)…has been made both by the natural world and by human activities, interacting with each other over many centuries.”

In it he makes both a passionate plea and a reasoned argument for the conservation of the historic landscape citing that

“no art gallery’s conservation department would think of burning a picture by Constable, however badly decayed, and substituting a picture in the style of Constable by Tom Keating. Yet this kind of pastiche is daily perpetrated in the guise of ‘conservation’of the landscape”

The analogy may be a bit heavy handed but it perhaps it’s needed to dissuade people from the view that

“the rural landscape, no less than Trafalga Square, is merely the result of human design and ambition…in popular belief this view is simplified into the ‘Enclosure-Act Myth’, the notion that the countryside is not merely an artefact but a very recent one.”

Holly Berries  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I press on higher into the woods leaving the river behind. There is a gorse still in flower on the steep bank, or maybe it’s come into flower, confused by the sudden sun. It provides a late feeding station for a plump tawny bee which buzzes from bloom to bloom. If it weren’t so cold it might be summer. Intense red holly berries sparkle amongst the yellowing foliage of field maple and ash. There is a gentle rain of leaves.

Gorse in Flower October www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Autumn Leaf Falling www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI arrive at the site of the old quarries. A sign tells me to go no further as there is danger here. All old quarries say this, sometimes it is true and sometimes it isn’t, the sign is there to remind you that whatever you do it’s your own responsibility. This one does feel particularly spooky and the vertiginous cliff of overhanging slate over the cave entrance doesn’t look that stable so I keep my distance. In the green gloom of overhanging trees, the sunlight partially obscured by the canopy, it makes you think of gremlins and night creatures, witches and hobbits. Halloween would definitely not be the right night to visit here, you could seriously scare yourself.

Old Slate Quarry North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Old Slate Quarry North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Old Slate QuarryNorth Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI peer through the trees to a second quarry which has now filled with water, a green pond standing in a circle of trees, ropes of ivy cascading in jungle like fashion from the branches.

Old Slate Quarry North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI hear a crack of a branch somewhere to the south and human voices. It makes me jump a little and reminds me that I am in fact trespassing so I begin to make my way home. On the way back I see the spreading stag headed oak, its branches crying out to be climbed, though for me those days are long gone.

Stag Headed Oak North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

On the bridlepath I find a dead mole. It is not often that you get to see these underground creatures so I pause for quite a while looking at its shape and wondering how it came to be to be here. Also on the ground is next years oak trees.

Dead Mole www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Acorn in the Mud www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI have warmed up after the uphill climb and pop in to see the cows. Belita is lying down in the sun looking content.

Traditional Hereford Lying Down

Returning to Rain and the Season of Mud

Hello, it’s been a while. The Spanish cows I saw were very lovely, they had bells. I will be posting about them and the surrounding terrain of the Sierra de Gredos soon .

But returning from a drought stricken country (this is all they needed on top of everything else) I cannot let this rain go by unmarked.

Like being underneath a damp pyrex bowl on the draining board of life as B puts it cheerily this morning.

Misty Rain Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Rain on Slate Step  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThe rain beats and bounces on the road, like water hitting hot fat in a cast iron pan. I put on my wellies (which ones, which ones?) and step from the slate step into two inches of shiny sticky mud. Mud is the song of our autumn, our winter, it coats the roads and builds up in squelchy piles in the fields and byways.

Muddy Tyre Track  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Muddy Reflection  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI go over to the cow field. The ditch by the side of the road is flowing fast and the pond is full. I can hear the water cascading down to the river, the bridlepath is running like a stream and hooves sound hollow as they hit the watery slate and clay. Everything drips with jewels of wet glass. I pull my hood up and put my head down.

Rain Droplets on Wire  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Wet Slate  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThe cows ruddy fur is deep and repels the rain, I can see tiny droplets hovering on their coats. They don’t seem to mind the deluge, preferring the spongy grass to the shed. I conclude that they are pleased to see me when they come running, hoping I’ll have a treat. I stand still and they approach, sniffing me gingerly with outstretched necks.

Grass with Rain Droplets  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I have learnt that cows have a ‘sweet spot’ at their withers (between neck and back), from threecedarsfarm, which you should stroke rhythmically while talking in a low voice, then gradually move on to the whole of the backbone. This builds trust. But it needs to be done in a stall, which we’ll hopefully have by winter.

Winter Wood

Pile of logs www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This September morning I am woken by the Jackdaws clattering and sliding down the roof. I think they may be trying to get warm on the slates, catching the sun as the heat absorbs into the dark surface. Sometimes, when it has been really hot in the summer, enough to cook an egg in seconds, I have seen them cling on to the tiles, spread their wings and flatten their feathers to the sun. They lie there, beaks open, panting.

Jackdaws sunning themselves on the roof in summer www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Last summer the Jackdaws did strange things on the roof

I can hear other birds, the song of the morning. But the swallows have gone and it feels cold outside the duvet. The warmth of the summer, which was being held in the thick stone walls of the house is gradually seeping away into the mists. Last night the weather forecast announced the first frost further north. I get up, make a cup of tea, and get back into bed.

Yesterday we had a fire in the stove for the first time in months. I think ahead to all the wood we’re going to need. The house is only heated with wood, we have a woodfired range in the kitchen which heats the water and a few radiators, and a woodburning stove in the sitting room.

Esse stove wood firebox www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The Esse range wood fire box

Earlier this year we re-pollarded an old Ash pollard which stands in the hedge line of the back field, as well as felling a few other trees, mainly Sycamore, Ash and Hazel, part of the ‘restoration hedge’ project.

Polarded Ash Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The same Pollarded Ash in spring

Pollarded Ash Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The Pollarded Ash

An ancient pollard is a truly beauteous thing and well worth searching a few out to admire.

The Woodland Trust has an excellent resource to find out where ancient trees can be visited. One year we went to Staverton Park in Suffolk, a privately owned estate, one of the country’s best preserved medieval deer-parks, with many ancient Oak pollards and huge Hollies in the wooded Thicks.

Ancient Oak Pollard www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

An ancient Oak Pollard – image captured by www.treetree.co.uk

Ash is one of the best fire woods, belting out a lot of heat and burning slowly and can even be burned a little green if necessary. Our pile has been drying out over the summer so should be fine to burn this winter. But it won’t be enough.

Ash wood pile www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The wood from the Ash

Wood pile in barn www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Not nearly enough wood

When we go to France, where half my family live, we covetously drool over the amazingly large and neatly stacked woodpiles outside peoples’ houses, wood being a resource so abundant in France that it makes a Cornwall dweller weep. (Waiting for M to send me a picture – yes you!).

Ah well, better open a bottle of Roughtor beer from our local micro brewery and drown the wood sorrows by the fire. Come join me.

Woodburning stove www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Fire in woodburning stove www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Thought Number 8 A Cool Evening and a Step into the Past

We work late into the evening. It’s a bit if a race to try and get the swathe of nettles down the middle of the cowfield before they seed.

Sometimes a mat of fibrous yellow roots comes away from the damp crumbly soil but that level of attention will have to wait until winter. We’re hoping to encourage a woodland edge flora underneath the outgrown hedge line of hazel and hawthorn– Red Campion, Foxglove, Wood Avens, Cow Parsley, Stitchwort, Hairy Woundwort and Ground Ivy to name a few which are common in this area.

The air feels a cool blue, the moor is purple in the distance and the sky is shot through with vapour trails. I can feel autumn around the corner, there is a papery sound in the sycamores, the tips of their leaves turning a dull brown. A bee is taking shelter in an old post and I can hear the loud rat-tat-tat of a wren in a nearby thicket. I watch a buzzard drop in a vertical plunge toward the ground.

The landscape around here has probably not changed much for centuries, the pattern of small fields, woods and streams have been in place for a good long while, though at one time the woods on the opposite hill were in cultivation. On some days in the winter when the sun catches it at the right moment you can see the skeleton of small strip fields, marked out by larger trees where their boundaries were.

There has definitely been a farm here since the 1600’s, and probably way before that too, as it’s a place with sun on it’s face and a water supply. Being here, you can’t help but think of all the people and animals that have gone before, for everywhere you look is a reminder of the past, from the shape of the land to an iron strap on a barn door or a stone wall made with hands which are long since buried.

And then I feel inexplicably pleased to see the washing on the line….

Thought Number 6 Celebrity Insects, Biodiversity and doing Battle with Buddleja

Painted Lady (borrowed from the web)

There’s another low coming from the west this weekend, I can already feel the wind ratchet up a notch. The butterflies must sense it may be their last chance for a while as there were plenty flitting about in the sun yesterday, avoiding the many dank corners which have been created this summer. It’s hard not to become fixated on exquisite perfection when I catch an extended view of a Peacock or a Painted Lady spreading it’s wings to soak up the rays. But this is only part of the story.

Nothing gets a nature conservationist frothing at the mouth more when yet another prime time TV programme urges people to plant Buddleja for butterflies.

Peacock (borrowed from the web)

But what these creatures really need is a wide range of food plants for the Larvae and Caterpillars which is the longest part of their life cycle, and then when they finally emerge for their brief and brilliant celebrity moment, they need a variety of nectar plants which last over an extended period.

Unsupported, Buddleja can be like a temporary bar in the middle of a desert – a place to gorge. Then what?

In the wild they have a propensity to spread so easily that they can eventually shade out other vital nectar plants, particularly in urban areas. This has finally been acknowledged in some of the more learned books on Flora but getting it across in popular culture is a mountain that no one seems willing to climb for fear of being a killjoy. Pah!

Peacock larvae (borrowed from web)

Now I’m thinking…were the Cows actually just a ruse to talk about Insects? No, no, no! I love the cows….so much so I have named them. The beginning of the herd.

PS. A wonderful little book on how to create a garden for wildlife is No Nettles RequiredThe Reassuring Truth about Wildlife Gardening by Ken Thompson. I borrowed the Peacock image from www.ivyfarmhousedairy.co.uk a farm in Somerset which farmed intensively for years and went organic 5 years ago with great results.

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