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Volunteers Planting

The CRT, D-of-E & Me

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Guest blog by Josh Carter – Duke of Edinburgh volunteer at Lark Rise Farm

Working at Lark Rise Farm really has been a pleasure.

Whether it’s cutting back hedges, picking twigs off the ground, lighting a fire or planting trees, I’ve always found it more exciting than working indoors. I also helped with two early morning bird surveys here (but that is part of my Skills section). During my three Voluntary sessions (four hours once per month = one hour per week), we’ve been working primarily on the wildlife garden beside the new Headquarters.

On the first session, I helped start a fire and put dead wood on it. Four of us went on a short walk to the feeding station and put birdseed on the ground, as well as in a cage that only songbirds can get through (or the pigeons and pheasants would eat it all). For the rest of the day, I planted three different species of tree; hawthorn, blackthorn and wayfaring tree – in a line that would soon become a wildlife-rich hedgerow. My gardening skills definitely improved that day!

On the second session, I was joined by my friend Tom. We pulled up the non-native Spanish Bluebells in the wildlife garden to make room for other plants. I then threw some dead wood on a fire, sawed up part of a dead tree and learned how to use a billhook to cut wood. One other member of the group found a Blackbird nest in a nearby bush and I watched the chicks being ringed a few days later (not part of a session).

On the third and final session, we burned lots of dead wood- it is important that we do it this regularly because otherwise it would absolutely cover the ground. We sawed up lots of big logs. There were only six of us but we got a significant amount done- roasted marshmallows was the reward! The session stopped an hour early (I am writing this to make up for the hour missed).

The great thing about doing this kind of work is that every time you plant a tree, sprinkle birdseed on the ground or even pull up non-native weeds, you feel like you’re helping nature just that little bit; like you’re making the world a slightly better place and giving something back to the wildlife.

The CRT currently works with the Duke of Edinburgh programme at Lark Rise farm in Cambridgeshire, but we have yet to roll this out to our other properties. If you would like further information regarding volunteering through the DoE programme please email Kenny MacKay or call the office on 01223 262999.

For all general volunteering enquiries, please click here.

The Humble Earthworm

The Humble Earthworm

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By Annika Rice

Earthworms are probably one of the most underrated animals on this planet, and yet one of the most important.

People must have been aware, probably since the dawn of agriculture, of the beneficial effects of earthworms on the soil, but Charles Darwin was the first to study the activity of earthworms in a systematic way and to observe in detail the conversion of dead plant material by worms into soil organic matter (1).

In the UK there are 27 species of worms (2) that utilise different habitats and food preferences. Some species live on the surface of the soil and amongst the leaf litter, others live in burrows under the ground and some prefer a good compost heap! Some species will be a common sight in your garden, while others prefer woodland habitats.

Whatever their lifestyle choices and habits are, earthworms do a vital job. Often known as ‘ecosystem engineers’, or as Charles Darwin called them ‘nature’s plough’s’, the humble worm engineers the soil to allow ecosystems to thrive all over the world (1).

Firstly, the burrows used by many species allow air and water to penetrate into the soil. One species lives in a single vertical burrow of up to 3m deep. Their movement through the soil also helps to mix organic matter into the various layers of soil (2).

Secondly, Earthworms feed on dead, decaying organic matter ranging from leaf litter in a woodland to your vegetable scraps in your garden compost heap. They decompose this organic matter and release nutrients back into the soil for living plants to use.

Thirdly, the worms will often drag dead organic matter into their burrows underground. They will break the organic matter into smaller pieces which will then be broken down further by bacteria and fungi in the soil. The presence of worms increases the bacteria and fungi in the soil, which increases the amount of nutrients being released into the soil. (2)

So worms are triply important to farming – as well as aerating the soil and incorporating dead plant material into the soil organic matter, they also help to maintain or improve soil structure that supports plant and crop growth. Across all our farms at Countryside Restoration Trust we do everything we can to support healthy earthworm populations including ‘reduced tillage’, which means we try to leave the soil as undisturbed as possible. There’s lots we can do and we hope that you will join us in helping to look after the humble earthworm.

References

  1. Darwin, C. 1881. The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms with Observations in their Habits. Murray, London.
  2. earthwormsoc.org.uk

To promote #MuddyUpBritain over the next few weeks and in the lead up to International Mud Day on 29th June 2017, the CRT will be publishing a series of blog articles to inform and inspire you. If you’re stuck for something to do there will also be various school and family events led by our education team, so please follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest news.

Make your own Wormery by downloading our instructions below!

Simple Wormery
Advanced Wormery
The answer is in the soil

The answer lies in the soil…

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Soils are a finite natural resource and are nonrenewable on a human time scale.

Soils are the foundation for food, animal feed, fuel and natural fibre production, the supply of clean water, nutrient cycling and a range of ecosystem functions including carbon storage. The area of fertile soils covering the world’s surface is limited and increasingly subject to degradation, poor management and loss to urbanisation. Increased awareness of the critical life supporting functions of soil is called for if this trend is to be reversed.

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Muddy Up Britain Planting

Join a Mighty Mud Revolution

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By Chloe Brown

The muddy puddle at the heart of Lark Rise Farm and its compelling signal for us all to become a generation of ‘soil stewards’.

The long and distinctive forked tail of a swallow cutting through British skies is a sight synonymous to spring. Heralding the start of a new season, their return from wintering in Africa precedes a change in climate and mood. At Lark Rise Farm these avian architects are busy nimbly tucking their cup shaped mud nests into sheltered locations. Like its passerine fellow the house martin, when it comes to nest making, the swallow relies on glorious mud and its glue-like properties. So, to those in the know, it was of no insignificance when the Countryside Restoration Trust’s Chairman Robin Page erected a sign in the farm’s courtyard, alerting visitors to an important accumulation of the sticky substance.

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Muddy up Britain - Rain Rain

Muddy Up #1: Rain Rain Come Again!

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The oak was out before the ash so we’re in for a splash, but there’s not been a significant soaking so far.

 

We’ve just had one of the driest Aprils on record and one of the driest winters for nearly 20 years. The UK as a whole experienced just 47% of the average April rainfall. However, at the time of writing the Environment Agency hasn’t officially declared that drought management measures are needed. Southern England was the driest area, with 16mm, most of which fell at the end of the month according to Met Office data. Crops such as malting barley are particularly sensitive if not given enough water when it sprouts in spring. According to Tenant Farmer Tim Scott at CRT’s Lark Rise Farm, “A May and June with a good amount of rainfall will put us back on track but it’s looking worrying at the moment. We need the rain to permeate down through the soil so that the crop roots can pick up the nutrients. Our crops have been in the ground for more than two months.  Some have only partially germinated and for those that have they are ankle high rather than knee high as would be the norm by now”.

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Pierrepont Open Farm Sunday Postponed

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We regret to announce that the Open Farm Sunday event which is due to be held at Pierrepont Farm on 11th June has been postponed.

 

Unfortunately, one of the farm’s much loved cows has registered a second inconclusive TB test result last week. This is an incredibly stressful time for tenant farmers, Mike and Bev Clear and our thoughts are with them.

As soon as we are able to confirm a revised date for Pierrepont’s open day, we will announce details on the website.

To ensure you keep up to date with any CRT news, please subscribe to our newsletter by clicking on ‘newsletter signup’ at the top of the page. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Elaine conquers the Cotswold Way

Elaine Conquers Cotswold Way

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Elaine Spencer-White has once again shown that nothing will get in her way of helping the CRT achieve our Dorset Dream…!

Having set off from Chipping Campden on Friday 28th April, Elaine faced high winds and difficult terrain as she trekked along the 102 mile ‘Cotswold Way’, finally arriving in Bath on Thursday 4th May; shattered, but victorious!

The Cotswold Way is the first of Britain’s National Trails that runs along the Escarpment crossing some truly beautiful country and through historic ‘honey-stoned’ villages and market towns. However, the going is far from easy and the challenge for Elaine was amplified as she took on the demanding trail solo, walking an average of 15 miles a day, with an artificial knee.

Elaine Sencer-White at Bath Abbey

However, despite facing variances of altitude of between 300 and 400 feet several times each day, along with an excruciatingly cold wind and generally poor weather, Elaine took the difficult route in her stride. On the final day, she left Tormarton early and arrived safely at Bath Abbey at around 3.30pm; and although chilled to the core, she still took the time to send us a jubilant selfie from her final destination!

We are hugely grateful for Elaine’s dedication and hard work in taking on this challenge in aid of the Gordon Beningfield Dorset Farm Appeal. Both the CRT and Elaine would really appreciate any retrospective sponsorship donations, which will go directly to our Dorset Farm appeal…it’s not too late to donate!

Please click here to visit Elaine’s Virgin Money page to make a secure online donation.

CRT sweetpeas

Friends Subscription Price Increase

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Annual subscription price increase

As a charity we are working hard in our campaign to create a living, working countryside and would not be where we are now without your continued support. We appreciate your generosity and will always find ways to continue our important work, at the same time as offering you value for your Friends subscription.

As part of that effort, we have recently reviewed our pricing structure in relation to general inflation and a number of changes in the industry. Unfortunately we have come to the conclusion that a small price increase on all annual subscriptions is necessary in order to maintain our Friends programme. We have taken steps to minimise our internal costs, but we also want to run a sustainable organisation that is able to deliver the best possible services to the Countryside and to you, our Friends – now and in the future.

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The Hedge Cutting Debate: Less Cutting More Management

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There are rules on when to cut a hedge. Hedge cutting is legally banned in the UK from 1st March to 31st August, in order to protect nesting birds on farms. In 2016, Defra made the decision to extend the hedge cutting ban to include the month of August.

This was based on analysis of bird nesting records provided by volunteers to the British Ornithology Trust. They identified buntings, Bullfinches and Linnets as likely to be active in nests until the end of August. In a call to repeal the August ban, a campaign supported by Farmers Weekly, the NFU and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), is questioning the “evidence” used to justify the non-cutting period.

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Walking for the Dorset Dream

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Elaine Spencer-White is not letting the Cotwolds get in the way of her ambition to help us reach our Dorset Dream.

Having taken on the 78 mile Wessex Ridge in 2016, Elaine Spencer-White is once again donning her walking boots as she takes on a new challenge in support of the Gordon Beningfield Dorset Farm Appeal.

On the 28th April, Elaine will be walking the Cotswold Way, a 102 mile National Trail along the Cotswold Escarpment. Starting in Chipping Campden, she should arrive in Bath eight days later.

We caught up with Elaine to learn all about this incredible challenge…

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