Friday, 14 June 2019

The Curious Quoin End of Wansfell Holme(s)

The Langdale Pikes viewed from National Trust Jenkyn's Field.
Although you may be distracted by the view of the lake just south of Ambleside, look the other way and you'll see Wansfell Holme on the hill above you.

An early Victorian mansion, Wansfell Holme is situated at the heart of a "designed landscape" that spreads upwards into National Trust woodlands at Skelghyll.
From Jenkyn's Field, you'll see the Tall Trees of Skelghyll framing the skyline behind the house itself. 

A gap in the former Wansfell Holme boundary wall into Skelghyll Woods presented us with an unusual problem. 

Apart from its daunting height of 8 feet in places, the wall had been mortared in the original construction at the wall ends or quoins forming a pedestrian gateway. However, the rest of the wall had been built as a traditional dry-stone wall.

This had the effect of some of the mortared wall near the gateway staying up while a non-mortared section adjacent to it had collapsed mainly through foundation stones shifting over many years.  

After stabilising the mortared section of wall with some additional mortar, the foundations were reset and the rest of the wall was built "dry" as in the original construction. 
In this image the stone has been cleared back and rebuilding the wall is well on its way.

This image shows the finished result with the rebuilt dry-stone section of wall blending in...this proved quite challenging... with the  mortared wall end.

The mansion framed by the gateway is Wansfell Holme; the owners had the wall built as a boundary between the woodlands and the fields that formed part of their estate. 

The wall is situated along the route of  The National Trust Tall Tree Trail.
The owners of Wansfell Holme in the 19th century were avid tree collectors. They planted many conifers in what was once their woodland. The Grand Fir in this image was one such tree and is the tallest tree in the North West, as well as being the tallest Grand Fir in England.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Baby giants

Central & East Lakes countryside team are rightly proud of their collection of interesting specimen conifers at Aira Force (Ullswater), Skelghyll (Ambleside) and High Close (Great Langdale). Whilst our ancient and veteran trees in the wider countryside are normally native species, such as oak, ash and alder, we also have a number of notable and rather impressive non-native conifers. You might have seen the magnificent Sitka spruce at Aira, picked up cones from the Monterey Pine at High Close, or got vertigo looking up at the tallest tree in the north-west - a Grand Fir at Skelghyll woods. These 'designed landscapes' are a significant contributor to the cultural landscape that is celebrated in the Lake District World Heritage Status.

The Tall Trees at Skelghyll Woods, Ambleside

A few years ago a kind donation allowed us to plant some further specimen conifers at Skelghyll - you can read about it here. We got the chance to plant further trees thanks to the National Trust's Plant Conservation Centre, who regularly have surplus plants left over from their propagation of unusual or interesting plants from NT properties across the country. And so, one autumnal day, Central & East Lakes took delivery of a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Japanese red cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), an ornamental Lawson cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) and an Asian fir species (Abies delavayi), all destined for Skelghyll woods.

In a change from the windswept mountains, the C&E Lakes Footpath team spend most of the winter helping on lower-level countryside management work, and recently spent a day planting these trees in Skelghyll to complement our other young trees that will, between them, be another generation of specimen conifers.

Upland Ranger Jonny firms the soil around the Coast Redwood

Jonny and Leo plant the Lawson Cypress

The trees were planted in chestnut paling cages to protect them from roe deer that would otherwise have a nibble.

Ade and Leo building chestnut paling tree guards

The Cedar of Lebanon, needing a bit more light, will be planted in the adjacent field behind Wansfell Holme to become a more open-grown specimen tree, joining Douglas firs and black pines already in this field below the woodland.

Even the oldest of these kind of conifers in the UK are barely teenagers when it comes to those in their natural environments. Our impressive spruces, firs and redwoods will be, at most, 200 years old, dating back to the exploits of plant hunters like David Douglas in the early 1800s. Compare this to redwoods of 1,000 or more years old, reaching over 100m tall, and it puts our 'babies' into perspective!

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Townend bench repairs.

Yew wood is strong, dense, and resistant to decay; this has made it ideal for delicate carving work, turnery, and furniture. it was famously used for making English longbows given the wood is strong yet flexible.
Most parts of yew are poisonous, but the chemical toxin is now being used as a treatment for cancer.
Two of the rustic benches, made from yew, at Townend were in need of repair. After many years some rot had appeared.
A lower limb of the right shape and size for these bench repairs was removed from a yew in the woodlands at St. Catherine's. Pruning a small branch will be of limited concern to the tree as its strong and decay resistant wood will limit the amount of decay entering the cut. Yews are famously strong at regeneration and unusually for conifers will re-sprout from many deciduous pollards. 
Given the historic use of yew wood for furniture, it seems appropriate to use the branch from a Windermere yew to repair benches made of Troutbeck yew! Long term volunteer, Stuart kindly undertook to do the work.
 Stuart is using a shave horse, used for green wood-working, at St. Catherine's to clamp the wood in order to remove the bark.
A close up view.
One of the benches repaired by Stuart with two new spindles and arms, ready to be returned to Townend House. 

Friday, 1 March 2019

Hedge Laying in The Langdale Valley.

Hedge Laying originated mainly from the need to keep livestock in fields...especially after the 18th century Enclosure Acts. These acts created legal property rights to land that was once held in common.

 Nowadays more emphasis is placed on the value of the habitat that a well laid hedge can provide for small mammals, birds, and invertebrates; hedge laying also promotes traditional skills and they look good in the landscape.

Our main project for February was to lay 135 metres of a hawthorn hedge that was planted 10 years ago at Harry Place Farm in the beautiful Langdale Valley. This also involved taking down the fence on the top side and replacing it with a new fence. 
A close up of the hedge with the old fence removed from the top side; the fence posts had become very rotten and unstable!
With the fence removed the hedge laying begins. An axe or a bill hook is used to partially cut...a technique known as pleaching... into the back of the stem at an angle to just above ground level. The trick is to leave enough sapwood and bark for the stem to flourish and yet make the stem pliable enough to be be be laid down. 
On thicker stems a chain saw is used to speed up this process.
A pruning saw is used to cut back to the remaining section of the stem, known locally as a ligger, once it is laid.
A view of the ligger and the partially coppiced stump from which new growth will usually occur to be laid in years to come.
The hedge is taking shape .
Weaving in the branches and twiggy bits .
Starting on the new fence by digging a hole for one of the strainer posts.
The newly laid hedge complete with hedging stakes hammered in alternately on either side; they are used to "train" the hedge, give it strength, and to keep it to a required width.
A Herdwick sheep enjoys munching on a discarded branch from the hedge laying.
Incidentally, Herdwick is derived from the old Norse Herdvyck meaning sheep pasture!
The completed hedge with one of the larger hawthorn trees left upright as a "standard" with a view of the Langdale Pikes and Blea Rigg. 

Monday, 22 October 2018

From Mighty Acorns....or Shed Some Light.

As part of a woodland management scheme, a group of oaks were due to be felled in High Hag Wood above the Footprint.

James Archer, (Area Ranger CEL), decided the wood could be put to good use for constructing a green oak  fire-wood store/tool shed to replace the old delapidated one.
Group-felling breaks up woodland structures, where trees are of a similar age and size. Creating new gaps with more light will encourage oak, rowan, birch, and hazel, to regenerate.

By developing patches of trees of differing ages and sizes, woodlands will become more varied and diverse.
Liam Plummer,Central and East Lakes, Woodland Ranger.

  Richard Tanner, the Woodland Ranger for South lakes, had already agreed to lead a Working Holiday Group to construct the framework for the shed out of the felled oak. Richard has successfully led groups at Wray Castle and Base Camp on similar 'green oak' building projects. 
Contractors with a chain saw mill processed the oak logs into timber to the required specifications.

The timber was brought down to the Footprint by power barrow.
Joinery work (NO NAILS!) was carried out inside the Footprint as well as outside on the decking. The frame work was assembled inside the Footprint and then taken down to be reassembled on its chosen permanent site.

Richard casting a critical eye!
Assembling the frame-work on the newly prepared pad.
A job well done and right on schedule! With Richard's skillful guidance, The Group can be justifiably proud of what they have achieved in just a week.

Larch cladding was provided by NT Boon Crag sawmill. The rangers and a volunteer at St. Catherine's  fitted this around the oak framework, to show it off to its best advantage.

Putting on the roof was the next stage.
Roofing complete and under the eaves a newly installed nesting box.
The smaller of the two doorways under construction.
Finally the build is complete with doors and beautiful rustic handles.

 Thanks to Richard and Hugo from South Lakes, the Working holiday Group, Boon Crag saw mill, Ian Taylor and Stuart Morley.