New Year, New Work, New Starts…

As some of the more observant may have noticed, my Twitter feed has changed slightly from ACountryChap to ACC Contracting, as has the web address for this blog. As well as running and renovating the estate, I also have a far more mundane job. With mixed feelings, earlier this year I agreed to take Voluntary Redundancy, effective from the end of March 2016.

I decided that spending large amounts of time in an office when you suffer from chronic cabin fever was only going to make me miserable and decided I would be better off going fully self-employed. So I have!

From the end of March I shall still be the same old ‘ACountryChap’, but in the form of ACC Contracting, offering a wide range of rural, country and agricultural services across the South East. A sample of which is below (but ultimately this is a small sample of work I have done over the last few years!)

Tractor Operations (Hedge cutting / flailing, verge cutting, bank cutting, topping, rolling, ground clearance, spraying, fencing)
Excavator & Mini-Digger Operations (Tree stump removal, ditch digging, ditch clearing, track laying, ground clearance, parking areas, driveways, demolition, grading, levelling, landscaping, muck heap removal)
Menage / Paddock Maintenance (Topping, Harrowing, Rolling, Spraying, Fencing, Water Drinkers, Pipe Laying, levelling)
Hedge / Tree Cutting
Forestry
Ground Clearance / Leveling
Towing / Transport
Firewood / Logs Supply (Delivery & Collection)
Grounds maintenance (Hedge cutting, grass cutting, path strimming, et cetera)
Timber Structure installation (timber bridges, field shelters, stiles, fences, stable repairs, barn repairs, cross country jump building, field drinkers)

I can take most of my plant and equipment anywhere by road and will always offer competitive rates with no hidden costs or traps, so please do ask if you have work which you’d like done, with no jobs being too big or too small!

I also have a new ACountryChap Facebook Page, and would be very grateful if you could like it and share it. Some photos of previous jobs and work I have carried out can be seen here.

As always, I am active on my ACountryChap Twitter Feed, and will continue to tweet!

All the best and thanks for your continued support,

ACC.

Funges Meadow Back Stream Enhancement

Out of all the work I carry out, my favourite has to be carrying out habitat enhancement in and on rivers and river banks. Fortunately, I was contracted recently by Chiltern Rangers to carry out just that on (what could be) a lovely little chalk stream on the edge of the Chilterns in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

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I knew the site well, having previously been there in an advisory capacity when Chiltern Rangers were planning some enhancements to be made to the wildlife pond which is also on the site. The stream in question is actually man made and eventually joins the River Wye (the chalkstream), but unfortunately during the construction of the artificial channel, the chalk substrate was more or less completely removed, leaving a silt / clay substrate, and the channel was widened in order to cultivate Watercress in previous decades. Immediately downstream of the site is a small brick culvert which restricts the flow, meaning that the water velocity is sluggish and a large amount of deposition has occurred. This deposition has completely covered what chalk and gravel there was left in the stream, and has completely destroyed any potential for trout to spawn in the stream – so we decided to put some back in and also relocate some of the silt into the margins to narrow the channel and create some shallow marginal reedbed habitat.

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This isn’t the easiest site to work at, access for the machine is only possible on the right hand bank (looking downstream), which is approximately 12ft above the water level. This meant that I was somewhat restricted with where I was able to access the channel with the 13t 360 tracked excavator. It also meant that creating marginal berms with the silt was a lot harder than anticipated as I was effectively working blind from the excavator cab due to the height of the bank! Fortunately, I had an ex-Sparsholt College work placement chap with me for the project, who was very helpful in pointing out the bits I had missed!

Chiltern Rangers had arranged for 15 cubic metres of mixed stone (40mm to 100mm) to be delivered in cubic metre bags to the site which was unloaded with the telehandler. Unfortunately the combination of the 7 ton telehandler, the Land Rover, a 13t 260 excavator and two days of continual rain made the access track impassable to anything except the excavator (including my trusty Land Rover, as I found out to my cost when I went to leave the site!)

The majority of the work I was asked to carry out was:

  • reprofiling the existing silty channel,
  • relocating some of the silt to the margins to create a more natural channel margin,
  • introducing the gravel and stone to the areas where woody debris items had been installed by myself, volunteers and Chiltern Rangers previously,
  • removing one or two trees and undergrowth to allow some more natural light into the stream and encourage marginal weed growth.

I spent most of the first morning with a wide grading bucket on the 13t excavator, squeezing it in between some of the trees, clearing undergrowth and attempting to reach as much of the channel as possible – which isn’t as easy as it sounds! With the banks being predominantly clay, they were very slippery and sloped towards the channel, meaning that I also had to make sure there wasn’t a chance of the excavator sliding into the channel.20160108_111018

A few hours on the chainsaw in the rain was enough to clear fell most of the smaller trees which had grown up through the bramble and open up access to the channel. My ever-helpful work placement chap donned his chesties and was providing my eyes in the channel when my view from the excavator was blocked by undergrowth or the high, steep banks – ensuring I didn’t start ‘dredging’ rather than just removing the silt. Unfortunately, within the silt (and unfortunately typical of an urban watercourse) were all manner of nasties – broken glass, metalwork, tin cans and used hypodermic needles / syringes! The silt was also a great deal deeper than we realised when myself and John of Chiltern Rangers had carried out some preliminary tests a few months before.

For this reason, I decided it wasn’t possible to deposit most of the silt on the bank as planned, and opted instead to merely scrape it into the edge of the channel to create the margins. This also meant that run-off back into the stream would be reduced from the removed spoil due to the torrential rain!

The next job was to introduce the new gravel to the channel. As the aggregate company had been kind enough to bag each size separately, it was fairly easy to install a layer of the 70mm – 100mm stone around the woody debris, and then dress it with the smaller (40mm – 70mm) gravel on top. This required some nifty footwork and balance on the behalf of my work placement chap, as essentially, I have to lift each cubic metre bag on a lifting strap with the excavator and suspend it above the water whilst he uses a long handled slasher / billhook to cut through the bottom of the bag. He then has to move safely out of the way before I can move the dipper and arm around to spread the stone equally! Fortunately, this was old hat to him and within three hours, we had all the bags of the larger stone introduced in the three locations specified on the plans.

It didn’t take much longer to install the smaller gravel on top, and three new riffles were created in areas where the channel was slightly narrower and had increased velocity anyway in conjunction with some woody debris features.

Due to the weather (it rained solidly the entire weekend) and the fact that the site is predominantly clay on top of chalk, it turned into a bog! The only access to the area had also been nicely churned up by the telehandler delivering the gravel – as I found out when leaving the site as I had to bodily drag my Land Rover out backwards with the excavator to prevent it sliding into the pond, before tracking back in and repairing the damage as I tracked the excavator out!

Chiltern Rangers are hoping to revisit the site in kinder weather, and continue with their good work in improving it as an educational facility (it already has a nature-like dipping platform on both the pond and the stream), as well as improving the habitat within the stream channel and the site. My apologies for the lousy quality of the photos in this blog – the weather and damp was playing havoc with the camera!

All The Best,

ACC.

Sticky Situations…

This time of year seems to drag for me, usually (and such is the case at the moment), I struggle to get any work whatsoever completed on the estate due to the saturated ground and boggy working conditions – and consequently my To Do list is growing rather than shrinking. Any work I have been doing has mainly been contract work for other land owners and managers, and even that has been a sticky mess (and nearly resulted in my trusty Land Rover getting rather wet) with the 13t 360 tracked excavator.

However, on a lunch break from carrying out some forestry on neighbouring land, I popped back to the estate for lunch and took a rod down to the river whilst I ate, resulting in a nice winter Chub of 4lb or so. Just to prove a point, this chub was caught immediately under the Laurel trees that I had reduced earlier this year on the Top River and mentioned in Run Ragged, Run. (Excuse the fishing clothing sponsored by Stihl!)

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On the plus side, not only has planning permission for the stable yard complex been granted, but the tree survey has been completed which means that I can finish removing some of the dangerous and problem trees and planting some new native species to replace those that have had to be felled!

On top of that, the Flood Defence Consent (FDC) application I sent off to the Environment Agency (EA) back in November / December 2015 was rejected on flood risk grounds. However, thanks to some negotiating, some slight amendments and the good nature of the local Fisheries Officer from the EA, it has, in part, been approved.

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Originally I applied for FDC consent to excavate a small wet woodland / fish refuge / backwater just upstream of the road bridge over the river at the most downstream point of our land. That corner of our land is covered in mature Willow trees which over shade it badly and it is prone to flooding as it is low lying. Consequently, it is of no use for grazing and I consider it to be a sacrificial area. My thinking was rather than just leave it to become a mess, I should complete some relatively easy works in order that even that piece of land provides some form of positive environmental impact. The river that borders the estate is reasonably flashy, and was (prior to the dredging carried out on it in the 1950’s to the 1970’s), a nice gravelly, fast flowing river system, typical of lowland rivers in the area (think of a smaller version of the lower River Kennet – famous for it’s barbell and chub fishing!)

One of the issues in the river is the lack of habitat for fish of all year classes (ages), mainly due to the aforementioned dredging and the systematic blockage / debris removal over those years, resulting in little in-channel habitat and no marginal habitat whatsoever, along with a trapezoidal, over-wide river channel. The work I carried out earlier in 2015 (Rivers Week – Day One with Volunteers and Rivers Week – Working Alone Again) has helped restore a more natural look and feel to the river, but there is still a lack of in-stream debris which provides areas for juvenile fish to hold up in during times of high flows and prevent those important juvenile fish from being washed downstream. If those fish wash so far downstream, there are unpassable barriers such as weirs to prevent them from returning back to the reach, which can result in native fish stocks upstream of those barriers dwindling. Another method of protecting those fish is to provide an area off the main channel (and the main flow) where they can seek refuge. Hence the decision to propose the fish refuge / backwater / wet woodland which will be connected to the main channel and will have some coarse woody debris within it for additional habitat. As the spoil arising from the excavation will be taken out of the flood plain, it also (albeit only slightly) increases the capacity of the flood plain.

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Sadly the FDC application to install a limited number of large and coarse woody debris items in the Top River channel has been refused by the EA as potentially causing a flood risk downstream. As I write, I am hoping that the EA will accept my offer to discuss the application on-site in more detail. Personally, I struggle to see how it could possibly exacerbate flooding downstream when the proposed location of the woody debris (far upstream of the village) will actually slow the velocity of the water down and prevent it from reaching the village as quickly as it currently does with a straight, wide, barren channel. However, we shall see if the site meeting can change the refusal. Watch this space!

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Whilst I have been fairly inactive recently, it seems the criminal fraternity has not! Just before Christmas I had several of the existing outbuildings and barns broken into (despite the new perimeter fencing), although nothing was taken. It’s only right that I thank the Thames Valley Police Neighbourhood Rural Crime Officer for her prompt attendance and help – it’s the third occasion since the estate was purchased in November 2014 that similar offences have occurred. I also had three males with Saluki dogs and Lurcher dogs pop up in the field on the other side of the river at dusk yesterday, who saw me coming across the river to intervene and veered off at speed. This resulted in another call to Thames Valley Police and prompt attendance by local officers again. Three males were stopped by the officers a short distance down the road close to more farmland, searched and given their marching orders. I had no doubt they were looking for hare to course, and it seems neither did the attending officers.

All the paddocks have now been rotated for grazing by the three resident horses, and even the two that were badly flooded recently have recovered. All could do with a harrow and a good roll with the tractor to level out the holes caused by the horses charging around, but I shan’t be in any rush to do it until we get some dryer weather.

Until the weather improves and the ground dries out, I shall continue to suffer from cabin fever and spending my time testing the new Nature-like Fishing Platform.

All the best,

ACC.

Run Ragged, Run…

First off, apologies once again for the lack of blogs recently. When I first started blogging, I had very little confidence that people would be interested in my rural rantings ramblings, but the emails I have received (with the exception of the rather unpleasant one from the animal rights chap) have been very complimentary, so thank you all!

With the wet weather setting in I have been limited as to what I can finish off on the estate without causing damage before the spring comes and it turns slightly drier. I always knew this was going to be the case when you purchase an estate bordered by a lowland river so it is nothing that I am worried about. Most of my time has been spent in the new double garage servicing all the tractor implements, repairing and servicing the tractor itself, repairing the mini-excavator and the other bits and pieces such as the big ride on mower. (See Tuna, Trials and Tribulations for the full list.) The mini-excavator bushes particularly needed replacing which took me all day and the biggest sledge hammer I had.

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We have now moved three of the horses onto the estate, and the horse rail around the perimeter track along the river and the temporary electric fencing in the fields is working well. The fields down towards the bottom of the estate are being used first as they will (at some stage in the winter) flood and become unusable. The horses had been testing the electric fencing when it wasn’t live (see below) and pushing their luck, and after they made a bid for freedom I decided it was time to electrify it. All three have now become acquainted with the fence now it is live and their urge to escape to the greener grass on the other side has (thus far) been curtailed!

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The current thorn in my side is the local authority planning department, who so far have put us six months behind schedule. This has meant I had to spend some very longs days (well into the night) clearing stored materials and building a small hard standing and erecting two temporary stables and a storage room.

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This was just so we could move three of the horses in prior to the permanent stable complex being built (it should have been completed three weeks ago according to the schedule I had!) This wasn’t what I had in mind, with the work taking place between rain showers and extricating stuck delivery HGV’s from one of the fields with the tractor! This meant the work took even longer as I had to use the compact tractor to ferry one ton bags of MOT Type 1 across the fields in preference to towing HGV’s out! Even now, I am awaiting their response to the tree survey report before I can carry on with the routine tree works, which was work I had planned through the winter!

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Fortunately the temporary stables are now in place and put to good use, along with some running repairs to the pair of elderly stables already present on the estate. They will last us through the winter until the new stable yard and barn is completed in 2016. It does however, unfortunately mean that both the hay bales and haylage bales are being stored outside through the winter as all the existing barns are in use, a situation which isn’t ideal.

My planned work this month, fortunately, has been completed, with the new panel fencing installed along both sides of the footpath for privacy and security, new double vehicle gates giving access across the footpath to the weir pool paddocks and top river. New vehicle gates have also been installed in the main access to the paddocks off the access road, with additional security measures.

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Most of the tree waste from the ground clearance in the weir pool paddocks has been burnt off or logged, but the old chicken coop remains. It now looks even more forlorn and abandoned than it did prior to the work but it’s not pressing enough to take up time on before the demolition of the old stables and barns to make way for the new builds.

There are still the wildly overgrown laurel trees on the very downstream beat of the Top River to cut back and the bank height to reduce as per a previous Flood Defence Consent. This is nice gravel with some fines in it and will work well at narrowing the channel in places and creating some new gravel riffles to enhance spawning. The Top River is devoid of macrophyte growth for much of its length, and this is down to the fact it is all over shaded by the bank side trees. Reducing the height and thickness of these should result in some submerged macrophyte growth and encourage fish to hold up in a channel which is otherwise devoid of cover (until I get some Large Woody Debris items installed in it).

The muck heap / compost heap has reduced in size fortunately, as I have been moving the rotted down areas to strategic points in the formal garden and it has been mixed with those beds that have been dug over with the mini-excavator. I have trained the father well it seems – he has been witnessed aggressively turning it over with the compact tractor front loader to ensure it rots down quickly.

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Log deliveries have been going well, and the locals seem well used to me driving around the village in the tractor with a ton bags of logs on the front loader. I worked out I had delivered 28 ton bags in the past month, which is pretty good going by my reckoning!

As always, any fisheries, equine, agriculture, estate management or similar students who would like work placement or work experience are welcome to contact me on ACountryChap@outlook.com.

I shall keep you updated on progress, but I have been spending a fair amount of time carrying out work on other sites and estates, as well as in the office (and shooting and hunting when I have had the time.) In fact, that reminds me – I have 30 pheasants hanging in the barn which need sorting so I must go. I also have a very long ‘To Do’ list still!

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All the best and a very Merry Christmas to you all,

ACC.

Nature-like Fishing Platforms

As a result of the habitat enhancement and bank reprofiling carried out earlier in the year, some areas of the new banks are slightly wetter than I would like them to be. The wet summer and the fact that this is only the first year of vegetation growth on them means that there isn’t a lot of support in the margins from the root structure.

This is good for the aquatic environment, as it provides that semi-wetland marginal habitat for reeds and marginal plants which in turn provide marginal cover for juvenile fish, invertebrates and small mammals (including, unfortunately, my nemesis – the mink!).

However, it does mean that the banks are starting to erode and become very boggy in areas where the rods like to fish from, which is only going to increase through the winter with the limited vegetation dying off and the expected higher water levels. So I came up with a solution – build some nature-like fishing platforms which would be in keeping with the natural banks whilst providing some firmer areas to fish from and prevent the boggy areas from getting worse. This method of building them works well on steeply or gently sloping banks, but on steep banks some digging will be needed to be able to key the sides of the platform back into the bank, whilst ensuring the actual platform is more or less horizontal and level.

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To do the work I needed the following:

10 x        6ft untreated pointed Chestnut stakes (half round / quarter round) 3-4”

1 x           Reel of 2mm galvanised fencing wire

1 x           Willow trunk approximately 8ft long by 2ft diameter

2 x           Willow trunk approximately 5ft long by 2ft diameter

2 x           8ft Hazel faggot bundles

Tools     Chainsaw, post rammer, post maul, claw hammer, 40mm fencing staples, shovel, large pry bar, fencing pliers, 150mm hex head decking screws, battery electric drill.

In addition to the above, a tractor with a front loader for moving the trunks and an excavator to level the bank slightly / dig the trunks in would have been helpful. I would normally have scraped out trenches for the trunks, but the ground was so wet I didn’t want to risk it! I have to say though, please don’t use any of the kit unless you are suitably experienced and trained and have the correct protection.

I started off by selecting a good site for the platform – in this case behind a hinged willow branch, where the ground is soft and immediately upstream of a nice gravel run alongside a reed bed that looks like an ideal glide for summer barbel. I knocked in three of the chestnut stakes to make the front edge of the platform (the stakes need to be spaced out to the length of the longest tree trunk you are going to use, in my case around 8ft long).

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I then scraped a shallow trench behind the stakes, wide enough to lay two 8ft long hazel faggots in. I used faggots rather than just placing the trunk in straight on the mud to prevent it sinking over time, and also allowing the vegetation to grow out through the faggots along the front of the platform next year.

I risked getting the tractor close enough to roll the main 8ft long trunk off the log grab and onto the top of the faggots, and squashed it down with the front loader before trimming the end to suit with the chainsaw.

A fourth post was added in the middle on the rear of the trunk (the inside of the platform) to allow it to be wired down (only in the middle, you’ll see why later) and then the middle posts knocked in some more to hold the trunk down to the ground and prevent movement. Tourniquet the wire up and then staple it to the posts as low down as possible. The posts can then be knocked in some more using the post maul to tighten the wire and pull the trunk down flush with the ground / faggot bundles underneath.

I also used a 150mm decking screw through each of the posts for added security before cutting the top of the posts off as low down as I could. In hindsight, with the wire I wish I had cut a small groove across the top of the trunk with the chainsaw to allow the wire to lie flush – I can see landing net mesh catching on it in the future!

The two sides of the platform were made up from the two remaining shorter (5ft) trunks set a right angles back from the main trunk, and I scraped out the area they would lie in by hand to make them lie more or less level. A stake at each end on the outside and one in the middle on the inside works pretty well. The stake on the inside won’t be seen or above the ground once the platform is infilled anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

I then wired across the trunks from end to middle to end on each one, knocked a fencing staple into each post to hold the wire and knocked the posts down some more with the post maul to secure them, before cutting the posts off as low as possible with the chainsaw.

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Essentially, the platform is more or less complete now – I tided the corners on mine up with the chainsaw because I was feeling pedantic. The platform can then be infilled with some decent firm material (Type 1 or scalpings will work well) which can be blended back into the natural bank, but will still ‘green up’ with vegetation. I shall probably use a layer of geotextile (coir matting) inside the platform as a retaining ‘bag’ to prevent the material from being washed out in the event of high flows over the winter. However, the infilling can wait until the ground is dry enough to back the tractor trailer down the bank without causing too much damage to the ground.

Another method of finishing the platform is to use some timber (old scaffold boards, decking boards or 12″ x 2″ boards) across the top to create a decking effect and screw each one down to the trunks with a void underneath. However, I shall infill this one as I would like it to look as unobtrusive and natural as possible.

I shall let you know how it fares!

ACC.

Tuna, Trials and Tribulations…

First off, apologies for the lack of blogs recently – I have just returned from ten days in Malta, enjoying good cocktails, good company and some superb fishing for Tuna and Dorado.

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I had some fantastic news when I returned from fishing in Malta – the long debated and refused planning permission had been granted with one or two conditions, so the build of the new stable complex, hay barn, tractor workshop, forge, horse walker and feed barn can go ahead. After all, it is only 6 months behind schedule!

They say things break in threes – and I’m about to start repairing the second one and waiting with baited breath for the third one to materialise!

The first was the trusty Land Rover at 4am on a Saturday morning – chewing up the power steering / alternator / fan belt on my way back from a night shift. Fortunately, in true Land Rover style, it made it the ten miles home with the temperature needle barely moving. Unfortunately I wasn’t staying on the estate, but at my own property, which meant I had no spare parts, no tools and a 25 mile drive to the estate. Instead I opted to call the AA, who turned up promptly, stripped the remains of the chewed up belt out from the engine bay, disappeared off to find a new belt and then returned to fit it. I couldn’t have asked for better service really!

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The second was the 45hp compact tractor (whilst I was away my father was given instructions to top the fields if the grass got too long). It seems that somewhere between topping fields he managed to shear the top-link off the rear of the tractor, bending and shearing the mounting bolts and cork-screwing and then snapping the PTO shaft to the topper and bending the gearbox mounts. Don’t ask me how, although I suspect the grass is probably too long and too thick for the topper in fairness!

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Unfortunately this meant that my plan of finishing off the existing pile of trunks and limbs for firewood with the log splitter was scuppered. After loading bulk bags with what was already split, I tidied the log barn and made a start of carving the stump of the large oak tree I dismantled and felled almost 12 months ago. It will eventually be a bench which should be on the edge of the stable yard and a suitable location to enjoy a cup of coffee after mucking out in the summer!

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I did have a minor incident one afternoon when we lost all water supply to the house and grounds. A little bit of investigation along the drive by the gates with the mini-digger established that the original metal mains water in pipe had ruptured. After turning part of the front paddock into a passable imitation of the Western Front, complete with trenches and mud, a handy plumber friend of mine managed to run a new water pipe in a hastily dug trench and restore order!

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On the river front, not much has changed. There have been a few nice Chub up to 6lb caught, one or two Barbel in the 5lb bracket and one less Mink to contend with after one ended its days in one of the cage traps set down by the Pollarded Willow. The banks are still nice and green and the grass track around the lower fields along the river bank has recovered from the dry summer nicely. The horse rail perimeter was finished whilst I was sunning myself on the boat in Malta!

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It’s getting towards the time of year when work outside is brought to a minimum due to the weather, and I concentrate on any maintenance to see the estate through the winter. So far I have:

  • Repairs to the tractor (see paragraph four),
  • Service and renew some worn parts on the tractor(s),
  • Service, clean and recondition all the chainsaws,
  • Repair the minor hydraulic leak on the flail, service, sharpen and grease it,
  • Service the mini-digger, replace some bushes and repair the minor oil leak,
  • Service the Land Rover,
  • Repair the ride on lawn mower,
  • Repair the interior wall in one of the mower barns,
  • Move the compost heap and spread on one of the areas earmarked for a new rose garden,
  • Finish burning off the old fencing, brash and scrub from the ground clearance in the Weir Pool Paddock,
  • Erect new panel fencing along the footpath across the estate,
  • Demolish the old chicken coop and remove the concrete base in the Weir Pool Paddock.

All the best,

ACC.

The First Leaves of Autumn…

As the daylight turns to starlight and the season turns to change,

I get the same old answers but the question still remains,

We shared a brief but magic song,

By the first leaves of autumn, you were gone.

So the leaves (and the reeds) have started to turn, and the estate is gradually turning from the green and pleasantly colourful place it is in the summer into the drab and misty place it becomes in the early hours of the day through the winter. I took to the saddle early one misty morning, and rode upstream of the river to the ridgeline near the next village, hopping a couple of hedges in the process. I’m glad I took the off-road route, as the mist enveloped me and the mount as we dropped into the dips alongside the river before climbing the ridge. I’m only sorry I didn’t take my trusty Nikon, as the photos would have been fantastic. There was also a purpose to this – seeing which of the hedges needed ‘topping out’ in readiness for the opening meet of the local hunt. I think the mount enjoyed his early ride, which may bode well for me borrowing him more often to ride to hounds in the season!

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Aside from that morning off, work on the estate has continued! I had the Environment Agency Biodiversity (formerly Conservation) Team along one morning to carry out an otter survey. I was almost one hundred percent certain that we do not have any resident (or transient) otters on either of the two river channels, and after their survey, they concur. However, it is unlikely to mean the EA will reconsider my most recent Flood Defence Consent application which was recently refused with a very brief (but very confusing) rejection. It did however; show up a large increase in the activity of the local Mink population. I shall set a few more traps on the river banks and perhaps ‘plot up’ with the .17 HMR for a few hours on a couple of evenings before it gets uncomfortably cold. On the other hand I could track down the local Mink Hounds!

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I shall be undertaking further tree works in the next two weeks, with two more of the ageing wild cherry trees in the weir pool paddock to be felled by myself, and a couple of tree climbers from my tame local tree company are going to reduce the size of the weeping willow overhanging the footpath, both to allow some light onto the footpath and also encourage the privet hedge bordering it to thicken. With the exception of the willow, which will be burnt, I should have another 10 – 12 cubic metre bags of firewood from the wild cherry trees to process. These cherries have never been managed, are rotting at the stumps and snapping out at the top. I would rather drop and fell them in a controlled manner than have to clear up the mess after a night of high winds! The mini-digger and log splitter (plus myself with a chainsaw) make quite an effective processing line, but it is back breaking! Currently I am stacking the cubic metre bags of logs three high in the barn to season, so feel free to contact me if you need firewood!

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My earlier mention of the reeds turning has reminded me – whilst the Sparganium erectum is starting to turn and die, the Schoenoplectus lacustris and Phragmities australis is still just about hanging on. The former (usually called Bur-reed) is the staple reed throughout most of the river on the estate, although interestingly it is well spread on one channel (downstream of the weir), and absent on the channel above before the weir splits the flow. It needs to be cut and removed as it dies off – generally because otherwise it all dislodges at once in high flows and block the road bridge at the downstream limit of our land. The latter two species (Club Rush and Common Reed) aren’t too much of a problem, but Common Reed has started spreading up the graded banks, and out competing some of the native river-side flowers I sowed, so it may be sprayed with Glyphosate early next year to reduce it.

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On the river banks, I have cut a chequer board pattern on the banks to the water’s edge with the tractor mounted flail, meaning there is 50m of vegetation topped to about 6 inches high, then 50m of vegetation left as is, to die off naturally over the winter, repeated down the lower channel. This should result in the ground covering vegetation on the topped areas coming back much quicker next year as the higher level plants quickly out competed them in the short time after I had completed the bank works. In leaving some areas to die off naturally, I have left cover for rods and wildlife alike through the autumn and winter. The river looks to promise some cracking winter sport for pike and chub, so we shall see how that fishes.

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Due to change in circumstances (shortly I am to become an uncle), I have also spent time installing all the temporary electric fencing on wooden posts throughout the lower paddocks to see us through the winter grazing, and am waiting on the fencing contractor to come and install the ‘horse rail’ along the field-side of the track along the lower river channel. The little 45hp compact tractor and post rammer have been worked hard, but my bracing and welding skills on the post rammer seem to have worked, as it is has rammed in all the posts (thus far) with no further issues since I welded the bending lift arm. Two horses will be residing on the estate earlier than planned due to the owner being pregnant with my nephew! The fields have been topped for the last time (hopefully) in the last of the sunny days, so they should provide some good winter grazing, even with the expected flooding of the lower paddocks.

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The temporary paddocks also needed water and electric running to them, so I have been on the mini-digger, trenching away to run blue water pipe and armoured cable to the old Nissen hut and existing stables. Due to the gravel substrate, a pipe ripper on the back of the tractor jams regularly, meaning it is quicker to dig trenches with the mini-digger. Our new stable complex, horse walker and barn look set to be a 2016 build due to planning permission issues and the local council planning department changing tunes like wind chimes in a force 8 gale.

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I finally got around to installing one (out of three) of the Little Owl nest boxes that were made on the estate by my father a few months ago. The only one installed to date resides in one of the semi-mature trees in the formal garden on the estate. At some point I probably should install the others before they end up housing something undesirable! The usual / regular jobs during the nicer weather, such as verge flailing, hedge cutting, paddock topping and track mowing should hopefully have been done for the last time by the time I write this. If by chance I have to cut them all one last time because the weather holds out, then so be it, but I shan’t worry if time does not allow it. With luck, I shall have an opportunity to dig the remaining tree stumps and miscellaneous bits of concrete out and then leave the weir pool paddock to it’s own devices over the winter.

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Jobs coming up will mainly be finishing off the last few bits of fencing, hanging a few gates, processing the timber from forestry and tree works into firewood and tucking away the hay and straw properly to ensure we have a usable supply through winter for the horses in the temporary stables. If anyone would like any logs in the Berkshire area, please drop me an email to ACountryChap@outlook.com.

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All the best,

ACC.