Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Joan's Hill Farm

The first volunteer day for 2014 was a return visit to Joan’s Hill Farm, on the edge Haugh Woods, just outside Hereford.  This 46 acre nature reserve includes an old apple orchard which dates back to at least 1843.  Most of the old trees have died and the task was to build more wooden tree guards for new replacement apple trees. 

After the wettest winter on record, we were fortunate to be working on a pleasant spring-like day in early March.  Volunteers again arrived from up and down the Wye Valley, all looking forward to an active day with good company.

Joan’s Hill Farm is a 46 acre nature reserve managed by Plantlife, an organistion set up to conserve wildflowers and plants.  The orchard provides an important habitat for mistletoe and a large number of micro moths.  Management of the reserve includes hay cutting in late summer and cattle grazing in the autumn.  The tree guards are designed to protect the new young trees from the cattle, so they have to be robust and substantial.  Yasmin Lynes, a local volunteer at the reserve was on hand to offer a helping hand and some local knowledge.
Plantlife provided the timber and general design of the guards and then the teams set to with a selection of tools. General construction plan was
1 Measure and saw 12 side panels for the each tree guard
2 Dig 4 holes so the side panels fit – not so easy with a sub-layer of stony ground
3 Using a 1 or 2-person action, use a post rammer to sink the 4 posts into the 4 holes, trying to keep them as vertical as possible.
4 With the help of a spirit level, hammer the side panels horizontally to the frame
At a later stage the new apple trees are planted in the centre of the guards and netting added as extra protection.
After mastering our techniques a welcome lunch break gave us time to sit, chat and admire the views across the beautiful Herefordshire countryside in which we were working.  Time to discuss the forthcoming River Festival and events associated with that up and down the Wye Valley.  And after lunch still time to put up another couple of tree guards and for one team to help out clearing an area of meadow after a tree fall. 
Plantlife carefully manages the area to preserve the rich and ancient flora in this special habitat.  As some of the fields at Joan’s Hill Farm have escaped agricultural “improvement”, they are home to some of the classic flowers of old English hay meadows, including the green-winged orchid. Haugh Woods itself is designated a SSSI, and is one of the top 10 woods in the UK, due to the presence of a over 600 species of butterflies and moths.  Although we were working right at the top end of the Wye Valley AONB, the words of William Wordsworth written a few miles above Tintern during a tour in 1798, echoed all the way up the river
The day is come when I again repose….. and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts
Once again I see these hedgerows