Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 31st October 2017

Trees

What a wonderful autumn we are experiencing, with the abundance of hedgerow fruits of all sorts, plus an abundance of acorns. When we see these huge quantities, the year is classified as a “mast year”, which normally happens once or twice in each decade.  There has been sufficient rain so that many trees are retaining their leaves and appear not to be stressed, especially some oak trees, which are still holding on to their vivid green leaves. Green oak

Yet the hornbeam’s leaves are turning yellow.Hornbeam 

The paths are virtually obliterated with leaves that have already fallen, mainly from the beech, hazel and ash. leaves on the paths

I have had to do another round of clearing freshly germinated weed grasses and new growth from established bramble roots, but each time there are less, so am slowly winning the battle!

Awards

It has been a momentous month, as the Arlington Bluebell Walk & Farm Trail has received wide complimentary publicity, generated by winning two prizes in the competition held every three years by the Sussex Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).  Some weeks back we received a smart invitation card saying we had been chosen as finalists, so could we attend the Awards Ceremony at Petworth House on 11 October!  Unfortunately, my wife Carolyn, who first came up with the idea of opening Beatons Wood to the public back in 1972, was not well enough to attend, so my daughter Philippa Vine came instead.   It was a memorable evening, to be able to wander freely round those large rooms with their walls packed tight with old masters, whilst enjoying delicious canapés and champagne (elderflower for car drivers!)  

 

Lady Egremont was presenting the prizes, and we were very surprised and honoured to find that we were named as winners of the 2017 New Sussex Landscapes category thus receiving a CPRE Sussex Countryside Awards plaque.CPRE New Sussex Landscapes 2017 Winner

 

This was already more than we had expected so we were quite overwhelmed to then receive the prestigious Peter Brandon Award, as the outstanding project selected from the finalists.  Quite an eventful and significant evening for us both!

 

       

The Great Storm

This month also saw the 30th anniversary of the “Great Storm”. Overnight on October 16th, 1987, the storm severely damaged property and woodland in the South East, and Beatons Wood suffered by having around 250 mature oak trees blown over.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, on the morning after the storm I was inspecting a farm building roof and for some reason fell forwards through a Perspex roof sheet, plummeting eight feet onto a concrete floor.  I was in hospital for a week with a severely cracked skull and took around six months to fully recover. On the plus side, now whenever I forget a person’s name I quickly blame it on my accident!  The damage to Beatons Wood was devastating, as when each mature tree was blown down it also broke branches from the adjoining trees still standing. It was a dispiriting sight.

It was virtually impossible to find available tree surgeons, but one kindly came just to clear the paths and any overhanging timber, so we were able to open the 1988 Bluebell Walk. Our priority always is to ensure the safety of our visitors.  That year we launched ‘The Bluebell Wood Hurricane Appeal’, which also coincided with the opening of the new Arlington Village Hall.  We set up this Trust Fund under the auspices of the Arlington Village Hall, as they were a designated charity.  The Appeal closed in September and raised just under £7,000 which went towards the cost of the major clearance work, once we were able to entice tree surgeons here!  We did leave the fallen trees in the North-West corner, as a reminder of the damage inflicted. These two photos show both large and dead trees, lying in the same position as they fell thirty years ago during the few hours that the hurricane raged over our lovely countryside.

Next blog post

My aim is to try and have the next Blog posted at the end of November.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 30th September 2017

The Signs of Autumn

Walking slowly round a quiet and peaceful Beatons Wood one realizes autumn is well and truly here, as leaves are beginning to fall and some trees are showing how all their leaves are quickly turning yellow whilst others remain decidedly green. 

                                        

The other thing that is apparent are the varied fungi, but many are now fully mature or have completed their fruiting cycle and disappeared.

                                        

The squirrels have knocked down many of the chestnut fruit and from the following image you can see how successful they have been in extracting the fruit from their prickly husks! 

Early this month on a very still day, I suddenly heard a popping noise like fireworks and then an almighty crash as a large branch from a nearby Spanish Chestnut tree snapped off, due possibly to the large number of chestnut fruits this branch was carrying, as there was no sign of disease when we cut up the fallen branch.

Reinstating Trampled Bluebells

I collected half a bucket of bluebell seeds some months past, to try and use this special commodity to maximum effect.  There have been some areas off the main paths that were unfortunately used by some visitors; to get what they thought would be an iconic image on their phone or camera to record their visit here.  This unfortunately has meant we have areas where there is a dearth of bluebells due to the trampling on their leaves, which means they are unable to sustain their bulbs, so have now died out.  These areas have now been forked over and fresh seeds sown, but it will be another three or four years for the new seedlings to start their annual flowering cycle.  The metal hoops we introduced this year to discourage visitors straying off the designated paths had limited success, so next year there will be a small polite notice fixed to them saying ‘please give these seedlings a chance’.  I only hope that I can report back to say that these notices have been read and visitors have been considerate enough to adhere to them, so we shall see!

The War on Grass

The large verge between Beatons Wood and the grass field that was sown last year with a mixture of herbs and wild flower seeds all germinated well, but so did the weed grasses especially Yorkshire Fog!  This grass is a ‘thug’ and quickly dominates an area, so it has been cut twice and removed and, now it is colder, should only have minimal growth.  We have now sowed Yellow Rattle seed collected from our old meadow by the Farmhouse, as it is a semi-parasitic annual that weakens grasses, but must be sown in the autumn, as it needs prolonged chilling through the winter to trigger its germination the following spring.  Again I will be reporting on how successful it has been!

The Common Spotted Orchid

Last year we acquired a very small field adjoining Bates Green Farm that had been planted with trees some years back, and this spring we were delighted to find amongst the trees there was a large area full of the Common Spotted Orchid (dactylorhiza fuchsii).  After they had finished flowering we cut off several seeding heads and, as the seed appears as a fine dust, ripened them in the greenhouse to minimize their dispersal.  Soon after the hay was cut and baled in the meadow adjacent to Beatons Wood, I waited for a still day then walked up and down this field whilst crunching the seed heads in my hands, so I was quite surprised to see the seed floating in the air as a cloud of white dust.  Again it is a waiting game to see the first flowering heads, which should appear in year three.

Primroses and Strawberries

We have re-erected the fencing to protect the primroses, which had been planted in the past two years, from rabbits and deer.

The existing plants did not multiply for some reason, possibly they did not have viable seeds, so as this is no problem in our garden, we took more plants from there to fill the spaces. 

We also planted wild strawberries that I remember as a child being abundant in Beatons Wood, so I trust that with some tender loving care they will quickly become established.

Next blog post

My aim is to try and have the next Blog posted at the end of October.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 31st August 2017

Preparations for the 46th Bluebell Walk

I have been remiss in not writing a monthly blog since this year’s Bluebell Walk closed. That does not mean nothing has been happening in the preparations for a successful Bluebell Walk next year, which will be the 46th!

The Battle against Weeds

Straight after the Bluebell Walk closed I spent many days removing cleavers, which are increasingly appearing in many places throughout Beatons Wood, as the small seeds stick to animals as they pass by. Thankfully it is an annual weed, so by diligently pulling it up before it sheds seeds then removing and burning it, we hope over the next few years it will begin to diminish. One of its many folklore names is bedstraw, as due to the tiny barbs on its small seeds, stems and leaves it sticks together, so useful when stuffing a mattress in the past, as it meant it remained matted together to give an even mattress!

IMG_0694The other battle is against the new growth of wild raspberry and brambles which continue to appear, even though over the past two years the well-established plants have been removed, but seedlings appear where we have coppiced (see photo), also the old mature roots seem to still have life in them!

 

This tedious job is virtually complete for this year, so I have had time to start removing weed grass from an area in the wood where it persists to the detriment of bluebells (see contrasting photos below).

Weed grasses

The area in Beatons Wood that only grows weed grasses and no bluebells

Cleared area

Experimental area cleared of weed grasses

Next month I hope to spread saved bluebell seed in the areas cleared and I think it takes about three years once the seed has germinated to start flowering, so will monitor how successful we are.

Giant Oaks

I have childhood memories of picnicking in Beatons Wood when there were few brambles, but masses of wild strawberries, violets and of course the bluebells and wood anemones. Later I remember my father selling 200 of the largest oak trees, after the war restrictions on selling growing timber were lifted.  We had a caravan staying for many weeks with a father and son who cut each one down with a logging saw, such hard and tedious work and so very different now that chain saws can be used! Once these giant trees were felled with their large canopies, suddenly great open areas appeared throughout the wood. This encouraged the proliferation of brambles and wild raspberries, which tend to dissipate the vistas of blue that we all enjoy. We have not removed any of the brambles from the south west corner of the wood, as they are a wonderful source of food for many wild animals, especially dormice, which we are trying to encourage back here, as they are present in the adjoining Abbots Wood.

Coppicing

Young HornbeamLooking around one sees the great benefit of coppicing, as the cut stumps are growing plus a vast number of dormant seeds of hornbeam trees have germinated (see photo), so we hope the deer will not browse them too closely and you can watch their progress each year you visit the Bluebell Walk. In areas of the wood where the hornbeam are mature, the only green growth are perennial ferns and butchers broom, signs of an ancient wood. The view of nothing but tree trunks masks that underneath there are bluebell bulbs and anemone rhizomes, just waiting for spring so they can suddenly emerge giving us those vistas of white wood anemone flowers followed by our wonderful bluebell display.

Butchers Broom

Butchers Broom – sign of an ancient wood

Where have all the bluebells gone?

Hidden bluebell bulbs and anemone rhizomes waiting for Spring

Next blog post

My aim it to try and have the next Blog posted at the end of September.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Update 5th May 2017

bluebells

The bluebells in their prime

We are amazed and so pleased that this relatively cold weather is just holding the bluebells in their prime, as this photo taken yesterday illustrates.  Many visitors are saying that this year the blue colour seems more vivid than ever, also they enjoy the bluebell perfume, that is currently apparent as you first enter Beatons Wood.  Amongst the trees where it is shady and the bluebell stems are not so strong, means the recent wind and rain has started to partially flatten these areas, but where there is plenty of light they stand up proud and strong.

We now only have ten days left before we close at 5.00pm on Sunday 14 May, and with a relatively benign weather forecast for these remaining days, I think it will mean that 2017 will be a record year with the number of visitors and the amount raised by the various charities.

Update 28th April 2017

What a fantastic year for bluebells and all spring flowers, as there has been no heavy rain or strong winds to buffet them.  These cold nights have certainly held the bluebells just as they have reached their prime, and it is just a sea of blue throughout the 24 acres of Beatons Wood, plus their scent wafting around when it is warm, but for best results it should be neither too hot nor too cold!  The white wood anemones have virtually all disappeared, so if it is just bluebells you want to see, now is the time to come.

Bluebells and gate

One of the iconic views in Beatons Wood

Last year we sadly had many inconsiderate people making their own private paths into the mass of bluebell flowers,  which meant the bluebells were trodden down and the leaves could not create the reserves needed for the following year.  This year we have a large notice as one enters Beatons Wood, asking our visitors to respect these precious English Bluebells so all who visit can enjoy their full glory.   We have also introduced metal hoops which have been erected where we notice the odd person has made some tentative steps into the bluebells, no doubt to try and get that perfect photo, but sadly some thoughtless individuals feel that this does not apply to them and either step over the hoops or even remove them.  To date It is certainly an improvement on last year, but it is very upsetting for us and also for so many of our visitors, who want to keep to the designated paths to just enjoy a peaceful and relaxing walk looking at the bluebells.

At Parkwood Farm one can look down and watch the actual milking of a large herd of cows, but it does entail a three mile walk there and back!  This Bank Holiday Monday the Appleton Family, for the second year running, are holding a special event sponsored by Tesco and Arla Milk from 11.00am to 5.00pm, to illustrate the work that goes into the care of their cows, so necessary for the production of milk at this farm.  It will cover many aspects of producing milk, plus cattle foot trimming, ultrasound scanning and the nutritional needs of the cows to maintain their good health.  There are tasty free samples of milk products available, as an incentive to walk the walk!

Update 21st April 2017

This wonderful start to the season, with every day being dry since we opened, appears to be set to continue according to the long term forecast. Cold nights will tend to stop the bluebells from emerging too quickly.  The front of Beatons Wood, which faces south, is now just a mass of blue with only the last few anemones still showing.  2017-04-19 001Many of these bluebells are still not fully open so that unique scent, most apparent on warm mornings, is beginning to greet us as we enter the wood.  2017-04-19 002The north facing parts of the wood still have the last few drifts of white wood anemones but will soon be replaced by the emerging bluebells.

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Update 14th April 2017

What a perfect start to this year’s Bluebell Walk with warm sunshine every day. I just hope it gets cooler as the bluebells do not like it too hot!  The white wood anemones are now past their best with the bluebells fast emerging. That distinct blue haze is appearing in south facing parts of Beatons Wood, so hurry hurry to those who want to see those last drifts of wood anemones.

2017-04-12 002At this time of year the warmer nights encourage the growth of bluebells so they can flourish before the leaves of the trees emerge and start to darken the wood floor.  A question I am so often asked is ‘how long before the bluebells will be at their best?’ – I wish I knew the answer, as it would make it so much easier to manage the Bluebell Walk but, as in farming, we rely on what nature has in store knowing there is nothing we can alter!

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Update 7th April 2017

We open on Saturday 8th April for the start of the 45th Arlington Bluebell Walk and what lovely warm weather we are currently experiencing. For the past two weeks Beatons Wood has been a sea of white from the wild wood anemones, which precede the bluebells.2017-04-05 001
The image above shows the first bluebells appearing amongst the white wood anemones. It was taken at the entrance to Beatons Wood, which catches the most sun as it faces south. It appears this hot weather is set to continue with virtually no rain forecast, which will encourage the bluebells to emerge. Beatons Wood is undulating, so the areas that face south tend to be ahead of the rest of the Wood facing north and you get a variety of colours as you walk round. The white wood anemones will gradually die down, showing a contrast of colours mingling with the white. Blue from the first bluebells set amongst the green of all those waiting to emerge and the brown of the tree trunks,  provide nature’s palette for the woodland scene, further enhanced when the sun shines.

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 31st March 2017

One week before we open for the 45th year!

The weather has such a major influence on how successful each Bluebell Walk turns out, and this year will be no exception! Last year we found we had opened one week too early, as the white wood anemones were just appearing with virtually no bluebells, so when we closed the walk the bluebells still looked good due to a relatively cold spring. This year the reverse is happening! Last week the white wood anemones quickly appeared in profusion, due to the many unusually warm days of March. Beatons Wood now looks stunning with swathes of white as far as the eye can see,IMG_3462 and one can just notice the first bluebells emerging. IMG_3465This combination of the white flowers against the green leaves of the bluebells with the sun shining through the bare tree branches is magical, and I so regret that nature can’t pause for just one week, so those who love the delicate anemone flowers can see them at their best.

Some changes for this year

Here are a few photos of the changes you will see when you visit this year. We have put new boards round the Animal Barn and as you walk to The Gate House, you are bound to see a 4×8 foot blown up photograph taken by Pete Goldsmith (www.petergoldsmithphotos.co.uk), who for some years has produced iconic images taken around Beatons Wood and they will be on sale as greeting cards, canvases or framed enlargements. The one you will see was taken by Pete at 5.00am by the Lower Pond with the early sun shining through the trees, and one can virtually feel the sunshine even on a cold day. I think it is just spectacular!2017-03-31 003

On the opposite wall we have had a new leaflet rack built, based on a brilliant design seen at Sissinghurst, which prevents the leaflets bending forward in damp weather.2017-03-31 006

My nephew Duncan McCutchan planned and built the new steps to the toilets, so they echo the smaller ones he built leading to the Old Granary.2017-03-31 002

This picture of the enlarged kitchen shows the ample space that the various charities will have with their food preparation. The dishwasher is now sited on the far wall and, with the addition of tray trollies, will mean easier working conditions.2017-03-31 001

Looking forward to a dry start

It is surprising just how much there is to do in these last few days before we open, especially with the many changes we are introducing. We look forward to another successful Bluebell Walk and that, once the bluebells appear, the weather is not too hot. Otherwise the leaves on the trees quickly emerge and start reducing the light that keeps the bluebells upright. We are virtually certain that this year we will not have the problems we experienced in 2016 with visitors’ cars finding our car park field boggy in that first week. In fact this year with the reduced amount of rain we have had over the winter, the worry is that we may experience water shortages in the summer.

I started this post with the weather and finish on the same important topic. Being a farmer, the role of the weather so often is the difference between it being a successful or disappointing year, which is exactly the same when running a Bluebell Walk!

Next blog post

There will be no monthly blog in April and May whilst we are open, but instead each Friday starting on the 7th April, I will publish a short summary on The About Page of our website www.bluebellwalk.co.uk, reporting on how the bluebells are actually looking, then trying to forecast their growth for the forthcoming week, which is not easy!

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 24th February 2017

Preparations well in hand

Six weeks tomorrow it will be Saturday 8 April, the first day of the 2017 Arlington Bluebell Walk and there is still so much to do! 2017-02-18 001The photo shows how the bluebells are now beginning to appear and will soon smother the brown leaves from last autumn. I am always amazed how quickly the green leaves of both the wood anemones and bluebells grow, then to see the white flowers of the wood anemones carpet the forest floor, their brightness emphasised by the masses of bluebell leaves amongst them.

2017-02-24 003This photo shows the wild daffodils that are on either side of the Millennium Avenue, first introduced by seed some years back from a few plants in our garden. It shows how they multiply when ground conditions are favourable, just as one sees with the wood anemones and bluebells in Beatons Wood, but over centuries!

Improvements

Major building works are slowly being completed. One is to increase the size of the Bluebell Barn kitchen by a third. What a difference it will make having that extra space, so the volunteers of the various charities can work productively. There is now ample shelf storage space, the fridge and dishwasher are conveniently sited and, more importantly, there is plenty of room round the working surfaces.

The brick building opposite the Bluebell Barn, which we call the Old Granary, had been used by the local Conservative Association for many years but they have now re-located to Eastbourne to obtain better transport facilities. We are taking the opportunity to make the ground floor open plan, so my daughter Philippa Vine can expand her Cookery School, which currently she runs in a rather restricted area of her Bluebell Farm Shop. We are also taking the opportunity of putting in a wider door with a gentle slope to accommodate wheelchairs, installing double glazed windows and a new patio door. The upstairs office will be used as a Farm Office for both Michael Vine my son in law and myself to run our respective farming activities.

Over the Bluebell Walk period the ground floor of the Old Granary will be used as a base by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, to explain the important work they do in the County and hopefully recruit new members. I first became a member in the 1970’s so hopefully they can attract more members from our Bluebell Walk visitors. In June 1988 Dr Tony Whitbread, the CEO of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, carried out a detailed survey of Beatons Wood so, if he is willing, I will be asking him to carry out another survey next year, as it would be interesting to find out if there have been any significant changes over the past 30 years.

It is surprising the number of alterations I listed during the 2016 Bluebell Walk, some quite minor but which I felt were necessary to enhance our visitors’ experience, so I am looking forward to hearing what comments are made this year. I hope the response is favourable regarding what I feel are improvements, but I may be wrong!

Next Blog

My aim is to try and have it posted on the website on Friday 24 March.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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