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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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 27th January 2017

First bluebell

Saw the first bluebell today!

Jobs completed this month and looking forward…

A tale of two paths

2017-01-26 0042017-01-26 005At last we have had a few days of frosty weather, which has enabled us to lay two paths round the ploughed field without getting too muddy in the process! One path is new for this year, kindly being allowed by Peter Appleton who owns the field round which it leads, so one can now access the White Walk from the Upper Pond in addition to the existing route from the Lower Pond. The other path is the well-established one leading to the River Walk, but this year it is defined with a layer of road chippings, making it easier to traverse whatever the weather. 2017-01-26 002The pictures show the machinery we had to hire in to reduce some of the work done by hand, which was long hard and arduous, but now finally finished. Nearer to the start date of the Bluebell Walk, we will hire in a vibrating roller so that it gives a relatively smooth surface for those pushing baby buggies. 2017-01-26 003We do have notices at the beginning of these two Walks, forbidding mobility scooters along them as there are several hazards which we found can be dangerous for even the most intrepid scooter user, and importantly each scooter only has a limited charge in its battery, suitable for the Blue Walk but no others.

New trees

In the areas we coppiced early last year, young trees have been planted in the larger bare spaces, so that when the coppiced stools start to grow we will have good tree cover. This is ideal for the white wood anemones and bluebells, as they make good use of the light before the leaves are fully out from the surrounding trees, darkening the forest floor. The young trees planted (photo)2017-01-27 006(2) are all hornbeam, which is the predominant species of coppice in Beatons Wood. Hornbeam were originally planted in all the local woods, as it is ideal for the production of charcoal and not too far away from the iron smelting industry based around the Horam, Heathfield and Ashburnham areas. We planted hazel in the gaps on the old bank along the edge of Beatons Wood as had been done in the past, the existing ones having been coppiced at waist height to minimize damage from browsing deer.

Deer damage

Recently I have noticed all the new growth, from where the old hornbeam had been cut at ground level, has been severely reduced by deer who have been looking for additional food sources in the cold weather. I only hope that we have warm weather to herald an early spring, so these young shoots can quickly grow into useful trees, thus the long term damage from the deer will be minimal. In 2010 we did surround two small areas with weldmesh fencing, which vividly shows the abundance of growth when rabbits and deer are excluded. My long term plan is to have a perimeter fence to exclude deer as well as badgers, because they not only eat hedgehogs but we have seen so many examples of where they have been digging up bumble bee nests to get at the honey. It might remain only a ‘pipe dream’, as it would be an extremely expensive project to fence around this private 23 acre wood. Also we’d have to work out what happens during the Bluebell Walk period as visitors enter the wood and leave at various points to traverse the farm walks!

Updating the Bluebell Barn

Work has now started on enlarging the Bluebell Barn kitchen, with the extra space being taken from the book room run by Action for Medical Research. With a little re-organization this should not reduce the number of books they put on display. We are also applying for planning permission for the Bluebell Barn to be used throughout the year, and if successful it would then have a full makeover with the support of a Leader Grant available in the Wealden and Rother areas. We aim to have it fully insulated with central heating and weather boarding on the sides, so it will look less like a farm building, but an attractive building to hire for such activities as business seminars, demonstrations, social gatherings, parties and any type of meal. The only stipulation would be that there would be no amplified music, as we live next door!

New website and online shop

Next month we will be producing our publicity leaflet, which will coincide with the launch of a new website with the facility to offer online selling of the various Bluebell Walk products that are being designed right now. These will be on sale for the first time during the Bluebell Walk period of 8 April to 14 May. Then the e-commerce site should go live early in July. If we get planning permission for extended use of the barn, the new website will also have the facility to handle the bookings. All this is described more fully in the publicity leaflet, which we are aiming to start distributing around mid February.

Next Blog

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

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 30th December 2016

Looking back at 2016

It has been an exciting challenge each month to write a blog on what has happened and what we are actually doing each month in relation to managing Beatons Wood to maintain and enhance the bluebells and white wood anemones. Once we close for the year, plans are then made to try and improve the visitor experience for the following year, based on what has happened during those important five weeks. Fundamentally what we offer our visitors should not be changed. According to the comment cards we receive and speaking face to face, our visitors want to be able to walk in a private but peaceful and tranquil ancient wood, whilst observing the appearance of the spring flowers, culminating in the vistas of blue from the English bluebells, which they see flourishing in Beatons Wood.

This year we had record crowds over the five weeks we were open, due mainly to the weather conditions, which were neither too hot nor too wet, but just right to walk in our lovely countryside and watch spring unfolding. Dealing with the resultant large number of visitors and the cars in which they come can be challenging, especially as this year the ground was quite soft due to last year’s unusually wet and mild winter months. This year the opposite appears to be happening as little rain has to date fallen, so one dreads that nature balances itself, by reducing this deficiency of rainfall with prolonged April showers!

Looking forward to 2017

The two most important factors we have now finalized are what dates we open, and which charities will cover the five weeks chosen. This has now been done, so from Saturday 8 April we are open every day until Sunday 14 May, which means we will have both the Easter weekend and the May Bank Holiday. The website www.bluebellwalk.co.uk lists the charities and which dates they will be covering. We are planning to have our publicity leaflet printed and ready for distribution early in February, as if done too early they are sometimes picked up, read, put away and then forgotten!

A change you will notice this year in Beatons Wood, is that the many small panels around the Blue Walk that describe the flora and fauna that may be seen were looking rather tired, having been in situ for many years. They are being replaced with twenty one new coloured large panels (see images),

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which means the Children’s Quiz questions will have to be re-written based on these new panels!

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There will also be bent metal hoops similar to ones we saw at Sheffield Park (see image)

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indicating that visitors are not to walk in certain areas. We have now produced our own, which will replace the twine strung across certain paths used effectively since we first opened, to guide our visitors through Beatons Wood. Immediately we see new tracks amongst the bluebells we hope the installation of these hoops will be persuasive in preventing others using that path, so quickly minimizing damage to our precious bluebells.

Amongst the buildings you will find the kitchen has been enlarged and re-organized to help charities in preparation of the food and drink they supply, which means the second hand book stall run by Action for Medical Research will lose some space. The enlarged photo of the Bluebell Wood covering the doors in the Ladies toilet is being replicated, but with other scenes, in both the Gents toilet and an eight foot by four foot image along the wall of the Animal Barn. Smaller copies of the three images, taken by Peter Goldsmith our photographer, will be on sale from the stall run by Hailsham Old Pavilion Society (HOPS).

We have just over three months before we open the 45th Arlington Bluebell Walk, so with the various changes we still have to do, my New Year’s resolution is to try and make good use every day available until the 8 April, to minimize that last minute rush we tend to get year in and year out, but time will tell!

Next Blog

My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 30 December.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 25th November 2016

Planning for the 2017 Bluebell Walk

Charities

We have just sorted out which charities will be involved for the 2017 Arlington Bluebell Walk, which will be open every day over the period Saturday 8th April to Sunday 14th May. This time we have the Easter Weekend as well as the May Bank Holiday in this five week period. It is quite a juggling act to ensure all the days are covered, as we have to bear in mind that there are dates that some charities are unable to cover, as they might have other commitments. We have added three new charities to our list: Care for the Carers, Eastbourne Foodbank and Memory Lane – Eastbourne. It can be quite a daunting undertaking if their key person has not been involved before! We supply guidelines for the helpers who will be in The Gate House, Information Kiosk and preparing refreshments in The Bluebell Barn, but as the footfall from visitors is so dependent on the weather, catering can be quite a problem! The dates that each charity will cover can be seen on the below list.2017 Bluebell Walk Charities & dates - colour

Visitor Experience

This year we were delighted to hear The Arlington Bluebell Walk & Farm Trail was awarded ‘Highly Commended‘ in the ‘Tourism Event of the Year’ class which is part of ‘The Beautiful South Tourism Awards 2016′. This was the first time we have entered. We are told that the judging is based on all the elements of our business, publicity leaflet, website and searches, telephone calls, emails and visits purporting to be the general public, value for money, plus all available evidence, but not told what that means! I am making a big effort for this coming year with various improvements, some minor but helpful and others quite costly, all of them trying to improve the ‘visitor experience’ so that we have a better chance of being at the Top Table when they give out the awards! We are therefore re-designing our website, Walks leaflet, Comment Card, changes in and around the Bluebell Barn, new coloured interpretive signs2016-11-25 001 in Beatons Wood, also an extension to the White Walk (see photo).
This means that there will now be two entrances to this popular walk, the new one from the Upper Pond supporting the existing one from the Lower Pond.
We have the material2016-11-25 004 (see photo) to surface and level this new path as well as the path leading to the River Walk, so that our visitors, especially those with push chairs, can walk with ease, rain or shine. This passes alongside the field that is now ploughed ready for planting maize, which after harvesting is fed to the milking herd.

Publicity

We are looking forward to receiving the 2017 Publicity Leaflet, which should be available in the New Year. If any of our readers would like to help with distribution please contact me on 01323 485151, as publicity is important, there being so many other competing attractions especially over Easter and the May Bank Holiday.

Next Blog

My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 30 December.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 28th October 2016

Beatons Wood in October

Autumn colours

2016-10-27 007What an exceptionally dry and warm month it has been but with the vibrant autumn colours as depicted by this young hornbeam tree, an abundance of berries and apples (below) from one of the few ancient crab apple trees left mainly growing in the south end of the Wood. Last year we planted three young trees in those parts of the Wood where they were missing, just to add diversity but only two have barely survived. We will plant a few more young trees later this year, endeavouring to water them during the dry spells, and hope the deer will not thwart our efforts to get them well established!

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Crab apples

Squirrels

2016-10-27 004There are some areas in which we have some very mature coppice Spanish Chestnut trees, and you can see some of their harvest of chestnuts all over the ground where the squirrels have knocked them down from the trees. Seeing so many empty husks, they are clearly getting their reward!

Herons

2016-10-27 002The Lower Pond’s water level is now so low that I recently saw a heron standing in the centre, easily catching the fish that have much less chance to get away! We will have to wait until we have a warm day in the spring and the fish rise to the surface to catch flies. This may then give an idea of how many the heron failed to eat! The first four fish where added by our children when it first became a pond. As I understand, herons can deposit fish eggs that have attached themselves to their legs, so numbers have increased over the years.

History of the Lower Pond

The history of the creation of this pond was accidental back in the late 1960’s, when we needed surplus soil to level the surface inside new farm buildings. Our soil is predominately heavy weald clay, but here we had identified an area of sandy soil, and started digging out what we needed. Later we noticed water settled in the hole we had left due to the clay subsoil, so thought we could create a pond to support the wildlife,Lower Pond early morning Pete Goldsmith thus made all the sides sloping, to encourage easy access for the mammals that live in Beatons Wood. To add some diversity we purposely dug round the other side of what is now an island, which has created a peaceful haven where so many visitors sit and relax and some take memorable photos. (This photo is by Pete Goldsmith.) The water lilies have increased over the years, started from a small clump donated by the widow of a late friend, whose husband had been involved in the Dunkirk evacuation and apparently this lily was sourced from France, and continues to thrive here at Arlington.

History of the Upper Pond

In the north east corner of Beatons Wood, one can see an area that has been excavated many years back, as again there is sandy soil, but without any clay subsoil it holds no water. The Upper Pond was purposely dug for more soil some years later, but this time we wanted to create a pond, so we chose this site which is sloping, as having no natural springs on the farm, we have to rely solely on surface water to fill them. We cut the coppice that covered the area of the pond, dug out the roots and put them on one side, excavated the soil needed with sloping sides, then pushed the roots into the centre to form an established island2016-10-27 009even though the only soil was what was attached to the roots. This time no plants or fish were added by us, as we just wanted to see how nature colonized this much smaller pond. Bedes School for some years monitored how nature slowly introduced species of plants, but to date no fish, due no doubt to it being that much smaller and not so deep as the Lower Pond. The survey ended when the teacher involved moved elsewhere, which was a pity as we did not continue the monitoring.

Next Blog

My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 25 November.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 30th September 2016

An update of what is happening in Beatons Wood

Autumn leaves

Fallen leaves are just beginning to appear on the ground in Beatons Wood 2016-09-28 015marking the start of autumn, so once it gets much colder and we start having those strong and stormy winds, then the trees will quickly lose their leaves and have that stark and bare look we associate with winter. I always enjoy walking round the Wood once the majority of leaves have fallen, crunching my way through that deep layer that covers the floor of the Wood, seeing all the leaves in their different hues of orange and yellow.

Dredging the stream

2016-09-26 038This continuing dry weather has enabled us to scoop out the silt that accumulated, due to fallen timber, in the stream that runs just below the Lower Pond thus re-establishing its normal channel (see photo). It has been an unusually long period of virtually no rain, so we were able to do this work by machine. Last year after 6 September it was impossible to even venture in our fields with a tractor without causing deep ruts, what a contrast this year!

 

Cultivating the border

We have had the border hedge cut back 2016-09-26 036(see photo) at the beginning of the month. DEFRA do not allow any farm hedges to be cut or trimmed from March to August inclusive to protect nesting birds. This has allowed us to start to properly manage the large verge we created between Beatons Wood and the adjoining grass field, by removing the bramble, nettles and bracken that have dominated this area. We have cultivated it so we have been able for the first time to reseed it with a mixture of herbs, wild flowers and grasses, which include Alfalfa, Trefoil, Sanfoin, Sheeps Burnet, Lucerne, Chicory, Timothy, Yellow Rattle, Plantain and Oxeye Daisy. It is just beginning to germinate and if we do not have too much rabbit damage you will be able to view it from the Red or Yellow Walks.

Deer

We seem to be having an increasing number of deer as can be seen by their footprints by the Lower Pond (see photo)2016-09-26 042. It is worrying to see that they are eating the tips of the new shoots appearing from the stumps of old hornbeam trees, that were coppiced in January. They are rarely seen other than at dawn and dusk, but we might have to consider erecting deer fencing around the perimeter of Beatons Wood if the damage to the emerging coppice and newly planted trees gets too bad, quite an expensive option! The two wire enclosures we erected in 2010 show the dramatic contrast of growth when fenced against rabbits and deer (see photo below). It appears so dense that it leaves little room for the bluebells and wood anemones!

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This fenced off area in 2010 shows how the young trees grow if not eaten by deer and rabbits, but then the bluebells would not look so spectacular!

Primroses

When I was much younger I can remember Beatons Wood being carpeted in primroses, which appeared before the white wood anemones and bluebells, but sad to relate that in my first years of farming at Bates Green I made a management decision that meant virtually all the primroses disappeared. Many years before the Bluebell Walk was ever thought about, Beatons Wood was rarely visited by anyone so it appeared to be 23 acres ‘not earning its keep’. I thought this would be an ideal area to winter our rams and allow them to forage amongst the brambles and weed grasses, little realizing that the early primrose leaves were also tasty. And once the leaves were eaten the plants quickly died. I have always deeply regretted their loss and felt ashamed of what I inflicted on Beatons Wood. 2016-09-26 039Three years ago a great friend of the late Monica Cornish, whose idea it was to have a Plant Stall in aid of Arlington Church at the Bluebell Walk, had a surplus of primroses growing wild in her field. She offered a large number of plants to us in memory of Monica. These we planted by the Lower Pond in an area facing South, which already supported a few of the original plants. We found the rabbits knew which ones were freshly planted and would dig around them, so to protect them we have now erected a wire fence (see photo), which we will remove once the Walk opens next year and just hope they start to propagate themselves.

Next Blog

My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 28 October.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 26 August 2016

Update of what is happening in Beatons Wood

I rate August as the halfway month in the Wood, as next month the leaves start to fall, then it gets progressively colder each month, until early March when we expect to see the first signs of spring.  New bramble shoots that I have been removing for the last three months still keep appearing, as seen in the image,2016-08-18 001 but if I am lucky some have long surface roots, which once removed ensures they won’t appear next year! Scrabbling around on my hands and knees is the only way to ensure the bramble roots are removed! Not only can I enjoy that unique peace and quiet of an ancient oak wood, but see at first hand the myriad of creepy crawlies that appear to live in the top layer of the forest floor, the larger ones I have noticed include ants, various beetles, spiders, worms, and even frogs and toads.

2016-08-22 003The hornbeam wood left in piles from the coppicing carried out last winter, had to be left in situ as the ground was so wet, but now the bluebells have finished and the ground is quite hard it can now be removed.

2016-08-25 008A contractor with his specialist equipment is making it look easy when lifting up the cut timber and we estimate he has removed 60 tons from the Wood and stacking it outside on a hard surface, where it can be cut up into logs over the winter months.

Most of the piles of toppings have been moved and put on a bonfire in field outside the Wood, as we did not want to scorch the growing trees nor kill off the bluebells and wood anemones, plus the various creatures that have made their home in the forest floor. 2016-08-26 012Some piles are in places where it was difficult for machinery to reach, so they will be left as a haven for various birds and mammals, slowly rotting down over the next 10 years or so, whilst adding more organic matter to the forest floor.

Along the easterly edge of the Wood some years ago we fenced off a strip of land about 2 metres wide from the adjacent field, which left to nature was quickly colonized with brambles, nettles, weed grasses and bracken which has mostly been removed. The next task is to have the overhanging branches cut back to the Wood edge, but government regulations restrict any cutting of agricultural hedges until the beginning of September, so once that is done we will scarify the ground and sow low growing wild flowers which hopefully can be seen growing at next year’s Bluebell Walk.

Comment Cards

A regular visitor and others said they were wary, as there were cows in fields over which the River and Green Walks traverse, could they not be kept out of those fields. I wrote to say that these cows belonged to my neighbour who kindly allows us to use his land for the farm walks, which adds diversity to visitors coming to visit the Bluebell Walk. He assures me they are all very docile and has no bull amongst them, but as a working farmer he has to use the fields close to his buildings, as they have to come in for milking twice a day. The difficulty in running the Bluebell Walk that is open for five weeks in early spring when the grass is rapidly growing, that the herd of cows have to be periodically moved to fresh grass, which is sometimes in fields where our visitors are following one of our designated paths. My feeling is that the cows appear to be more interested in the grass they are eating or lying down just ruminating, rather than having any interest in the many visitors they see on a daily basis!

Next Blog

My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 30 September.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Arlington Bluebell Walk Blog 29 July 2016

Still trying to improve the bluebells for next year!

It is proving to be a long process in removing all the weed grasses and new bramble shoots, which I thought would have been completed by the end of this month, but it looks as if I will be still working on it until the middle of August!

 

Sowing bluebell seeds

2016-07-29_unautorised_pathEach year off from the main paths, we find more little tracks being made into the dense mass of bluebells, generally by photographers looking for that perfect shot, thinking their own careful footprints would do no harm. Others follow suit and venture still further, and then inquisitive young feet see this new small path and wonder where it leads! The footfall bruises the bluebell leaves killing off the current bluebells, then the top soil consolidates, so no bluebells appear the following year.

2016-07-19_seeds_readyWe have been going through the laborious process of collecting bluebell seed by hand, which has to be done once the seed has ripened. Too early the seeds will not fall out, so it has to be timed during those few days before they are so ripe that they are then dispersed as nature intended, either by the wind or wild animals running through the wood and knocking the overripe seed heads.

Collected seeds

Collected seeds

Next month we will hire a lawn scarifier to loosen the top layer of the consolidated areas, and then lightly spread the collected seed,  followed by some brushwood over the area to prevent further footfall.

Empty seedheads

Empty seedheads


We then hope nature will do its best, but it may take a few years for the emerging seedlings to grow into mature bluebell flowers.

Notices explaining what we have done, we sincerely hope will discourage further trampling of our bluebells, but time will tell!

 

 

Bluebell Walk Photographic Winners for 2016

All entries have now been judged and we were delighted to have had so many more entries this year, up over 60% to an all-time record of 234 images to view. Each year the four judges find it a difficult task to decide the winners, and this year was no exception. All prize winning images can now be viewed on …… www.bluebellwalk.co.uk/gallery.html

 

Comment Cards

Over the years they have formed a very useful purpose in highlighting areas in which a visitor(s) has cause to be annoyed enough to write their thoughts on one of our cards. It makes us sit up and take notice, thus each year one sees changes as we try and improve our visitor expectations. An example this year from a visitor on the River Walk, we presume followed the path over one field adjacent to the Cuckmere River which went from one gate to the other, well away from the river bank, so their comment was ‘Rename River Walk! No River??’. Next year before the Bluebell Walk opens, we will mow a preferred route across all grass fields, the one adjacent to the river we will ensure it goes close to the river bank. Mowing paths is something we have never done before and see how that idea works.

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Next Blog

My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 26 August.

John McCutchan

www.bluebellwalk.co.uk

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Trying to improve the bluebells for next year!

Beatons Wood is like a garden. Something is always growing, especially in this wet June! Last year we actively started practical management to maintain the bluebells and white wood anemones by removing the brambles around the Blue Walk and this greatly improved the vistas of blue throughout the wood. The positive result has encouraged us to do more now that this year’s Walk is over.

 

cleavers growing among the bluebellsWhat we consider detrimental to the bluebells are mainly cleavers with their long sticky tendrils, which were first noticed a few years ago in the north west corner of the wood. These are now found in other areas so we have started to take action. They are annuals which germinate alongside the bluebells but are prominent once the bluebells finish flowering and, in the bad areas, form a dense mass twisting amongst the bluebell seed heads. They are relatively easy to pull up but so numerous that it is only in small areas that we have been able to remove them before their seeds ripened and started to drop off. This means that plenty will germinate next year, so we will make an extra effort, when the 2017 Bluebell Walk closes, to start working early to try and clear more areas. Hand pulling is the only option, there being no spray that could be effective without any risk to the bluebells. Anyway, we have an aversion to using sprays in our wood on principle, due to unknown damage that could be caused to the many invertebrates that thrive in the soil.

 

Bracken is still present in four areas of the wood but slowly diminishing as, once the fronds appear to be fully out, we pull them up. This weakens the underground rhizomes and we will eventually win. But it is time consuming!

bracken growing on the edge of the wood

Bracken growing on the edge of the wood

 

grass weeds amongst the bluebellsWe notice weed grasses have slowly spread into the wood from the surrounding fields but currently only in the areas close to the wood edge. Work in removing them, again by hand digging, is being done this year, hopefully before more seed is distributed.

 

Finally some new bramble shoots are appearing, being the legacy from the vast amount of brambles removed last year. We are being quite ruthless in pulling them up, hoping that by June 2017 they will have finally disappeared in those areas of Beatons Wood that we have designated as being ‘bramble free’!

young brambles growing

Young brambles growing

John McCutchan

The 2016 Arlington Bluebell Walk & Farm Trail

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Every Bluebell Walk is unique, mostly due to weather conditions. 2016 was no exception in the challenges presented but it ended up being the best Bluebell Walk ever in terms of the number of visitors and the amount raised by the participating charities.

Bluebell leaves had started to appear In January due to a mild winter with virtually no frosts. Early daffodils were blooming, which we thought heralded an exceptionally early spring. So we decided to bring forward the start date by one week. This meant asking the charities who had agreed to cover the last week to kindly change their dates to five weeks earlier, no easy task when volunteers had already agreed to be available on certain dates. We should particularly like to thank The Rotary Club of Seaford who helped us out by covering two days of that first week. But we did not realize that the real winter weather would come in March! It was particularly galling to those four charities that changed their dates. If we had retained the original closing date of 15th May we could still have had large number of visitors with the bluebells remaining good that week, so different to the lack of blue in the first week!

Not only did the cold spell delay the bluebells but such a wet winter caused many problems with car parking. Our trusty road verge again came to the rescue for the beginning of April, as it did in that wet spring of 2012. We should like to thank the Hailsham Lions and Cancer Research UK as over their weekends the car park had to be opened regardless of the wet ground just to cope with the volume of cars. They provided sufficient marshals to minimise the number of cars that had to be pulled out with a tractor! We were fortunate that from the 18th April the weather started warming up and with the drying winds and help from a vibrating roller and many tons of stone we were soon able to have the car park field fit for purpose for the remainder of the season. During those first weeks of constant cold and wet weather, parts of the Blue Walk around Beatons Wood often had to have a dressing of shingle to minimize any muddy areas, allowing visitors using mobility scooters to enjoy the path with no worry of getting stuck.

Sadly we noticed this year that more unofficial paths were made into the densely populated swathes of bluebells, especially where there appeared to be a suitable fallen tree for a child or colleague to sit on for ‘that perfect photo’. We did put up notices but with limited success, explaining that once bluebells are trodden down they may take years to recover. This summer we will scatter bluebell seeds over these areas and they will then have to be roped off if we are to maintain those blue vistas that our visitors come to enjoy. The management of the 23 acres of Beatons Wood has to be done sensitively with the aim to improve the visual impact of the bluebells and white wood anemones. This takes many forms, for example the removal last year of much of the brambles and weed grasses had a beneficial effect this year. Also the recent coppicing of areas has allowed more light on to the woodland floor that will re-invigorate the bluebells and anemones for the next few years.

Last year we were delighted to receive the VisitEngland 2015 ‘Hidden Gem’ accolade, apparently the only one awarded in the South East. Having that success under our belt, we have now put the Arlington Bluebell Walk & Farm Trail forward to Tourism South East, for their annual ‘Beautiful South Awards for Excellence’ under the ‘Tourism Event of the Year’ category. The winners will be announced in the autumn.

The internet plays an increasingly important role in where the public look for information, so Tim Church completely re-designed our website www.bluebellwalk.co.uk to make it easy to view and navigate on whatever device is used. This season we re-animated the ‘blog’ with weekly posts and with Tim’s help are making more use of Twitter and Facebook but it is all a time consuming business!

Our thanks go to the Appleton family and staff for their continuing support in hosting the Farm Trail element over their land, and providing access for the six different farm walks, each unique in their own way giving added interest to our visitors. On May Bank Holiday Monday they held an Open Farm Event at Parkwood and with the support of Arla Milk and Tesco there were demonstrations to explain the story of how fresh milk is produced and the work farmers have to do before it is bottled. This created much interest, especially with young families, even though the weather was not ideal and it meant a three mile walk there and back!

We should also like to thank those who work quietly behind the scenes in their various ways, to ensure everything runs smoothly and dealing with any problems that arise quietly and efficiently. Thank you to the participating charities for welcoming our visitors, serving delicious food and keeping everything clean and tidy, to Action for Medical Research for providing the second hand book stall, to Arlington Church with their Plant Stall and to HOPS for selling bluebell memorabilia and of course the ice creams. All the charities this year raised a combined total of £57,385, which added to the monies raised since 1972 (in today’s value) makes a grand total of £888,338.

The Bluebell Walk Partnership of John & Carolyn McCutchan and Philippa & Michael Vine