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. Many 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. The 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.
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.
At 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!
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.
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.
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, and one can just notice the first bluebells emerging. This 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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! The 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.
This 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!
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!
My aim is to try and have it posted on the website on Friday 24 March.
Jobs completed this month and looking forward…
A tale of two paths
At 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. The 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. We 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.
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) 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.
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.
My aim is to try and have it posted on the website on Friday 24 February.
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),
which means the Children’s Quiz questions will have to be re-written based on these new panels!
There will also be bent metal hoops similar to ones we saw at Sheffield Park (see image)
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!
My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 30 December.
Planning for the 2017 Bluebell Walk
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.
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 signs 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 material (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.
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.
My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 30 December.
Beatons Wood in October
What 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!
There 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!
The 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, 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 islandeven 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.
My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 25 November.
An update of what is happening in Beatons Wood
Fallen leaves are just beginning to appear on the ground in Beatons Wood marking 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
This 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 (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.
We seem to be having an increasing number of deer as can be seen by their footprints by the Lower Pond (see photo). 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!
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. Three 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.
My aim is for it to be posted on the website on Friday 28 October.