The felling of the lime trees continues.

Whilst the Castle was closed to the public another stretch of the lime tree avenue was felled and we had  the job of clearing it all away before the visitors started making use of parkland walks. Once the trees were felled the branches had to be cut away from the tree trunks a process known as snedding. The trunks were cut to lengths and the branches piled up ready to be chipped. It became a bit of a rush as the weather turn against us and the ground became very soft. The wood chipper reduced the branches into piles of wood chip that has been used to mulch the saplings in the tree guards and also to spread out below the climbing areas in the Natural Play Ares.

Filling the wood store for the coming winter.

For the past 8 weeks we have been filling up the wood store once more, the tree trunks came from various parts of the parkland and were delivered to the yard by contractors. Next year we should be able to do this ourselves with the promised tractor. With chainsaws, the hydraulic splitter or just the hand swung splitting mauls we have now finished for this year.

There is a good mix of timber in there, Ash, Oak, Beech some Sycamore, Hawthorn and Lime.

Maintaining the Entrance Drive for Spring

The entrance drive is pretty grand at any time of the year, spring is particularly lovely. The banks that line the route to the castle come alive with woodland flowers, first to make a show are the primroses followed shortly by daffodils, bluebells and wood anemone.

This display has improved year on year by cutting back the nettles and brambles which all too quickly inhabit the banks if not held in check. The cutting process can only begin in late summer once we are sure all the ground nesting birds are no longer making use of the banks. It normally takes a day (for about eight of us) to strim and clear away the grass and we may have to do this twice each year.

It does make the entrance drive look more presentable but the main benefit we have noticed is the increase in spring flowers. When autumn arrives there is little to do along the drive other than admire the display of gold and bronze leaves on the beech trees. When the castle closes to the public in winter we spend time gathering up the fallen branches brought down by the winter winds and start to plan for spring once more and the re appearance of all the spring flowers.

Our Link with Orleton Primary School

The Rangers have a link with Orleton Primary School  just a few miles away from Croft Castle. In the November of 2010, my first year as a volunteer, children from the School came to do some tree planting. I thought this was brilliant; the idea that local kids were planting trees that in years to come they could visit and see as fully grown trees, in the knowledge that they had planted them.

On the day however it was bitterly cold but despite that they set too with a will and just a little encouragement as the morning went on and the chill got to them. They planted about 200 hundred trees, all native species to replace the commercial pine plantation that had existed there only a year earlier. The saplings were positioned in a large fenced compartment to protect them from being browsed by deer. The Children from the school often come to croft to do what I would have known as ‘nature studies’.

There are occasions when we get to go back to school too. (echoes here of I wish I had paid more attention when I was at school) In the grounds of the School at Orleton they have an arbour made of willow. Every year at about this time, February, a few of us go over to prune back the growth from the previous year. Some of the lengths of willow that are cut are taken back to croft and they have been used in the past to create features such as the willow tunnel in the Natural Play Area. The children from the school have also been to do some outdoor art work using the willow to construct their own creations.

More Work in the NPA

With half term looming we have had to look carefully at the Natural Play Area (NPA), to see what needs repairing and what new ideas we can add for the year ahead. That’s not to say the NPA is neglected we have to carry out weekly safety checks in the area throughout the year and record our observations in a folder.
It is however a good thing to ring the changes and add new interest. There is little, if anything, in the budget at this time of the year so most of what we can do has to be on a self help basis i.e. materials we have to hand and volunteer labour. Some of the hazel we brought back from school wood was used to create a feature for kids to wriggle through, all these upright lengths of hazel have been dug in; we intend to put in quite a few more.

It will be interesting to see what they make of this idea.


Sir William’s Oak.

Last week six of us attended a one day brushcutter operator course; we do quite a lot of strimming and cutting back of brambles, nettles and bracken on the estate. In order to demonstrate our competence we did some work around Sir William Croft’s Oak. Some of the brambles around it were shoulder high; now it is easier to approach and the sign board in front of it is also more visible.

The tale surrounding the tree is doubtless well known to the volunteers who work in the Castle but the location of the tree itself isn’t a part of any of our designated walks. However the Oak tree marks the spot where Sir William died having been shot by parliamentarian pursuers following a royalist defeat near Stokesay Castle.

Whilst I was over there I went to see if the snowdrops were out. YES! a wonderful display of snowdrop in the small copse in the front meadow just below where Sir William’s Oak stands.

Coppicing Hazel in School Wood

Whilst the work up on the hill fort has been put on hold due to the saturated ground we have turned to other areas that need attention. In mid January we did some coppicing in School Wood. There is an asphalt forestry track, probably put in by the Forestry Commission, that runs through School Wood and running along the edge of the track are several very old and neglected Hazel trees.
Coppicing Hasel 1
These really are trees too; they have not been coppiced for a long time if ever. We don’t have much hazel on the estate and what we do have is used, amongst other things, in the garden to support plants/vegetables and has been used in the making of witch’s brooms at Halloween. What we took away after we had finished our work has been used to make another feature in the natural play area, some to the garden for bean poles and the remainder will be reduced to fire wood.

New ideas for the NPA

Whilst the Castle is closed the work in the Parkland goes on. We have added a few new ideas in the Natural Play Area and done some maintenance on the gate going down into the Fishpool Valley; it should now be much easier to open.

The work up on the Iron Age Hill fort has been suspended. It’s far too muddy on the tracks and taking tools and equipment up there will make it even worse. We will be planting out more trees up in Croft Wood later in the month, so there’s still plenty to do before the Castle is open again at half term.