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Been a while since I posted a blog here, here’s a short update..

Been a while since I posted here, was reminded by someone about my blog post on my first allotment (Here - .

When I began this blog back in (I'll fill this in when I've looked it up), I was searching for a way to live the dream I'd had since I was a child. To spend my life living on a farm, growing veg, with people I love.

It's been complicated weave to build this life but finally and joyfully, here we are, building a no-dig market garden, with planning permission to live on our land.

I'm glad to have been reminded of this blog, I may start to use it again, with updates on house building and creating a no-dig market garden business. Watch this space :)

In peace,
hen xx

Why I cancelled my 6000 tree planting scheme in favour of Scrubland, Heathland and Natural Regeneration (or re-wilding!)

I'm re-blogging this blog post from back in July 2012 after reading my friend Sarah's brilliantly researched article on scrubland. Scrub is Special - Save Our Scrub!

Hello there..

The 4.5 acre slope we were going to flatten to the ground and plant with trees is now an area of scrubland, heathland and natural regeneration. This was a HUGE decision for me to make. I LOVE planting trees and always thought it was better to plant trees, than not. However, I have learned a thing... sometimes it's better not to plant trees. It's true, honest! I won't be able to explain our thinking fully in this post but hopefully I can give you a wee insight in my thinking...

Firstly, here's a link to a blog showing me clearing some of this area with a slasher and then a pedestrian tractor rough cutter. This was in our first year at Stockwood and I had taken advice from the local Exmoor authority, the Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust before doing anything. All were very keen for me to crack on and flatten the lot, plant it up with trees, put a massive red deer fence up around the whole area and manage the new trees with glyphosate.

It's worth mentioning here that the Forestry Commission made the point to me that if we can afford to, we should use a local tree nursery using native seed stock grown-on in this country. I had to refuse the 1500 free trees that the Woodland Trust gave me because I found out (just in time!) that the trees were coming from Holland. I refused them because I was concerned over the health & suitability of the tree stock, the energy in transportation and the likely use of fertilizers and chemicals to propagate and grow on the trees.  At the time I didn't know about the threat from tree diseases from trees imported by the Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission and the horticulture industry, I was just worried about the weakness of the trees causing them to easily catch a disease after I planted them.  Thank goodness I did refuse those trees from the Woodland Trust or I would likely have been planting ash trees infected with Chalara Fraxinea. Goodness knows where those trees destined for my scheme on Exmoor ended up.

Ok, on with the story of why I didn't flatten this area and why I cancelled the tree planting scheme

Refusing the trees from the Woodland Trust made something click in me, I began to realise that in my excitement I hadn't really thought this through. I was basing my decision to clear this scrubland and plant all of these trees on what I had always wanted to do and what I was being encouraged to do by organisations I trusted.  I now realise that these organisations are singularly focused on one thing (trees and more of them no matter what!) and have planting targets to reach every year which is all tied to grant money. This isn't a criticism, they're just doing what they're tasked to do, it's my responsibility to take their advice and then go away and get a wider perspective.  

The one thing I wasn't doing was listening to the land. Doing just that is how I got my wider perspective!  It's the tiny little Grasshopper Warbler I have to thank for finalising my decision to maintain this area as scrub, regeneration and heath land. This tiny little bird kept me awake at night for weeks with the crazy-loud cricket noise it makes because it chose to nest in the area of scrubland close to our yurt. The RSPB have given it Red Status, so I chose not to destroy it's habitat.

It was at this stage that whenever I had a visitor to the land I would take them for an explore around the scrubland.  After a while I would ask them how it would make them feel if I grubbed it all to the ground, fenced it from the red deer and planted it up with trees. My friend Karen, who is as mad about trees, woodlands and forests as me, looked at me horrified and said 'Don't do it. Please, don't do it'.  Every one of the people I asked had supported the idea of the tree planting scheme BEFORE they actually met and listened to the scrubland. After meeting and listening to the scrubland not one person thought I should go ahead with the scrub clearance and tree planting scheme.

I'm in my 4th year of observing this area now and it has taught me just how much LIFE there is in scrub. Adders, newts, slow worms, badgers, foxes, red deer, roe deer, bugs, spiders, beetles, loads of butterflies including the heath, pearl bordered and (on the edges) the Silverwash Fritillary, moths, bees and fabulous looking hoverflies & flies, goodness knows how many wild flowers and approximately a million visiting & nesting birds (including Cuckoo, Red Wing, Red Start, Woodcock, Grasshopper warbler, Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Whinchat, Black cap, Longtailed Tit.. etc, etc...).

The Gorse and Birch are doing their job of being nursery plants well and there are now areas around the edges of the scrub full of young trees like; Hazel, Hawthorn, Oak, Rowan, all poking out the middle of a dense Birch thicket or an old Gorse shrub which is about to split from the centre to do the great tree reveal! There is even an ancient badger sett that has been meticulously kept clear of any scrub and is a perfect circle of grass, wildflowers and the odd clump of bramble. The relationship between the badgers and red deer are evident here, with the badgers creating many paths between their network of tunnel entrances and flat areas from their excavations, which the deer find a suitable place for resting in cover and feasting on the lovely grass.

As you weave your way through the scrubland you pass through areas of heathland, with large patches of heather, purple moor grass and other grasses and wildflowers.  There are trees, gorse, heather, wildflowers, lichens and mosses all spilling out of the ancient stonefaced hedgebank at the very top and bottom of the scrubland slope, where it meets an old coppice and water meadow where the old West lyn river pristinely flows at the edge. On the edge of the scrubland is StockWood, an ancient Oak woodland and coppice with beech topped thick stone hedgebanks and lessr spotted woodpeckers, owls and bats... Such an incredible mosaic of habitat! 

This year I am picking my way through the undergrowth like Mayweed out of Duncton Wood, snouting out the best pathways and finding so many treasures it's hard to contain myself. Here are some I have found today. It was late and the light low but the adventure was great!

hen xx

I found a Parrot Waxcap!

Yesterday I went on an exciting fungi foray on the farm and put up loads of pictures of some of the fungi I found:


I had ANOTHER exciting time this morning on my daily fungi foray! I went looking for the Ballerina Waxcap where I know she comes, and instead I found this Parrot waxcap!

Parrot Waxcap!

Underneath a Parrot Waxcap!

I also went back to visit this waxcap with my proper camera as I think it looks just blooming lovely!

Dinky waxcap & Leo's massive finger

I was very taken with this one as it was so chunky

Chunky, a lovely peach colour and perfectly formed

From yellow rattle to ruby jewels in the grass

Can just make out the little person peeking out from behind that fungi..

I haven't counted all the obviously different waxcaps here but it's got to be at least 15 so far

This is the meadow they're growing in. Taken 5 years to get to this stage! :-D

hen xx

Fungi Foray... Waxcaps, Penny buns, earthballs, magic mushrooms...!

This morning when I went out to do the animal rounds I noticed that the waxcap mushrooms had started fruiting in the field! We didn't have many last year so I am really excited that this year is going to be a good one for them!

Inspired by the waxcaps I went on a bimble in the woods and down the track to see what mushrooms were about, there were some but the light wasn't so good so I didn't get many photos. There's a few random pictures of the track just because it looked so nice :)

Looking down the track towards the linnhe. Light was amazing!
 In the woods we have lots of earth ball mushrooms. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that inscrupulous funghi dealers cut truffles with earthball mushrooms.. who knows if that's true, I just know that I wouldn't want to eat an earth ball!

Earthball before releasing it's spores

Earthball after releasing it's spores & before my dog stuck her nose in it... *sigh*

Now.. to the waxcaps! I am afraid I don't know how to identify each different waxcap. However, here is a fantastic waxcap identification guide from Somerset Environmental Records Centre (this link opens a pdf).

This is quite a large waxcap, about the size of an apple

Lots of these

My favourite, the colour hasn't come out as deep as it is in real life

Little jewels in the grass!
I've noticed a handful of different types of reds but I think all of these pics are of the same type

It's yellow..

I love this one, just look at how delicate they are!

There are mostly these white ones in the pasture, with the meadows having more variety of colour. Wonder why?

Took this on my phone early this morning

Just another red one.. this one nipply & with a ruffled edge
So, that's some of the waxcaps I saw today. I'll be checking the fields everyday to see what other colours come up. I took the photo below of a Ballerina waxcap this time a few years ago and haven't seen one here since. Hopefully this year I'll see her again. I know where she lives!

Pink waxcap, Ballerina
Some more of the track looking lovely..

Penny Bun

Back to the fields and I came across some magic mushrooms...



Just the track again.. can't resist it!

There's a load of fungi pictures on my Heart and Soil photos page, just scroll down till you see fungi!

hen xx

A Beautiful Day...

I've had an incredibly mad few months! I've been to meetings to discuss the new foresty policy, I've been to France to see my friend Pip to meet some remarkable trees & hatch plans for our upcoming adventures in Forest Comms. 

BUT I'm just going to blog about today, well.. except to share this pic of me weaving a rush seat at Linda Lemieux's house last weekend! More of that another day...

 While I was away Leo sent me a frantic message saying he'd lost Bubbles the bantam. Thankfully he uncovered her with over twenty eggs that she was trying to hatch. I was convinced she'd stopped laying for the year!

The Bantam Queens...


Rowan looking beautiful.. 

The view from the yurt. Gorgeous but there was a bit of a northerly wind coming at us from those Welsh mountains!

hen xx

Visit to Scotland to see Chris the blacksmith, Kit the Teebee smock maker & Haily the earth spirit!

So grateful to Chris, Haily and Kit for my amazing, if a bit rushed, visit to their beautiful home. Kit's food is legendary & it was absolutely gorgeous (Kit is who made me my Teebee woollen smocks!).

As soon as I arrived I met not only Chris, Haily and Kit but also Paul Macdonald a world renowned swordsman! He is restoring Rob Roy MacGregors sword and I was lucky enough to HOLD IT!

My tiny mind is blown
This is Chris and Haily having a squeeze at the faery pools. A gorgeous place that I was glad to be at after a long night enjoying a wee pure malt dram..

Chris and Haily having a squeeze at the faery pools

Chris made me my knife (as well as my bodkins!) that I included in my must have kit list, published in a Geographical article I wrote last month (thanks to Paul Deegan!). It's a Silver Fox Cub knife designed by Sean Mulhall and made by Chris. Its perfect for everything I need it for which is a big ask. Never leaves my side! Chris put a yew handle on it for me so it would be in keeping with my longbow. I am a jammy sod.

I was up in Scotland to visit my Dad's grave and so it was deeply soothing to spend time with Kit, Chris and Haily and go on an adventure around their home. We walked up to the Corrie of Clova. Needless to say I burst into tears when I saw the corrie. I got so overwhelmed by not only the beauty of it but also because we were held in the magic of the scent of damp moss, pine and heather and I was with two new friends that I instantly loved. 

We also visited a couple of forts. It's a perfect time of year to be in Scotland or the English hills as the heather is in full bloom and the blaeberries are fat and juicy. 

Haily atop the White Caterthun hill fort
The first fort we visited, the White Caterthun, had an amazing cup marked stone. Noone knows what these marks were for and they can be found all over the UK, often with ring markings too.

I pinched this pic off Chris of Haily and I connecting with the stone

They then whisked me off to see another fort. A fort that still stops me sleeping. Not because it was freaky in a scary way but because it was freaky in a 'but how did they do that' way. It was the Finavon vitrified fort. Which means the stones in the wall of the fort had been heated to such a high temperature that they had fused together. Noone knows how, in the 6th century, they had the ability to create such stupidly hot temperatures. Here's the wiki page on vitrified forts. I found it hard not to think of the electric universe theory when I saw this and the z-rod symbol that the picts often used in their decorations of stone & metal (see the stone markings below).


But how though?

But how?
Chris striking a catalogue pose, looking quite harmless
This fort brought the pesky pict out..
To cap it all off on the way home we stopped off at some pictish stone carvings. Absolutely breathtaking symbology, that is little understood. I mean just look at these markings!

Big love to Kit, Chris and Haily, THANK YOU, you've always got a warm welcome wherever I am!

hen xx
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