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Gaddesden Estate News May 2018

This past week has been a mad rush to get several weeks of spring work completed, concertina-ed into three or four days. The winter was so long and spring so late that we were not able to get onto the saturated land until the lovely spell of sunshine last week; it was what is known as a “blackthorn summer”, with the white flowers of the blackthorn bushes in the hedgerows blossoming at their best around the farm.

We had about 250 acres of spring oats to drill. Some could be drilled directly into last years stubbles, but on the top of the hills, particularly in the fields behind Bridens Camp, called Hoghstrough and Highbush/Farthings where the ground is very heavy, the ground needed to be cultivated and rolled before we could get the seed drill in. In some places, most noticeably Long Garmer Field, the weeds had grown strongly over the winter among the “volunteer” wheat (seed left over from last year, dropped in the chaff by the combine harvester) and these areas had to be sprayed with glyphosate before drilling. Thankfully all the seed was sown before St George’s day. It is at least a fortnight later than  the latest recommended drilling date, so let us pray that the crop germinates well and catches up, even though it may be a late harvest with reduced bushel weights.

In addition, concurrently it was imperative to put a second dose of nitrogen fertiliser on the wheat and the oilseed rape as well as the next fungicide programme for both, in this case using the same machine, the Bateman sprayer.
The winter cropping has already responded well to this treatment.
Our next task is the application of Muriate of Potash (potassium chloride) using a conventional fertiliser spinner.
We completed planting up sub-Compartment 7k in Big Wood, as reported last month. We have no thinning or felling planned for this year, though we will be continuing with our roadside tree surgery. The sawlogs from last year’s wind-blow in Newlands Wood are at last due to be collected this week.
We await with trepidation the attacks by grey squirrels on the trees in the Farm Woodland Scheme blocks, which were thinned over the past couple of years; these often seem to come after a thinning. It may be because the enhanced growth of the remaining trees produces more sugar in the sap. As I have mentioned previously the American Grey Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, can completely devastate a plantation, making the production of high quality timber well-nigh impossible, and rendering the trees only suitable for firewood or chipwood.

Current research on grey squirrel control measures includes the introduction of the native Pine Marten, which predates on grey squirrels, and the production of an oral fertility control vaccine, which it is hoped may be ready by 2021. As greys carry the squirrel pox virus, the re-introduction of the native Red Squirrel would not be successful here, though reds survive in the north of England, the Isle of Wight and Scotland.

The Great British Spring Clean
On 22nd April about thirty people joined for a cup of tea or coffee at the Home Farm before setting out to clean up the roadsides in our parish. Rubbish was collected in many areas including Red Lion Lane, Water End, Gaddesden Row and Ledgemore Lane. Dacorum Borough Council kindly provided sacks for re-cyclable and non-re-cyclable rubbish, litter picking grabs and fluorescent tabards, all organised by Sharon Row. At the time of writing not all the bags have been brought in, but currently there are over sixty bags awaiting collection by the council. Thank you, and well done to everybody who gave up their Saturday to take part.

Park and Ride
The first of this year’s Park and Ride events takes place on Sunday 29th April. Entry as usual is through the Equo website.