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Gaddesden Estate News December 2018/January 2019

The winter crops have now been “put to bed”. The oilseed rape north of Gaddesden Row is looking strong and hopefully will go through the winter able to survive the depredations of wood pigeons. Both varieties of wheat were drilled in good conditions and they too look happy. Our ground “cover crop” of mixed cereals and clover in the field we call Long Robins, or just Robins, will probably go towards our Ecological focus Area, or EFA, which we are required to provide every year. This is normally one of the most productive fields as on the farm, as it is close to the Home Farm steading and for many generations, when we had cattle, always received copious quantities of FYM (farmyard manure, otherwise “muck”!).
We aim to sell, if not move all the remainder of the output from the 2018 harvest by Christmas. As I mentioned last month, the spring oats suffered from the weather conditions in the spring and summer; they yielded poorly and had a very low bushel weight. By passing the oats through our old pre-cleaner, with its reciprocating sieves, strung on flexible battens of ash wood, with its strong fan to remove dust and shrivelled grain, we hope to be able to gain a premium price, so “fingers crossed”!

Old Grain Store and Farmyard
The old grain store at the Home Farm was built, I believe, in 1957. It has not been used since the year 2000, and the internal structures of elevators, conveyors, dresser, walkways and gantries, as well as the grain reception pit had become unsafe. Over the past few weeks we have been removing the redundant equipment and structure and filling the pits and elevator sumps with hardcore, ready for concreting. We have taken down the old Rolled Barley Hopper, dating from the time of the Barley Beef unit, as well as the final redundant oil tank. This grain handing system featured in the 1977 BBC film “Harvest at Great Gaddesden”.

High Park Wood
Over the past few years many people will have read about the ash tree disease known as “Chalara” or ash dieback. One of the side effects is that the branches of mature trees lose the elasticity for which ash is renowned. This can mean that branches can break off. High Park Wood has considerable public access via the footpaths, so we are planning to go ahead with felling the older ash, probably in the early part of next year. We were granted a Felling Licence for this work by the Forestry Commission under our ten year management plan in 2012.
Most people will know that Great Gaddesden is a prime area for Hertfordshire Puddingstones, indeed there are some very large ones visible in the foundations of the church and in the churchyard. This conglomerate was formed in an earlier period of global warming, when the weathered pebbles from seaside beaches became cemented bur a silica matrix into a natural form of concrete. Puddingstone is principally found in Hertfordshire and the adjoining counties, and Normandy, although I have seen some rather dull examples in the Arnold Arboretum in Boston Massachusetts.  It is a very hard material and well suited to the production of querns, hand corn mills. Recent research has located several Roman or pre-Roman quarries for puddingstone and production areas for querns in the parish.

River improvements
Affinity Water, on behalf of the Environment Agency, are undertaking a project to restore chalk streams, a very important habitat, in Hertfordshire, including the River Gade. They have already completed work in Gadebridge Park. The basis of the work proposed here is to by-pass the sluice at Noke Mill to allow fish to swim upstream, probably including work to the bridge on Noke Mill Lane; removing some of the weirs between the lower bridge on the Leighton Buzzard Road and re-grading the Broad Water between the two Water End Bridges to return it to a chalk stream with enough flow to ensure  clean gravel bed.
Happy Christmas to one and all from those of us on the Gaddesden Estate!